When Cape Town’s quirky retro indie rock and rollers, The Plastics, decided to call their second full-length album Pyramid, they weren’t quite sure why.
“What’s in a name, really?” asks bassist Karl Rohloff, quoting Shakespeare. “I guess afterwards you do think of ways in which it can work,” he says.
While the quartet initially liked the symbology behind the ancient mysterious structures, they later thought of it as a good way to describe their music. “Our band kind of has three sides to it. Rock, then we’ve got the more melodic, softer stuff, and then we’ve got the part where we experiment and play around, the indie stuff,” explains drummer Sasha Righini.
Either way, they are wholly content with not having a clear-cut answer. “Pyramids themselves are completely unexplained. [Our] not being able to explain the name is fitting,” says lead singer Pascal Righini, laughing.
The Plastics’s vague, laid-back approach to the name of their latest offering may seem slightly ironic, but they are really far more focused on the actual music, something that’s evident as they sit down with Perdeby to chat about Pyramid before getting on stage to launch the album at Arcade Empire.
Pyramid was recorded in two parts at Dreamspace Recording Studios. Four songs were recorded at various stages in 2011, while 2012 saw The Plastics going back into studio to record the rest of it. Over the last two years, the band ended up writing over 30 songs for the album. They intended on writing a surplus of songs so that they could be brutal at the end and scrap anything they didn’t think was good enough to make the cut, with the long gap in between giving them the time to do this. “I think because it took such a long time, it gives the album a bit more depth. We had a lot more time to actually think about it. [But] it has that sound of three weeks of our lives as opposed to the sound of two years of our lives,” says Sasha.
Another advantage of having the luxury of time is that the band got to ease into working with producer Shai Hirchson, whom they have never worked with before. “I think we figured out our dynamic with him better by the time we went back to it, so we felt the relationship was a bit stronger,” says Pascal.
On The Plastics’s debut album, Sharks, the sentimental love song “Caroline” was one of the slower, ballad-like tunes on the album. With Pyramid they are careful not to veer in that direction, choosing instead to stick to their concoction of “dancepopfun”.
“Personally, I wish that ballad music was bigger but I don’t think people are that into it. I love soppy, old, super slow songs and as a singer, there’s something very inviting about putting a performance together like that, but it’s not something that’s worked for us. Our sound is more modern than that,” says Pascal.
They have, instead, used Pyramid to explore more psychedelic influences, courtesy of the use of different effects pedals. Self-proclaimed devotees of The Beatles, The Plastics say that they like the way in which the iconic band used the studio as an instrument to make music that sounded different. “Music is one of the few art forms that can conjure up feelings in people. It’s the interesting thing about how you can use the studio to change the mood of things so dramatically. We tried to use that as best as possible,” says Pascal. “The psychedelic influence is just trying to be experimental because you want to keep it fresh for yourself as a band as well,” adds Karl.
The album also sees The Plastics’s first attempt at an ambitious 10 minute long song, “Mud and Money”. The song came about after cleverly piecing together what the band came up with after numerous lengthy jam sessions. “Recording it was the biggest challenge but when we wrote it, it actually came together quite quickly,” says Karl. How difficult was it to record a song of this nature? “Different time signatures and tempo changes [were] a big thing because you’ve got maybe five different tempos in the song and we wanted to jam as much of it to the click track as possible but we didn’t know how long each part was going to be because we were still working it all out in the studio, so Sasha had the tough job of drumming to 10 different tempos,” says Pascal, looking at a nodding Sasha whose half-smile invites commiseration.
Does the band consider the song their magnum opus? “Not at all. We’re very proud of it and we love it but I think from doing it we’re excited to try and do another one or two, or even longer songs,” says Pascal quickly, making sure to clarify his point. “My dad is into long songs and I was really excited to show him and when I asked him what he thought, he said, ‘Ja, not a bad first attempt’,” says Karl to an explosion of laughter from the other band members.
Earlier this year, the MK Music Video Project announced that The Plastics were one of 12 artists who will get the chance to make a music video commissioned by MK. With a penchant for videos based on school hall dance-a-ramas showing gawky teens busting even gawkier dance moves, it will be interesting to see what the band has to offer.
“We can tell you that we are not really in it, and it’s got animation in it, and it’s going to be rad,” says Sasha.
“We haven’t found another school hall,” says Karl.
“No, we’ve graduated. Prom is over,” adds Pascal.
You get the sense that, with the release of Pyramid, the band has done just that. They still sound like The Plastics, but with their more mature, layered sound, they have graduated into a class of their own.
Photo: JP Nathrass