Former bassist Loedi van Reenen joined you tonight on-stage on electric guitar. How was the reunion?
Rian: It was awesome. We’ve been looking forward to this for a long time. I hate this expression but it was a full circle that we’ve come really, after ten years.
Louis: We were actually cut short a little with time but tomorrow night [in Cape Town] we’ll complete it.
George: And the stage started a bit late because of the rain.
Rian: But we have had enough great experiences at RAMfest as well so it’s not like this how it is, it’s just tonight was a little bit disappointing from a technical point of view. But usually we have a f*****g blast here.
Tell us a bit more about the 5 FM mashlab track you did with Zakes Bantwini.
Loedi: Inside scoop from an outsider, it sounds amazing. Pre-production was happening at my house.
George: We sent it out today to get mixed.
Rian: So it’ll be out on Monday [10 March]. Jon Savage has a guy, he calls it his secret weapon, it’s a guy who does great sound mixing in the States. So I think we are getting it back on Sunday night [9 March] and I think Monday during the afternoon it’s getting released. I think it’s a very good blend of what the two sides represent. I think there’s a lot of Taxi in there but there is also a lot of sort of Afro kind of feel to it.
Loedi: Something for the Rainbow Nation.
It’s been ten years since you guys started Taxi Violence. Where are you now in your lives and what does the next decade hold for Taxi Violence?
Louis: I think for me personally we are writing the best music we’ve ever written. Only now we’re getting our stripes. We’ve got some big plans for next year. I think we are going to focus more on some international festivals than on local festivals. But we really want to make this year very special because it is very special.
Where are you in terms of planning your new album?
Louis: We are busy working on recording our new album. We start in April and hopefully release it in September – a happy tenth birthday.
Rian: We are gonna print a vinyl. That is the plan.
What can fans expect from the new album?
Rian: I think it’s a good mix of everything we’ve done over the ten years.
George: Everything from Untie Yourself to The Turn to Soul Shake.
Loedi: The way the band’s evolving from my involvement in the beginning; one of my favourite songs are not one of the songs we wrote together, my favourite is one of their new songs. That means that these guys have gone from strength to strength to strength. So if you were a fan from the beginning of Taxi Violence, it’s only going to get better for you because the stuff the guys are writing now is the same but better.
How do you keep performance after performance fresh and energetic?
George: It comes naturally. It’s built in to our DNA by now. But we do always try to do something new to keep it fresh for yourself and the audience.
You have had a lot of international exposure. Have you thought of establishing yourselves overseas permanently?
Louis: We have. But it’s all steps. One of the last steps will probably be establishment but next year we are probably going to start playing more regular international shows.
George: I think what happens is that a lot of bands just pack up their stuff and go and hope for the best. But there is a lot of networking that needs to be done before you can actually go and you need to build some kind of a following through the internet or whatever it is: PR and contacts, and go over and play a few shows. Check it out, come back, speak to a few labels, booking agents until you got a sort of a following there and then once you see it’s possible then you say “Cool, now we can go”.
Rian: Because the bands that are over there, their skill levels are up here. Even bands that opened for us made us go “Wow” – their skill levels: professional level, gear, everything. Because they are tapped into a bigger market the competition is stiffer. When we went over there for the first time, we had a bit of a realisation that we need to up our game and we came back a better band.
Photo: Brad Donald
Gangs of Ballet
Are you excited to play RAMfest?
Brad: Yeah. It’s our first one. It’s traditionally a hardcore festival and they let us not as hard core guys come which is quite nice of them.
In many interviews you attribute a positive message to your music and you do a lot of charity work. Is there a link?
There’s a lot of crap stuff happening in the world. And we don’t want to be a part of that mess. At some point we would love to part of a solution and I don’t think we would be the solution but there are a lot of people who are doing really good things and if we can blow wind into their sails, that makes a huge difference. I think we are all really positive guys and I think what our main thing is is that we really treasure people. I think people are the most valuable commodity we have here on earth. So I think what we’re about and what they’re about is the same.
Your debut album came out last year September. A few months on, how has the fans’ reaction to it been?
It’s been really good. We worked so hard at it so it’s always nice to get some positive feedback at the end of it. We’ve had one or two average reviews, but I think everybody gets those. But by and large it’s been very positive. When it came out it went to number one on iTunes within 12 hours so that was a very good sign. And we’ve had very good social media back of it.
Are you back in studio already?
We are actually doing something a little bit different. We are building a studio. So it’s in the beginning phases. We are actually in the test phase at the moment. We want to track the next kind of album or EP in our backyard so we can sit until two in the morning to make music.
It’s actually been so much fun. We’ve had huge help from companies like Music Connection that have just sent us gear. It’s a work in process at this point. I’d say we are like 80% through our first song and once we have it mixed we’ll decide if this is a good or a bad idea. I think you’ve gotta keep pushing the envelope, you’ve gotta keep trying new things. If it doesn’t work it doesn’t work but at least you tried.
You played the Old Mutual Music at the Lake in the Durban Botanical Gardens on 14 February. How was it playing to a sold-out audience, while being backed by a 50-piece orchestra?
That was like one of those little life landmarks. I remember being like 11 or 12, I don’t know if it is a normal dream to have, but I remember I always wanted to play with an orchestra to my music so that whole experience was a life-long dream come true. And it was the first time they’ve sold the venue out from those concerts. So it was landmark experience for all of us. It was a little bit surreal to see all these people arrive and to think that you are the band. We had a guy propose to his girlfriend at the time on stage. So that’s an awesome little moment. And the Durban City Orchestra is amazing as well. They do it for the love of music.
In an interview with Mahala you said, “As much as we’d like to win over the public, we’d love the respect of the industry as well.” That seems like quite the balancing act. Do you find it difficult to keep everyone happy and how important is it to you?
I think we settled a while ago that you will never ever please everyone. I just chatted to a guy now about Biffy Clyro and he was like “Ja no, I’m not really into Biffy”, and they are huge. So even the best bands in the world aren’t going to please everyone so I think we’ve settled that already.
There is such a fine line in being musically exotic and being user-friendly. I think, and maybe I am giving away a trade secret, that those parts of songs like choruses that people can connect with, keep those parts simple. I think that’s doable where you can find this medium of a bit more technical musicality and public acceptance. It’s such a fine line I don’t think that we’ve nailed it. We are still trying to work it out.
You don’t think that’s compromising?
No I don’t think it’s compromising, I think if you want to make it in the current industry you’ve got to do it. At the end of the day you are playing for people. You are making music because you love it but you are doing it for people. I think if you are too self-indulgent you’re doing it for the sake of a crowd. I don’t think it is selling out. In the South African industry you can’t afford to be this underground band. If you want to do it that’s awesome but then you have to keep your day job and you can only play a few gigs. If you want to make this your job you have got to play bigger venues and more venues. So there is a tension there. But I do think you can make music that is publically excepted and really good.
Taking into account your achievements as a band, do you think you have a set sound for Gangs of Ballet now or do you think that the Gangs of Ballet sound will still change a lot while you grow as musicians?
I think we are kind of in the process of reinventing ourselves now. I personally like the idea of progression. I think it is possible to progress without losing your essence or the DNA of who you are as a band. I think it’s good for bands to progress and develop.
Black Market Riots
You won the headlining slot for the Stellenbrau Carnival stage and you travelled all the way up to Gauteng to play RAMfest here. How has the experience been for you?
Pierre: It’s been awesome. Jo’burg is weird. [laughs] The weather is weird and unfortunately we got rained out on Thursday night so we played, I think, three and a half songs and then the sound guy called it. We had to stop completely so that sucked.
You’re in studio now recording you album Epochs. It’s a DIY album. How’s the recording process going and when can we expect the release?
It’s going well, actually. We’ve tracked most of the sound. It’s been both good and bad because it’s on our own time. We are definitely now going to put a lot of effort into it. We are planning to launch hopefully end of May.
You’ve been recording in the Romeo Hotel Studios in Cape Town. What has that experience been like?
It’s very homey. It’s really our bassist’s place so we’re in their braai room so we just chill there and record. It’s lots of fun.
You’ve been on the local scene for quite a while and you’ve remained unsigned. Is that a conscious choice for you or is being signed a goal for the future?
That’s always the ideal. There’s always a lot of admin and stuff with labels. It’s actually sort of a good thing because we’ve been only finding our sound now. We‘ve gone through a lot of members and finally we’ve got a mix that really works so we’re working on writing awesome tunes and just getting our own vibe at the moment. We’ll be working hard the next few years.
Your website is very user-friendly. How important is it to you to have a strong online presence as a band in the current times?
That is very important. A lot of people actually argue that the way things are, your own website is not necessary because Facebook and Twitter is so huge but Facebook is getting so saturated with bands and spamming and free advertisements that people get so gatvol of it actually. So that’s why we aim to be very professional on the website and SoundCloud.
The footage for your video for your single “Passionate battle” was lost for four years and then found again. What’s the story behind the video?
I have no idea actually. Our frontman was involved with the director, he knew the guy that shot it – they’re also friends of ours. So we sent the footage to be edited and then we checked up, the guy had sort of lost it and hadn’t worked on it for six months and then somehow it was backed up and we found it. So the guy that produced it actually edited it as well over the last year. But that’s what came out.
In a recent interview you said that many people have different ideas about your genre and so do you. What are your opinions about your genre of “alternative rock”?
Well, it’s obviously a very broad genre. We had this conversation with someone the other day as well and we said, “We’re indie rock, we’re not hard rock, we’re not Brit rock, we’re literally alternative rock in the narrowed down sense. Not really the overhanging sense. So I think that’s the state or genre to put ourselves into.
Will we be seeing you in Pretoria anytime soon?
We would love to actually. If we get the album done and we get good PR done and maybe playlisting, then definitely. We’d love to fly up and do a mini-tour weekend.
Man as Machine
You guys have a great energy on stage and a nice connection with the audience. Rob, you are very much in your face. It is quite amazing to watch. Rob: I do that on purpose though. I try to perform the way I would like other people to perform. When I watch a band, I want to see the musicians connect with me so I try to do that too.
Xavier: People assume that that’s your personality-that you are like that off stage as well. And it’s not like that. People are afraid to approach you because you’re so up in their face.
Rob: Because during the show you’re aggressive, like come on make some noise. But off stage I’m just quiet, drinking a coke.
KJ: We like to make it a show. It has to be fun for us as well. Obviously, we like doing it because we enjoy it. But we don’t want the people to be standing there bored.
Xavier: We’ve also made it better over the years. You try out new ideas. Some of them work and some of them don’t. But we’ve been going for enough time now that we’ve actually worked through a bunch of them already.
Can you tell our readers a bit more about your new single “Force”?
JD: It’s about Star Wars [laughs]. We’re all big fans. Maybe not Xavier so much. He doesn’t talk about it. Xavier: It’s like religion, you keep that s**t to yourself.
Rob: Yeah, it is about Star Wars. But not just about random words from the Star Wars universe, it’s a story about somebody who is struggling to get through a problem and they need to just push. So it doesn’t just apply to Star Wars, it applies to life as well. You have got to use the force, the force inside your mind. You have an immense amount of power and you can control it if you try. That’s what the song is about.
KJ: And it’s the drummer’s song. I wrote this one [laughs].
Is there a video coming out for the song?
KJ: Yes, there is. We’re actually finalising things next week and we should be shooting in the next two weeks. So hopefully within the next month we should have it ready.
Is there another new single coming out later too?
KJ: Well, we actually wrote two at the same time. We wrote “Force” and then we wrote another one, which we played today, called “Light” and both songs we decided to theme. So this one, “Force”, is about Star Wars obviously and “Light” is about zombies. It’s zombies, it’s the survival, it’s what happens to you when you become a zombie.
Rob: Because nobody ever looks at that, you know like what happens if your zombie fantasy ends and you are actually becoming a zombie. Cause everybody is like “I am gonna survive and I am gonna shoot people and live” but you might be the first guy.
What supernatural entity is next?
KJ: I don’t know. I am thinking about some other ideas.
Norden: We could also do one about Lego. That could be rad.
You played at the Hard Rock Café in Johannesburg recently. From a performance perspective, how did you find the venue?
KJ: It’s a great stage. Really, really good gear. I think it’s still a new venue. I heard that a band that was meant to play after us, on another night, like the ceiling collapsed or something and they actually had to cancel it. So I think in terms of louder bands maybe they could work on that. But I mean as a venue as a whole it’s a really cool vibe and what a cool thing to say you’ve played at the Hard Rock. I mean it’s an international franchise that’s renowned with these huge artists and stuff.
Rob: I think because the Hard Rock Café is still new in South Africa and with them bringing a stage in and you’ve got new managers. It’s not international people running it. It’s local guys that have been trained to run it. I think there will be teething problems.
Xavier: But it’s always good crowds. Like, it’s packed. People love the novelty of it and that’s what we love. We love people.
You manage yourselfj. What are the pros and cons of doing that?
KJ: Time is a big one [con], because obviously in this industry it’s hard to get to the point where you’re a band full-time, so obviously we all work. We all have day jobs so finding time to keep up with all these different forms of multimedia like all your Facebook and YouTube and Twitter.
Norden: And then bookings and then PR as well.
KJ: So as far as cons go, time management is the hardest thing. Pros, we get to do what we like. We don’t have people saying this, this, this.
Rob: Again, which could be a downfall, cause then we can say you know, we’ll do it tomorrow.
KJ: Ultimately it’s a decision we made and we like it this way.
Xavier: If you are in the trade you’ve got to learn the tricks of the trade and the only way to do it is to do it yourself, and we are. We are experiencing and learning new things every day and that’s how we’re gonna grow so one day if we do have a manager who’s a big shot, he won’t be able to screw us.
Rob: Know your enemy. [laughs]
Where do you see yourselves going?
KJ: I think ultimately we want to do more of the festival scene. Obviously we like playing clubs but the big stage is where we love to be, and obviously being able to do the international circuit. Like we’d love to do Australia, which is a big goal for us, and Japan.
Rob: I think definitely Australia we are gonna push within the next two years.
KJ: And then obviously your British and European festivals. So yes, trying to get on to that. It’s gonna be a lot of work and if it ever comes right then that will be awesome.
Are you planning to release a new album?
KJ: We are. We’ve penciled in studio time for July. I haven’t told the other guys this yet. So you are first to know and so are they. So July, hopefully we can lay down all the tracks in two, three weeks and then have it out by sort of October, November.
Rob: Again this is when managing yourself is a hard thing, because we’ve been procrastinating. Our last album came out in 2011 and with gigging and because we only get to practise once a week with everything, it’s like okay we’ve got a show now next week so we’ve got to rehearse the set and then you run out of time to write. So now we’ve sort of set ourselves a deadline that we have to have an album out by the end of this year so you know we can give something back to everybody. It’s been the same album now for three years. It’s time for something new.
Are you keeping the same sound?
Rob: Well. Obviously we’ve grown musically. I mean that’s just how it happens when you play together with the same dudes.
KJ: I do think this next album will be very different to the first though, in terms of sound. It will still be Man as Machine, but I think you’ll notice the growth.
Rob: Yeah it will be a more mature album. I think because the band has grown older, like we’ve grown more used to each other’s writing style and vibes. When we put a song together we are starting to figure out how to do it, how to get us out of the song.
Photo: Hendro van der Merwe