“We like to sound different in every song, we don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves to only having one sound, that would be pretty boring. Even at this stage we feel that we haven’t explored enough weird sounds and styles. This is because we like to listen to a variety of different bands and music.”
– CAMERON LOFSTRAND
INTERVIEW: RICK DE LA RAY
PHOTOGRAPHY: JACQUI VAN STADEN
The band has gone through a huge evolution since 2011. What would you attribute to these transformations to?
When we first started we had quite a generic sound and didn’t stray too far from the kind of sound we knew and liked. We got a bit older and then had to replace our drummer. We then tried to develop our own sound and make something a bit more interesting. I would compare the evolution of our band to a guy who started off as a normal average human being that worked as a postman/lawyer or something and then went crazy and became completely deranged. He started smoking crack, claims he was abducted by aliens and has now become a hobo guy that walks around town talking nonsense.
A lot of your earlier sound was very influenced by Jack White’s approach to playing and song writing. Even the band name was taken from The White Stripes’ album called ‘Elephant’. What was your initial attraction to his particular sound when you started the band?
At that stage we had only just been getting into music and everything we had been exposed to before we discovered The White Stripes was just not as exciting or didn’t have as much depth and feeling to it. I guess we just loved the way he made so much noise and didn’t give a fuck. Of course as we have grown up and explored and discovered more music The White Stripes have become more irrelevant, but we still acknowledge this band as our initial inspiration.
The band seems to explore a vast sound scape of influences within every song. From some seriously driven Blues style riffs, drone licks and straight up borderline heavy metal chops. Where do all these influences stem from?
We like to sound different in every song, we don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves to only having one sound, that would be pretty boring. Even at this stage we feel that we haven’t explored enough weird sounds and styles. This is because we like to listen to a variety of different bands and music. The Butthole Surfers is a great example of a band that tries to vary their sound in so many different ways, and has been quite an influence in our song writing from time to time. We love Black Sabbath of course so from here stems other bands that have influenced our stoner/drone elements like Colour Haze, Sleep, Witch and Samsara Blues Experiment. Other bands that stem from Sabbath that have been our metal influences are bands like Mastodon, System of a Down (still such an influential band for us) and early Metallica. The Blues style obviously stems from things like The White Stripes, beside that Grand Funk Railroad have been a huge influence, Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Hendrix, Black Keys and a bit of old Blues musicians like Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson. We have so many other influences on our music as well, bands like Arctic Monkeys were quite a big one, The Doors, Death From Above 1979 and Rush. We even love quite a bit of Hip Hop like Wu Tang Clan, Jurassic 5, Atmosphere, Sage Francis and Cunninlynguists. Some of the more recent bands and influences have been POND, Tame Impala, Tweak Bird, DZ Deathrays, Fuzz, The Wytches, Ty Segall, Wavves, FIDLAR and Wand.
One particular instrumental track that stands out to me is your latest upload ‘Hand Full of magic beans’ where you seem to have successfully blended a fusion of stoner rock with a definite Zulu Maskandi rhythm. How did you develop the origin of the song?
That song weirdly enough is actually a song by our side band, The Sisters, but you could technically say it’s still Black Math because I’m playing the drums and Tyla is playing baritone guitar and we still have the same approach to music. The Sisters is more of a fuck around band than anything else, so that song we were just messing around at first until we accidentally had a rad idea. I had always loved the Maskandi rhythm, it’s just so rad to dance to and play on the drums, so once I learnt that beat I had just been messing around with it ever since. Also, Tyla on a baritone guitar (tuned B to b) comes up with these amazingly heavy riffs. That song we never intentionally set out to record and release, we sometimes record our band practices and if a song happens to sound especially good in the recordings then I mix and master it till it sounds a bit better and then we put it up on the internet. All of our recent recordings have been done this way.
Speaking of drumming – like most bands you seem to have had your share up until now. How did you end up with Acacia Van Wyk in the band? She seems to tie the trio together rather well.
Once Nthando decided to leave the band it took us a while to decide to start auditioning new drummers, as we knew it would be hard to replace him. Acacia was the only girl out of the few drummers that we jammed with, regardless, her skill, flow and ability to gel with us not only as a musician but as a friend, made her stand out far beyond the others. It was actually quite convenient, since we knew her previously in school for quite a few years before she joined the band.
There are a lot of female drummers popping up in a lot of local bands these days. Why do you think so many women are choosing such a traditionally masculine instrument at the moment?
Well, I don’t really think it’s fair to say any instrument is more masculine than the next, sure it does seem like quite a brutish male thing to bash stuff with sticks but I think whether you are a guy or a girl playing any instrument in a band, in most cases both are doing it for the same reasons. The fact that they both love playing an instrument and making music just makes it the same for me, regardless of their gender. If I was to give you a straight answer as why girls are choosing drums over other instruments, I would say that being a drummer is a very logical, coordinated and relentless role to fill in the band, the amount of pressure is nuts. As a drummer you are keeping the whole band in time and everyone is following you, also when a guitarist makes a mistake it’s a lot less noticeable than a drummer making a mistake. I think maybe girls are better at handling that pressure and that amount of endurance, while dudes are way too busy wanking themselves to ecstasy with riffs and solos on guitar/bass…haha – I don’t know, just a funny thought that often runs through my head. I do often think that guitar playing is sometimes such a self-pleasing activity and can be attributed to wanking. Besides that it’s really amazing to see so many girls playing in heavy/underground bands and making heavier/underground music, normally it’s such a sausage fest, so having more girls involved balances things out very nicely, it’s not just one-sided.
Your recent tour to Cape Town turned out to be very successful and there was a huge buzz around the tour from the start. What was the reasoning behind playing mainly to the Durban audiences? Does the band have any plans on touring a lot more in the future?
Playing a lot in Durban was never really much of a choice, we just get offered to play like almost every weekend and we love playing shows so we end up just taking most of the offers. It’s just that for a long time we didn’t have many contacts in other cities so organising shows was probably the hardest part. Though over the years playing with touring bands and meeting the right people we have managed to make some awesome friends in other cities who make it a lot easier to book shows in Joburg or Cape Town. We have toured to Joburg a lot recently and those tours are always so much fun. Ever since we first started we have always wanted to play in Cape Town, it was just really hard not knowing anyone down there and the fact that it was so far away. Once I had got in contact with Andre Leo from Psych Night, it became a lot easier, him and the other guys from Psych Night were really nice to us and booked such a rad tour through Cape Town. All we had to do was drive there and find a place to stay, it was literally the best time we’ve had together as a band (on par with going to Reunion island). We plan to come back to Cape Town as soon as possible, and of course keep touring Joburg as much as possible. We would also love to play Bloemfontien, Port Elizabeth, East London, and some of the towns off the beaten path. There is also talk and rumors of a possible London tour, but we are still very unsure.
The band started playing at a very young age, playing late nights in clubs when you were clearly underage. What kind of influence did these experiences have on you and the band when you were younger?
Yeah we were about 16/17 when we first started and we started going to the Winston and playing shows soon after we started, while we were still underage. It was quite weird as the few people that watched us seemed to like us right off the bat, and our audience slowly grew (not by much), but it could have been because of the novelty of us being really young. We weren’t very tight at all at that stage. It was really cool though being exposed to the music scene that early, we met a lot of rad and crazy people. I think being there at that age kind of toughened us up, so we are used to seeing the amount of crazy shit that goes down and sometimes being a part of it. Also, we’ve learnt the realities of the South African music scene. As rad and amazing as the South African music scene is, we never forget that it is nothing but a ball hair on the International musical map. We as a band are nothing more than a ball hair on the musical map in South Africa.
What would you say are the main themes revolving around the lyrics embedded within the song structures?
Most of the lyrics I write, I only write after we’ve formed the entire song, so a lot of the time I match the themes around the mood of the song. Sometimes I do write riffs and ideas starting with lyrics though, it just depends. A lot of the time I like to tell weird stories that are sometimes random and unrelatable, more recently I’ve been focusing on writing lyrics that are more related to my personal life or just general feelings I have about habits, situations and how my mind, ideas or personality might be changing. Just really weird shit, nothing too sentimental, I get bored and irritated with emotional sappy drivel. For example, I’ve written Sci-fi/fantasy themed stuff like the song ‘G-Man’, other times just really dark and unfortunate situations like ‘Limbless’, about a girl waking up and finding that she’s holding her boyfriend’s arm, but only his arm, the rest of his body has been pulled right off. ‘Blood Moon’ is about the inevitable apocalypse that will kill us all, but it’s okay because “we are all gonna die” anyway. ‘Choking hazard’ is a poke at sappy love songs, it basically says “I hope you choke to death on all your sentiment and heartbreak.” Some of the newer songs are not at as dark, pessimistic and abrasive but focus more on personal experience, so hopefully those lyrics are more relatable.
You currently only have one 4 track EP out, called ‘Songs For The Mentally Disturbed’. When can we expect a full-length recording from the band?
That EP isn’t actually called ‘Songs For The Mentally Disturbed’, it must be a confusion on bandcamp or something, it’s self-titled but in hindsight that’s actually a really good name for that EP, so I think we should leave it with that title. That EP was mainly an attempt to get a set amount of songs out there for people to listen to, before that we only had like two average recordings. So we got some of our favorite songs at the time and some money together. Then we recorded the drums in a studio and the rest with our friend Matt Illubry, in his home studio. It was cool, we printed and made our own covers and sold about 60 or 70 physical copies and told people to pirate the fudge out of it, then put it up on bandcamp and soundcloud for free a few months later. That EP still lacked the rawness, grittiness and volume that we were hoping for. After that we have only been recording in our band room with some budget equipment. Since we know what kind of sound we want to project in our recordings, these home recordings have been a lot more successful at producing the recorded sound we are going for, our last four releases (including The Sisters) have been home recordings. We have decided to record everything that we have not recorded (including the 3 extras we have already released as Black Math) and make it into an album. We are currently in the process of doing this now. Also, we record live, except vocals, and we have decided against using a click track, as we feel in most cases it takes away the life and organic feeling of a song.
Have you been approached by any labels for support or distribution or are you settling for the DIY approach at the moment?
No, we have not really been approached by anyone, but that’s okay, we way prefer the DIY method, labels can only do so much and a lot of the time they only harm many bands. There is definitely a great deal of use being signed to a rad label but it’s way better when people take it into their own hands. Why wait for fat cats to spew nonsense onto the billboard when you can get some friends together and make something new and exciting with the internet and sometimes very little amounts of money. It’s really amazing how everything is so much more accessible now and that the music industry is crumbling now that everyone can kind of do it for themselves, all these rad independent labels and independent bands. It’s a pretty rad time for music. We don’t mind signing to a good label, as long as it’s a really sweet deal but it’s unlikely. For now and into the future we plan to do everything ourselves.
The band is an extremely tight unit, how much time do you spend in studio and how does it influence your day-to-day life? Rumour has it your drummer is still in school, what do you guys keep yourself busy with when you’re not making music?
Well, like I said, we record most of our band practices to get rad recordings, so most of our practice time is kind of like studio time. We practice at least once or twice a week, sometimes more depending on what shows we have coming up. We normally have to arrange practice around our day-to-day activities. I have been studying and am still studying Graphic Design/Art at DUT. Acacia only just finished school last year, and now keeps herself busy teaching drums, odd jobs and is now doing teacher training at Roseway Waldorf. Tyla has it the best out of all of us, he likes to hang out and chill and dedicates most of his time to music.
What is your approach to song writing – is there a certain recipe that you follow or do you just let it form itself within the practice sessions?
Usually one of us will have an idea and will bring it to band practice and from there we will break it down, extend on it and form it into a song. Quite often we will just form songs completely by accident, just jamming together for fun. We always make a point of writing music as a team effort, everyone puts in what they want, there’s no one person calling the shots. I’m a firm believer that one person’s idea is never as good as everyone’s ideas, when it’s one person writing all the music it can get a bit one directional, whereas everybody’s ideas together can make something unique and interesting. The weirder it is, the better.
You have also played with ‘Fruit and Veg’ a few times. Are there any other bands that you play with and how difficult do you find it adapting to the dynamics within the other musicians?
I didn’t just play with them a few times, I was in the band for almost 2 years. It was super rad though, and I admit I really miss jamming with them. It was great having to adapt my style to their musical direction but also adding my ideas to their sound was fun. It was really crazy and at times straining, but a lot of fun. With them it was weird, I didn’t do as much work as in Black Math, which gave me some room to have lots of improvisation, especially with the guitar backing me up and me backing him up. At the same time I could play super complex guitar parts and not have to sing! Tyla also played in ‘The Trees’ for quite a while, and now plays in a hip hop/RnB band, called Existing Consciousness. He said ‘The Trees’ did not require as much work as Black Math but was still fun. As for Excon, he says that the structures are completely different and unusual, and that you just have to kind of feel out the changes.
What further plans can we expect from the band through the year?
We plan to tour as much as possible and hopefully play Oppikoppi again. We also want to come back to Cape Town ASAP! And like I said, we are releasing a full-length album sometime in the near future. Besides that there are no other definite plans, we just know that we have to keep going.
GRAND FUNK RAILROAD
In the Red Records
‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’