Rock really has one general blueprint. Not much of a revelation, but the truth nonetheless. Blame it on whom or whatever you want—the blues, the Beatles, big corporations—but over the last four decades, pop music has been reduced to a simple by-the-numbers setup. Beats come four at a time. The chorus follows the verse. Guitar solos—if there even is one anymore—come in the middle. Break the formula and you risk throwing people into epileptic shock—never a good thing when you’re trying to get people to scurry out and buy your album. The result: You conform or you disappear, easy as that. That means everything sounds the same, everyone looks the same, music ends up generic and bland. Gag.
The only bright spot: Those lucky few that actually manage to get away with rock blasphemy and break the mold stick out that much more—see groups like Gorillaz, Wilco and System of a Down. Whether or not Apex Theory makes the list is still up for debate. The plus points: Thick hooks, an aggro approach, some initial buzz. But there’s one big thing in the quartet’s way: When was the last time a song with an 11/8 time signature made it into the Top 40? Probably never.
“Yeah, we do some things that people probably aren’t used to,” says singer Andy Khuchaturian. “It’s not like we sit around and say, ‘Let’s do a song in 11/8 time.’ It just feels right to us.”
The reason: It’s what the band grew up hearing. Like System of a Down, most of Apex Theory is Armenian. Traditional Middle-Eastern music filled the Khuchaturian house, as well as that of guitarist Art Karamian and bassist David Hokopyan. It carries an entirely different groove than what most MTV denizens have ever heard—slinky, exotic, hypnotic and downright strange.
The trick comes in how Apex Theory handles it. The band’s new disc, Topsy-Turvy (DreamWorks), hides all the sonic algebra inside a dense dragnet of hooks and power—think Incubus with a slide rule and At the Drive-In’s amps. Tracks like “Bullshed” and the single “Shhh (Hope Diggy)” come off like a Wookie dressed in baggy jeans and a Billabong shirt—familiar and yet totally otherworldly. Others, like “Apossibly,” are perfectly designed to play at the kabob cart at Ozzfest, the band mixing straight Middle-Eastern guitar lines with enough volume to rattle your gut. Sure, it’s a dangerous combo. Most bands can barely write a decent rock riff these days, let alone one that’s so out of whack. But somehow, it all oddly works. Khuchaturian says it’s only because the band was willing to try.
“When a band takes chances, the coolest things can come out of it,” he says. “It’s not that other bands couldn’t do what we do. It’s not that hard or anything. They just don’t want to. They think they can’t be successful at it or that they can’t go against what’s already out there. That just doesn’t make sense to me. You should do what comes naturally, not what you think will sell.”
Ultimately, it’s that philosophy that will make or break the band. If the group succeeds, chalk one up for originality. If not, get ready for another dose of sameness. So far, things seem to be working. Topsy-Turvy has been getting decent reviews. The band has gotten on all the right tours—Snowcore, MTV2 Tour, this summer’s installment of Ozzfest. Crowds have been getting into the music. While it will take months to see how it all plays out, Khuchaturian is happy with how it all seems to be shaping up.
“It’s fun to watch people get it,” he says. “It’s a process. People still aren’t used to some of this stuff. But they slowly come into it. They come to a show not knowing anything, see it, and then about halfway through the set, it comes to them. That’s exactly what we want to see. Once we get them, they’re hooked.”