VIOLENCE REBORN :
THIS IS NOT A TRIBUTE SHOW, THIS IS ROCK & ROLL.
A few weeks back I impulsively stood another gig up and screeched around the corner to the warp-floored Zula for my first taste of the new Taxi. I was dubious and curious, excited, and apprehensive. They were delighted, enthused and intense. The stage throbbed. The dance floor heaved. They look thrilled and sound superb. I was relieved.
So just how many roads must a man walk down before…? I don’t know. I think it's more cryptic than that – change will change you, and can’t tell the future; so you'd better trust the music.
The Violence recently shuddered under sonic shifts that transplanted original bassist, Loedi Van Renen, into northern soils. From southpaw to outlaw in a swift series of extended goodbyes; ‘Richard Gere’ is outa here and there were tears in our eyes. There were fears too, of course, as anybody with vested belief in the band would agree.
Change is terrifying when there’s a good thing going; and, boy, do Taxi have a lot of love to show for their labours. This is their first major upheaval since they started making their seamlessly sexy sound 3 years ago. Fate’s spoils have spoilt them, though, and their sudden lack came with a bit of luck. Without skipping a beat, Taxi Violence is tactfully intact with new bassist. Enter Jason Ling on the four-string.
It seems the time has come for a different kind of Violence. So here's the butterfly theory (aka Flapping Around to certain die-hard fans) :
It would be weird for a new phase in one of the most synergistic musical outfits around to take place out of context. It didn’t. While the story is still fresh from the farm, it winds back a long, long way. All the way, in fact, to the first birth. Like many babes, this new addition to Cape Town's Rock 'n Roll family is the result of a long-standing passion. (and I’m not talking about all those amorous, Titanic parodies that keep turning up on Facebook). Back at the ranch (which is our back yard and beloved, grubby watering hole); Jason has always been a fan of the band he now forms part of. “You’ve probably seen me at every Taxi gig in the last two years” he muses. Too true. (Clearly there’s more than one fanatic around here). So how did their paths first cross?
When Taxi Violence were in the early stage of their prattle and hum, they opened for Andy Lund’s Roswell Kings who sported - *kaching * – the once long-haired Ling on bass. Jason subsequently heard ‘Devil and Pistol’ at the Levi’s Young Guns (no pun intended. really.) and did what any good baddie would do under the influence: he swooned, he fell in love, he bought the album (have you?) and then followed the band like a groupie till he found himself with his feet on the stage and his fingers in the music. All roads lead to home, after all!
I caught him off guard at The Shack one night after band practice. Say hello to the new kid on the bloc…
[Jezebel wears red in this interview]
* * * *
The Low-Down On Ling:
New kid was once a little kid, né? The music had to come from somewhere - tell us about your musical background.
"My parents aren’t musical at all. In school they sat me in front of a piano and it’s still the only instrument I can read music for. I got to high school and started learning the trumpet. I taught myself guitar and played for a couple of bands and then in 2003 Andy Lund (of the former Roswell Kings) asked me to take over from Jono Brittan on bass when he went to the UK. I learnt the songs and have been playing bass since then."
"I’m never nervous going on stage, no matter the size of the crowd; I’m more nervous coming OFF stage. Loedi left big shoes to fill, in a way, and the anticipation is there – what’s it gonna sound like, how’s Taxi going to continue?"
How was it so far? (3 shows together so far –one @ Stellies, one @Zula, CT, one @ Springbok, Southern Suburbs)
"It was good; on Thursday the crowd loved it. But most importantly the guys in the band said, ‘Fuck, that rocks’. Along with Sean [Wienand, Taxi’s manager and head boy at Headline Artists], these are the people and opinions that really mean the most.
On Saturday a lot of people came to see the new Taxi Violence. We rocked out; balls to the wall and when we came off everyone had some good things to say. Everything you saw on stage on Saturday - that was me. That’s how I auditioned, in a way. If I feel it and it makes me move, there’s no doubt someone in the crowd is going to move. That’s how I’ve always seen and perceived it. I can’t stand bass players that just stand there, it just bores me.”
Stupid question, now. IS a bass guitar easier to learn than a normal guitar, seeing as it has fewer strings?
“Ja, but sometimes fewer notes mean more. Bass is about taste. As soon as the bass player plays a wrong note, that’s the one note you‘re likely to pick up."
Ja, the synergy and sensitivity of a bass player is paramount to the whole sound. Bass is not a conscious sound, it blends but it also dominates in a very underhanded way.
"You gotta really listen; it’s there, but you don’t know its there. The bass makes you move. It’s the balls! A lot of bass players seem to have to put a hundred notes in, but I’m comfortable just playing a root note if it resonates, and it gives the bottom end to the song which is an essential thing. That’s my thing. Play for the song and not yourself.”
I was concerned about Taxi finding somebody who they could flow with. I knew that the person would not have as long a personal history with them (Loedi, Rian and Louis played together for 14 years). I’m really curious about the new stuff you write together.
“That’s what I was saying to the guys, you know. First of all, for me, when I watch Taxi, I can hear it in the songs, I can hear it in the style they play – it’s a band that hangs out a lot. The drums, bass and guitar section have been together for years which makes them work ‘cos they know each others' styles of playing. Along with George, we all have similar goals and tastes in music which comes through in the songs they’ve written and the songs we will write. Taxi’s music and style appeal to me cos they write as a band and everyone has a say. It just makes the whole writing process easier. As for the buddy-buddy stuff, we’re still getting to know each other properly but so far we’ve had a laugh each time we’re down at the pub."
Where’s the synergy for you?
“It’s just the style. It’s cleverly structured and George knows where, what and how to sing. It just works. I’ve been in bands where I write everything – 2 guitar parts, drum and bass parts - and try write the lyrics. I’m telling everyone what to do, it’s just them covering the songs, and they CAN’T FEEL IT. Compare that to a band that sits in a room, and jams for hours on one song. Eventually they come up with a product which is complete, and they can’t wait to play it live. And that’s the synergy that comes through on stage, that energy – everyone’s got their part.
For me Taxi is one of the tightest – if not the tightest – units that I’ve seen.
As you pointed out earlier, it’s easy for me to learn fifteen songs; I’ve done a lot of tribute shows. I basically listened to the Taxi album a couple of times learnt the whole CD backwards, but I told them straight up that, for me, the main test IS gonna be when we start writing. I’m not trying to imitate, I’m trying to bring a different energy to the band. So far our rehearsals have been focussed on getting the band tight as a unit but in-between the set we’re constantly putting new ideas out there, even if it means swapping instruments. On the whole, I’d say it’s been very productive and who knows, maybe a few songs might come out from those jams."
How do you feel about the inevitable attentions you’ll receive from women projecting their experience of the music onto you?
“Look, I’m the oldest in the band. Last year was really tough but my headspace is really clear now, I’m happy being single and rocking out on the music. That’s all I want.” (said with a smirk of a smile)"
Erm, I hate to break it to you, but you’ve just entered a five-way relationship.
This new love affair almost didn’t happen, though.
“I owe so much to Joshua Grierson [Mercurial]. Last year I came very close to hanging up everything. I was doing tribute shows and hating it. Like, 'this is what I’ve become? A has-been?' And then I saw Josh and he was the first artist in a long time that completely moved me, and I was like, ‘wow, can I play bass for you?’ and he said no.
I asked him for about two months and then he said 'Ja. Ok you can play electric guitar for me’. I brought out my whole collection, worked for about six months, and the one gig we had scheduled, the power went out. Then I heard Loedi was leaving Taxi and I thought it was just a lie. I saw George at the Shack and he said it was gonna happen so I started practising bass again.”
Besides the music, what else makes you like Taxi as a band?
"The other thing I really love about Taxi is that you can pick up from their on-stage performance that the guys are serious, they wanna be there, and the way they talk about it - they’re passionate about it. They’re prepared to put in whatever it takes to make things happen. I know what the stakes are. I love the music that they play so much that even if they were just starting out and needed a bass player, I would have auditioned just as hard and been just as committed. A lot of guys audition for the wrong reasons – a big band, whatever. I’m there because I love their attitude. I’m there because I want to be surrounded by creativity, and musicians who want to write good songs. And the sound IS gonna change. It’s getting harder and a bit heavier but still keeping the Taxi signature."
I see you strap your wrist with tape.
"I play pretty hard so my wrist tends to burn and bleed so I started strapping it. It probably comes down to poor technique."
So less blood, more violence?
“No! More blood. More violence. It’s the only way.” (laughs)
How do you feel about being called “Asian Persuasion” by George the other day?
“That’s how we joke; I get it every day, I’m so used to it – I’m Chinese but South African born and bred. If you can’t laugh at yourself, don’t laugh at all. I told George to go on stage and say 'Yeah, we just toured China and everything was so cheap there that we bought a new bass player.' "
“At the end of the day, it’s about the music.”
* * * *
The proof, of course, is in the pudding, but if Jason’s newfound punctuality is anything to go by, it seems he’s absolutely amped. “I’m normally half an hour to 40 minutes late for anything, but now with rehearsals and gigs, I’m the first there.”
With a typical excess of understatement, he puts it in a nutshell that you can crack right away; “I’m excited to part of Taxi, I really am.” (That’s childish glee couched in grown-up talk if I ever heard it.)
Our faith is intact. The music is safe. The violence continues. Turn up the volume and let’s see what they come up with…