Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Plus-sized pop from Wrestlerish

jezebel chats to Wrestlerish about the Other Cape Town, dirty takes and making up your own words…

(bear breasted for Wrestlerish)

Arnold’s. One o' clock. Queen is warbling in the background, we’re arguing about Freshlyground, and Jacques has a split end on his beard. This is what 8 years in music industry and 8 months in the ring do to you.

It's the day after Daisies, nobody’s eating the all-day breakfast and I’m wondering about poetry, semantics and grammar. Grammar doesn’t really matter to Wrestler…ish but Dave, Gav, Jacques and Werner have oiled their instruments to fit their sound somewhere between your winter woes and your summer throes of ecstasy. Or, as Gavin puts it, “Dude, seriously, I’m pulling it out to show you. “ (he’s talking about the split end, but it’ll do as a lead-in as well)

Wrestlerish regularly receive kudos and compliments from the cloister otherwise known as the underground in-crowd (as in, INvolved, INvested, IN all the way, not just putzing around pretending to play an instrument). But when I mention them being part of the marvellous music that comes out of Pretoria and INcludes the likes of Isochronous, they promptly (and politely) correct me. “we’re actually not a Pretoria band. We’re a Gauteng band.” (ok what exactly do you think that means? Is this like Bellville versus city bowl again? Or bowl versus ‘bosch? Sigh…)

With roots in SHU, half of them have been at it for almost a decade. So, couldn’t they just skip the apprenticeship and board the wow-ship? No way, they say. They might have previous experience, a deal with a major label dangling in front of them and the honour of opening for Dear Reader’s upcountry album launch (well, I think it’s an honour, anyway), but they want to be tight as a junkie’s jugular before they go large. “It’s kind of refreshing TAKING the steps,” offers vocalist and guitarist Werner Olckers, “you’re less likely to fail in the future.” It also gives the band time to synergise their live act, which is something no amount of previous playing experience can affect without practise.

In the interim, support seeps from diverse avenues in social media and snaps happily along many of musical lay lines that connect musos and local live music aficionados across the country. Wrestlerish is a bit bewildered by it, really, and really quite grateful. “We don’t feel like we’re part of the clique. The stuff pushing the boundaries is definitely coming from Pretoria. But the best rock bands are in Cape Town without a doubt. “

So the guys are happily honing their honeysad pop melodies on the live scene. They call it ‘paying your dues’ (which sounds a bit like ‘playing to the clueless’) and when I ask how they feel about awkward slots at festivals they talk about climbing the ladder as a new band. ‘If you play an awkward slot, you have to take the positive from it. We don’t want to stand out negatively. We feel we’re not there yet. I do want people one day to walk away from a show and go’ wow that band really put everything into it’, but we aren’t there yet.’

So where are they? Totally independent. Touring. And on time for interviews. Which makes up for their in/appropriation of the word wrestler. Ish.

We argue about mixing and mastering and mumbles in recording. Wrestlerish like mistakes. They want you to see the bones in an album, because it’s more honest than overproduced pop. Personally, I’d rather not hear you cough and curse when you hit a flat note, or fluff up the lyrics, (though I’ll forgive Ben Harper’s heartbreaking sobs and Jeff Buckley’s haunting howls, and Bon Iver‘s anything). Their strongest argument for bits and pieces being in the mix-down is aural authenticity. “I don’t ever want to be part of a band that records something and can’t perform it live…”

But then the other extreme is the act – I’m dubious about ‘applied performance’ - onstage energy that’s created by effort instead of charisma. But on the issue of rocking out (even if you feel like passing out), they’re impassioned. “You have to step up to perform better. it’s not an exaggeration; it’s an extension of the song. You have to communicate with the crowd. The live experience is one of the main reasons we do it. You can’t see performance on a CD.” You also can’t see the creative process.

So when it comes to penning and strumming songs they let it flow. “We don’t over think it, we write a song, we move on. We just like writing hooks. If Gavin’s humming it afterwards, it’s a success.”

Seems they agree there, but try getting them to agree to a genre. After throwing a few hybrid monosyllables around, we settled on folk pop-rock (or was it country?)

The bassist must intercede “ I don’t hear the folk.”

“Bluegrass, then” someone butts in while I’m looking down at the keyboard and trying to keep up.

“No way, bru!”

I roll my eyes, and decide for them. “Bru-Grass, boys; it would be Blues but it’s too happy, it would be Bluegrass but it’s not that snappy… it’s you.”

Is it? don’t quote me, quote them : “We don’t perform drunk. When you’re drunk it’s harder to say the name.”