The album art is the first to pique my interest. A striking illustration of four hands entwining around a branching, flowered wreath. The fourth and final one is a skeleton, clutching at the bare-boned branch. This is “Seasons”, Ruff Majik’s latest offering: an album released fractionally and with extended poise over the course of a year.
“The album art is done by Annie Buchner – who also happens to be my wife,” Johni Holiday says with a grin, throwing an arm out to the side as though to introduce her, as we catch up over Skype a week before the album release. “I think it’s possibly one of the greater reasons for the success we’ve been having – it’s been integral” he adds with a touch of pride.
Originally hailing from the tiny Mpumalanga mining town of Lydenburg, this stoner-rock trio is the brainchild of three alternative rock foundlings who conceived a creature of fuzz-infused riff-work and dubbed it Ruff Majik, before relocating to Pretoria to build their name in the beating heart of the small, albeit impassioned, alternative rock scene.
These days they’re based just outside of the city itself. “]Jimmy Glass (bass) and Ben Manchino (drums)] live just outside Pretoria on a farm,” Holiday says. “We go over there for practice and it’s great. We can play until the early hours of the morning and nobody has a problem. It’s cool but it’s a bit cut off from society,” he adds with an almost regretful shrug.
Theirs is a genre they have dubbed stoner-rock, or sludge ’n roll, and draws on the rougher strands of rock and doom, while allowing burgeoning blues and garage influences to slip into the cracks. Wailing guitar progressions rub shoulders with growling baselines and retro-esque riffs are rife and ripe.
“The idea was that we would write and record, mix and master and release each individual bit within that season,” explains Holiday as we dive into the particulars of the album which is teetering on the edge of its release – a journey which began in August last year. “When we came up with the concept it was winter and we said we were going to get right in and do it. So we released “The Hare and the Hollow” – and then we were kind of in it already so we had to keep going,” he adds with a laugh.
The process, in its ambition and strict time frame, was far from easy.“[This year] has been a bit of a roller-coaster actually,” Holiday admits. “All sorts of things happened. We had retrenchments and people had to move to new towns – and I think that all became part of the body of work. Which is great because I think if we wrote it all initially, in one go, it wouldn’t have included as much of our year.”
Vocals, although often few and far between the rollicking riffage of the 12-track offering, find their niche with strikingly visceral lyrics. Other-worldy, story-telling vocal perambulations lend Ruff Majik the mystical edge which has set them apart from their contemporaries. “I take a lot of inspiration from the old school bands like Black Sabbath and Led Zepplin,” explains Holiday. “They had really well-written lyrics but they always had a fantastical angle to it which I enjoyed. So I try to get that sort of feel when I write – it’s dark sometimes but it’s also good I think.”
The project was recorded at The Backline studios in Johannesburg and each respective season recorded in one take, true to the band’s raw, gritty ideals. “If we make a mistake it’s on the album. There are a few – but we won’t tell you where they are!” he adds with a grin.
Mistakes or not, the album is a grinding, blistering metal-edged offering coming just weeks before they embark on their inaugural European tour which will see them supporting the likes of The Devil and the Almighty Blues, Colour Haze and My Sleeping Karma across Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
Then a quick trip back to the homeland for some dates which are as yet, unreleased, before they jet back up north for SonicBlast festival in Portugal. This is going to be a manic season for Ruff Majik – and for them this is just the beginning of the road to raising the platform for local alternative rock and metal bands to find their footing in the mainstream music world.
“I think the underground scene in South Africa, which is now slowly starting to rear its head and get out there, is going to be something spectacular,” Holiday asserts with a gleam in one eye.
Follow Skye on Twitter.