By Frisco Rosso | Images: Matt Ross
During their recent tour of Gauteng we caught up with rockabilly purveyors Peachy Keen to discuss the joys of being back in Johannesburg, band beginnings and audience perceptions.
Here’s the first part of our interview with them. Keep checking in over the next couple of days for part two to read the Peaches’ take on vital equipment and issues dogging the South African music industry.
So, are you excited to be back in Joburg?
Dominique: Yeah we had a rad time last year!
Are you finding the audience base has grown since the last time you were here?
Greg: Ha, well, we’ll see tonight
Dominique: Last time we played our first show ever in Joburg but it was so cool. It was packed, it was crazy!
Alex: I think our fan base has gotten a lot bigger and there’s been way more demand for us to come down.
How do you find the vibe up here differs from Cape Town?
Dominique: There’s bigger support here than in Cape Town.
Ryan: Yeah, definitely.
Alex: And we noticed the fans follow you around here as well, they’ll come to each venue. In Cape Town they’re like, “we’ll come to watch you at Mercury” then after we’ll say, “see you again tomorrow night?” and they usually say something like “oh no, sorry I’ve gotta go have pizza with my chick or bru” or whatever.
Brandon: When you play your own city people see you more often, so there seems to be a little less support.
Dominique: But we love Cape Town!
Brandon: It’s special going on tour – I also like playing to people I don’t know.
Dominique: Also it’s sometimes easier to put on a performance when you don’t know anyone that well, like my boyfriend watching me as this onstage ego or if my mom’s watching me and it feels weird..
The group chuckle and exchange some knowing looks.
Dominique: You know what I mean.
Ryan: Yeah, when your mates aren’t there.
Dom: It’s just easier to fulfil the role when you’re onstage.
What actually brought you guys together? I mean, you were all musicians in your own right, but what formed the clique?
Dominique: Well, Alex and I have known each other since we played in different bands as teenagers. We eventually reached a point where neither of us were playing in bands and wanted to start something together. So we started writing a set and after a couple of months we decided to look for other members. We found Brandon first – he’d recently located to Cape Town from Durban.
Brandon: Yeah, I used to play in a bunch of bands up there.
Dominique: So we stumbled across Brandon one night, literally.
Alex: Yeah, literally.
Dominique: We were somewhere dancing with him…
Brandon: Yeah and then The Beatles came on and I said “let’s start a band!”
Dominique: Haha yeah and we were like “dude, we’re starting a band but we’re looking for a drummer”. So he says (with great dramatic emphasis) “I’m a drummer!” So we said cool we’ll call you, but you know how it is, you never call them the next day.
Brandon: Yeah, but then on Sunday they phoned me and said “do you wanna be in our band?” So I was like, “ja, serious?”
Dominique: And then I started stalking Greg. To track him down I phoned a mutual friend of ours studying music or something at UCT and said we’re looking for a double bassist – you just can’t find them anywhere!
Ryan: You guys also actually asked me.
Alex: But Ryan was a band whore then, he played in like, five bands.
Dominique: Yeah, he didn’t have any time. So our contact said “well I know this guy called Greg, his first instrument’s actually classical guitar but he sort of doubles on double bass and I know he wants to play it”. So I called him up and said “hey, we’re starting this band, it’s kinda like rockabilly, a bit of shoo wop, swing,” and he said it sounded awesome. So we met up with Greg – he was really shy, he’d just moved to Cape Town from Joburg.
Alex: Shame, we were all mates and had known Brandon for a while by then.
Brandon: Yeah, I haven’t been able to get rid of them ever since!
Dominique: So Greg came in on double bass and then we went through about seven different guitarists and none of them were fitting the bill of how we wanted the sound.
Alex: Or attitude.
Dominique: The biggest irony was that that we had this smokin’ shit-hot guitarist just going “bom-bom-bom” on the double bass.
Ryan: Oh yeah ‘cos playing double bass is just that easy!
The rest of the group fall about laughing at this, to which Dominique simply shrugs
Greg: I remember every guitarist we had I’d have to show them the intro to one of our songs and they still couldn’t get it right.
Dominique: You’d see Greg start fuming and saying “I can play this!” etcetera. So we eventually said he’d have to quit bass and we put him in his rightful place on guitar. After that we went through a few crappy bass players on electric bass and that wasn’t working either. Finally I spoke to Ryan again and it happened that he had some free time.
Ryan: One of the bodies I was playing in which I’d been very busy with had chilled out a lot so I did have time again. I’ve actually known these guys (he gestures to the rest of the band) for the last nine or ten years.
Dominique: We’ve all grown up in the band scene since we were kids and have known each other since, like Grade 8. So we’ve known Ryan forever, it’s just that it had never worked out until, what, six months ago?
Ryan: A year!
Dominique: What, a year???
(The incredulity from both band members is palpable at this point)
Dominique: Wow, and I was just being generous, I was thinking three months but I’d better say six.
Time clearly flies when you’re having fun.
Dominique: But we feel now that this is the perfect five-piece.
Brandon: Yeah – this is it now! This is the real deal and has been for about two years now.
Was the transition from electric to double bass tricky?
Ryan: You can’t really translate what you’ve done on electric bass. It probably helps that you’ve already got the finger strength and the knowledge of your role in the band, but the technique is completely different.
For the singers, have you been influenced by the likes of Imelda May or Wanda Jackson?
Alex and Dominique: Definitely!
Alex: Especially Wanda Jackson!
Dominique: I know this sounds completely ignorant and dof but I only discovered Imelda May after we started Peachy Keen – someone said “oh, you sound a bit like Imelda May”. She’s great, but it’s a weird thing with me but I prefer listening to male vocalists with a 50s style, I don’t know why.
Alex: Also I’ve been more inspired by The Beatles, Johnny Cash, and after getting into performing I branched out to The Andrews Sisters and stuff like that. As a vocalist I wasn’t really inspired by a female.
Aside from your sound and quality of music what else do you think pulls in your audiences?
Dominique: I think our look definitely, but we’re not ‘image first, music later’ or anything.
Brandon: We’re not just five people playing music; our look is what we’re about as well.
Greg: If you want to go out and watch a 1950s-inspired rock n’ roll band and they’re all wearing three-quarter shorts and Vans, you just don’t really believe it. We don’t dress super-authentic but we make a bit of effort.
Brandon: But still, it’s essentially our own thing and what we want to do, taking influences and moulding it and this is the output (gestures to the rest of the band). Another thing that draws people to shows – it’s always been a thing with girl-fronted bands in that a lot of people are sceptical – the gimmick of having a girl at the front. People come to the show – that’s the draw –and then they see these girls can actually play well. That’s when we convert people and they’re suddenly like, “wow this is a real band!”
Greg: But we work hard to break that perception.
Alex: We’re like a family. We don’t want to be portrayed as “The Dominique Show and the Session Musicians”. One thing we’ve been told a lot is that we have high-energy shows and we’re asked “how do you guys around on every song?” People that do watch us come back again because they know the show’s going to be an eye opener to watch.
Dominique: And it’s fun. I think that’s another thing, I don’t know if it was ever like it here, but our scene in Cape Town went through this transformation from people and musicians taking themselves so, so seriously. I felt uncomfortable going to shows and watching certain dudes play because they were so into themselves and what they were playing. It almost felt like watching them jerk off. So what we’re doing is fun, it’s light hearted and it’s not super-technical music, it’s really not.
Greg: Sometimes you can sit and watch a band play and see that they are way more into what they’re doing than anyone else. If you want to play like that then go and play in a practice room with your mates but if you want to come to a gig and play for a crowd you don’t come for yourself – you’re playing for the crowd. There’s nothing worse than seeing dudes play like that and you can see they’re loving it, loving it! And everyone in the crowd is just like pffft, whatever!
Have you guys encountered any criticism from some of the older listeners? I’ve encountered one or two people who have vocally been less than enthusiastic about modern rockabilly revival.
Brandon: I’d pretty much say screw those guys.
Dominique: I think there is some validity in that. You can’t just say screw those guys, dude, you can’t. That’s someone who’s lived in that time who’s saying you can’t reinvent the wheel, but at the same time we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, we’re just making a different wheel.
Alex: We’ve had the opposite actually. The older generation that we’ve met have loved what we do.
Ryan: We don’t go and listen to an Elvis song and try to recreate the exact bass line or the exact drumbeat. That’s sort of the starting point and then we add our own flavour.
Greg: But at the same time we don’t walk over or disregard the music, we still hold it dear. I can imagine a lot of psychobilly acts and people from the 50s saying “that’s not what it’s all about”. What we strive for is a happy medium between bringing back that old school vibe and feel but also having something new and fresh, like our own edge on it.
Alex: We actually played a wedding about a year ago for a guy who plays in another rockabilly band. At the wedding there were a whole lot of youngsters who come to our shows as well as all the parents and grandparents. The youngsters were sitting upstairs watching us while the grannies and grandpas were actually downstairs jamming to us. That’s the kind of vibe we get.
Brandon: There was this couple in their sixties who stayed up late just to watch us.
Dom: Last night there was a couple in their fifties who came and bought a CD which was great. I think I’ve actually expected to be criticised but the fact that we’re not replicating things 100% and that it is our own style has given us that little bit of leeway.
Brandon: We don’t give people an excuse to behead us.
Stay tuned for part two.
With more tension than your mother’s suspension, I am Frisco Rosso. I’m likely to deliver a few lines worth at any given moment regarding film, music, sport, books and anything morally unsound that strikes a blow between the eyes in the name of entertainment.