Taxi Violence has rocked the motherland from the far reaches of Oppikoppi to the close-knit Cape cliffs and back and forth for a while now. Not bad for four boys from the ‘burbs who swiped a sensational name from a headline that now gets them noticed every time they’re in the by-line. But then, this is the band who secured sponsorship as 24.com’s favourite and throw their weight around on stage like they’re one of the most engaging live acts in the land, (something that some of the more decent critics don’t deny.)
But here’s been some recent speculation about the future of South Africa’s independent stalwarts. It’s all very well that they’re household names on Cape Town and Jozi rock scenes, but they’ve only released one album since they first gigged in 2006 and fans want a bit more than that to take home with them. The muttering goes that while their music is highly digestible, there must be something in their freethinking formula that is blocking the flow. Is it because they turned down an open contract with a label? Or because they haven’t performed abroad yet? Whatever it is, change is on the guest list, because after ages of fanning the flames of success and not quite burning their way to worldwide renown, they’re suddenly single again sans full time manager or dedicated praise-singer, and still doing it their way. Drummer Nel and Jezebel spoke about then and now.
Jezebel : industry people are sniggering about the re-release of your debut album, Untie Yourself. Obviously you’re not doing it for them. So are you doing it for your fans?
Nel : Yeah. We sold out of copies of Untie Yourself over a year ago. We became really frustrated because nothing was done to manufacture more units. Somewhere along the line we were so sick and tired of telling someone at the show, ‘sorry we don’t have a CD to sell you’. We took it really personally. I mean, how would you feel if you saw a band live, liked it, wanted the CD afterwards and they didn’t have one for you?
Jezebel : I’d feel they didn’t really care about their public. Which you do. Or they were new. Which you aren’t. So what’s new about Untie Yourself ?
Nel: We’ve changed the packaging…but not the cover.
Jezebel: Same material?
Nel : There’s an extra track “Hold ‘Em Or Fold ‘Em” which we recorded in (bassist) Jason’s bedroom while we were doing preproduction for our upcoming release, The Turn.
Jezebel : Can you hear that it was recorded in his bedroom?
No. Because George is that good. He record and mixed it, and we had it mastered externally. It’s very lo fi; it doesn’t have as much production as you’ll find the track has on The Turn.
Jezebel : how do you feel about the new material, since Jason settled in and you started composing together?
Nel : I’m a little afraid that we might lose a few fans who love Untie Yourself. But on the other hand this is what I want to sound like. I think we’ve finally found the ‘Taxi sound’. Untie Yourself was kind of an experiment.
Jezebel : Were you aware of that at the time?
Nel : Ja. We loved the songs, and it was a very good exercise. I can’t believe it did as well as it did. I mean, a SAMA nomination? After that the first steps were taken towards the new sound. Then a new bassist, with a different style, different sound, his own way of playing.
Jezebel : And to think he once followed you around as a fan, and used to wish he could be in the band , and now he’s helping form the new sound.
Nel : He is. He’s brought a new element to the writing.
Jezebel : How does the writing work?
Nel : There isn’t a single songwriter in Taxi Violence. We write together. We’re a very democratic band. Sometimes too democratic. Sometimes we can’t make a fucking decision. I wouldn’t say that Jason has necessarily made our sound darker, coz we’ve always liked the dark element in music. But the new album is more mature. I think we’ve matured. A lot. There’s a song on the new album that borders on adult contemporary, for us. It’s a song that was written by the former bassist (in 2007, I think). Many times we tried to play the song live, but we couldn’t kick it. And then we played it for our big acoustic show (the DVD recording). We then added drums (instead of me on guitar).
Jezebel : you’ve been talking about a brand new album for a while now. You recorded in May. Why did it take so long from your first release? Did you first need to bond over a few sweaty games of squash and find out if Jason really is a great cook?
photo : jezebel
Nel : We were waiting for him to become Kulula mag’s “Hottie Of The Month”. No, seriously, this album more or less 3 years in the making. I think that’s a little too long in South Africa between releases. But a new bassist is a major change.
Jezebel : Change seems the word of the day. You've discontinued your professional relationship with your former band manager, Sean Wienand, (Headline Artists). How did you come to a decision about that?
Nel : It was hard. We’ve reached a point in our careers where we needed to get to take the next step. We rethought business plan and strategy. Our main objective was to not be dependent on a single person to do the behind-the-scenes stuff, we decided to work with people based on their strengths. On a commission basis. This way, if we make a mistake, it’s our own fault.
We’ve decided to remain self-managed for the time being. We’ve reached the stage where we can, and over time we’ve also surrounded ourselves with people who are very good at what they do.
Most bands think that they can’t do it themselves. I feel the only reason you’d need a manager is if you or any of the other member don’t have the time to run around and do things, or if you don’t have the connections to strike deals. If you’re good at networking and have a day job that allows you free time, then you can be your band’s manager. But I do think you need a good booking agency. Preferably a company who has strong ties locally and internationally.
Jezebel : Who’s handling your booking, then?
Jezebel : Aha. Which begs the obvious question - going overseas any time soon?
Nel : We’ll be going over with them in September / October, to Germany and Holland, and they’ll act as tour manager. When you go overseas, you’re basically starting all over again. Going over to Germany is going back to square one. The strategy with Southern Pulse is to do it country by country , a 3-tour plan (one this year, one – or two, depending – next year) . When Boo! Was still playing and touring they did something like 17 tours to Europe in all. Leon started making connections and networking, he’s a very together guy, and obviously saw a potential future in it. His ties are mainly in Holland. His perceptions are that after 3 (successful) tours , you can start to estimate your impact on the markets there.
What’s your idea of a “successful” tour?
When you get rebooked the next time, for more money, and more people attend.
Jezebel : You’re going to Germany for Popkomm? A friend from Berlin told me it is very commercial.
Nel : It’s not a music festival they way we know. It’s more a music industry gathering. People exchange music, bands play throughout Berlin. So it’s more a shmoozfest.
Jezebel : Sounds like a step in the right direction. Any parting thoughts?
Nel : In a nutshell, we’ve made some really difficult business decisions, hopefully the right ones. It’s easy to get despondent. It’s the passion and love that drives you. I just want to play.
We want this album to get what it deserves. I feel it - it’s going to be groundbreaking…for me, at least. I suppose that’s good enough.
Jezebel : What does this album deserve?
Nel : it deserves-
Jezebel (interrupting): YOU . [pan left to audience. Oh, wait, this is a blog! Well, then, alt tab to Facebook…] See if you can Untie Yourself again (available now), or take The Turn in August. Because, as lyricist and vocalist George Van Der Spuy pointedly points out, “life is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived”…
photo : jezebel
On the other side of Violence, we spoke to another stick man, Leon Retief about booking agency Southern Pulse’s take on Taxi …
Jezebel : What is your vision for your partnership with Taxi Violence?
Leon: To take over the world. one Taxi at a time.
Leon : I come from a strong [background of] independence, I have learnt that each band and label is structured differently and need different tactics to expose and promote them.
[Jezebel’s note : Leon toured with monkipunks Boo! as drummer For many years ]
Leon : We start a fresh relationship irrelevant of their past. I believe Taxi will do well in Europe and I am willing to spend time on them and do my best.
photo : jezebel
Jezebel : From what you've seen, how difficult is it for an unknown act to break into an established scene in Europe?
photo : jezebel
Leon : Each to his own. I believe using the international scene but always returning home is the best. But that doesn’t mean it is for everyone.