“I know we’re still learning, but sometimes, you’ve gotta go fetch an audience,” Brad Klynsmith (vox/guitar) tells me, sipping uber slowly on a Clarkes Cotton Picker.
By now you know the story – 4 clean-cut okes from Durban put out a 5-track self-titled EP. 3 out of 5 tracks get playlisted. They open for Switchfoot, Civil Twilight, throw a gig in an empty pool in their hometown and slowly but surely creep their way into the positive half of gig goers’ psyches. By the time their album launch rolls around the hype is unbearable. “Yes/No/Grey” hits #1 on iTunes in a few hours. Amazingly unprecedented. And now?
“What a lot of SA bands don’t know is that the music industry is also called the entertainment industry and people are paying hard-earned money to be entertained. You need to put work into your craft so that people aren’t wasting their money,” Brad tells me matter-of-factly.
“Every gig is a first impression. I don’t think we’ve ever approached a gig where we haven’t said – Okay, we need to slaughter this.” Despite this attitude, that didn’t stop two gig reviewers from penning that they both fell asleep at the same gig.
I turn the conversation on its head and question them about the way in which consumers purchase and enjoy music, how that has changed over the years, and what this means for today’s artists. Brad has a somewhat purist view declaring, “For me, an album is a masterpiece. To go purely digital for me is a shame.” Indeed, but then to only focus on one medium in this day and age isn’t exactly smart if music is your primary source of income – fingers in multiple medium pots equal additional sources of revenue.
“Have you seen what we’ve done with our CD?” Brad asks as he whips out his phone, swipes up their album cover from the tabletop and opens an app called Layar. “It superimposes a digital layer onto it, so it animates the whole cover and gives you additional information.” While I’m falling deep into the chasms of Layar, an intense debate is raging on between Hardus de Beer (bass), Jonathan Rich (piano/synth) Josh Klynsmith (drums) and their manager Ryan “Fray” Findley about vinyl vs CD vs cassette. [Post-interview Jono sends all of them an e-mail to further his case about vinyl as his preferred medium]
“Technology dictates a lot of what people listen to and how,” Hardus states. “A lot of people have CD players, I think technology will develop where you don’t need a CD you can download your digital album onto your CD player and store it there. I mean they’re putting iOS7s into cars.”
With iTunes being relatively new in this country, the success of “Yes/No/Grey” will long be in the memories of fans, consumers and music enthusiasts alike, but I’m still more intrigued the mathematics of it all. How many albums do you have to sell reach #1 in this country? Surely we can’t be notching up the hundreds of thousands of downloads yet? Statistics aside, upon first listen “Yes/No/Grey” is a solid gold pop. Catchy choruses coupled with genius onstage gimmicks (see Brad’s multiple use of “Oh Oh Ohs”) make for a slick offering. On your second, third and fourth listen, you’ll begin to tease out the powerhouse riffs (‘All These Things’), and delicately love-laced lyrical content (‘Please Don’t Let Me Go’, ‘House And Money’).
“We’re still trying to suss out our sound as Gangs, but the stuff that we have written has been fairly intentional and part wanting to make good music and part wanting to have a career, if that’s fair,” Brad explains. “If you wanna play big stages you have to write music that works on a big stage. That’s the rule, you can’t get around it.” ‘Imagine’ is a perfect example of this. I tell them it’s my preferred track off the album. They tell me I’m the first person who’s said that. I’m not sure why, it’s a near-seamless example of the band’s duality – in touch with the importance of composition, aided by a theoretical knowledge, whilst attempting to maintain the accessible sound they’ve become known for.
Not the springiest of chickens but relatively new to the “limelight”, each time one of these chaps opens their mouths a nugget of invaluable information falls out. I’d be lying if I said the thought of selling the entire recording of this interview as a “How To” guide for up-and-coming musos didn’t cross my mind.
“I feel like we’re in a very confident space, not an arrogant space,” Josh says honestly. “And I think one of the reasons is we’ve taken the set and we’ve played it a lot. We’ve seen what works and what doesn’t work live and we’ve rehearsed bloody hard and it’s starting to show in our live shows. The songs are on automatic so we can just worry about engaging with the crowd.”
If that’s the case then Brad was clearly on autopilot at their album launch in Jozi at World Of Yamaha, executing his front-man role like a Valhalla King possessed, with complete disregard for his sweat-drenched Sergeant Pepper get-up. Regardless, they’re still their own worst critics as Hardus confesses: “We would talk about it after each show – the good, the bad – well not the bad, but the things that we might not like as much. So like, we must try and do these kinds of things and less of those. We actually analyse ourselves, we watch the videos the post-match analysation, so we do have that in mind.”
Clearly not shy detailing their ups and downs, I dig a little deeper for more priceless pointers and Josh doesn’t hold back: “Spend money on gear, spend time refining your craft. Get a sound man, seriously. Spend some money on getting a sound man because at the end of the day you can practice 6 hours every day before your show and get up there and sound as good as the guy that’s behind the desk. Even when we were earning next to nothing to would take that money and invest in a sound man because there’s nothing worse than rehearsing that hard and getting to a gig and not being able to hear anything.” The common denominator amongst everyone is that that kind of situation is “soul destroying”.
Their antidote? “Fourie Smit, he’s the man,” Brad replies, giving their sound man props where it’s duly deserved. “Also, If you’re playing with a band that’s bigger than you, you make sure you’re at their sound check, you make sure you know exactly what kind of gear they’re using… you analyse everything. You buy them a beer and you pick their brains.”
“When I was 12 years old there was a drummer that I really looked up to,” Josh interjects, “and I literally followed this oke around the whole night and asked him questions until eventually he was avoiding me. But what I came out of it with was a priceless amount of information. And I don’t think people do it enough.” To be really honest, I don’t think people do it at all.
“We literally did it last Saturday night. Josh and I we got to go backstage at Johnny Clegg and we met all of his band members and we asked about all of their gear,” Brad laughs.
“Every time you ask a question and answer a question, you’re building the industry in some way,” Jono pipes up and I couldn’t agree more. Out of the countless bands that I’ve spoken to over the years, GOB is probably one of the most forthcoming about the importance of thorough education of those who work in our art scene.
In their EPK that was doing the rounds on TV, although predominantly presented as informative and telling, shots of the band explaining the deeper thematic threads behind their debut album are juxtaposed by PVC-suited bodies randomly panning across the screen.
“It’s a group called The Lovemores,” Brad laughs, smoothing a hand over his woodcutter beard. “They’re actually part of our whole story. That house that the EPK was shot in, I lived there for 2 years, I stayed with a family, a couple of like 65 and 68, hippies. Doug was one of the original guys that started Zig Zag surf magazine – he also worked for Scope Magazine and he used to put the stars on the boobies.” Pause for manic laughter. More at the fact that I haven’t heard anyone say “boobies” since that perv in preschool who asked if he could see mine.
Brad proceeds to explain about Doug’s wife Sheena and her raucous twin (The Kelly Sisters) who used to hitch-hike around the country, as well as Doug and Sheena’s son and daughter. “Now Luke [the son] and his mates, they’re wild. They don’t get hammered or do drugs, they’re just wild-spirited. They’re party-starters. They’re in those suits.” Turns out Lovemore Luke and his buddies dressed up a few times in these onesies, rocked up clubs and jolled on the owners’ bar tab (legally) taking photos with customers, danced until their feet hurt and then went home.
Staunch GOB fans, Bred regales me with the tale of how The Lovemores came to the Switchfoot concert and jumped through the police barricade. “You know our first white Gangs tees? They made those. We didn’t have merch and they arrived and said – hey check what we did! But they didn’t do it for a profit, they did it to be a part of the vibe.”
A few hours later and we’re at The Assembly. There’s no mucking about during sound check with Fourie behind the decks and Fray keeping a watchful eye over proceedings.
The reason for this is quite simple – they take their work very seriously, flanked by a manager (Ryan “Fray” Findley) who runs a tight ship. Five minutes with him and you’ll be standing up a tad straighter. In the aforementioned EPK, Brad stated that they’d “like to be known as a live band”. With a slew of successful album launches now under their belt and a second single (‘Don’t Let Me Go’) beginning to build the same kind of momentum as the air-punching ‘Daydream’, their goal is well on its way to being fulfilled.
Check out some exclusive photos of their album launch at The Assembly below.
All gallery photos courtesy of Warren Talmarkes.