Searching for a new sound

They blew Oppikoppi 2008 away with their killer live set and have a new EP out next week, titled Pantomime op Herwinbare Klanke (Pantomime on Recycled Sounds). Lloyd Gedye speaks to Foto na Dans singer Le Roi Nel, drummer Dirkie Uys and keyboardist and trumpeter Alex Fourie.

Your album Intervensie came out in October last year. This is pretty quick for a new release?
Alex: We actually think that it’s quite slow! In South Africa the market is smaller and an album can become saturated quicker, so there is a need to move forward and stay fresh.

Dirkie: We are hoping to start work on our second album early next year.

Four of you are still completing your studies. How do you balance that with the band?
Dirkie: There is no balance. That’s why a lot of the new material was written in studio, because time-wise it was difficult to balance writing new material and studies.

Alex: Ja, everyone is very busy, I don’t know how we do it. Theuns [Schoonwinkel] is doing his honours now and Neil [Basson] is doing his master’s, so getting time to tour, play festivals and write music is difficult.

Le Roi: They are the pillars of the band musically, so it is really difficult that they are busy all the time. They initiate the songs and we get together and form them.

Tell us about the recording of your new EP.
Dirkie: It took very long to make.

Alex: Ja, the CD took very long to make actually. Normally for an EP you go in to the studio for two weeks, and we spent about the same amount of time on this as we did our debut album, Intervensie. One reason was Le Roi was just coming back after his layoff with his voice and he did the vocal tracks and we weren’t happy, so we did them again, which took another week. A lot of the album was actually written in studio; a lot of the finalisation only happened then. This EP was a big learning curve for us.

Dirkie: Ja, we did everything wrong.

You are calling this CD an EP, but it contains eight tracks and runs 40 minutes. Why is it an EP?
Alex: If you boil it down, it’s only six songs with vocals, so that is an EP. If we added another four songs, it would be an album, but we didn’t want to release a new album.

Dirkie: We actually thought of just releasing one track.

Le Roi: I think with the eight tracks we were working towards a certain sound and there were a lot of ideas, and I think it was quite pointless to leave some ideas and postpone them and then when you get to the next album, you hate them and you don’t feel the same way. It was better to document the whole process towards the new sound completely and then move on.

This EP sees you establishing your own sound. Tell me more about that.
Alex: We all went away to Eland’s Bay and we all stayed there on the beach and we just wrote. We wanted to move away from our older sound and the idea came from a cool quote that Neil made in an interview. He said no one actually makes new music any more; everything is just a combination of and interpretations of other people’s music. This EP was our expression of the music around us and how we interpreted it.

Dirkie: It was our attempt to create something fresh.

Le Roi: I think with an EP you can push your sound more than with a full-length [album] and that was the whole idea. We asked: Are we going to do something that is a recipe that works or are we going to do something that we like and we can relate to? The second way was our approach.

The one pronounced element on the new EP is the use of electronics.
Alex: A lot of the songs were written on computer.

Dirkie: Neil has taught himself how to use the software that we use properly. With Intervensie we had only recently started using the software, but now he has experimented with a lot of different stuff.

Alex: With Intervensie we had finished recording and were busy mixing, when Neil and Theuns were like, why don’t we try this, let’s make it more interesting and make the sound fuller. Now Neil has had a whole year to study the program and he knows exactly how it works. With the electronics you can do a lot of interesting things and you have a wider range of sounds to use.

It seems like Le Roi’s vocals are much subtler on this EP, so that when his voice really booms the impact is much larger.
Le Roi: When we first went into the studio I was still recovering and I wasn’t at the top of my game. I went into it with the idea that because my voice wasn’t 100% right I should rather concentrate on the feeling or the emotion of the song.

Alex: We spent the most time on the vocals. We spent two-and-a-half weeks just getting the vocals right.

What was wrong with your voice, Le Roi?
Le Roi: I started to feel a burning feeling … when I yawned and I couldn’t sing in my high register. My voice just stopped. So I went to a throat specialist and he said my voice was in such a bad condition that it couldn’t vibrate. It was from reflux — as I slept at night the acid would push up into my throat and chow my vocal chords. For a whole month I couldn’t speak. I had to walk around with a notebook.

Alex: It was pretty funny.

Le Roi: After that I was able to speak but I couldn’t sing, which was very hectic. It was about three months. On June 22, the doctor said, OK, you can sing now.

What was it like for the band to take that break?
Dirkie: It couldn’t have come at a better time.

Alex: This whole thing, the band, just keeps rolling and rolling and I think everyone had lost touch with what it meant to them. So it actually came at a good time. It brought up stuff that we hadn’t talked about before and it brought us all closer together on a personal level.

Your album Intervensie earned you a South African Music Award nomination. How did that feel?
Alex: It was an honour being nominated. Winning a Sama is not going to get more people to your shows, but it was great to be recognised.

What do you make of the next wave of bands that are all trying to sound like Fokofpolisiekar?
Alex: There are several bands that sound like Fokof now. We judged some high-school battle-of-the-bands competitions in the Cape recently and out of 10 bands, nine would sound like Fokof and one like Kobus!. Even the other night we played a gig at a high school and there were four high-school bands before us … one of them did a Fokof cover — you don’t do that.

Dirkie: Ja, one of the other bands covered two songs by Die Helde and a Muse cover. Why play other people’s songs? Write your own songs.

Alex: If there are bands that are coming out with something unique, then they deserve all the credit. There just aren’t that many coming out.

Le Roi: These guys are in high school and they use the mediums they have, like MK and Jip. They see the video of a band and they want to copy it — you know, the clothes, the girls, the party — so right from the start they are wrong, their entire foundation is wrong, so they don’t have anything to build on. However, through all the mess, there are a few bands doing things.

I don’t really hear the influence of Muse and Fokof on your new EP, two bands to whom you are often compared?
Alex: It’s not like we sat down and said, we don’t want to sound like those bands any more. It’s just that when we were recording the last album we were listening to them so much it just came out in the music. This time round there were other things we were listening to, like Radiohead’s In Rainbows and Deathcab for Cutie’s Narrow Stairs.

What’s the plan for the band from here?
Alex: We’re touring the new CD now and then we are going to make a new video, and then we are going to sit down and start writing the next album. We’re still in the writing mode, so we don’t want to lose that.

Pantomime op Herwinbare Klanke (Rhythm Records) is out next week

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