Charleston rock band The Fire Apes conducted an on-again/off-again journey over the last decade or so, but their colorful journey seems to be never-ending. With a powerfully talented new lineup and a full-scale studio album already in the works, bandleader and main songwriter John Seymour is back where he loves to be.
With Seymour at the helm, the Apes were big on the local scene in the late 1990s and early 2000s before shifting into hiatus mode mid-decade. They reintroduced themselves in 2006 with a new lineup featuring drummer Tommy Hamer and bassist Julian Volpe (currently of the Hed Shop Boys). Keyboardist Hugh Knight came on in 2007.
These days, Hamer is solidly behind the drum kit, but after an amicable shift last year, they've welcomed two new faces. The band's first "official" comeback show is set for Fri. Aug. 21 at the Windjammer during a benefit concert to help raise money and awareness for the new Roper St. Francis Cancer Research Center.
"In 2007, we played New York three times, and they were great, great shows," says Seymour. "When we got back, I had such a backlog of songs, and I really wanted to record, but I wanted to find just the right producer."
Seymour sought guidance from colleagues in the local scene and across the country. He reached out to acclaimed studio wiz Butch Vig, who was already entrenched with the sessions that were leading to the newly-released Green Day album. Vig responded with a suggestion: get in touch with Sean O'Keefe, the former drummer of Chicago band This Is Me Smiling.
"I talked with Sean, and he sent me stuff he did with several bands, including Fall Out Boy, Hawthorne Heights, The Plain White T's, and all sorts of Warped Tour bands," says Seymour. "I sent him the songs [demos]. He got back in touch, said he was really into the stuff, and said we wanted to go for it. He said, 'Just put me up somewhere and feed me, and I'll do it.'"
O'Keefe brought in a studio bassist and played the drums himself on five tracks during sessions in Atlanta. Additional overdubs included strings, brass, and woodwinds from members of the Chicago Symphony-Orchestra. Both O'Keefe and Seymour worked with an additional arranger as well.
"I'm so happy with the way it came out," says Seymour. "It's nice to have a producer who's actually excited about things."
Earlier this year, Hamer tagged scene veteran Jeff Bateman (currently of SuperDeluxe) as a suitable replacement for Volpe on bass. Not long after Bateman signed on, Hamer suggested another possible member — Dave Stewart of The Blue Dogs. Both Bateman and Stewart were skillful on bass and guitar, but Stewart preferred bass, so things came together nicely as a classic power-pop quartet configuration.
"Now we have really strong vocals and unbelievable lead guitar with Jeff," says Seymour. "And Dave is just the perfect bass player. It's so wild how it came together. It was great. I'm really excited to have input from Jeff, Dave, and Tommy on the next session."
In recent years, Seymour, Bateman, and Stewart experienced the pain of losing close family members to cancer, which sparked the idea of connecting with the Roper St. Francis Cancer Center for a special fundraising event. Roper St. Francis is a tri-county's leader for the treatment of breast, lung colorectal, and prostate cancer.
"I recently ran into a friend of mine, Dr. David Ellison, who's an oncologist at Roper St. Francis," says Seymour, whose father was a radiologist at MUSC. "He told me how they were trying hard to raise money and awareness for their cancer center, so we decided that'd be perfect.
"There are very few of us whose lives haven't been touched by cancer," he adds. "We're excited that we can spend an evening doing what we love most and know that it's for an extremely worthy cause."