Feature Interview

Kabaal (klankbaan): A Constant Reinvention

Kabaal (klankbaan) is the brainchild of Pretoria native Floris Groenewald, something he likes to describe as, “a band, of which I’m the only permanent member.” It’s not a solo-project or a stage-name and a large part of the charm is in never knowing what you may find onstage when you see them live.

I called Floris on a cold Cape Town day, huddled in my car with the rain gently tapping on the windows and roof. That image is pretty much who Kabaal (klankbaan) is. It’s music for rainy weather, for when you are writing, or reading a heart-breaking novel, or thinking about a lost lover.

“Baptism”, the latest offering by the band has just been released. It is their second full-length album, and first English one, and was written largely back in 2011. “It was very much written as an album. I sat down with a conceptual theme and then tried to write songs based on that. It’s just a case of being busy and doing other things, and saving up the money to actually get it recorded. That’s why it took so long,” he explains.

A lot can change in five years though. We grow, learn, get over those lost lovers and heartaches, and I have found myself cringing at the thought of some of the things I wrote or said that far back. “It was really weird writing all of these songs, 4-5 years ago and then at the end of last year recording them and singing them and feeling and seeing all those things from a different perspective,” he admits.

It’s all very close to home. The songs are easy to relate to, and anyone who has ever been in any kind of relationship (be it good or ridiculous) will find something that they can identify with. To bring it in even closer, Floris decided to record the album at home, to aid in creating that feeling. “I felt it sort of appropriate to the material. It’s the same with the cover art, that sort of hand-written vibe. I wanted the whole thing to feel home-made and hand-made, sort of like a hand-written letter,” he explains. But this didn’t stop him from including some of Pretoria’s best musicians on the album. Peach van Pletzen from Bittereinder and Yesterday’s Pupil, Henk Labuschagne from Hey, River, and Shotgun Tori, all feature on the album as well as various session musicians leaving their mark on the body of work.

If you have ever encountered Floris online, you will know that he is easily the biggest Eels fan on the planet. At times bordering on obsession, I asked him how their music has influenced his own writing and his life in general, and was surprised to find that one of the biggest influences, is their sadness, as he explains, “I do think it’s maybe a negative thing that their influence might mean that my music may lean a bit more to the sad and depressive side. I don’t think that it’s intentional, but I do kind of find those types of songs more appealing, although it is on my bucket list to do a happy song and album.” They have also inspired him to be unpredictable, specifically when it comes to the band versus solo dynamic. Like Eels, Floris strives to swap things up and bring in different people to join the band. You could catch him playing a manic rock show at one gig, and be backed up by a string quartet at the next.

I think it is this ability to stay fresh and interesting that makes Kabaal (klankbaan) such a great act. Sure, sometimes you just want to sing along to the song you heard on the album, exactly the way you know it to be played, but it gets old and boring very fast. Something I haven’t seen too often (or at all) is a complete shake-up of a regular gigging band’s set list. I have walked out of more than a few gigs because, if you’ve seen their set once you’ve pretty much seen it all, but with guys like Floris around, there’s no chance of that same stagnation and repetition.

Follow Jessica on Twitter.

Listen to “Baptism” below on Deezer.