Feature Opinion

Springbok Nude Girls: Back in business

After a recent string of successful gigs and two new singles doing their rounds on radio and prolific streaming playlists, Springbok Nude Girls are officially back, although one can argue that they’ve never really gone anywhere since their 2007 return.

Now, with an as-of-yet untitled album on the cards, front man Arno Carstens and trumpeter Adriaan Brand took time to share with me the driving forces behind Carstens’ lauded lyrics, The Nudies’ reasons for releasing their new music independently, and how writing songs comes “like boerewors out of a meat grinder”.

Tecla Ciolfi: At the beginning of last year I saw you open for The Pixies and I remember thinking how crazy it was that it was your first time performing at Kirstenbosch. How great is it that, 20 years down the line after all you’ve accomplished, you can still experience the thrill of a major first like that?

Adriaan Brand: It’s random, the kind of thing you can’t plan. And yes, you’re right, when something like that happens after more than two decades, it does kind of take one’s breath away! Then there’s the adage that growing old is compulsory but growing up is optional… getting excited is a choice, an orientation to life worth cultivating.

Arno Carstens: Our first performance at the beautiful Kirstenbosch was overshadowed by the thought of sharing the stage with one of my personal favourite bands namely Pixies. I have always thought SNG would not fit the venue, but I am wrong and hopefully we can do a show there.

TC: The climate of our music scene has changed so much over the years and whereas Nude Girls pretty much dominated radio from the mid-90s, it’s a very different ballgame now. What are your thoughts on current popular music?

AB: I was actually quite pleasantly surprised to have some of my friends tell me in chats on Facebook, that SNG is being played on 5FM as they post! One never knows. Some say SA rock must forget about radio here, and then you do break through the daytime EDM curtain when you least expect it. I myself am more interested in how the model of recorded product distribution and sale has been evolving and keeps doing so – right under everyone’s feet. It’s most challenging to respond to, but also an exciting world to be alive and cognizant in.

AC: I think it’s all a natural flow of things. I don’t listen to radio much anymore and enjoy Apple Music – the sharing of new artists with friends and the discovering of new bands via different Twitter handles. I buy more music than ever before. It reminds me of my school days. Where I grew up there was no 5FM, so my friends and I used to import music and music mags. Hopefully our music will find a way to new listeners through the exhilarating thrill of the chase.

TC: The paradoxical examination of the human condition that your first single ‘Beautiful Evolution’ deals with is relevant not only on a local but also global scale. I feel like the world’s a bit arse-up at the moment and mainstream musos tend to steer clear of anything stirring or political. What’s been your main message with your lyrics and has it changed over the years?

AB: The lyrics have been near-exclusively Arno Carstens’ domain, so I can only comment on what has transpired, and as I interpreted and understood it. In this regard, I observe that SNG lyrics tend to not be intentionally political. In fact, it seems the lyrics are intended to be the opposite, i.e. rather something punk and party oriented. The iconoclasm that runs through SNG’s lyrical oeuvre is thus more a fun application of ironies as they come and go, to put up positive alternatives for the bored and cynical, and as such light-handed (and if we get lucky, also incidentally effective…) subversions of the established, skewed flows of societal power that make us want to yawn. Where lyrics appear to be political, that is an option left open to the listener, and it’s incidental rather than intentional, for example “the president said to me: ‘stay for f***’s sake’” – it’s humorous, and could turn out to be politically effectual (in fact, some have reported so), but the intent on SNG’s side was definitely the former, not the latter.

AC: In the early days SNG’s lyrics were more about a stream of consciousness. Now it’s sometimes more literal and sometimes more surreal, but maybe more controlled. Yes, the world is pretty fucked up. It makes for a rich bed to draw from. With ‘Beautiful Evolution’ we are trying to convey something positive in this kind of end-of-the-world mentality.

TC: ‘Best Friends, Best Enemies’ is a monster rock song courtesy of Theo’s guitar riff and I honestly can’t wait to see that played live. Has the way you’ve made music changed over the years at all – from a song’s inception all the way to recording?

AB: Yes and no. The way we write songs is still the same: it comes like boerewors out of a meat grinder. Every time you dare touch the handle, BOOM! – there’s the wors. The way we record and produce has evolved multiply. We’ve been privileged to experiment really widely, with the support of our record company at the time, and as such the ways you’re talking about changed many times over. What we’re currently returning to is simplicity yet richness of texture, unbridling the rawest possible forms of power, and choosing among the most sophisticated production techniques we’ve earned – with Theo being Master Yoda in that department.

AC: It’s still the same. Namely, I wait for Theo to come up with killer riffs and then we all entwine into one common vibe to form something we all like. I always try and write 10 songs before we start an album just to be pro-active. From that maybe 3 or 4 songs will be used. Most of the time there will be an element in something I wrote that will combine with some idea that Theo or the band came up with.

TC: You’ve made the smart decision to release your new music independently with your digital release that just dropped. Do you think there’s a need for the major label today, especially considering the immediacy that the internet provides?

AB: I can only speak for myself, and in such regard I’d say this: At any given party, any person has a world of social engagement choices available. You can just stand there, or go home, or join the fun in an either non-committal of 100% balls-to-the-wall manner. There is much space for partners and/or partner entities who are driven to find solutions and add value through established infrastructural strengths. If record companies fall off the party bus it would be their own fault, and yet I think it would be narrow-minded to toss them over the side before listening carefully to what they might say as you pick them up to do so! There are really creative thinkers in recording houses, and they’ve got access to stuff. The decision to partner or go commando should be a considered one.

AC: I think there is still place for big labels, especially for a young artist about to break big and for the global release of a new artist, but for a band like us it’s not needed anymore. It’s a lot of hard work, but the quality of work is better if you do it yourself and of course it’s expensive, but the love for music overshadows the love for money… kind of.

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