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Groinchurn’s Mark Chapman talks starting a band in the ’90s, being proudly South African and reuniting for the first time in five years

In 2001, South African death metal band Groinchurn announced that they’d be calling it quits.

In 2014, they surprised fans with a two-night reunion show alongside Brazilian groove metal band Sepultura but then the went deathly quiet again. But this year, to the delight of hard core fans, they’ll be reuniting to play the inaugural ROAR Fest and Mark Chapman (guitarist and original founding member) was keen to talk about getting back to flexing those performance muscles.

Chapman left for Australia about a year after Groinchurn disbanded. He’s been living there since, but still sounds as South African as the day he emigrated.

I ask him if he considers himself more South African or more Australian and very proudly he says, “Yeah there’s lots I’ll never lose about South Africa. It’s definitely just one of those things, and maybe [his South African accent] is ramping up more knowing I’ll be there in November. Or maybe I’ve secretly been practising.”

He tells me about some of his band highlights, the start-up phase being something he misses particularly saying, “I guess all the phases had their positives, you know, but the early days were just absolute chaos. I mean we had absolutely no plans of ever doing anything long-term.”

I hear the excitement rise in his voice when he talks about the good old days. “We were literally just tryna do the most extreme stuff we could and, for lack of a better word, we were just making a lot of noise and having a lot of fun — no responsibility, no plans, and everything else, that was probably the freest time as far as the band went,” he reminisces.  

On the opposite end of things, I wonder about highlights from when they’d already been around for a bit. “It would probably be the first time we toured Europe in ‘97 [with Sanity’s Dawn] just because it was so unbelievable for three kids from the Vaal Triangle, ‘cause we were just tearing up speakers and the next thing you know, we’re on a tour bus with some great bands at some great venues in Europe.”

He says it all so matter-of-factly that you wouldn’t think Groinchurn was the second South African metal band to tour Europe at that time.

Having officially disbanded in 2001, I wonder what it is, after 13 years, that made them reunite for only two shows. “We were just fortunate,” he states plainly. A conversation with an old friend turned into a request turned into a two-date reunion show. “I said yes, expecting it to be a bit of a joke and the next thing I knew we were on the bill.”

As much as they loved playing together again, reviving the band was unrealistic. Jokingly he says, “Ah look you know it would be nice but obviously with the geographical distance it makes it a little bit tricky to get together for a little weekend band practice.”

But for them it was only ever about relishing in the music that was, “I just thought enjoy it, you know, take what you can get. And at that point I thought it was possibly the last time we’d do it, so it coming around again has been another great surprise!”

I tell him how difficult it was doing online research on them, what with Groinchurn’s active years being pre social media, and I wonder how they used to promote their music. “Now I sound like an old person, but it was literally pre-internet,” he says. “We essentially spent hours writing letters, putting cassette tapes in envelopes and posting them across the world.”

Chapman continues, “There was a big underground scene then, which was a really good vibe. That’s one thing that’s a little bit sad to have lost — there was a real sense of community.” 

He subscribes to Spotify and enjoys the ease of discovering new music these days, but he misses the genuine connection bands were able to make with their fans back in the day. “You had to work so hard to find music and to find new bands, so when you did discover something that really hit the mark for you, it was absolutely this sense of getting a new family member.”

Fans will be pleased to know that most of their catalogue is, in fact, available on streaming platforms.

Since emigrating, Chapman has played in a couple of projects more out of passion than for any big music career move, something I’m beginning to see as a pattern with him, “It’s definitely just for the enjoyment of it.”

I try to coax nostalgia out of him when I ask about the energy in the rehearsal room after years of being apart, but he doesn’t fall for it, “Stepping back into the rehearsal room for the first time, I guess I just kind of go back to being a kid wanting to make noise. We don’t light candles and hug and stuff.”

While he hints at including repertoire from their debut album in their set list for ROAR fest 2019, he doesn’t give away much, “We’re literally busy working on that now, so it’s actually a bit of an unknown for me, too.”

Groinchurn will reunite for one night only on the 30th of November in Johannesburg, alongside local favourites like The Narrow, Facing the Gallows, and Black Math. Whether you knew them 25 years ago or you’re hopping on the bandwagon now, you won’t want to miss your opportunity to catch them live for the first time since 2014.

Tickets are available through Howler.