Feature

Ahead of Mix Fest 2019, Wolfgang Marrow’s sassy songstress, Sandy Little, talks the blues, small-town living and their latest album release

Wolfgang Marrow is a dirty, sexy, 4-piece blues rock band who left their respective small towns to take on and tame the big city – in their case Johannesburg.

They’ve just returned from a mini-tour to promote their latest album, Small Town Ghosts, and I kicked off my week with a chat to Sandy Little, one of two vocalists.

Sandy Little answered the phone a lot more enthusiastically than I’d expected, “I’m actually on drugs right now.” She giggles and clarifies, “I’m taking meds to recover from this flu I’ve had all weekend.”

I remember seeing Wolfgang Marrow on this year’s Afriski Winterfest line-up so I ask how she survived Southern Africa’s only festival in the snow, incapacitated by flu. “It was really challenging ‘cause the altitude is quite hectic there. But I mean if you’re gonna be sick, you might as well be sick somewhere awesome!” “Like bed,” I think to myself, but she convinces me, “What’s not great about a hotel room bed and restaurant food?”

With the weekend still fresh in her memory she adds, “I’ve never experienced anything like it ‘cause you know, we don’t have much snow [in Bloemfontein]. And it was very activity-driven. Most festivals, people are just drinking the whole time, but at Afriski there were people running uphill or skiing and the boys [Louwtjie Cronje (guitar & vocals), Bernard ‘Tiekie’ Britz (drums), and Benjamin van Wyk (bass)] had the time of their lives, everyone’s first time skiing.”

She admits that there was a downside, “It’s really difficult to look sexy under seven layers of clothing.”

Wolfgang Marrow have played many festivals in Gauteng so cheekily I ask her to choose a favourite. She can’t pick a favourite but says, “I had a lot of fun at Mieliepop. It’s very artsy. I love that sort of extra attention to detail. Henk [van der Schyf] and his wife really put their souls into things. I really respect what he does.”

On the topic of attention to detail, I ask about her art background. She studied Art but currently she’s a Graphic Design lecturer. I’m curious about how and where her two worlds overlap and very matter-of-factly she says, “They’re both just forms of performance. Sometimes I get up to perform on stage and sometimes I get up in front of the classroom and I have to act like I’m not scared. What’s scarier than a teenager?”

Naturally, Sandy is responsible for the visual identity of the band, a task she hardly finds tedious. “They’re a bunch of nerdy boys so they just let me do what I want with them… it’s like having your own real-life Barbie doll collection.”

It’s been four years since the release of their debut album and between their groot trek, finding day jobs,and navigating the Gauteng music scene, their sound has changed. She tells me how the first album was a little too sonically schizophrenic, “Rock, punk, pop, and blues,” and that the second album, Small Town Ghosts, is more focused, “We’ve managed to find a cohesive golden thread which is so hard to do because it’s hard to curate yourself.” I’ve never thought about it that way, curating yourself and your life experiences to suit a sound that you’re aiming for. She continues, “On a musical level the album stays rooted in the blues, but the subject matter is all about our small town experiences.” 

She writes all the lyrics and laughs when I ask if Louwtjie ever finds it weird singing lyrics that he didn’t write. “Oh it’s wonderful ‘cause I get [him] to sing about what a naughty boy he’s been,” she teases. “It’s fun ‘cause he’ll obviously put a spin on it but we stopped changing the terminology. Like now he’ll have to sing about being boy-crazy or that his period is giving him trouble… Let him sing it.”

Sandy is a proud advocate for and of local music, but she craves something else, “We need more diversity – I mean culturally, racially and gender-wise. It’s still a boy’s club and I want to see it open up to different kinds of people. Everyone sticks to their niche. I think that all the people who are trying to make changes and to do something different get too much flak and I don’t think that’s fair. Music has the power to change the way people see each other.”

Wolfgang Marrow are performing at Mix Fest 2019 at the Cradle of Humankind in Joburg. The two-day festival kicks off on the 28th of September and with big names like Springbok Nude Girls, Mango Groove, and Desmond & the Tutus on the lineup, Mix Fest is pulling all the stops. Tickets available through Howler.