Feature Interview

Sol Gems: Straight Down To Business

Joburg-based psych newbies Sol Gems, played their first gig on December 5th at The Bohemian and not even three months later scored an opening slot for Allah Lahs on their South African tour.

Undoubtedly, Struan Watt, Pano Ladas and Gabriel Hope have wasted no time in announcing their arrival within the country’s niche psych market, but after putting their first two-track release on rotation, it’s clear that there are bigger plans afoot.

Texx: Opening for the Allah Las while they were on tour here last week is almost too perfect – you both exude a degree of lo-fi swag. I’d be surprised if the two albums that they’ve released didn’t have some sort of influence of the type of melodies you’re creating now.
Sol Gems: Yeah! Opening for Allah Las was an absolute dream, one of the grooviest nights with an amazing line up – one to remember for years to come. We are all into Allah Las, and have their records spinning regularly, so for that to have happen is a super treat… especially as we haven’t exactly been around for very long.

TX: With two of you (Pano & Struan) coming from a straight up punk rock band like The Stella’s, was this kind of slower, more experimental psychedelic music something you were creating on the side or something that you’d always been keen to try your hand at?
SG: It felt more like a natural progression, something that we both were interested in and drawn to, or quite possibly gravitating towards. After working on songs and exploring sounds, we met up with Gabriel and threw all our influences and ideas into the cauldron to cook up what’s now Sol Gems. Gabriel previously played drums in the Cape Town based band, Changeling, that is heavily influenced by shoegaze – bringing a rhythm and kick towards the sound of Sol Gems.

TX: I can hear some of those punk-rock elements (Stru’s voice mostly), but ‘Standing With The Sun’ has that characteristic psych reverb and the chords feel more drawn out, almost lazy, but in a positive Sunday-afternoon-in-the-sun kinda way. Would you agree?

SG: There is definite ebb towards recreating this classic psych sound at the moment amongst many bands – we freely admit that there have been many external influences toward this kind our sound however were aren’t bound by that category. The possibilities are endless and we sometimes want to do it all, trying different instruments and sounds. Maybe the lazy Sunday feel comes from a love of gin & tonics and lying next to the pool – highly probable!

TX: You were in Cape Town in January where you jumped into studio with so-hot-right-now producer Thor Rixon to record ‘Standing With The Sun’ & ‘Under The Palms’. He’s quite a chilled dude, what’s his approach to production like, I can imagine he gelled quite well with your band ethos and individual personalities?
SG: Vaaibe! One shouldn’t be fooled by Thor’s apparently laid back appearance: his beard hides a staunch work ethic, a contagious work ethic that has one working to the point of forgetting to eat. Working with him was an intense experience, personal, and hugely rewarding: he seemed to know effortlessly when to step in and call the shots, and when to stand back and allow us to decide on our own. The result is a recording we could never really have conceived of alone…

TX: You list “sungaze” as your descriptive genre. Now, while Western scientists have proved that the eyes’ prolonged exposure to the sun through “sungazing” can have long-term effects, “sungazing” in India is an ancient practice and is thought to help the body rejuvenate itself – which seems more plausible the scientific or the spiritual?
SG: Probably the scientific, but no one wants that as an answer. I suppose we look at sungazing in a less literal way, more as a way of spending ones time in the best possible way, sun-drenched with one’s friends. But as that metaphor settles, slips below the horizon, it becomes dark and maybe it is a more scientific approach after all. Maybe time for another gin & tonic?

A band after my own heart.

Download A Side/B Side ‘Standing In The Sun’/’Under The Palms’ on Bandcamp.

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Sol Gems at Milestone Studios, Cape Town. January 2015.