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We get up close and personal with Francois van Coke about growing up and his brand new solo album

2015-04-24 16:29

Cape Town - Francois van Coke needs no introduction. After focusing on fronting bands Fokopolisiekar and Van Coke Kartel for the last 13 years, Francois has now finally released his own debut solo album.

Having just returned from a launch tour and a last-minute Joburg trip, Francois looks relaxed as he tries to let us into his Bellville home while keeping his bull dog Ringo and his great dane play date from running out the gate.

Francois offers us some coffee and asks politely whether we can sit outside so he can have a smoke. "Of course," I say.

Sitting in the sun opposite Francois we start to chat, and I have to admit, chatting to Francois feels like having a braai with your best friend.

"So, as a kid growing up, did you ever imagine being where you are today?" I ask.

"I actually never had a clue what I wanted to do with my life ever," Francois laughs. "I think until I was basically 16 years old I wanted to play rugby, and during that time you couldn’t even do that as a career. I played Craven Week in primary school and first team in high school, and I even played club rugby for a year after school as well. I played scrumhalf. So I was quite serious about rugby."

"So then you were quite an athletic guy?" I ask jokingly.

"No not at all, only rugby," Francois laughs. "I wasn’t the fastest guy in school or anything like that, but I really liked rugby."

The rugby thing is strong in Francois. If he wasn’t a muso he would’ve been a rugby player. "But I’m way too old for my comeback now, and I have dealt with it. Until I was like 27 or so I still thought it was possible for me to make a comeback."


Although he was never sure what he would end up doing eventually, Francois started to discover music from the age of 16 and it was albums like Nirvana’s Nevermind, Pearl Jam’s Ten and Green Day’s Dookie that made him pick up the guitar.

"I enrolled for three years for a BA degree in Stellenbosch, because my parents said 'just enroll, you can always change your mind later about what you want to do', and I never went because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. And then I decided to study sound, because I wanted to make music. And then I did sound for a few years, and then I started playing music. So I don’t know what I imagined, I don’t think I imagined that I would still be alive today."

The release of Fokofpolisiekar’s first EP in 2003 caused a lot of controversy. With Francois being a pastor’s child, his parents were not very impressed with the band’s name, neither was the congregation.

"My mom cried when she heard the name of the band. I just told her that I am in this Afrikaans band now and that we are quite serious about it and I think I would like to do this for a career and so forth.

"The first review of the album was in Die Burger, and it was a very nice, positive review, I can’t remember who the guy was who wrote it, but he quoted some of the lyrics and there was a photo of the band with the review. And then a few people from the congregation phoned the parsonage, and then my mom asked me whether I can try and not use my surname, and I said, okay."

"How do your parents feel now after all these years?" I ask.

"I think my parents are even proud of me, that I can do this as a career, and I think they even appreciate a song here and there. But my dad has never said the word Fokofpolisiekar. He says Fokuspolisiekar, or the Polisiekarre or so you know," Francois says laughingly.

"So, are you Badenhorst or van Coke on your ID?" I chip in.

"I am Badenhorst, legally. I am Francois van Coke, but I am only Badenhorst when I have to sign any sort of legal documents," says Francois.

I have to ask: "Were you a typical pastor’s child? You know, a troublemaker?"

"Well, yes and no," says Francois. "I was probably naughty in a way, but I was also kind of a model child at school, so I think I kinda did everything in school that one was supposed to do. I got a B average at school, I played rugby for the first team, I was the leader of a bible study group, I was on the school council, and I wasn’t in kak much. So I think I was pretty much an easy child at school for my parents or at least from 16 years old onwards."

Solo album success:

It was circumstances that led to Francois’s solo album. Fokofpolisiekar took a break in 2007 while Van Coke Kartel also came to a point at the end of 2013 where Jason left for overseas and Wynand wanted to focus on management.

"I think out of all five of us, I was the one who wanted to take a break the least," says Francois. "So for me it was still necessary to play to make a living, and also because we decided that we won’t be making a Van Coke album in 2014, we were just going to jam shows, it gave me more time to write and work on something different."

"From the launch of your album, your song with Karen, everything just exploded, so far everything is just positive, did you expect this reaction?" I ask.

"I did not expect this to be the reaction no, not in my wildest dreams did I ever hope it will be received this way. I was fucking nervous beforehand, I couldn’t sleep for a few days before the launch," reveals Francois. "I knew that I like the songs very much and that I am happy with what’s on the album, but how other people feel about it, you never know. So, I just never in my wildest dreams expected it to be accepted the way it has, I am totally overwhelmed and so happy about the reaction."

"The songs on the album are very different from each other; each one has its own sound basically. Was this intentional or were these the only songs you had available?" I ask.

"I will tell you why I think it happened the way it did. I wanted to make an album that doesn’t sound like Fokofpolisiekar or Van Coke Kartel, and I hope I achieved that you know. I also didn’t have any preconceived ideas about how the album should sound, I just wanted it to not be a genre-specific album, like a hard rock album. So we just wrote songs, and what worked we kept and what didn’t work we chucked. But the biggest thing was that I wanted to make an album that didn’t sound like VCK or Fokof, I mean why would you do the same thing again?" says Francois.

Judging by the songs on the album, it is quite obvious that Francois is not the same angry boy he was when he started Fokofpolisiekar in 2003. So I just have to get a bit personal.

I ask: "The songs on the new album, it sounds like you still have a lot of questions, and there are still a few ‘fuck you’s’ in them as well, but it also sounds like you’ve become a lot more chilled. Can you tell us more about that and are you more chilled out now?"

He laughs: "Yes I think I am definitely, no doubt, I mean, things are drastically different. If I had to compare things to 2003, when I had a mattress in a yellow room and a stack of porn mags, that’s what I owned, I mean, my life is a lot different! And during that time I didn’t for a second think about anything else than just, ‘I’m making music’, I mean I didn’t worry about where I was going to sleep or how I was going to pay for anything, you know, it’s totally different now. I have a wife that I love you know, I have a dog. Everything is drastically different. In my personal life I also made a choice, I want to take responsibility for who I am and where I am and who I care about. So uhm, it’s a lot different … I don’t know if I ever want life figured out you know, on the album I say ‘Ek weet nie’ more than anything else, and for me that’s fine."

Future tours and plans:

Francois is a busy man. While he will be focusing on his solo career for now and the rest of the year, it’s business as usual for Fokofpolisiekar and Van Coke Kartel.

"With Van Coke Kartel we will be doing two small tours this year, a tour in May of about four shows and in September of about four shows, and the rest is just if we get a booking. But we are also recording something new this year, we are going to record a cover EP. It’s going to be some of our favourite songs. We are going to do a Johannes Kerkorrel song, a Thin Lizzy song that I am a huge fan of, it’s one of my favourite songs ever, we are going to do a Lana Del Ray song, Born To Die, and then there are two more that I am not a 100% sure of. It’s going to be released in September."

"Wow! That sounds busy! Do you still like travelling, does it get any easier?" I ask.

"I would say that it actually gets a bit more difficult, because like I said, when I was 23 and we went on the road I owned a mattress and a stack of porn magazines, that’s all I had, so now, I am living quite lekker here, I really like hanging with my wife, and I dig my dog, and I like being at home. And you know, like being in a routine like two days of the week is cool for me, but to go on the road, I mean I love making music, so that makes it worth it. And like this tour I just finished with the band was such a breeze. What is easier is that I know the ins and outs of being on tour, but it’s also very nice for me to come home, and I am crazy about going on stage and playing the songs, but it’s definitely not the same as when I was 23," Francois says smiling.

Before I have to leave, I ask: "And where do you see yourself in 5 years?" 

"Now that’s a difficult one…" Francois says.

 "Do you have a 5-year plan?" I ask.

 "No, I do not have a 5-year plan… My biggest plan now was to bring out that album, so I haven’t thought about anything after that. You know, the lead up to this was a year’s thinking and working, and putting in work. So no, I don’t have a 5-year plan yet. Actually what I would like to do in the next five years is have another album, or maybe a few, with songs that people like and songs that I also like."

More music? Amen!  

Driving away from Francois’s house, I thought: "Francois, what a cool dude..."

(Photos: Herman Eloff, Channel24)

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