“There’s only one way to record rock n roll, and that is ‘live and raw’. This way, you capture more of the feeling, even if there are small mistakes here and there. We recorded the whole album in the waiting room of Johnny’s voice-over studio.”
INTERVIEW: RICK DE LA RAY
PHOTOGRAPHY: HAYDEN PHIPPS
WHAT LEAD TO THE BIRTH OF THE GUMBOS? IT SEEMS YOU WASTED NO TIME AFTER THE FUTURE PRIMITIVES DECIDED TO CALL IT A DAY?
The Gumbo Ya-Ya’s was an idea for a very long time, even before The Future Primitives was there. I just let it take the backseat as I wasn’t really sure what to do with it, I really just felt like writing songs and the thought of a side project really seemed cool. When The Future Primitives decided to stop playing, it gave me all the more reason to pursue this idea. Warren and I both wanted to stay solid, so we started jamming some of the ideas in early January. In two months, I completed all the songs and then started looking for a guitarist.
THE FUTURE PRIMITIVES RELEASED THREE ALBUMS ON VARIOUS INTERNATIONAL INDIE LABELS – WHAT LEAD TO THE DISBANDING OF THE GROUP?
The Future Primitives had a good run and after coming from nothing and doing so much with the band, it felt like the right time to move on. Business-wise, we weren’t allowed to release our last album until the label put it out, making it feel like a drag towards the end. When the album finally got released, it sadly didn’t mean as much as it did when we finished recording it six months earlier. It was like six months of purgatory. Recording the albums, playing shows and touring with Johnny and Warren will be what I cherish the most, whereas releasing and dealing with labels just started feeling like business at the end of the day. And where’s the fun in that?
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY ARE THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE SOUND OF GUMBO’S AND THE PRIMITIVES?
This was my first attempt at songwriting, whereas Johnny was the songwriter in The Future Primitives (and also The Revelators) and so I guess that is the main difference to me. I just wanted to experiment and see what I was capable of doing by myself. Writing from scratch with a whole band in mind really changed the way I think about music. The Gumbo Ya-Ya’s have a clean garage sound, whereas The Future Primitives used guitar pedals, experimented with noise and incorporated more of a surf sound with psychedelic leanings. All in all, it’s still ‘garage’ man.
YOU GUYS BASICALLY LAUNCHED THE BAND AND THE 1ST ALBUM ‘SUPERSTITIOUS KISSES’ AT THE SAME TIME, IN JUNE THIS YEAR. WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO GO THIS ROUTE INSTEAD OF TESTING THE WATERS A BIT WITH A FEW SHOWS?
There were no waters to be tested. I wrote the album before we had a guitarist on board, so I knew from the start what I wanted to do. It was all a matter of pushing myself to actually do it. We recorded at the end of May and played our first show the following Sunday, 8 June.
THE GUMBO YA-YA’S
“One part blues heart all tore up and brought to the boil with strung out rockabilly nerves and a trashy garage brain, willow whisked into a swampy concoction.”
THE FIRST ALBUM IS AVAILABLE AS A FREE DOWNLOAD ON BANDCAMP. WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO RELEASE IT FOR FREE AND HAS THERE BEEN ANY INTERESTS FROM PREVIOUS LABELS THAT RELEASED THE PRIMITIVES’ MUSIC?
I wanted to get the album out as soon as possible in order to introduce the band. A free download makes it more accessible for people who simply want to check it out and I also don’t see the point in paying for a digital release if there isn’t a physical copy available. I’d always opt for the physical release. Interest from labels is one thing but your album getting pressed is another. Independent labels need to make album sales to survive, that’s why they need their bands to tour the albums that they release. As a band on the tip of Africa, with little to no money for touring, things haven’t really counted in our favour yet.
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO TAKE ON THE SINGING DUTIES IN THE BAND THIS TIME, DID YOU HAVE MUCH EXPERIENCE BEFORE OR DID YOU JUST DECIDE TO CHUCK YOURSELF IN AT THE DEEP END?
Other than doing some backing vocals for The Future Primitives, I have no experience in singing. I wrote all the Gumbo’s songs with the intention of singing them, even though I wasn’t really sure of how it would come out. But, you’ll never know if you don’t try it out, so I just went for it.
ALL YOU GUYS SEEM TO BE PRETTY TIGHT WITH SUPPORTING EACH OTHER’S MUSICAL PROJECTS, WITH JOHNNY TEX STILL BEING INVOLVED WITH THE RECORDING PROCESS AND WARREN STILL DRUMMING FOR BOTH THE GUMBO’S AND JOHNNY’S NEW PROJECT CALLED ‘THE DYNA JETS’?
Of course we’re tight. Johnny is the person who introduced me to garage in the first place, so I owe a lot to him. We go way back, we’ve started two bands together, we’re pretty much brothers. And who on earth can’t love the fluff that is Warren? We’ve seen and experienced a lot together, and I honestly wouldn’t trade that for anything.
SPEAKING OF THE RECORDING PROCESS – WHAT MADE YOU GUYS DECIDE TO RECORD THE ALBUM ON AN OLD 8 TRACK REEL-TO-REEL RECORDING MACHINE? WERE THERE ANY DIFFICULTIES INVOLVED IN CONVERTING IT TO DIGITAL AFTERWARDS?
I like the sound that we got from recording to tape with The Future Primitives. Johnny accumulated all this really cool analogue recording gear since The Revelators days, so when given the option between digital and tape, I’d obviously rather go for tape. Him and Warren also seem to have the whole process down. In a way it’s nostalgic. But it’s also very ‘right now’ and real, like “okay, we’re rolling, let’s slam a track to tape!” I can’t say much for converting to digital, you’d have to ask the pro-tool engineer.
HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT THE RECORDING PROCESS, WAS IT JUST A STRAIGHT FORWARD LIVE AND RAW APPROACH OR DID YOU RECORD CERTAIN SECTIONS SEPARATELY AND MIX IT LATER?
There’s only one way to record rock n roll, and that is ‘live and raw’. This way, you capture more of the feeling, even if there are small mistakes here and there. We recorded the whole album on 31 May in the waiting room of Johnny’s voice-over studio.
HOW DID GIOVANNI VOTANO BECOME INVOLVED IN THE BAND, HE IS QUITE WELL KNOWN IN THE SKATEBOARDING COMMUNITY AND GRACED THE COVER OF SESSION MAGAZINE AROUND ABOUT THE SAME TIME THAT THE BAND PLAYED THEIR FIRST LIVE SHOW. I THINK A LOT OF PEOPLE WEREN’T AWARE THAT HE COULD EVEN PLAY GUITAR?
I met Gio around March/April. He was just some dude that started working at Clarke’s, and I tried to help him find a place to stay. His girlfriend knew I wanted to start a band, so she suggested we jam together. To be honest, I didn’t even know he skated until way later. It didn’t really matter to me because he could play some cool guitar.
ARE YOU CONSIDERING TOURING A LOT MORE WITH THE BAND LOCALLY, MORE SO THAN THE PRIMITIVES DID? BANDS LIKE ‘MAKE OVERS’ FROM PRETORIA HAVE BEEN VERY ACTIVE IN THAT SENSE AND ALSO INTERNATIONALLY, MAKING QUITE A NAME IN THE AMERICAN GARAGE SCENE.
Yeah, The Future Primitives never toured South Africa. We only really got an opportunity to go to Europe and pretty much worked towards that. I really want to make The Gumbo Ya-Ya’s mission up-country soon. Even though the places to play are few and far between, the whole aesthetic of going on tour and playing to strangers in unfamiliar places does seem very attractive.
ARE YOU GUYS BUSY WITH A SECOND ALBUM AT THE MOMENT AND WILL YOU CONTINUE TO RELEASE YOUR MUSIC FOR FREE OR WILL YOU GO A DIFFERENT ROUTE WITH THE SECOND ONE?
We’ve been playing a lot of new material live, so maybe we’ll record that sometime soon. I keep writing regardless of prospects for a new album, there is no rush in releasing anyway. Some songs I write aren’t even meant for The Gumbo Ya-Ya’s. I’d love to release something on wax, although we have a ‘Superstitious Kisses’ cassette coming out on a new French label in the near future, called Dirty Slice.
ARE YOU BUSY WITH OR PLANNING ANY OTHER LITTLE SIDE PROJECTS AT THE MOMENT?
Yeah, I have some ideas for projects, but we’ll have to see how they develop. I picked up an old acoustic recently, and this has not only changed the way I approach the new Gumbo Ya-Ya’s material, it also made me want to start something with guitar. I’ve been jamming with some other bands as well, I did a few shows as session bassist with The Wanton Bishops from Lebanon while they were down here, and then I am also going to start playing some live shows with the dudes from ODA in the near future.
I HEARD VIA THE GRAPEVINE THAT YOU ARE ACTUALLY ALSO QUITE INTO HIP HOP, HOW DO THESE TWO STYLES AT THE OPPOSITE ENDS OF THE SPECTRUM FIT INTO YOUR MUSICAL TASTE?
I’ve always been into bass, the main reason I started playing the instrument. I really dig the sentence structures and breaks in hip hop, where lyrical content by guys like Aesop Rock, Quasimoto or Kool A.D. usually just blow me away. Also, I admire how many words can be said in such a cool way, in such a limited time. That’s what you call “swag”, right? I feel that both the hip hop and garage scenes are exploding underground, with many upcoming artists and bands. It really is an exciting time.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY SPARKED OFF YOUR PERSONAL INTEREST IN THE TYPE OF MUSIC YOU GUYS ARE PLAYING AND WHERE WOULD YOU FEEL THE HEART OF THE BAND LIES IN TERMS OF WHAT OTHER GROUPS ARE DOING ABROAD?
When Johnny and I started jamming together a good 5 or 6 years ago, he introduced me to garage, like The Black Lips. I really loved what they were doing at the time, and still go back to those early days whenever I reference them. They drew influence from a ton of old bands that I’ve also grown fond of over the years. I’ve delved into garage and always seem to dig up something I’m not familiar with, and even though the garage heyday lasted less than two years in the 60s, the amount of bands and impact it had on music is phenomenal. I mean, punk wouldn’t have seen the light of day if it wasn’t for bands like The Wailers or The Sonics and even lesser-known, some even still undiscovered, bands from the time that only got to record a song or two before disappearing into obscurity. Lately, new garage bands tend to go more grunge, which I don’t really dig that much. Bands that make cool garage nowadays include: The Baron Four (with members from Thee Vicars) from the UK, The Frowning Clouds from Australia, Dead Ghosts from Canada and a few bands from the thriving French scene, such as Strange Hands, Dusty Mush and Os Noctàmbulos. I’d put The Reatards and early Ty Segall on the list as well, but Jay is gone and Ty lost it.
HOW DO YOU SEE THE LIFESPAN OF THE BAND UNFOLD IN THE FUTURE, SIMILAR TO THE PRIMITIVES OR WILL YOU JUST LET IT TAKE ITS OWN COURSE AND TAKE IT FROM THERE?
This is like asking me how long I expect to live. All we can really do is figure it out as we go forward – or backwards, or wherever we end up going.
SPIRIT OF THE GUMBO
DR JOHN & THE NIGHT TRIPPERS
THE GUN CLUB
Fire of love
Smell of female
THE BLACK LIPS
The black lips