Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Pretty Blue Guns. Armed, disarming, and dangerous.

what happens when two precocious musicians get together to jam about the good and evil in us all? Dirt, baby; a project becomes a living dream and hearts burn up to the smoky, home-grown blues rising out of leafy Stellenbosch...

“Lose your dream / you will lose your mind.”- Rolling Stones, Ruby Tuesday

Who are The Pretty Blue Guns? They’re trouble wrapped up in a whole lot of sense and sensuality. They’re what you get when you put drummer Lucas, son of the legendary Vernon Swart (of Valiant Valiant Swart fame - also a drummer) with an avid, avo-eating Rolling Stones fan (AndrĂ© Leo), throw sticks and strings and a mic in the mix, add Greg Thompson on bass and Brandon Visser on guitar. They’re grounded, genuine guys and their music has gravitas – it’s genius without the god complex.

Besides being the freshest blues rock band in a none horse town and having more charisma than tutu in a madiba T, their slow, surging songs are giving Indie enthusiasts a deeper musical perspective without skimping on the exigencies of emotional indulgence quinessential to the movement (yes, it's a movement, not a genre. but we can argue about that another time. after Avontoer, maybe!).

The four typically twist time around their baby fingers - going to gigs from age 7, finishing school at 16, taking 36 hour drives from Kwazulu folk fests to Coke fests for a once in a lifetime Muse. And through it all, love and learning are on repeat. Obviously we want to know more. Jezebel and a few Jacks looked into the depth of their beings. Or was that their lager?

The first thing that happens when you start a conversation with The Pretty Blue Guns is that the waiter hits you with doubles because your sign language sucks, and you lose track of time. The second thing is this : Lucas, Andre and Jezebel swapping notes somewhere in beneath the leaves on a sleepy (sozzled) Sunday afternoon...


Jezebel: Why Blues? Is it because you're black?
Lucas: Sometimes.
Andre : It's the greatest music I've ever heard. I like the honesty and simplicity of it. The Blues is our back-bone, almost like a canvas, and we play around with it to suit our style.


Jezebel: New bands like noise. Ani Difranco likes saying 'half of learning how to play is learning what not to play.' Are you finding that the spaces between notes have their own thing to say?

Andre : Oh yeah! Keith Richards always said that the day he found his own style (circa '68) was when he learnt to play less. You gotta give songs space to breath. Also, with spaces in songs, you have the possibility of improvising and keeping it fresh. I'd hate to play the same songs the same way every night!


Jezebel: You sing about angels, devils, whores and kids with power tools. These are your friends?

Andre: haha... I guess they're my friends from my imagination. I've always liked lyrics as a narrative of some kind. People like Tom Waits got me hooked on that idea. I love making up stories to try bring across what I'm trying to say with a song. Sometimes you don’t know where the hell these words come from, but that's often when they come out the best.


Jezebel: in track 2 of Dirt (debut EP) you sing about someone with flowers in her hair. Who is Mary?

Andre: She's pretty much every girl that feels there's something seriously twisted and fucked up about looking up to people like Paris or the Playboy bitches.


Jezebel: There's a lot about love in the lyrics, but the lesson is often a simple truth (or a subtle threat). So which is more powerful? Metaphor or romance?

Andre : Love will always be main focus of music. I mean, who doesn’t feel love? I think looking at love (and its sister, Lust) from different angles is when interesting things start happening.


Jezebel: And in music, which is more powerful - rhythm or melody?

Andre: Rhythm. It's a feel thing. Melody is what comes after. The more worked-out part of the song writing process. But rhythm isn't something that comes from your head. It's in your bones.


Jezebel: Who left school at 16? And how? On earth? (and why didn't I? sigh…)

Andre: I did. I went to a private school and worked a bit harder than some people so I could get out. I wouldn’t have made it another 2 years. It was like this elephant in the road and just wanted out of the way ASAP. Without dropping out of course... it wasn’t really that difficult to tell the truth.


Jezebel: Imagine Brandon's been abducted by aliens, and you're due on stage. Do you :

a) borrow a violinist and hope there are a lot of country fans in the crowd

b) do a gumboot dance and wish everyone happy diversity day before mooning them and running away

c) cry

d) do an impromptu acoustic set

Lucas: I would pick A, while Greg does B and Andre does C,
because that's how we roll.

Andre: Yeah, an acoustic set probably (d). Just an improvisation vibe maybe.

Jezebel: why?

Andre: a) I don't own a pair of gumboots

b) Our acoustic stuff is much better than our dancing.


Jezebel: If you woke up one morning in a perfect world, would you still make music?

Lucas : Yeah. It would probably be pretty boring music, though. We would have to screw things up a bit just to make the world a bit more interesting...

Andre: Of course [I’d still make music]. It wouldn’t be perfect in my eyes if I didn’t play.


Jezebel: Describe your perfect world.

Andre: A world where people just respected each other would be great. And if people didn’t agree with each other, they just stayed out of their hair. In the words of one of my good friends : 'less religion. More good karma.'


Jezebel: You have young and old fans. That begs for a(nother) road trip. Tell us about the one that starts 18 Dec and finishes in 2009...

Andre: This all started with the idea of just playing a show or 2 at the time of the Matric holidays. It's kinda boomed! The Avontoer is something we've been waiting for a long while. 2 weeks with some of the best bands and best people we know. It's gonna be interesting to see how the country takes us in...


Jezebel: Would you do a tour of totally derelict and out-of-the-way towns just for the hell of it? (To test your music on bokkies and boere in the bundus?)

Andre: No, don't think those cats would go for it. Remember that guy the other night saying we're going to Hell? Imagine those in a herd!! Ouch.

Lucas : I would totally be amped for something like that. Also maybe a township tour and a few shows on a ship. Yeah, I want to play gigs on a ship.


Jezebel : George (Taxi Violence), I think, once mumbled something about Blues being the basis of all modern music. Agree? Undecided? Indifferent? What's Blues for you?

Andre: Definitely. It's music (well, modern music) in it's purest from. I could go on about how it affects everything, but I think people should read a book on it, or watch a film. Scorsese did a great series of 7 films about the significance and origin of the Blues. Well worth checking out.


Jezebel: Who would you like to invite on stage to perform with you?

Andre: Locally, I'd love to see The Guns and Taxi do collaboration. Also, Gerald Clark. A friend of ours who is hands down the best blues singer in SA.

Lucas : Tom Waits or Jack White would be nice, thank you.


Jezebel : A band. Is more than a project. It's a family. It's a four-way relationship. So how do you keep the peace?

Andre : We're best friends. So it's pretty easy. We dont really have to try. If we didn’t get along, we wouldn’t be friends.

Lucas : We have been doing this thing for a few years now, so we know one another well enough to know when to shut up and when to pass the salt.


Jezebel: whiskey or wine?

Andre: Wine is fine, but whiskey is quicker... haha. Who said that again?


Jezebel: What are your favourite Stones' lyrics?

Andre: Today? "Diamond rings, Vaseline, you give me disease! I lost a lotta love over you..."

Blues for believers? Amen.

Pretty Blue Guns Website

Face them:

Myspace them

or catch them sleeping on the beach somewhere along the coast on Avontoer oh nine

Avontoer is over, now. A few bullets about the blues boys on the bus and/or butt naked here(no, ok, we didn't cover their asses)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Foto Na Dans : a raw retrospective

[photograph taken by alex fourie]

a lens on foto
na dans

wow. i'm listening to le roi nel singing soldaatvolk off Foto Na Dan's very first EP. they didn't even title it, and it's not listed in their discography. and while we all come from somewhere, not all of us can call our roots an absolute colletor's item. Foto Na Dans might not agree with me, but this is one of them. a genuine gem.

their musical evolution is next to naked in the four tracks replete with rudimentary production and raw passion. it maps out the flow of their finesse from a sometimes stuttering start stitched with talent and trouble to a synthesis that simplifies the soul. it has solid bass lines. humid, enthusiastic drums still acquiring the art of silence and still witless to the fact that rushing doesn't get you where you want to go. finger licking strings, delicate, driven. trumpet slides and soars. ordinary electro keys? you better believe it - before they refined those trips and trills, before they made them a subtle signiture.

The slightly sarcstic, amper pastiche 'Elelktro' sounds like nothing you'd naturally ascribe to Foto now, but when you follow it with their 2007 debut Intervensie or 2008 EP, Pantomime Op Herwinbare Klanke, you can't help but hear history howl. so don't nobody tell me gorgeous, important, unusual things can't come from upstart indie ever again. from big ideas and small beginings comes beautiful things. it's been a long stretch from sindroom to slottoneel.

These days we know they've found the flow. we didn't know that they didn't always have it. (the blindness of those not burdened by the boon of music making, perhaps?) At its core and completion, Foto Na Dans offers a solid sound that they continue to disrupt with interrogative integrity. it's this that makes them one my favourite melodic vortices. their sound is synergised; they've found their formula, and they grow and change with it every time they play. and from these first grooves on the record, the one who's grown the most is the one i love the most on stage. Le roi. the voice of/ the face of/ the foto na dans of his own spiritual unfolding.

in this original recording for Soldaatvolk he sounds almost adolescent. he uses lazy, round vowels and thick exigencies instead of the articulate progressions we know now. a sudden suprise is hearing his vocal chords steeped in cathartic hollers, raw growls and grating snaps. imagine if he'd gone retro rock on us! or punk. there would be no foto na dans. and no dans, either.

his diction and elocution have evolved aeons between that EP and their debut album. since i first heard Foto Na Dans at their Mercury launch at the end of 2007, i've been in helpless awe of his exquisite ennunciation and that effortless integration of emotion, breath and energy on stage. he takes the core emotion in the compositions and the power in their lyrics and melodies to another level. his voice evokes things i can't find poetry for.

of course, it's not effortless. there have been times when he's had to hold his tongue to heal. he's given his voice professional workouts. it's nice to know that hard work, training, and quality tools can pull the sacred out of the seed. the lesson is love what you love, even if nobody else does. and believe in yourself.

Foto Na Dans regularly tour the country in a dedicated effort to reach people across the land. at the time of typing, they're sitting with 75 souls less than 7000 on their Facbook fanpage. tell me that's not epic for a band from Belville that isn't even a toddler yet.

keep growing gentle men. you are gold.

p.s. update. 3 days later. 3 away from seven thousand on the Face ( )(which reminds me that Rhythm Records have pointed out that this band's fans and CD sales rise relative to every show and tour of theirs. )

welcome home, Foto!