Images by Ravi Panchia
We chatted to the Desmond & the Tutus lads recently at Illovo’s lovely Warm & Glad, just a few days ahead of their latest single’s release, Zim Zala Bim.
Some years into a lucrative career, the band’s sound is one of the most easily identifiable in the country – so far, it’s been sort of early Kings of Leon by way of Soweto.
Their latest record, Mnusic, looks to widen their already broad scope, while still giving seasoned fans what they came for.
Putting this feature together has been tricky, because it’s nigh impossible to find concrete information on Desmond and his accompanying Tutus. It takes some serious web stalking to hunt down even the lads’ last names, for example.
For a South African band signed to major label Sony, everything about this band is independent, and this might be the essence of their appeal.
The best thing about Desmond & the Tutus might be that they’re really, really bad at interviews, which is possibly what makes them a really, really good band. They aren’t uncooperative; they’re just not selling themselves. At all. As a unit, Craig (vocals), Shane (drums), Nic (bass) and Doug (guitar) are friendly, good-humoured and well-meaning, but you won’t get a sound bite out of this lot for love nor money.
Which is kind of the highest possible compliment to a rock ‘n’ roll band these days, innit?
Anyway, here’s what we did get out of ‘em:
Off the new record, Mnusic, I quite like that Hit the Ground track, and Car Guard Tan. What are your favourites?
Shane: We all like Hit the Ground quite a lot.
Craig: I like Zim Zala Bim.
Nic: What was the question? No, I’m joking! I like Enough Fun.
Doug: And I like Awesomer. That’s the best song.
Shane: For the record, we do also like the others.
Craig: We’re waiting for the official research to come back, but I think you are right.
Doug: Is that a thing? The first rock song to mention Ted Danson by name?
Shane: I love a bit of Ted Danson, dude.
Nic: He was in Cheers…
Nic: …to name a few.
The new video for Zim Zala Bim…
Craig: We’re very chuffed with it.
Doug: It’s the best one. The best one.
Craig: Definitely the best thing we’ve ever done.
…what is the video like?
Doug: It’s like… imagine walking down a dark corridor… with a guy…
Nic: Not your home video.
Doug: No, shh! Imagine walking down a dark corridor with a guy… who’s a tiler, who puts tiles on walls… and he is pretending to be a magician.
Craig: [Takes mic] Thanks, Douglas. Um, the music video is a lotta fun, a lotta energy, a lotta colour… [Grins] great atmosphere, great vibe – totally good feeling.
So, visually, very different from the Tattoo one then?
Craig: Ja. For starters, the background is black, so immediately, very different.
I had a look at your website , which is very unique [it’s styled after a pamphlet for a traditional healer]. How much input do you guys have in what it looks like?
Doug: 100%, because I coded it and designed it. [Laughs]
Do you think it’s specifically South African? Do you have to be South African to ‘get’ the website?
Craig: I think so, yeah. I don’t know if you get that elsewhere.
Nic: You mean, penis enlargement creams? I don’t know…
What is a Car Guard Tan?
Doug: Yoh! Craig, I’ll let you take this, being the unemployed one!
Craig: It’s when you wear a t-shirt, you can get a serious tan on just your forearms, so you’re super white everywhere else.
Doug: Craig’s not doing this any justice. [All laugh] Have you ever seen how tanned car guards are? That is a Car Guard Tan. It’s like, an extreme tan.
So literally, a car guard’s tan.
Doug: Literally, the tan that a car guard gets.
You guys seem to have a very close relationship with your fans online, is that right? Is that important to you guys?
Shane: Little bit too close, hey Craig? [All laugh] It happens a lot – people say stuff to us and we reply, but it’s not like millions of people every day. It’s not actually super difficult. It doesn’t take us that long to keep that relationship.
Tell us about the album.
Nic: So, the album has eleven songs on it, and our faces on the cover, so that you can recognise us when we walk down the street. You’ll be like “Hey, it’s those guys”. And we worked with a guy called Eric Broucek from Los Angeles, he was the producer, and he made it sound really good, so… you should buy this [holds up CD].
Doug: We wrote eleven songs. No, we wrote 12 songs. We… we wrote songs. And then we sort of just decided to record them, cos they’re the best songs. The best we could do. Literally. If you don’t like this…
Craig: We’ve got nothing else to give!
Doug: …literally, we cannot do anything else.
Craig: We’ve done everything we can.
How long did the recording process take, if you were working with an LA producer?
Shane: Um, Eric came from LA and we recorded it in Joburg. Took us about two weeks. It was pretty hectic – two weeks is not a long time, but we wrote the songs, and Eric is really good at what he does, so… Boom – we have a record.
And you’re promoting the record with a cross-country tour. Is that fun, or is that work?
Nic: This is work! [Laughs]
Shane: I think we enjoy it. It’s not like “Aaargh, gotta go play the drums!”
Craig: It’s fun. It’s very fun.
Images by Ravi Panchia
In the vacuum between dark and light, Siouxsie Sioux and Emmylou Harris, Amelie and Travis Bickle, Huntress Thompson is an idiot lost, and reporting from the field. If you’re after irrational, impassioned rants about cupcakes and Johnny Cash (and you probably aren’t), she’s grumpy, but she’s your girl.