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APAKATJAH: THE ‘IN BETWEEN’ INTERVIEW

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With their debut album In Between out on March 31 and a Midnight Oil support slot in October, Apakatjah’s Dion and Jonathan tell AM’s Greg Phillips that they are excited for the future.

Apakatjah is Alice Springs duo Dion Forrester and Jonathan Lindsay-Tjapaltjarri Hermawan. The word Apakatjah refers to the pair’s mixed heritage, part Pintupi-Luritja, Pitjantjatjara, Pertame Central Arrernte, Alywarre, Kaytitj and Islander, part European, Indonesian, Irish, Welsh and Dutch. The sound of Apakatjah is a blend of those cultures and lyrically too, Dion and Jonathan mix ancient language with English, promoting a universal message of peace and harmony. It’s that unification of cultural elements which gives these likeable larrikins their unique sound.
“It’s important to acknowledge our past but we also realise that we don’t just want to sing in language all the time,” explains Dion. “People often ask us for the translation of a song, so we’ll sing a verse in language and the next one in English. It’s part of our identity, part of who we are, so we chuck it in. We don’t have it in every song but some songs need it, requiring the language to be part of it to tell the story. Plus it makes us feel good when we are singing it and makes us feel good when people are listening to it but also understanding what it means.”

Apakatjah 29_08_16-146The Alice Springs-based duo have been together as Apakatjah since 2012, when they first jammed out tunes, one of them being Desert Man, which appears on their debut album In Between (released March 31 through CAAMA).
“Dion and I have been playing in Alice for over a decade playing in local bands reggae bands, cover bands, high school bands,” says Jonathan.

Initially Dion and Jonathan had the intention of In Between being recorded as an acoustic project. However, Alice Springs songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer of their album Dave Crowe (aka Resin Moon) had other ideas. Crowe saw a bigger picture for Apakatjah and added bass, drums, keys, electric guitar, brass and strings to give Apakatjah a more panoramic feel. The input of local NT music industry identity Kenny Glaze was also significant, especially on the track Desert Man.
“It was actually our bass player’s idea, Kenny Glaze, who is a multi instrumentalist, to put strings on it. He’s worked with artists like Catherine Satour and a lot of other musos up here. He said he wanted to put double bass on it and cello. Desert Man was our very first song we ever wrote but it turned out really well,” says Jonathan.

One of the features of the album are the slick, fingerpickin’ guitar parts of Dion and Jonathan, which comes as no surprise when you consider their influences range from Angus Young to Richie Sambora and 80s rockers Whitesnake and Def Leppard.
“We fancied ourselves as guitar players before singers,” says Dion. “How we ended up playing this kind of music I’ll never know because we both started playing lead guitar. Every band we ever played in, we never did anything else except screeching lead breaks with a bit of crunch and an overdrive pedal. Now when we play acoustics, we have to remind ourselves that we are not playing electric lead with four seconds delay or sustain.”

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As Apakatjah gain more attention nationwide, both Dion and Jonathan are looking to upgrade their gear. “I currently play a Fender acoustic, nothing flash about it except for the colour,” says Jonathan. “Can this be a plug for Maton? We love Matons but we can’t afford them!” Dion does actually play a Maton. “My ex-wife bought me a Maton, so I do have one. We got divorced but I still have the Maton. So they’re standard six strings, standard tuning and we pluck the hell out of them.  I also use a really nice LAG nylon string which has a great pickup in it for the Mexican sounds, nothing flash but we play the hell out of them. We don’t have many effects just a bit of chorus and delay. Then the old capo comes in every now and then. I’ve got a stomp box and a desert boomerang that we use too.”

Like many of the acts that emerge from the Northern Territory, the Apakatjah guys are thankful to the close knit local music community and the official body MusicNT, which continues to place massive support behind the talent up north. Their local Music store in Alice has also got behind the band.
“There’s a shop in Alice called Rock City Music where we get all our gear. We support Daran (Rumbal) there and he looks after us. It’s a tough gig for musos up here cos everything costs so much for freight. Strings are expensive but Daran has been a muso for most of his life and has supported every single musician who has come out of the centre. He struggles to make a buck but the last time we went on tour he gave us a bunch of stuff for free and we love the bloke. Over the years we’ve bought so much gear from him. He’s such a good support for us, I wish there were more blokes like him.”

The release of the band’s debut album In Between is not the only major event happening for the pair this year. The other is winning a support slot for Midnight Oil’s gig at ANZAC Oval in Alice Springs on October 2nd, along with Dan Sultan.
“We grew up listening to Midnight Oil, so it is going to be an honour for us to be supporting them. It’s a huge honour and we cant wait,” says Jonathan.” Dion is equally as excited. “I first saw Midnight Oil in the 90s with Warumpi Band when we were much younger. It was in the middle of the bush. The first time we saw them we were pumped and especially seeing the Warumpi Band too.”

IN-BETWEEN-Digital-Cover-Revised 3000pxApaktajah’s recent performance at the Nannup Music Festival in WA was incredibly well received and the band is keen to bring a little bit of the Alice to other states too. With the album released on March 31, the label is looking to make that happen. “When we played the Nannup Festival in Perth there was a lot of response from young people, kids as young as 8, 9, 10,” says Jonathan “The song In Between that we just released … I don’t know what Dion reckons but I don’t really like the way we recorded it, it’s a bit too country, Hank Williams kind of thing for me but the message of the song is really powerful. These mixed culture kids come up to us at the end of the festival saying … you’re our favourite band! One kid was really struck by us and I said to Dion, that makes me feel really happy that we are putting out this message and touching people’s lives. It’s a message they can take home that unites people, not divide them and makes them feel like we’re part of one human race.”

In Between is out Friday March 31
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