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John Seymour reintroduces the Fire Apes

click to enlarge Pure power pop MONKEY BUSINESS: The Apes circa 2005 are (L to R) Julian Volpe, Tommy Hamer, Matt Bivins, and John Seymour
  • Pure power pop MONKEY BUSINESS: The Apes circa 2005 are (L to R) Julian Volpe, Tommy Hamer, Matt Bivins, and John Seymour
The Fire Apes
w/ A Decent Animal
Fri. Dec. 16
10 p.m.
$10 donation (or an unwrapped, unopened toy)
Cumberland's
301 King St.
577-9469
www.cumberlands.net

Singer/guitarist John Seymour's gift for melody and songwriting made him a notable character in the Charleston music scene of the 1990s. His work as the upbeat bandleader with guitar-pop quartet The Fire Apes (the name was based on a 1940s essay by anthropologist-turned-author Loren Eiseley) made him a fixture on the stages of the local clubs and in the pages of the local papers. This fall, nearly six years after the band's official split-up, Seymour resurrected The Fire Apes with a new lineup and a new album -- all of which was completely unintentional.

Seymour, 37, went in the recording studio a year and a half ago with some new material -- just to record it and nothing else. There were no plans to put a band together. Encouraged by friends at the New Jersey indie label Kool Kat Music (who didn't expect Seymour to chuck his math teacher day job at Porter-Gaud School and tour all over creation), Seymour took a dozen songs into a home studio with engineer Robert Graves and into the old ARS Studios, where engineer Erik Rickert recorded Seymour and the band. With backing from bassist Mike Pennington, guitarist Jeff Bateman, and longtime Apes drummer Paolo Liccardi, the results comprised the album Central Park Carousel, which was officially released over the summer.

The collection was as upbeat and solid as anything the Apes ever did in the '90s. Wide-eyed lead'n'harmony vocals bounce over clean, arpeggiated guitar sounds, much like that of the vintage, top-of-the-chart Brit Invasion and post-punk/early-'80s pop-rock hits. Seymour's Gibson SG guitar's crunchy distortion on "Lori" is tough enough to counter the joyful "bap-bap ba-di-da-bap" yap of "Isabel (The Razor's Edge)." The mash-up of hard-guitar and sweet singin' doesn't quite work as well in the mix of metallic guitar and sweet-guy vocals on the cover of Herman & The Hermits' "I'm Into Something Good," though.

"I started getting e-mails from Europe and all over and the disc actually started selling," says the soft-spoken Seymour, who still seems taken aback by all the hoopla. "It was all very flattering and nice. All this stuff just started happening, which was really weird and unexpected, so now I'm really trying to figure out what's best to do. I absolutely love teaching ... more than anything, except for music. But the idea of traveling and getting heavily involved with management and all that ... I dunno."

The bandleader assembled a new version of the band with longtime "go-to" Charleston drummer Tommy Hamer (formerly of Astrojet), bassist Julian Volpe (who played on the Apes' 12-song album Perfect Day For Bananafish in 1997), and guitarist/keyboardist Matt Bivins (famed for his multi-instrumental work with Jump, Little Children). The quartet debuted at Cumberland's with a headlining show in early October. Backed with a massive light show by the local company PDA and clad in business suits and neckties, the Fire Apes '05 made a strong impression. A follow-up Windjammer gig in late October found the band dressed like The Jam once again, with Seymour in raccoon eye make-up and Miss Jackie of 96 Wave prancing around the hall as "ring girl." Brand new songs such as "Hey Kate" and "I Love You," along with their amped-up version of Pilot's quirky AM radio hit "It's Magic" brought the loudest cheers of the night.

"I think the stuff is still very melodic, but it's ... I hate to say it's more 'contemporary,' because I never try to sound retro," says Seymour of the new band's sound, compared to that of the old band. "It's sort of more the Beatles through someone like Green Day ... but with keyboards [laughs]. I just sit down and write and whatever comes out happens. I think I've matured a little bit as a songwriter, where a tune still has that emotional pull, but goes somewhere less conventional and less expected. It usually starts with just me and the guitar. To get together is really the fun part now because everyone gets along so well. It's a different feel and it's been so much fun."

This week's return to Cumberland's is part of the venue's three-day "Toys for Tots" drive in which clubgoers may get in with a new, unopened, unwrapped toy (or a $10 donation) on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Check the band's website at www.thefireapes.com for sights, sound, and information.


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