Friday, October 30, 2009
Monday, October 26, 2009
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Vernon Swart is a veteran of live music living life large in a small town. jezebel stole off to Stellenbosch to meet a man respected for hitting things with sticks and painting naked chicks.
No early fader, Mr. Swart shares a surname and a past with blues rock band Valiant Swart. While it was sometimes kak to give tannie her weekly dose of sokkie draai in a penguin suit, his live performances paid his way through university. You could say he’s has seen it all, at least, as much as you can see from behind a drum kit behind the guitarist and bassist behind the stage lights. He even remembers some of it through the haze, though it’s left him half deaf in one ear. I went over to find out about then and now, and ended up talking philosophy and the future. Normal, I suppose, when you start with whiskey at two pm. And anyway, what’s normal in the music industry? This man survived hecks, thugs, and shlock and droll to become a proud member of the Cloud Appreciation Society...
jezebel : Tell us something we didn’t know
Vernon : Valiant always introduces me on stage as his brother, but we’re not blood relatives. But when we fly, the plane ticket is in his real name, and I’m V.Swart, so sometimes I get upgraded to business class.
Your lad Lucas is the drummer for indie-blues-rock band The Pretty Blue Guns. Like father like son?
He started playing classical guitar at school when he was very young. Then Karen Zoid recognised his talent, and he started jamming with her. One day the local church up the road announced that they needed a drummer – it was Andre, Greg and Brandon. He borrowed my sticks and went up and played. He had grown up hearing blues. I didn’t think much of it until one day I listened to them play and I realised he could play.
Funny, the Guns’ roots, when you consider songs like Devil Do. Both your boys are musical –is it in the blood?
I think there’s a musical sensibility that came through me somehow (though it’s sure as hell not my musical knowledge). Reuben was actually the one that wanted to play the drums, in fact that he was the one that was persistent. There was a long hiatus when I didn’t play, and there were drums around. I gave it all up to and be married and mow lawns while I was a teacher in Cape Town. I had a lot of musical collections, and they listened to a lot of music. Ruben always wanted to play and my excuse was that he wasn’t big enough yet (for the drum kit). Until Rueben said, ‘you know dad, how long do my legs need to be?’
Do you think many of today’s young rockers will be making music when they’re past 30?
I would love to say yes, but the sad reality is that many give it up, for many reasons, for better or for worse. You just have to look around the top bar at Oppi Koppi where so many bands signed their names over the years, and then quietly faded away, or went out with a bang. It's a tough job, not for sissies.
You’ve seen your fair share of creativity and counter culture, commercial and corporate. But now what would you do if your son gave up music and wanted to become an accountant? Or a lawyer. Or a married, lawn-mowing man…
I would go out and buy a big hat and eat it if either of them did that, but the old cliché applies, they could do anything they wanted and daddy will always love them.
Valiant Swart shared a gig with the Guns really early on. What was it like?
Valiant was always very supportive of new talent that way. They were pretty bumpy. But Valiant immediately saw it – that Andre’s got it. They were there on time, and we were late as usual. Valiant looked at their instruments – we couldn’t’ believe what these kids had – strats and fenders - stuff we couldn’t afford. I’d give my left ball for a Strat…
What is the role of constructive criticism in the evolution of musical creativity?
I’m not sure that there are many people that are actually experienced and articulate enough to voice their criticism. The question is what is the criterion to be a music journalist?
Good question. I guess nobody likes to be told they’re kak, but musos do want the public to buy their (sometimes kak, sometimes superb) mp3s.
Criticism is essential for any creative process. As much as artists might say that they're creating for themselves and they don't give a shit what people think etc etc, they are still out there performing and peddling their wares for the people. Artists wear their hearts on their sleeves, and they all want positive strokes. Criticism can motivate or demoralize different bands. Unfortunately, the standards of commentary fluctuate immensely. As we know, there is no such thing as absolute objectivity, but some journalists, especially the more inexperienced ones, tend to glorify their favourite bands and knock the others, musically and personally, which doesn't do anyone any good.
When I quit teaching art, the principal of the art centre took me aside and said, ‘do you realise what you’re letting yourself in for, you’re now surrounded by responsible people that will always support you, but now you’re letting yourself into this drug infested chaos.’ But you know, it’s those people who are in the chaos who stick by you, through it, after it.
Bless you, Vernon.
Friday, October 23, 2009
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
jezebel chats to Wrestlerish about the Other Cape Town, dirty takes and making up your own words…
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.”
Friday, October 9, 2009
Monday, October 5, 2009
Nkosi, sikelel' iAfrika,
Malupnakanyisw' udumo lwayo;
Yizwa imithandazo yethu
Nkosi, sikelel' iAfrika,
Malupnakanyisw' udumo lwayo;
Yizwa imithandazo yethu
Woza Moya (woza, woza),
Woza Moya (woza, woza),
Woza Moya, Oyingcwele.
Thina lusapho lwayo.
Sunday, October 4, 2009
Friday, October 2, 2009
From Manson overlays to Danny K, kids are gonna eat New Holland's new album for breakfast every day this season.
It started with a very pop single that prompted a little wordplay on my part and a lot radio play on theirs. “For a high speed chase across Exploded Views” I mused, “start with a little Coldplay and bring in The Killers and you've got Freedom, son.”
After that I had this to say
And then the lovely Liny snatched the nicer of my lines for the press release. I wonder, was that becoss iss true or because nobody else had written anything about them lately? Are the journalists really paying attention to local music? This band is going to be big. But where’s the buzz about them? In short, in the piece, I wondered about (wandered about) the role of decent commercial music in the collective psyche and chatted about why I think The Kings Of Neon are set for success. (It’s in the song structure)
then Albert Dupe Lassie from Rhythm leaned over to me last night at the raunchy launch (seems to be happening a lot lately, makes me feel like somebody’s listening) and offered an insight while Katrina or Anna or Natalia spread her legs wide so I could get one last shot. This album he said (I’m paraphrasing) has a bit of everything in it. The whole top forty. Whatever you like.
Which is exactly what we were saying at breakfast (not the royal we, the wild we), a Jackal, a Jill and a Jezebel. Something for everyone. IF you like hit radio. I don’t (and neither do my breakfast companions), but I like this album(and so do they. Or, let’s say it’s two against one, and the band still wins). Of course, I’m no puritan - I was brought up on radio, and still have a somewhat soft spot for its (better) material.
New Holland is only one of two bands this year not to disappoint when it comes to a second album. They’re right, really. You only get one chance. (and Foto, if you disappoint, I’m gonna kick your arty asses and howl like a lost puppy). New Holland don’t blow theirs, they start by grabbing your gullet with the first track. It could have been the title track (if they’d totally sold out to sales), but that would be a tad TOO self referential, and subtlety has always been companion to their confrontational sentiments.
So. a breakdown of Exploded Views.
Freedom! is the first track, and the next hit single. It’s infectious, hopeful, and scattered with minor chords that make it mature despite bopping drums and chopping strings. Can’t get it out of my head, and I’m quite happy for it to stay there. Our anthems are better off inspirational. We’ve had enough darkness this last winter.
I’m not a huge fan of The Son, though I see what they’re doing (or where they’re going – right into indie rockers pockets). The lyrics are lovely and give it all its meaning, but it’s messy. Nail in the foot kind of messy, I guess. But very necessary all the same – it seems from the songs coming out of the rock scene that our parents don’t know we’re over propaganda from the pulpit… I guess (sigh) we’ll just have to tell them over and over again. (doesn’t that sound familiar)
In Silence is Coldplay before fame made him lame. It’s a dirge of disenfranchised youth with a three-note intro that carries through, contains it, and keeps it from becoming too weighted and dark. Like the lyrics say, a great song for sad drives through the abandoned annals of your heart. The kind that goes on repeat while you sob into your scarf. (but wait! It’s spring!)
As a (sort of) consolation, These Are The Best Days is brighter but still stark. It’s is not what you’d expect from the song title (but that’s probably why they put it here, and Freedom! first). It’s a slow, simple song littered with languorous keys and a bit of electronic punctuation. I don’t like the vox effects and electronic overlays. They seem unsagely synthetic, a bit passé and a lot less integrated than they are on the last song on the album. But it wasn’t written for me, anyway. And before some smartass points out that even my broke-backed Bon Iver uses those vox effects, I will secede and say that the two elements I don’t like actually suit each other. (and on the subject of Bon Iver, when is someone going to break his heart again so we can get another awesome album?) If we are a bit behind the times down in sharpest Africa, this song will be right on time. If not, we’ll smile and call it a learning curve.
This(is)home is the next hit. Also an anthem. I’ve never enjoyed spelling so much. The Killers would be proud, methinks. Nice falsetto, too. One of the key songs on the list.
Hiatus is just that - something of a smoke break. Kind of feels like it was played with one hand. But then, that’s what we like about the simple genius of their melodies, isn’t it? I like the celestial echo at the end.
In Hurricane , the voice of New Holland speaks about something other than itself. It’s a song about fucking and finding oneself (or not), replete with the blunt-tongued lyrics we love New Holland for (even if we don’t say poes around our parents) - from town to town she's just passing through shifting gears with her laced up boots. .. she won't take you very far, but what she'll do, she'll fuck you like a hurricane'. Lost souls and sex always make great platforms for contemplation and SA is a hard place if you’re big hearted and horny and it's right here in the middle of the me-ness mess that New Holland have something to offer everyone.
SA is torrid with a horrid history, tasty yet testy with an abiding mystery in the lives and loves of its livers and lovers. We grow up watching our backs, and often seeing our asses while we try to get our rocks off in one way or another. It’s called Freedom, isn’t it? (when the answers aren’t given to you on a razor edged plate.) What New Holland does is speak directly to the people in charge of tomorrow– the sons and daughters of the sons and daughters of post pot hate depression, gaily skipping on the skirts of a looming recession armed with nothing but thoughts and fingertips. I like that they’re crude at times, and always honest and often poetic (in a new way, A.D.D. haiku would not be far wrong a phrase to lash the lyrics with). They’re doing something that other SA pop rock bands are perhaps too old (or just too tired and uninspired) to do – seducing the budding passions of its teens in the language that they use. Can anyone say Fuck Yeah? Very Lolita, Teejay, preying on the smallest. ( did you remember to kill Humbert?)
A little less lonely is the surprise winner. Hendrix strings, grunting bass, tempered drums. Totally different to the other tracks. Jaw dropping to see live. Hope there’s more of that on the way…
Thank You, Gautama is Simon & Garfunkel bonking Sufjan Stevens on ecstasy. It’s so good it’s bad. Uncluttered, uncomplicated, acoustic. I wouldn’t be surprised if very young mothers play it to their toddlers.
Something To Believe In is bubble gum for free. Happy tum tum. If it didn’t have the signature progressions, I would puke at all the cute keys. The lyrics give me the finger, anyhow, with lines like ‘I’m not doing it for you’. Also, have you noticed that it’s only the good albums that have ONE song that grates? The Guns did with Cutting Heads. Taxi Violence with The Turn, too. (no, I’m not telling which ones)
Collection of relatively true statements is my favourite. It’s not catchy, but it stays with you. it’s not melancholy, but it makes you reflect. It’s also wise, and winding, and the longest song title on the album. And it’s the one that will be with me longest, I suspect.
But the quintessential song on the album is not the unbruised hits, or the bits in between. It’s the one that tells the New Holland story tritely and rightly and it’s aptly titled No Disguise. The song has it all – their unmistakeable melodies, unmasked vocals, simple fingering, inobtrusive rhythm and cutting, courageous lyrics, (“I tear your head from your heart and your leg from your bone. Should you resist for much longer I might just go coz I won’t let you swallow me whole”). It redresses clichés (a fucking halo) and reminds me (at least lyrically) of A Perfect Circle’s Noose.
21 is the middle child. It doesn’t really stand out, except that it’s naked, and this makes you notice the new in New Holland. On a picky note, there’s a line that sounds like it’s been borrowed from aKING (words and notes), but it’s probably just an oversight. Or is subversion not below these boys? They certainly treat those few notes differently. It opens out into a Nintendo version of soft-boiled electro house which gives it some scope and humour. Like Collection Of relatively True Statements, and No disguise it’s compositionally at ease with itself and it finishes the album off sweetly and suitably. Think about that for a momen - how do you finish off an album like this easily? Not that simple. But perhaps that's their winning formula -they’re always seem to be at ease.
Which brings me to a point about the live performance and the (inter)face of the band - the star, the dark prince. He’s comfortable on stage moving between one thing and the next with an unfettered fluidity that made the audience's sober awkwardness at the launch seem silly. He’s guaranteed to take his top off (perhaps that’s why we didn’t see m/any gigs this winter?) which only tops the sex appeal that swims around the room through the music (“you see that girl there, with the red blouse?” I heard a pair of pumps postulating, “she wants him too”. I didn’t look up to see who was who while i weaved through glistening bodies clutching sweating glasses, but there was more than one woman in that room with a red blouse, that’s for sure! And more than one woman without a blouse, too… (and a true sign of the band’s infectious energy is that they got those bored-looking, bare boobed girls to bop on stage instead of bear their beavers as per usual). A front man with a voice and a body is about the best thing for a band with the musical breadth to humour the party animals and convince consummate music appreciators alike. Like what I’ve said? Go buy it and give yourself something to sing about this summer.
Well produced @ coffeeSTAINEDvinyl (nice to see standards picking up in independent studios),first 1000 discs have album art that uses an insert-not-fold format, which means you can stick them on your wall. (Or swap them with your friends!)
The twitter take
Around the world in a party daze, @NewHollandband move easily from 1 sound to another&never let you go. Chameleons with their clothes off,ja.
Mixing timeless melody and contemporary pop icing, Exploded Views blows up expectations to become the sound of summer 2009. Play it loud and drive fast. (sorry, Wad. You asked for it)
I leave you with a trick question. What would we do if Teejay changed his hair? Put your answers below…