“Growing up I’d always get Laughed at because people in my community don’t understand and aren’t really exposed To alternative individualism at all. I was called things like “Vampire”, “Satanist” or “prostitute”, all because they feared the unknown and they didn’t want to even understand what my thing was.”
INTERVIEW: RICK DE LA RAY
PHOTOGRAPHY: JACQUI VAN STADEN
YOU RECENTLY MOVED TO CAPE TOWN FROM DURBAN, WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO MAKE THE MOVE?
About two years ago we would often have to deal with the constant feeling of frustration and being drained by the monotonous groove of things. This feeling I shared with both Loopy (bassist) and James (guitarist). We were struggling to regulate a constant flow of creative ideas, money, general self-inspiration and joy. Everything and everybody around us was starting to take on a very dull and transparent meaning. I think everyone one around us was frustrated, either with themselves or the next person. We’d done it all, said everything twice, three times, over and over again. It was boring and phony. The scene that was once the driving force to the engine of our youthful joy was slowly running out of steam, threatening to break down at any given time. We were desperately trying to fix it even though this was a tough mission. There was vague talk about moving somewhere else, start afresh, just leaving everything behind and work on a new musical direction and identity, reinventing ourselves. It was as if we were stuck in a loop, a cycle we’d come to know all too well and were actually starting to find comfort in it. The gigs were few and the parties weren’t the same anymore, just meaningless. We were desperately trying to rekindle that youthful joy we once shared, but it was gone. It was definitely time to close that chapter. So we bit the bullet and made the big exit, with big dreams and empty pockets.
WHERE WERE YOU BORN AND WHERE DID YOU GROW UP, ARE THERE ANY MEMORIES FROM YOUR CHILDHOOD THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE WITH US THAT COULD GIVE ANY INSIGHT INTO YOUR PERSONALITY?
I’m the second born child of three, one younger brother and two older sisters. My father passed away when I was 8 years old, so in turn I was raised up by a single mom. For as long as I could remember my mother has always been supportive and understanding. Growing up I had a vague idea of what my passions and ambitions were. I’d always put on little shows at home when people came around the house. It bought me such joy. I was always intrigued and marvelled by the concept of performance art and sharing a bit of myself through this medium. My entire existence revolves around ultimate self-expression and appreciation because this is how my mother had raised me. So my individualism and expressive nature originated at a very young age and has been growing ever since. My mother was born in Swaziland, my grandmother and her moved to Durban when my mother was only a child. Our extended family still resides there. Even though I have an extremely small family, the moral values and self-discipline structures that were put in place by these two dominating female figures has made me who I am today. I carry these small family values with me proudly, which include sincere gratitude, the celebration, respect and appreciation of self and others as well as sharing and valuing the small things in life. These teachings I will pass down to my own children and people I meet.
YOUR VOICE AND STAGE PERSONA IS INCREDIBLY VERSATILE – WHERE DOES YOUR MUSICAL INTEREST AND INFLUENCE STEM FROM?
As much as I grew up with the love for performance art, I was never really much of a singer, I was terrible actually. My mother and her sister both have exceptional vocal cords and they’d often break out into beautiful unrehearsed melodic harmonies in the kitchen while preparing meals and I would always try to join in but I found great difficulty maintaining the same pitch/key. Because I was so determined to get it right, I would practice by myself almost every day. It became a bit of an obsession of mine for all I wanted to do was to be to sing along in synchronised unison with the two most influential female voices in my life. After high school I knew I wanted to take up drama and performance art studies, majoring in music and vocal training. That’s when my voice started taking constructive shape. After varsity my vocal abilities were strong, I fully understood where all the sounds came from and the different placements and control involved with trying to achieve them. At this point, my next goal was to nurture and discover my own voice. Everyone can sing, I strongly believe that we are all capable but having your own style of presentation and groove, now that’s what makes you an artist. Here are some of the major influential female vocalists that help me on this journey: Edith Piaf, Miriam Makeba, Jill Scott, Brenda Fassie, Bjork, Nina Simone, Cocorosie, Etta James, Thandiswa Mazwai, Janis Joplin, Erika Badu and the list goes on and on. I’ve always been obsessed with the idea of being an all-round act, vocally and visually. I’ve always tried to combine both my theatrical skills and influences with my stage persona at the same time, portraying the other elements of our whole act. My voice is ever changing and taking different forms as I go. I’m never satisfied with my current vocal range/ability, there’s always room for improvement and more magic. I still feel like that little girl, longing to sing with her mum and aunt in the kitchen, that feeling will forever keep me grounded and hungry for more.
YOU ALSO HAVE A BIT OF A THEATRICAL BACKGROUND, IS IT SOMETHING THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO PURSUE MORE IN THE FUTURE OR ARE YOU MAINLY FOCUSSED ON YOUR ROLE AS A SINGER AT THE MOMENT?
I’m crazy about acting and contemporary dancing as much as my music, even though the band has totally taken over my life. I’ve done some short films which featured at the Durban International film festival, I work-shopped a play for the Grahamstown festival stage and played a leading role in a film on Mzansi magic on DSTV. My acting career will always be a part of me and I definitely want to put more time and effort into it. I’m in the process of establishing my acting career, indeed. It’s a part of me that has been taking a bit of a backseat ride but not for long.
HOW DID YOU END UP BEING THE LEAD SINGER IN THE BAND ‘FRUITS AND VEGGIES’ AND WHAT LEAD TO THE FORMATION OF THE BAND?
‘Fruits and Veggies’ originally started out as a kind of playful soul acapella piece consisting of four girls. It sounded nothing even close to what our vibe is like now. The other girls were close friends of mine and we knew each other prior to the birth of the band and our voices worked really well together, but none of us could play an instrument so we worked with what we had. Even though we took it seriously it never really felt like it had enough substance or magic to go places and by that time I was starting to outgrow the idea of minimal creation. We lasted about 8 months I think, one girl fell pregnant and the other two made other fulfilling ventures. Even though ‘Fruits and Veggies’ was dead I couldn’t help but notice that we had started a new wave in the Durban punk-rock scene, a small one but a wave nonetheless. I was determined to ride this wave, one way or another! It was really exciting to notice the interest we’d regulated without any real effort. That’s when I met Loopy, who was a female rapper at the time, killing ‘ous’ in battle cyphers at the BAT Centre, hip hop days in Durban. Chasing and outrunning everyone. I took great interest in her fearless nature right away, it was hard not to. I formally introduced myself, oblivious to the fact that two months down the line we’d be making tasty tunes together along with another two close friends, Sweet Lu (drummer) and Darren (guitarist). That was the first rebirth/transformation of ‘Fruits and Veggies’. This was just the Genesis, the first chapter for what was still to come.
YOU GUYS HAD A HUGE FEATURE ARTICLE IN THE ROLLING STONE IN 2012, IT’S ALMOST A SHAME THAT THEY DID NOT PUT YOU GUYS ON THE COVER WHICH I PERSONALLY FELT YOU DESERVED AT THAT TIME… WOULD YOU SAY THAT IN A WAY THAT WAS THE PINNACLE OF THE BAND AND THE ANTICS THAT WENT WITH IT?
Man oh man!!!! This was the highlight of our musical career buy a long shot! Our very first national magazine appearance and it was a twelve-page spread on the Rolling Stone!!!! Oooh boy we were overleaping with the sweetest joy. I recall supermarket hopping on the day the mag hit the shelves because they were either all out or didn’t stock it at all. Eventually, I managed to get my hands on a copy and ended up buying 10 copies. We were meant to be on the cover but Bob Dylan decided he was gonna go ahead and release an album two weeks before the mag went to print. I mean, even if we had a shitty little one column feature with our picture the size of a match box then I would’ve maintained the same excitement, IT WAS THE MOTHER FUCKING ROLLING STONE!!!!! And we were rolling with it, all the way. We had so much fun with that one, we wanted people to know that we were here and uncensored, that we weren’t afraid to show them who we really were. Roger Young was covering the story, he knew us very well so the interview was far from the usual formal Q and A. He put together a sort of weird ‘after party’ gathering at a local whore house / drug den, a watering hole by day. This was after a hectic night of partying so we all congregated in this half-lit room. Roger would randomly chuck questions at us but the entire thing was too debaucherous and the photographer (Kevin Goss-Ross) was snapping away and boy oh boy did we give him something to capture. Randoms were dry humping in a dark corner, there were people rolling on the floor with eyes rolled back to their heads, stripping all the beds just for the fuck of it, while some gently humped the air to Jefferson Airplane. THIS WAS US! OUR REALITY! Our lives were being captured and we were uncensored!! It was grand.
HOW WOULD YOU PERSONALLY DESCRIBE THE SOUND AND THE MINDSET OF THE BAND DURING THAT PERIOD OF ‘ENLIGHTENMENT’?
We were riding a beautiful tidal wave in our home, our small home town and it felt great. With this came a string of misdemeanours and our reputation was something out of a festival clip in the 60s, in San Francisco, on repeat. People even started to speculate about the sincerity of the entire thing, saying that at some extent we were just putting on a show so that people would have something to talk about. We didn’t care, that was our whole thing, that was our trip. We didn’t give a flying shit about what other people thought we were doing. That got us into a lot of shitstorms with event organisers and venue owners. We were known as the band that would rock up at their show, pull off a kick ass performance, got the crowd going, broke some expensive equipment that didn’t belong to us, and couldn’t afford to replace, but still people booked us. Our whole thing was live now, live fast, live free. We shared the same ideals, listened to the same music, indulged in similar debaucherous activities, stood up for each other, fought and kissed eachother, we were in love with this crazy thing called music.
WHAT TYPE OF SUBJECT MATTER DO YOU MOSTLY FOCUS ON WITHIN YOUR LYRICS? IS THERE A RECURRING MESSAGE THAT YOU FEEL YOU NEED TO EXPRESS TO PEOPLE OUT THERE?
Lyrical content has always been an important and exciting part for me when creating a song. We had a formula that worked for us when writing new material, we’d have a brainstorming session regarding a topic that we wanted to write about, considering the type of tone/feeling of the instruments. The topics we tackled then and the way we approached them were completely different to the subject matters we talk about now, still very real and reflective of us just a little bit more mature and less agreesive. We spoke a lot about our daily frustrations, the way we wanted to live without any restrictions or self compromise. We also spoke a lot about our lives and the encounters we’ve had. We tried not to be political but I guess in a sense we were, we played that game without being aware of it. It was all very heart felt and honest, fast and hard, accompanied by groovy fat dub-like breakdowns. We worked well together because we heard the same tune before we brought it into light. We were also very playful and silly with words at the time, because it wasn’t all about shouting your guts out about how angry / frustrated we were but also about having fun and a celebration of who we were and what we stood for. This has always been the recurring message in our work.
THE BAND HAS GONE THROUGH SO MANY TRANSFORMATIONS, FROM MULTIPLE BAND MEMBERS AT ITS HEIGHT TO CURRENTLY ONLY TWO OF THE FOUNDING MEMBERS – WHERE DO YOU SEE THE MUSICAL DIRECTION AND MINDSET OF THE BAND HEADING AT THE MOMENT?
Yeah, we’ve had our fair share of replacements and changes, but surprisingly enough this has never effected or hindered our progression in any way. We always managed to keep at it and accommodate the new member and allow for him to have room to give new flavour, which worked each time. But of course it’s never easy losing a member, regardless of the circumstance. We recently had to let go of Loopy (I won’t share my reasons), this has completely changed the way we want to be received. We’ve had our fun and said all the things driven by the time and place we were in our lives. Now things are different, we’re away from comfort and basically have to start from scratch. Our mentalities have changed, our musical approach at the moment is incredibly well thought out. We’re currently taking a two month brake to develop a concept album, like nothing we’ve ever done before. We’re working on a final transformation and final chapter of ‘Fruits and Veggies’. Our new drummer Mark Dummont is incredible and suits our vibe perfectly. He’s highly enthusiastic, which is exactly what we need. We’ll soon be riding a different wave, one that never breaks.
YOU HAVE ALWAYS HAD A VERY UNIQUE STYLE AND PRESENCE. A TYPE OF VISUAL ANARCHY IN A SENSE, WHICH SEEMS TO BE AN EXTENSION OF YOUR PERSONALTY. WHERE DO YOU DRAW YOUR INSPIRATION FROM?
I’ve always had a very different approach when it comes to clothing. I’ve always been obsessed with colours and weird passion clashes inspired by Tokyo street fashion expressionism, called Harajuku. Growing up I’d always get laughed at because people in my community don’t understand and aren’t really exposed to alternative individualism at all. I was called things like “vampire”, “Satanist” or “prostitute”, all because they feared the unknown and they didn’t want to even understand what my thing was. My mother at the very beginning couldn’t understand why I was different and what my motives were, but soon realised that I was wasn’t in fact crazy, but that this was a form of self-expression that I couldn’t control at all. I had no interest in the masses’ opinions on how women / girls should present themselves, in terms of appearance or in character. With my mother’s support, I didn’t hold back from ultimately being who I am.
YOU ALSO GAVE BIRTH TO A BEAUTIFUL LITTLE GIRL A FEW YEARS AGO. IT MUST HAVE BEEN A LIFE CHANGING EXPERIENCE FOR YOU. HOW DID IT AFFECT YOUR LIFE AT THE TIME?
Oh, my beautiful morning star! The pregnancy did come as a shock but I came to terms with the overwhelming phenomenon of carrying a powerful life force inside myself. That concept alone made me feel more strong and in control of my own situation. The band thought I would treat this as a setback and give up on making music. However, now I was fuelled with a different kind of passion and hunger, not just for myself but for my girl’s sake. I still went to practice and still played shows, everything was fine. Being a mother figure has taught me a lot about patience, the real form of love, eternal connection, perseverance and adapting. Naledi has given me a new, more selfless perspective on things and inspired me to work harder at playing the different roles I’m duty bound to. My mother, again, has been an absolute ‘god send’ from day one, she believes in what I do because she’s seen the passion since I was a little girl, painting pictures on my shoes.
AS A SINGLE MOTHER IT MUST BE HARD LIVING IN A DIFFERENT CITY, TRYING TO FURTHER YOUR CAREER?
Life only becomes a struggle or hard to bare at the precise point where you stop dreaming. Being a mother has been more of a blessing than something that’s holding me back from excelling in life. It also helps that her father is very much a part of her life, even though we’re not together. I honestly thought that things would be slightly more uncomfortable or less achievable at this point but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Being in another city away from my little one is extremely challenging because she’s still very young, I’m missing out on some the most beautiful and fundamental moments in her growth, as she slowly becomes self-aware and independent, more and more everyday. In terms of music, I’m faced with new challenges now. Do I carry on making the music that I’ve invested over 7 years in and hasn’t been fruitful at the level I want it to be financially or do I compromise everything I believe in and just plunge into some other ventures without any real ambition? I’ve sort of given myself a year goal to at least establish myself in the Cape Town music scene and figure out what my true individual aspirations are but I’m slowly running out of time because of having to spend most of my time stressing about my current financial state. So I work to make ends meat. I stay positive and I know for certain that James (guitarist) and I will always make incredible music together as ‘Fruits and Veggies’ or under a different name. We’ve always worked exceptionally well together and as the two remaining song writers in the band, we keep the fire burning. The new line-up is stronger than ever, all I’m saying is that the band is finally ready to transcend.
WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOURSELF AS A TYPE OF ACTIVIST IN SOME SENSE, WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR IN LIFE AND WHAT TYPE OF CHANGE DO FEEL SOUTH AFRICA SHOULD BE FOCUSSING AT THE MOMENT?
I’ve always tried to maintain the same idealistic structure, even though it’s harder than just living. I am now and have always been a firm believer in equality and fair resolutions. CHARITY ALWAYS STARTS AT HOME, know yourself and inspire yourself above others first. Most South Africans (human beings in general) lack even the mildest concepts of compassion and humanity. This in turn leads to all sorts of social ills and discourse. We need to go back to the simple fundamental aspects of being alive. Instead of focussing on the negative, let’s focus on being better people first, let’s not constantly complain about the things that can be corrected like crime, and poverty, let’s rather focus on the base/foundation of it all, the family structure and other channels at which things start to go wrong. We all possess the ability to love, give, appreciate, sooth and understand. Something along the way hinders these compulsory emotions and we lose ourselves.
THERE SEEMS TO BE A LOT OF PEOPLE WHO MOVED FROM DURBAN TO CAPE TOWN RECENTLY, ALL FROM THE SAME SCENE AND GROUP OF FRIENDS – WHAT DO YOU THINK MOTIVATED THIS MASS MIGRATION OF PERSONALITIES?
There was a beautiful time when Durban was a force to be reckoned with, all the kids were singing the song and it was groovy. Shows were well attended and supported. There were big names that the rest of the country looked up to, who were really good mates. The scene was in its prime and we failed to keep that wave going. Slowly, things started losing their spark and charm. I don’t recall at what particular time this change started happening but kids were leaving in their numbers ever since, in search of the same thing that Durban no longer possessed.
Underdog world strike
THE CAT EMPIRE