Black Hotels: Heart Core

2007-09-24 11:57
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Beautiful Mornings is an EP. Why not release a full-length CD?
Rob (drums): it takes time to ripen and develop substance. From a strategic point of view you want to get momentum, an audience and into the media. You don’t want to rush material and squeeze filler in there. You want the best first album you can do. So it was just a way of taking some of the pressure off and being creative.
Neil (guitar): it was good advice we fought for a while. I think the EP is a really strong statement for us. It’s like the choice of writing a really good novella or trying to fluff it out to 240 pages when those pages aren’t really there yet.

An apt analogy seeing as novellas don’t sell either. Is the EP more of a promo tool then?
Rob (laughs): yes, we’re not precious about it. The market’s changing. Springsteen released his new song for free download, Prince gave his away free. So instead of trying to be precious about ownership, the market has shifted to using music as promo material and they’re making their money in other ways.
John (vocals, guitar): The great thing for me was that we recorded the EP in two days and then did overdubs in two days at my house and Matthew Fink (the producer) mixed it over a period of about a week on and off. We were like ‘let’s go in and record something.’
Neil: there were occasions where we just ended up using the live stuff from the first day in studio 'as is'. And used the second or third day to see if we could anything better with it – if we couldn’t we just went back to the original.
Rob: But a lot of stuff has just come to us. The record company approached us – after our 3rd gig! We weren’t thinking record deals.
Neil: We were thinking, ‘when are we going to play our next gig?’

Most SA rock bands struggle to get playlisted on radio. Have you?
John: we were really lucky because Matthew Fink took a copy and said ‘look, I’m going to hand it around, do you mind?’ and we said’ no, it’s fine.’ So he gave it to Michelle Constant on Radio 200 and she loved it. So she started playing it. She’s cool. Then – it was quite funny – ‘cos we recorded the EP and gave it to the record company and Rafael who runs it said ‘this stuff is great, it’s really, really good’ –
Neil: although the first contact we had with the record company was with Kahn (from the Parlotones) who was shaking his head and saying, ‘there’s nothing here that’s going to work for radio!’ (laughs)
John: no, he’s a good friend of ours! Anyway, they (the record company) submitted “Natalie” to 5fm and that was playlisted and is now sitting on their voting charts – I don’t know about those charts, but anyway – the fact is we got out on to national radio. And you know, we didn’t write songs for radio. So we were fortunate.

Is the Black Hotels’ focus on writing quality songs, rather than wearing skinny-jeans perhaps the key? Is it a reaction to the current wave of oh-so-fashionable indie-rock bands who can’t really play?
John (vocals, guitar): you know, there’s always this thing of bands wanting to appeal to the ‘cool’ crowd or the ‘in’ crowd. We’re not the cool crowd. We just are who we are. We don’t try and play it up. We’re all individuals. We don’t go out of our way to try and fit in with a certain trend or image or songwriting style.
Rob (drummer): We’re just really coming from a sincere place. It’s not really calculated you know? It’s more from the heart, than from the head. When we first got together, for me it was a magical feeling where the music took over. It’s really about the authenticity of it: the writing, performing, recording, getting the music to people…it’s sort of basic really. Everyone’s trying to stay true to that. Obviously when you’re playing you want to look your best. But other than that we’re not really image conscious, you know?
Neil (guitar): the band’s style policy is actually just: ‘make a little bit of an effort’.
John: Lisa summed it up. In the beginning she said ‘just dress like you would if you went on a date!’ (laughs) But we thought, ‘no shit, maybe we shouldn’t do that’…because I normally dress really badly on a date so she likes you for the right reasons!
You’ve been compared to bands with loads of heart like REM, the Velvet Undeground and -
The whole band: Neil Diamond! He’s got a lot of heart, Neil does.

Indeed. Are these bona fide influences or is it a case of some listeners projecting their own tastes onto you?
Lisa (bass): both. It’s really nice that people hear things.
Neil: sometimes people come at you from leftfield, but they’re hearing something they like in the music. Some of those comparisons are quite on the money. There’s a lot of respect for some of the bands we get compared to: if they are influences, they’re probably in the sense that one artist follows on from another, rather than imitation. Rob: I know John likes both of those artists a lot, especially early REM. I’d say John’s voice is probably Lou Reed meets Michael Stipe. So there is a strong connection there. But between the four of us, there’s such diversity of influences – it’s almost like you digest things and then when you speak with your own voice a lot of those things are going to be in there. Our music is melodic music: there’s a pop sensibility about it. It’s happy danceable music, but it is guitar-based rock. So a lot of people will find some sort of resonance in it. And hopefully if they do hear their favourite artists in there, that’s wonderful, that means we’re striking a chord - if you’ll excuse the pun!

Speaking of which, what’s the one album that made each of you want to be a musician?
Rob: I read a thing once where Bruce Sprinsgteen said that the minute he saw Elvis Presley he couldn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to be Elvis. I feel that way about Bruce Springsteen actually. To me he’s the consummate artist: he’s got such depth and heart, and skill. To me he’s been an icon of rock music and artistry. But I’ve got so many artists I love that it’s impossible to answer. It’s a mood thing. I could give you a list of ten people and half an hour later it will have changed.
Lisa: I kind of started getting into rock music quite late. I grew up in quite a conservative home with classical music, and a bit of The Beatles and 60s stuff. Then I started going over to The Rolling Stones and Led Zep. But The Pixies was my first ‘harder’ band that I loved – which is not really hard if you think about it. Still, Kim Deal was the first female artist that really inspired me to know that it’s not all men! (chuckles)
John: I got into music properly at about the age of 15 or 16 going to Le Club (in Joburg) and being exposed to a range of ska and punk and even Gothic stuff. If I had to pick one artist that really stands out it would be The Smiths' The Queen is Dead. There was also The Cure’s Head on the Door. Those albums were what kind of made me get up and say, ‘this is what I want to do.’ Oh, and The Jam as well.
Neil: I’m closer to Lisa that way. The album that sprang to mind was a Dinosaur Jr. album whose name I can’t even remember. I think it was something like Where You Been? Thing is, it’s not the music I remember. It’s the period of my life listening to it - associating that music with friends and emotions at the time…it’s kind of like a story of a time in my life, you know?

- Miles Keylock

Given the slew of skinny jeans clad sleaze-rocker hipsters and spiffy-suit-sporting post-punk posers strutting their stuff on stage these days it's tempting to think that SA indie-rock is in danger of disappearing up its own fashionably chic ass. After all, whatever happened to a band making it big with good-old-fashioned songwriting? We hooked up with rising Joburg indie-rockers the Black Hotels to find out more. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

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