Feature Interview

Basson Laubscher: A Stark Realist

If you’re looking for a soundtrack for your next air guitar riff-off, or maybe just something to sip whiskey to on a cold night, Basson Laubscher (from the now defunct Zinkplaat) has the answer. His first project as a solo artist is a 7 track EP titles “Shakedown”, and this bite-sized introduction is another great addition to the SA blues scene.

Titular track ‘Shakedown’ is fast-paced, in your face rock ‘n’ roll, with a guitar solo that is impossible to sit still to. It’s definitely my favourite track on the album, with every part of the song showcasing a different facet of Basson’s many talents. From his song writing, to his prowess as a guitar player and perfect grungy vocals to pull it all together, it’s the showstopper on the album.

In contrast to that, Basson takes it down a couple of notches with ‘Killing Me’ and it is achingly beautiful, in a way only the blues really can be. Within the first three bars I wished I was in smokey bar with a drink in my one hand and my heartache in the other. Okay, maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but hey, this is the blues baby. I sat down with Laubscher to talk a little bit more about the process of said EP – from its four year inception to its four day recording.

Jessica Kramer: You started out with Zinkplaat and have been playing with Valiant Swart for many years, how do you find your solo project different from playing with them?
Basson Laubscher: It’s interesting. Zinkplaat was a very collaborative effort and I’ve always said it’s like being married to 4 people. You spend a ridiculous amount of time with these people. As the band, it wasn’t just one guy writing the songs either. So you don’t necessarily always get your way, but there is a common goal you move towards. With Valiant it’s completely different. Session work is a whole different attitude ‘cause you’re not really a band. I mean you like the guy and you’re friends with him, but at the end of the day he’s still your boss. So it’s not about you, and they’ll give you space to be creative but there are certain rules. With the solo stuff it’s kind of a combination of the two. For the Cape I’d love to have a set group of people to play with, so it’s not different every time. But it is a clearly defined solo act, and even though I never have, and don’t want to, if I need to I could say “listen this is how it needs to be”. So I looked for musicians where I know I wouldn’t need to do that. I know them, I know their vibe and I trust them.

JK: So how did you go about choosing musicians to play on the EP and in the shows?
BL: It was a long process, I mean this project has been going for four years. But when it comes to band members, we went through a lot. Drummers especially. I went through like three or four drummers. But it was weird, cause I didn’t really choose the guys it just kind of happened. I’m not the type of guy to force anything so it had to be an organic process.

JK: You’ve said that you don’t like to be called a blues musician, why is that?
BL: Well, I’ll probably still get stoned for saying this, but blues become this tag that makes you think of a bunch of “ou toppies” playing on a “stoep” somewhere on a Sunday. Anyone who comes to a show will realize that that’s not at all what we’re doing. It’s loud, it’s a rock ‘n’ roll show. I try really hard to stay away from that tag because I don’t want to be nailed down as a blues musician and then maybe the next album is something completely different. That said, I grew up with the blues, and it’s a big influence, so it’ll always be there.

JK: Speaking of influence, what did you grow up listening to? As a child, what was playing in your house?
BL: My dad loves music, so I grew up in a house where there was always music playing. And his taste was really diverse too. On a Sunday we would listen to anything from Hendrix and Clapton to Pavarotti. It was always there, and I think subconsciously the music just goes in and stays there. My music influence varies a lot, I mean the first album I bought was Greenday’s “Dookie”, and when I was 17 I discovered Led Zeppelin. But when it comes to playing, Hendrix, Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughn are my biggest influences. At the moment I’m in a big Rory Gallagher phase. That’s what’s so great about music, there’s always another road to walk down.

JK: The project is four years in the making, but you only recorded for four days. Was that planned?
BL: Well to be honest, four days was all I could afford [laughs] so that was the first thing – financial restrictions. But I mean, when we went in we had been playing the songs live for a while so the vision was very clear. I knew exactly what I wanted and what I wanted to do with it.

JK: You have made the entire EP available to download on Soundcloud. What made you decide that?
BL: Look, the problem with having done what I do for so long is that you become a pessimist. Maybe not a pessimist, but you quickly become a realist and you realize that this is the situation. The fact of the matter is that, firstly, there are very few bands that make money in South Africa; I don’t care how good you are. Secondly, there are even fewer bands that can make money from a CD. I think Fokofpolisiekar and Van Coke Cartel are the only two bands who make money from album sales – in the alternative scene strictly speaking. The thing with this is you are essentially throwing money down a well. So as a band we asked ourselves: “what do we want to do? Make money or get our name out there?” I mean, I could play in a band for 20 years, but when you do a solo thing you are essentially starting from scratch. And my stuff is very different to Zinkplaat. So that was our goal, get the name out. It’s like the old saying: “if you love something set it free, it will return to you eventually.”

JK: There’s a definite global trend with more and more bands doing this. Do you think it’s something that will continue to happen?
BL: Before, you needed a record label to get your music out there. It was a medium to get what you produce to the people who wanted it. But it became this ridiculous, massive monster that screws over the artists and the fans, just to make money wherever it can, like most things in the world. The natural progression from that were people realizing that they can download stuff for free, or copy it from friends. No artist wants to give their music away for free, and I don’t think they are doing it for love and charity. It comes down to “adapt or die”. So I think it’s a good thing, and it’s interesting to see where the world is going with this, but like I said, I don’t think any artist does it because the necessarily want to. It’s hard work and not anyone can do it. Writing songs is difficult and at the end of the day it’s your job but it’s work that you are basically doing for free.

JK: So how do live performances come into play?
BL: Well, because of the digital age we live in, owning or “having” someone’s music means nothing. It doesn’t mean you’re a fan ‘cause anyone can download just about anything. What makes you a fan is when you actually put in the effort to get out of the house and go see a gig. That’s commitment.

JK: How and why did you pick “Rambling Man” as the first single off the EP?
BL: It’s really difficult, especially seeing as it’s just me now. With Zinkplaat it was sort of a democratic process. I chose it because it’s the track that best reflects what we do live. I mean, when we play live it’s a lot more raw, and loud, and hard-core; so I can’t pick the ballad on the album and people rock up at a gig and are really confused. But the ballad will be the next one.

JK: Were there any major life events that had a big influence on the songs you wrote?
BL: Well, it’s weird ‘cause I don’t really see myself as a songwriter just yet, especially not a very autobiographical songwriter. But the strange thing that happens is that you try to tell a story and by the end of it you realize that it is actually autobiographical. The cliché answer is that it’s inspired by day to day life, but the reality is that you can be out with friends one night, something happens and two months later it sparks one line.

JK: Any local musos that you are currently inspired by or have an eye on?
BL: There are a lot of really good guys coming up. The Ballistics is definitely one to watch. I did a bit of pre-production for them and they are very talented guys. I also work with Ann Jangle and she’s incredibly good. There are a few names coming up but at the moment those two specifically, really stand out.

Catch Basson Laubscher at Biergarten on Saturday the 5th of July at 6pm to hear his solo material. Prepare to be blown away.