In partnership with

Interview: The Parlotones

2010-03-08 10:03
The Parlotones

Three albums in 11 years isn't exactly a massive catalogue. Clearly the band prefers craft, rather than product? Or are you guys just lazy?
Kahn (chuckles): It takes time to actually get your music out to people. It's easy for bands to become tired of their songs, but there are still people in South Africa who've heard "Colourful" for the first time. And you think, 'jeepers, that song is so old, surely everyone knows about it?'

You reportedly played over 280 gigs alone last year... sounds like being in a rock band is "the hardest way to make an easy living"?
You know the Beatles played eight hours a day, in a strip club in Hamburg seven days a week before they made it? So, ja, it seems like a lot, but in the same breath it looks like we had eighty days off. There have been some hectic months where we've actually played more shows than days. But I mean, this is what we love doing. The place where I'm probably happiest is on stage. So, the more shows the merrier. If you’re in a band and are going "oh, not another gig", then you’re in the wrong field, you know? This is why we got into a band, to perform, whether it's in front of five or five thousand it's still a thrill, it's our drug.

Getting the listener's attention is one thing, but keeping it is another. Don't you get bored playing the same hits week in and out?
I don't think so. I went to see Counting Crows [a few years back] and they played "Mr Jones" and Adam [the singer] did this sort of rapping version of it. For me, as a fan, I just wanted to sing along. And he did something totally different because he was bored with the song. That moment will forever stick in my mind – people want to hear the song as they know the song. And if they’ve bought that ticket, they’ve bought it based on a product and what they've heard on the CD. They're not there to hear "Here Comes the Man" version 2.7, it must be "Here Comes the Man" as they know it.

Speaking of which, over the years you've taken a fair bit of criticism for covering Boom Boom Room's "Here Come the Man" and Koos Kombuis' "Lisa se Klavier" over the years....
If the song is good, it doesn't matter what kid of beat it has behind it. The content of the lyrics need to connect with the audience for the song to have relevance. You know, get your point across without 'arbing' on a five minute solo that half the audience can't connect with.

Point taken, nothing beats well-crafted pop at its big ballad best. Is writing hook-laden lighter-waivers like "I'll Be There" easy?
One of my favourite things to do is to write songs. I write lots and lots of shit, some good ones, some great ones and some half-half ones, you know? What I do have is thousands of melody ideas. The harder part is actually attaching lyrics to those melodies that are either fresh or will connect with the listener and are something that I'll be happy to sing.

Sounds like you're a bit of a perfectionist?
Every album we've done, even this new one, Stardust Galaxies, I know there are things we could've done better. But there comes a time when you have to say cool, we’re done with that, let’s move on. You've captured the vibe at that time and hopefully people like it.

Over the past five years you've played Live Earth, Coke Fest, MIDEM (France), South By South West (USA), Canadian Music Week and more. Sounds like your a plan to break into the international market is paying dividends?
It's those cool achievements along the way that ultimately end up in a much bigger thing. Our last show in London – our own show – was playing to a sold out venue of 800 people. We've also done some really cool tours with big bands abroad such as Starsailor where we played to big audiences. And our last tour in Germany was 200 people a night and some of those venues could only hold 200 people. So I think it's going a lot quicker than it did for us back home. So far so cool.

Look, if everything went according to plan we'd have been retired millionaires last year. Nothing ever goes according to plan in music. It is the most erratic, unpredictable industry there is. One day if I ever write a book I think it'll be called A Slow Meandering Stroll to the Top. That’s pretty much what our career’s been. It’s like starting out again, having to win over a virgin audience. It’s exciting…but it keeps you humble as well because you realise that regardless of how big you might be at home, you are insignificant in the big scheme of the world stage. So it also makes you appreciate playing at home.

What, playing the same festivals alongside the same bands and fighting to get radio airplay?
Ja, it's difficult to always stay motivated when it doesn’t quite happen as quickly as you want it. We've been rejected a gazillion times on a gazillion radio stations, we've read the kakkest reviews that would make anyone want to stop playing music. But I mean, even the best bands in the world have received the kakkest reviews. It's just patience and perseverance. There's so many great bands that we've played with in the SA market that have just given up that little bit too soon. Who knows what greatness could have actually come out…the one example is Perez. They had everything, just the right package, but I guess the perseverance wasn’t there. That said with much love and respect guys. I'd love to know where that could have gone. So, we’ll keep going until one of us falls over and dies.

So what's the 'vibe' of the new album, Stardust Galaxies?
It's more rock 'n roll. It's not like we’re smashing out the riffs and stuff like that but there’s a lot of distorted guitar-ing. We've experimented sonically with different synths and different guitar styles. It's very singalong, but it also more dancy than the previous one. We've been around for 11 years...there was the punk rock revival, the grunge resurgence, then rap rock and we've always did our own style. One day I'd love to do a Radiohead and just be totally self indulgent – but we're not ready for that phase of our musical journey yet.

Are you ready to emigrate yet?
We clearly don't want to do that exodus. We want to say we are an SA band. This is our home. The world is actually a small place, you don’t have to relocate in order to try and break it. Sure, we might spend many months away, or even years from home. But we’re adamant about the fact that we are South African. We're not going to change our accents.

Dig at Seether aside, do you ever dream of winning a Grammy Award?
It'd be nice to put the spotlight on South Africa because I think that there are a plethora of bands that are as good as the big bands on the world stage today. They either haven’t been given the opportunities or aren't pushing for it. Seether's done a lot to let the world know there’s good shit coming out of SA and it's not just okes banging on bongo drums. It's universal rock 'n roll.

But I always say that the ultimate achievement would be when we finally make the cover of Rolling Stone. Then you know you've achieved some level of success. As long as we’re actually still a band in five years time, and are still creating music that’s relevant, that's the ultimate prize. That's the ultimate prize. It's never been our quest to be uber-wealthy or have all these hot women throwing themselves at us – although that would be nice! The prize is the fact that we can play music for a living.

Stardust Galaxies is nominated for Best Rock Album at the 2010 SAMAs.

Read the full list of nominees here.

New album goes gold in first week. New video cleans up at MK Awards. Red wine secures a major distribution deal in Germany. Branded bucket of chicken now available at KFC!...Yes, you'd be right in presuming that The Parlotones are SA rock's biggest b®and. But their's hasn't been an overnight success story. Lead singer Kahn Morbee chats about their "long slow meandering stroll to the top", their plans to break into the international market and more.
Read more on:    the parlotones  |  interview 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.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.