Whether you are a teenage girl obsessed with front man Nic Preen’s boyish good looks or a muso who understands the brilliance of combining their indie sounds with intricate classical elements thanks to the twins, Tessa and Julia Johnson (cello, violin and backup vocals), Al Bairre has found a place in music that is 100% their own and they are, quite simple, owning it.
Since their formation in 2012 they have played every major festival in the country, won two MK awards and have just returned from a UK tour where they played at the Great Escape festival in Brighton as well as a few shows in London. Guitarist Kyle Davis tells me a bit more about the experience over a Vida coffee. “All our shows were really full so it was such a surprise. We were quite chuffed about that,” he explains. It’s any band’s dream to go overseas and play to a full crowd, and many big names have gone from these humble beginnings to sold out shows and massive tours. Artists like Jeremy Loops and PHfat spend large parts of every year touring overseas, and Al Bairre may soon follow suit.
The UK crowds loved the music, or so it seems: “No one was like, you guys suck, fuck off back to Cape Town,” Kyle says, laughing.
If you have ever been to one of their gigs you will know that energy and fun are never lacking, something Kyle explains set them apart at the Great Escape festival. “From what I observed, a lot of the bands are all just kind of standing there playing their music, but none of them rock out or look like they’re having that much fun. They’re very “cool”. Then we come on, all dressed in white and jumping around like lunatics on stage. It got people to loosen up a bit and they wouldn’t feel so dumb if they danced and stuff.”
I asked Kyle about the matching outfits, something Al Bairre has become known for, and according to him it stems from the twins distress at what to wear on stage and Nic’s sewing skills. “The twins used to get really stressed out, cause they don’t consider themselves like very fashionable or in the know of what to wear so we were like ‘let’s just make our own outfits’. Nic’s mom used to be a clothing designer, so we all went fabric shopping one day after a meeting and Nic wanted to learn to make clothes, so we made all these shirts and stuff.” Kyle rates that this “uniform” as he calls it, makes them easily distinguishable and more memorable compared to other bands who just rock out in their own clothes.
When they were just starting out, Al Bairre wrote down a set of goals for the band, many of which seemed laughable at the time. I asked them about their dream festival to play and discovered that it is the only goal they are yet to meet. “We wrote down goals, maybe like 6 weeks after we started the band and we had a couple that were totally out of the question like, play Kirstenbosch, open for Desmond and the Tutus, play at Oppi and Daisies, tour the UK and then, play at Glastonbury,” Kyle explains.
Glastonbury is the only one they have left on the list, but it is an ambitious goal for any band, irrespective of where you are from, and one very few South African artists have achieved. If they do get the honour they will be joining the likes of John Wizards and Spoek Mathambo.
If you are hoping for an album, you may have to wait a little while longer, but the reason simply proves that Al Bairre is progressive in their thinking and dedicated to only releasing really awesome music, as Jeremy (the manager) explains. “These days it’s like, do we need an album, should we only release singles? Traditionally an album is the big thing, and that gets you the reviews etc., but there are three or four singles on an album and the other 7 songs are just fillers. And do people even listen to those you know?” It’s a fair question, although I think a band like Al Bairre has so many die-hard fans that an album would do brilliantly, and most certainly be listened to form start to finish, but fans may have to wait to February next year, with some more singles to be released this year. “Obviously you don’t want to go stagnant while you are writing the album, so I think after Bungalow we’ll release another single, and another one, and then the album in February.” Kyle admits that the pressure to please everyone does get a bit rough at times, “it makes us nervous all the time, cause people want an album, they want this and they want that, and we’re just trying to like please everyone.”
They been added to 5fm’s Mashlab list and when I asked them about who they would like to collaborate with, Kyle beamed and said “PHfat”. When I interviewed them, PHfat was just being announced as the first artist and as seems to be the case with Al Bairre, another one of their goals came to fruition when they got the phone call to collaborate the following day.
Al Bairre is currently recording with PHfat.
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