By August Edwards
In an immense act of community building for the love of grunge, US band Alter Apex and UK band Just a Ride have unleashed a gripping four-track split EP. The two volumes contain covers and rerecords that speak to the surge of '90s alternative rock revival - charged by present technology - that is occurring across the globe.
This example of the reinvigoration of split EPs is not only an homage to these bands' punk-fan pasts, but a brilliant attempt to appeal to new listeners. Though listening to the four featured songs takes a minimal amount of time, it shines a light on the opportunity that art provides, not only for music fans but music creators.
I hope you enjoy this interview with the front men from each band - Ken Hendricks from Alter Apex and Rod Henderson from Just a Ride - in which they discuss embracing technology, what it means to be a fan of music, and the fulfillment one's art can provide.
What is the story behind the friendship between your two bands?
Rod: The guys were doing Alter Apex Radio, where they pick three or four songs that they’ve heard from new or emerging bands, listen along, and they really go in deep on the details of the songs. They did one on “I Wanna Know,” and we were just like, “Oh my goodness, this is so cool.”
Ken: We had spoken before, but it wasn’t super in depth. I think Rod is a master networker. He’s really good at making connections with a lot of people. At one point, we crossed paths online. He hit me up on Instagram saying that he heard “So Yeah,” and that it sounded like Stone Temple Pilots to him, and that maybe we were kindred spirits. He showed me “I Wanna Know,” and I remember that because I was like, “Well I’m gonna throw that right back at you, man, that sounds like STP, I hear it.” I remember [when Rod] found out that we both had a pop punk background too. It’s crazy how many similarities there were. Then we just started calling ourselves Brothers in Grunge from other sides of the ocean.
Rod: It’s the healthy part of the scene where you make friends and you inspire each other to push on. We’d send each other song ideas, bits and pieces, get feedback from the guys. It’s just building that scene that you hear about in legendary stories about Soundgarden and Pearl Jam and everything that was going on in Seattle in the early ‘90s. Sonically, that was a big inspiration for us, but I really like that sense of comradery as well.
You do come from two completely different music ecosystems. What’s something that you learned about music communities that you might not have known if not for forming this partnership?
Ken: I’ve learned that the UK has a ton of amazing bands right now. If it’s not already a burgeoning rock scene that’s blowing up, it just seems primed and ready.
Rod: There’s been a really big renaissance of what we call the new wave of classic rock in the UK. That kind of bluesy, ‘70s inspired rock music, which I absolutely love. But we were like, that’s cool and all, but where is the new Alice in Chains coming out? [Then we thought], well, if no one’s gonna do it, we’re gonna do it! [Now] there is this emerging grunge scene at the moment—it’s almost as if everybody’s had the same idea at the same time, completely independently, and it’s like finding yourself in this fandom that you didn’t realize existed. That’s the great thing about meeting the guys in Alter Apex—it’s meeting people that take it as seriously and are willing to put in the effort.
Ken: I feel like for bands and musicians that take music seriously, it’s rare for them to still wear being a fan on their sleeve. And I think that’s important when it comes to being able to support each other. Something got lost in the cool rockstar thing, and I think that was just being a fan of music. I used to watch all sorts of VHS videos of all my bands that I love, doing their behind-the-scenes stuff. The ones that I really enjoyed were bands like the guys in Pantera. They would play their set opening for Judas Priest, and then they would go out and mosh to Judas Priest. They would be in the crowd—they were fans too. I think that’s one of the things that we’ve [Just a Ride and Alter Apex] connected so much on. They’re fans of the genre. Grunge fans? They like four bands. That’s it. I think a lot of people are wondering why it seems like rock is dying. It’s because they’re only listening to nostalgia acts, they’re not listening to new bands, they’re not supporting new bands.
Rod: [Some bands and fans are] stuck in their ways. And the thing is, you think about it, it’s like, hang on. You’re not embracing technology...Let’s work together to get exposure. Rock music has to move away from rivalry, otherwise it’s going to get even further left behind.
Ken: Not embracing technology holds everything back in a lot of ways.
What kind of experience are these tracks giving your audience?
Ken: Honestly, I don’t know if I thought about that so much, as much as the experience was for us. Doing “I Wanna Know” by Just a Ride, I knew that it was going to be different, because I can’t really sing like Rod. I’m really impressed by his range. We brought the song down a half step to make it more singable for me. When it came together and it started having a little bit darker of a vibe, a little bit of an Alice in Chains kind of vibe, I got happy when I started to hear it take shape, because I was a little nervous that we were gonna just be trying to sound like them, and it was going to sound like a caricature.
“Tie the Raven” is actually one of our least streamed songs. It was kind of a selfish endeavor to redo that song because we’ve always loved it. We felt like Joe Marsh would be able to put a much better production spin on it. We took the opportunity to shorten the intro a little bit. And then we started adding strings and more vocal harmonies, and now it has this big epic ending that it didn’t have before. I love it. I hope that it gives a great experience to everyone else. But at this point we’re like, we’ve already had our experience with the songs, and we hand them over to the rest of the world to experience however they’re going to.
Rod: “So Yeah” was pretty quick to come to—it was the first Alter Apex song we ever heard. I feel, although they’re the exact same BPM, to me it feels like we’re doing it faster. We were thinking “Slither” by Velvet Revolver, to go that way. Drew, before the guitar solo, really accentuates the octave notes of the riff, kind of in the same way Slash does that with “Slither.” I think it’s the most Slash solo he’s ever laid down with Just a Ride.
I've always thought that “I Wanna Know” is the song that gives you an idea of what our band is about. For it to be something that came out ages ago and has the lowest number of streams, we were like, okay, maybe this is a great opportunity with this split to shine a light on these tracks. “No Way Out” we put on, we were looking at remixing tracks, and we thought, okay, we’ve got this song that we felt could have been a radio song, but the original version [was too long].
Being in a band is already a tremendous feat of collaboration and communication. What were some struggles you had with branching your two bands together? Or were there no struggles at all?
Rod: I’m a bit of a task master with the guys in my band, and I was like, alright, these are the deadlines and we just need to hit it. I think we had a bit of trepidation at first. We did end up being a little late—maybe two or three days, nothing serious.
Ken: Rod and I are idea guys. The first time we hopped on zoom, we talked for like three hours. I don’t even know if we did any of the things that we talked about, but we talked for like three hours, and we had a great time just bouncing stuff off each other. When we got together a while back and talked seriously about this project, I was like, cool, this will be cool. But I didn’t start doing anything. And then all of a sudden, they started sending us ideas and tracks of what they were putting together. I was like, this is real, this is happening, I better start doing something. That lit a fire under us.
Rod: The thing that I’m most thankful for is we live in a time in the music industry where the hard work can pay off. Ten, twenty years ago, it wasn’t necessarily like that. You could work your hands to the bone and if you don’t get seen, that’s it. We have the tools to connect with people. We can put music out there. It can grow, and it can grow relatively organically. I’m thankful for that every day.
Ken: When you enjoy music, when you’re a real music lover, you want to tell somebody about it. You wanna talk about it with them, you wanna experience it with them. I remember it seemed so out of reach to even get that <1000 mark on Spotify. It seemed like a tremendous feat. Then I just took the time to investigate and learn from the people who were successfully doing it on their own. If you’re willing to invest the time and a little bit of money, not even a lot of money, you can at least have the satisfaction of sharing the music that you enjoyed creating so much with the rest of the world.
So you haven’t met in person yet, but what are some of the biggest cultural differences that you’ve found within one another, musically speaking?
Rod: I’d actually go the other way—it’s amazing how much we’ve got in common. We’re all from very different environments, but share the love of the same things. It doesn’t matter how different your experiences are, where you come from or whatever, you can find kindred spirits any place, in any shape or form.
You either got to bring people together—you gotta talk to people, you gotta embrace different things—or you can just be fearful of everything. I think that really simple way of looking at life is really important now. I see in music, and I see everywhere, everything is so divided. I want to make music that doesn’t focus on an outward message. It’s an inward message. I think we’re all very, very similar. Even if we don’t want to admit it. We’re all going through the same emotions, we’re feeling the same things. We may be triggered by different things, but we are experiencing the same things. If you write about the feelings and the experiences we go through, you can leave it up to the listener to decide what you’re singing about. For me, that’s why I want to do music.
Is there anything I missed that you’d like to talk about?
Ken: Rod, what you said about a statement about what’s going on inside as opposed to what’s going on outside made me think—those lyrics [in “So Yeah”] are so important to me. That song is really personal in a cool and introspective way. I love listening to your version of the song, knowing that you had to get that in your head and process it yourself.
Rod: I listened to “So Yeah” a lot, and this happens with lots of songs, when you actually see the lyrics you’re like, “Oh, that’s that word,” and it kind of changes the meaning. It was cool. In some ways “I Wanna Know” and “So Yeah,” I think they’re linked, because in terms of the content of the songs, they’re quite introverted.
I tried to put a twist in the lyrics at the end of "I Wanna Know." You have this whole song where you’re saying, “things are finishing, and I’m gonna make a change for the better, and I’m gonna get out of this cycle.” And one of the last lines is “I’m gonna go for something new,” so you’re really challenging yourself to get out, [but then I add] “or someone else like you.” That happens to a lot of people who wanna break out of the cycle. They start something new, they’re so excited about something new, but it’s not. They’ve just replaced it and it just begins again.
Ken: The whole “read my mind” part that keeps repeating throughout “So Yeah” is because that song is all about meditation. That song is about meditating and discovering the nature of your own thoughts—how they arise and pass, and how they’re ultimately kind of fleeting and not even all that real. So many of the things that causes so much suffering in our lives are rooted in thoughts that are not even of any real substance. ["So Yeah" is] a statement about being on the path of personal discovery and being free from the suffering that our thoughts cause us.