Jason Sinay & APE:
Singer-songwriter Jason Sinay leads two lives. In one life, he’s a respected studio guitarist. Sinay has worked with legends such as Neil Diamond, Jerry Lee Lewis, Toots And The Maytals, and produced many notable TV spots, most recently a steamy Super Bowl ad featuring Adriana Lima. In his other life, Sinay enthusiastically leads a virtuosic Americana band with a deeply engaged fanbase. The recent
ly released Ape & The Wall Of Questions, the band’s sophomore release, is the LA-based quintet’s most definitive studio statement. It captures that elusive jam-band ideal of live fluidity documented with pristine-but-vibe-y production; in short, it’s lightning in a bottle
Jason Sinay & Ape have been favorably compared to Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (whose ace guitarist, Mike Campbell, Sinay gigs with in The Dirty Knobs), the Grateful Dead, and Mark Knopfler. The quintet features Jason Sinay guitar/vocals and the seasoned talents of Bruce Watson guitar (Elton John, Rod Stewart, Foreigner), Phil Parlapiano keys (Lucinda Williams, John Prine, Grant Lee Buffalo), Rick Rosas bass (Neil Young, Joe Walsh, Buffalo Springfield), and Phil Jones drums (Tom Petty, Cracker, Waddy Wachtel Band). The band is a songs-first type of jam band, where flights of stratospheric virtuosity are contextualized by durable and well-crafted folk, soul, and blues-based compositions. The band’s limber improvisations, ranging from sublime minimalism to soaring outpourings, have captivated a highly devoted fanbase. “Last time we played, a girl flew in from Seattle,” Sinay says with excitement. Recently, the band launched a very successful facebook campaign where those with upcoming birthdays could request songs for future gigs. “It was unbelievable how engaged and excited people were. I realized at that moment the crowd was there in our corner,” Sinay says.
“The way I describe the band to people is ‘it’s like I’m in eleventh grade again and I’m happy to play in front of four people,’” he enthuses.
That’s a bold statement from such a sought-after career guitarist. Jason Sinay literally grew up in recording studios. His uncle ran a jingle company servicing consumer giants like McDonald’s and Mattel Toys. He started hanging around the studio when he was 8, and during high school he was a gofer. “My first session was for Pac Man Cereal. I remember saying, ‘I hear a bass part here,’ and my uncle had me play it. He was excited he didn’t have to pay me,” Sinay laughs. “I got to play with LA’s best musicians.”
Sinay attended Berklee College Of Music and then moved back to LA to pursue the studio scene. Parallel to this, he co-founded the alternative pop group Five Easy Pieces who released a self-titled debut in 1998 on MCA. Esteemed producer Don Smith (Rolling Stones, Keith Richards, Tom Petty) presided over that band’s recording, and it was during these sessions Sinay had a transformative moment. “I’ve wanted to do a solo record forever, but ended up in other people’s bands just being the guitar player. During the Five Easy Pieces recording, I wasn’t really a singer or a songwriter, but when I sat down with Don and played him 3 of my songs, he said ‘I want to produce this.’ Then things became very real.” The two worked for 7 years on Sinay’s solo debut with a revolving cast of studio musicians. The ensuing album, Ape, was picked up by Kevin Eggers and signed to Tomato Records (Townes Van Zant’s label home).
Ape & The Wall Of Questions is a band-oriented in-the-moment album. Tracked at the famed Sound City Studios in LA—since shutdown, but highly regarded for landmark recordings by such diverse artists as Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young, Nirvana, Rage Against The Machine, among many others—it captures some of Los Angeles’s finest musicians at the peak of nuanced, real-time band interplay. Martin Pradler (Don Smith’s right hand man) produced the album, and it has a studio-as-additional-acoustic-instrument ambience rarely heard in this tracked-in-a-shoebox ProTools era. It’s a living and breathing recording.
The album opens with a graceful version of the Grateful Dead staple “Jack-a-Roe,” a showcase for Sinay’s tenderly plaintive vocals and the supple, spiraling blues-guitar weaving of duo Sinay and Bruce Watson. The hauntingly beautiful original, “The Carney,” has a psychedelic folk flavor anchored by richly defined melodicism and tasteful ornamentation. “That was inspired by the HBO show Carnivàle about a traveling carnival in the 1930s. I was taken by the show’s dark and weird imagery. It’s about the dark part of myself, and the savior of music—it pulls you out of that dark side… or pulls you in,” Sinay says with a laugh. Another highlight is the quaintly soulful “I’ll Bring You Diamonds” which opens with a stunning teardrop guitar solo but later climaxes with a grand, Pink Floyd “Comfortably Numb”-esque tour de force with epic emotional virtuosity.
It’s refreshing to feel youthful enthusiasm from such a distinguished vet. Jason Sinay was the guitarist in soul legend Ivan Neville’s touring band. Currently, he’s America’s Got Talent/Epic Records recording artist Michael Grimm’s guitarist. He played on Tift Merritt’s Grammy Award-nominated George Drakroulias-produced album Tambourine. Sinay has also had the rare honor to play with most of his inspirations, Keith Richards, Neil Young, Kris Kristofferson, and Tom Petty’s legendary guitarist, Mike Campbell. For over a decade now, Sinay has played with Campbell in the roots rock all-stars The Dirty Knobs. Sinay also played on Neil Diamond’s career-reviving 12 Songs, produced by Rick Rubin, and he played on Jerry Lee Lewis’ late-career masterpiece, Mean Old Man. Despite his impressive career which, in the past, afforded him endless studio time, Ape & The Wall Of Questions was recorded in a fevered week of compacted inspiration but remains a true creative highlight for Jason.
“We set up on that first day of tracking at Sound City—over the years, I’ve done some great records in that room—and an engineer came up to me and said ‘I see bands come in here all the time and they have no idea how good they have it, and you you’re jumping up and down, but you grew up in a recording studio!’,” Jason says before concluding, “This is completely like starting over. It’s fresh and new to me, and I just have a lot of energy around it.”