By Frisco Rosso| Images: Matt Ross
Here’s the second and final part of our in-depth interview with Peachy Keen. The Peaches speak freely on the subjects of essential gear, issues holding back the South African music industry and the group’s plans for 2013.
What might you guys have pursued, had you not become musicians?
Alex: For me personally, I’ve never wanted to do anything else.
Ryan: When I got my first instrument I was completely tone deaf, absolutely no natural musical talent whatsoever, so I just practiced from there because I wanted to make music.
Dominique: And he still does…
Brandon: Ryan practices six to eight hours a day.
Ryan: But it’s like anything, if you want to do it you’ll do it. If you want to make music you’ll put in the hours and make it happen.
Greg: Talent can only get you so far. If you don’t maintain, if you don’t practice, if you don’t work hard with your talent then nothing comes of it. Whereas if you have less talent initially and you work harder sometimes you have more longevity – you can understand it and get better at it. Practice at everything, practice at song writing, practice your instrument, practice at singing… just practice everything!
Dominique: Coming back to your question, I think for me when I was a teenager, I was hell-bent on becoming a musician and I decided that was going to be my life, no matter what. But I think as I got older, especially being South African and with the limitations of our scene, I saw it for what it is and have been let down by quite a few people in the industry – big promises from big cats, nothing coming through, you know what I mean? I think now I’m at a point that I don’t have delusions about it, I do have other things. I’m big into my animals, I’m big into my art, I’ve got a whole lot of other stuff going on. It doesn’t take anything away from the love of our band and what we.
Brandon: Expanding on that, I’m also the same. I loved movies as much as I loved music as a kid so if I hadn’t done music I’d have probably gone into film or been a roadie or something. I’ve also got other stuff going on. Like music, as much as I love it it’s not the only thing I want to do. I’m studying a law degree at the moment, so I’ve got a lot of things to do but I’m also the oldest dude in the band so I’ve been doing this for a long time. Also, demographics and making it big in this country – it’s not real but that doesn’t mean that we’re not still going to try.
Dominique: I think when we see the people we were looking up to in our teens, watching bands that we thought were cool and watching them over, like, 10 years and seeing them stay in the same place is very disheartening. And you start thinking, “is that for us?” That’s not to say that is it for us, but seeing people around you getting only so far and now they’re old dudes with kids and families.
Brandon: They wrote great songs and were great bands.
Dominique: Yeah, and it’s sad. I don’t want to get to 35 and still be playing at Mercury, I’m sorry but I don’t.
Alex: I think that’s why I’ve gone more towards the business side of the industry because for me it’s a way I can make a living off doing what I love.
Greg: It’ll eventually help the industry if it tries to right the problems we’re experiencing now.
What are some of the problems in the industry?
One peculiarity I’ve noticed in South Africa, perhaps with the proliferation of production houses, is bands that have been on the road for all of two weeks and suddenly they appear on MK with a music video and then disappear again. It’s bizarre.
Alex: This country is big on connections
Ryan: Also it’s a lot easier to get onto MK than it is to get onto a major radio station. It’s been going for a little while but it’s still a fairly new music channel so they need the content. If you give them good content they’ll play it.
Greg: Well it’s been getting better and better over the past five years. I can remember MK being, like, 80% stuff I’d laugh at and now it’s, like, 20% stuff I’d laugh at.
Brandon: But also by doing a video you can put it on YouTube, put the link in emails and give yourself a step ahead of the next guy.
Dominique: One thing I’ve found is that it’s almost become DIY. I mean, we got the big label deal, we signed to Sheer, but it’s not like it is in the movies where you have your big house, five cars and fancy salary. It’s more a case of, “cool, here’s your label deal, now you guys have to work twice as hard to make this shit worth it!”
Ryan: For me, one fundamental problem with the South African music industry is the fans. People don’t appreciate positions here like they do in Europe for instance.
Dominique: Ryan’s toured Europe.
Ryan: There seems to be this thing, like tonight, we’ll play at a venue and people will come. There’s bands playing but a lot of people will be like, “oh, well it costs 40 bucks to get in – I’d rather get two beers instead”. It’s not that the fans are crap – there are some great fans, but the reason a lot of people think this way is because there is actually a lot of great stuff in South Africa but people take it for granted. Also a lot of people think that if something is local then it’s automatically not that good, you know, “why should I pay for it?”
In this country people don’t really value musicians. The amount of times in my career as a musician where venues have played the “exposure card”, you know, “oh come play for free here and we’ll give you exposure”. There just isn’t the appreciation for the craft of music and musicians and live music like there is in other places in the world. But I’m sure there are other countries that have the same problem.
Because record companies are starting to fall apart, the most important thing now is live music, which is great. The problem with South Africa is that we are very far behind. It’s still the thing here that you can be huge, you can have five songs playlisted on 5FM, yet you suck live. People here don’t write music to play live. Oversees band’s don’t care about making the playlists or making big budget videos anymore. If they rock live people will come and appreciate them. Hopefully as things filter down it will eventually get like that in South Africa.
Brandon: At this stage it’s big thinking, but with my law degree I’d like to bring back a musicians union, get bands together and get legislation passed to protect us.
Alex: I think a huge problem is that here it’s a situation of venues against venues and promoters against promoters, who’s got the biggest shows instead of working together and building circuits. Australia and the States work in a way where in each district the venues work together and form a circuit for touring bands and local bands. But here there’s such a shit attitude, instead of working together where at the end of the day everyone actually benefits, everyone’s making money, everyone’s happy. My goal is to actually start a company that works for all these venues so we’re actually controlling what happens for touring bands, local bands, commercial bands…
Greg: They’d do it for bands, for venues, the promoters and for the fans.
Alex: It has to happen and I think it’s the only way forward. You know, we are far behind and have to start thinking out of the box.
Brandon: Just look at the number of international acts that are starting to come here now. It’s crazy.
Alex: Yeah, we can’t keep working like this and expect things to grow and improve if this is the attitude we have.
Greg: Another thing I think is that if you’re in a start-up band and you’re just starting to get your stuff together, no one’s going to buy your album, no one’s going to pay money for it. You have to put it online for free because no one is going to buy it online either and if you do have an album it can just be pirated and put on the internet anyway. So you basically have to give your stuff away. You have to beg people to listen to your music and then you need to earn your money off gigging.
Ryan: I know of a band that actually paid people to download their music…
Greg: I remember when Radiohead released In Rainbows, they worked on a donation system. They said you can download the album and pay whatever you want for it. Most people paid nothing; some people paid about 20 bucks. Some paid up to 20 000 bucks.
Dominique: But that’s also the thing about integrity, asking the question, “What do you think it’s worth?” It’s such a clever thing to do. Obviously, only a band on their scale can do it though.
Greg: What we’re saying isn’t just a rant, it’s a testament to how much we love music and that we want to keep doing it, despite all the crap that musicians in this country have to put up with.
How do you work your rehearsals? Is it a case of everyone brings along a riff and a lyric or is there a lot of jamming involved?
Dominique: We have a structure. Every Wednesday at 6.30 we rehearse. Generally Lex and I will write the lyrics and the skeleton of the song and bring it to the band on a Wednesday and go from there. If we’ve got a cool song we might jam it live and other times it might not work out so well so it just depends.
Greg: A lot of our time is spent keeping the sound from getting too generic, or too derivative, getting it to sound not too far from what we are. I think in this particular band part of the challenge, for me anyway, is seeing how far you can take it without losing what’s cool and how close you can get before it starts sounding derivative.
Alex: I think what’s really cool also it that Dom and I will work on a song and then bring it to the boys and there will be something that one of them will do that we hadn’t even thought of and it takes the song in a whole new direction to become better than we imagined.
Dominique: Yeah, so it’s a combined effort.
Brandon: Also, there’s a lot of straight talk, there’s no bullshit or curveballs. If something doesn’t work it doesn’t work.
Dominique: But we’ll always try. If Greg says let’s try playing it like this we’ll at least try and if it doesn’t work it doesn’t work.
Have you developed any interesting rivalries with other bands?
Dominique: Well, I don’t feel comfortable mentioning names – we have such a small scene in Cape Town, it’s not even a rockabilly scene. But there was this one particular band that seemed to have its nose put out of joint when we came along and started getting bigger and better shows, while they’d been around forever.
Brandon: They play covers.
Dominique: Yes, alright, try not to give it away!
Brandon: Fuck ‘em, I don’t care.
Dominique: Yeah, true. They told a venue not to ever book us, like, one of the biggest venues in Cape Town.
Greg: Which was so sad.
Alex: Yeah, it sucked because we were youngsters and respected them and we were just so shocked and couldn’t understand why they were being this way. It took us a while to get into that venue.
Brandon: Otherwise, we’ve had a lot of support from other bands. Tension – we hate that shit!
Alex: We’re very happy people!
Dominique: Something I remember back when I was a kid and I was playing in my first band. The band I used to look up to – when we got onto a lineup with them it was the most exciting thing in the world. I remember playing and the dudes from those bands were never there when we opened the show. They were always at home getting dressed or whatever, then they’d rock up, they’d play and then they’d go, and for me it was always one thing that broke my heart. I wanted them to see the stuff that we were doing and show some support. That’s something that always sticks with me. When we’re playing with bands that we don’t know or younger bands or new bands, I always want to watch at least half their set, even if I’m dead tired or whatever, just to show some support.
So in that sense, we don’t have rivals because we don’t just walk in and have this rock star dickhead attitude.
Alex: Also we’re all very genuine people, very open, very friendly. So we’re always stoked when people approach us and ask questions.
What do you incorporate into your guitar and amplifier set up?
Greg: Dominique has got a Gretsch G5129 Electromatic Anniversary, she’s got Dearmond 2000 single-coil pickups, which are basically replicas of the old school single-coil Gretsch pickup and they sound great.
Dominique: And it’s gold and sparkly!
Greg: … and it’s gold and sparkly. And she normally plays through a Laney 3112, which is all valve. Being a British amp it’s got a slightly different tone. The thing is we go for that vintage American tone. My main inspiration is Eddie Cochran, Duane Eddy, Chet Atkins for my tone. Part of the rockabilly sound is the use of slapback but for us the sound was just too muddy to use together, so I’m the only one who uses it. But I’ll also alternate between spring reverb and all kinds of things. I play Fender amps only – but they mix well with the Laney. I also use Electromatic and I’ve got a Gretsch 6120 which I bought in the States – that’s like my show guitar.
Dominique: Yeah, it’s his baby.
Greg: That’s my tone; it’s my sound if we record. Personally, I enjoy the fact that I’m not playing with high gain or high distortion or lots of mud and fuzz. Everything we play is pristinely clean and it’s all about valves and vintage tone.
Any bits of kit you’re lusting after?
Greg: Oh, yes… I would like, if anyone’s listening, a 1966 Fender Blackface Twin Reverb and maybe a Vintage White Falcon.
Dominique: Oh yeah! I’ll have one of those!
Greg: I really wouldn’t feel hard done by if someone got me one of those. I’ve got a few guitars but since buying a Gretsch I’ve not wanted to play anything else.
In the drumming dept, what’s your setup?
Brandon: I’ve got quite a basic setup…
Greg: But it’s a very loud setup!
Brandon: I used to play quite technical stuff in the old bands, different time signatures etcetera. But here it’s very much 4/4 straight. So I’ve just got what I suppose you’d call a normal jazz setup: (Pearl) 14” snare, 12” tom, 16” floor tom. I use (Zildjian) 18” crashes because I find in the small venues that 16” crashes don’t project as well. So I use two 18” crashes – I use A Customs because I like that crisp sound, it’s something I can work with.
My snare is my baby; it’s a Remo Mastertouch that I found in the States about 10 years ago.
Do you find the cost of equipment in South Africa is just extortionate compared to other places in the world?
Greg: I can write you essays about it. I can tell you now, the best thing to do is keep your eye on Gumtree and other classifieds and you’ll be able to pick up stuff for a third of the price of new.
Brandon: There’s always a rich kid somewhere whose parents bought him a sweet guitar which ends up just lying round the house and ends up for sale.
Greg: I think I learned about that when I bought my expensive Gretsch, because so much is just completely unaffordable. So here, after import which is, like, a 600% markup so it’s not even worth it. I think it affects the music industry here also. You pay out R10 000 for a guitar and you think it’s going to sound killer but it’s not! Then there’s the issue of getting pickups and other things. Mine are imported. So often you’ll go into a shop and say something like “do you have these pickups?” and the response you’ll get is “oh, no. Those pickups don’t exist” or whatever. I have a lot of gripes about that.
There are a couple of guys in Cape Town that I know well and they’re cool and they’re helpful, but all the other guys just tell me that most things don’t exist.
Brandon: But at the same time you’ll go to a venue that’s got shitty mics and cables, a shitty desk and sound system, then we’ve got all this boss gear but it doesn’t matter because you can’t hear it properly through the sound system. And then bands get whacked with a R2 000 bill for sound, because they have to outsource everything because they can’t always spend money on their own gear. Gear here needs to be more accessible and affordable.
In terms of sound have you guys ever considered experimenting with skiffle?
Dominique: That’s actually what started things off. When I started out I thought about starting a skiffle band and it’s just been a natural progression to where we are now. So that was the original inspiration actually.
Greg: It helps us to keep our music diverse in that respect.
Finally, what’s ahead for Peachy Keen in 2013?
Dominique: Lots of touring!
Brandon: If you’d asked us a month ago it would have been an album.
Alex: We’re going to release some singles and a lot of new material, music video and we definitely want to try and tour, festivals… yeah, I think for 2013 that’s pretty much the direction we’re going in.
Brandon: A big mission of mine is to get us on the Warped Tour at some stage.
But we shouldn’t expect an album next year?
Greg: There will be a lot of new material but an album is very expensive to make and realistically we’ll never get that money back selling albums.
Brandon: We really don’t want to throw ourselves into debt, there’re bigger and better things we can do and play more shows. It’s not about selling albums.
Dominique: We’ll do festivals and do cool music videos. Like we said earlier it’s a lot easier to get onto MK. 5FM rejected some of our tracks and stuff, we didn’t really expect them to accept our stuff anyway. But we had a big chat with our manager about how we’ve noticed this kind of thing happening, especially in Cape Town with us. We went through this weird quiet dip and people thought we’d broken up but we hadn’t, it was just a case of us not getting shows. So we were wondering what we were doing wrong, what were we not doing enough of? So we decided, not to change our songs or our vibe but to go along the lines of having something a little more polished and maybe see if we can get the track on 5FM. The rest of the tracks would be strictly Peachy Keen, but we’d have this one track that’s more commercially viable, just to save us, otherwise we’re not going to last.
Brandon: Also, we’re not one of those bands that will be content not going anywhere. We need freedom; we need commercial success in order to do this full time.
Greg: Yeah, we’re not changing anything. We’re simply cleaning and neatening it up, being more precise and to the point. That’s the plan from here.
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.