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Shortstraw’s Russell Grant talks taking a much needed break, their love affair with Japan, and flexing their musical muscles for a good cause

The last time I saw Shortstraw perform live was last year at Kirstenbosch Summer Concerts in March. Bam Bam Brown & the Wild Professors opened for them – and back then I was still a Wild Professor.

I do the musician’s equivalent of “Otherwise, you well” and ask him how the music’s been treating them, to which he typically answers, “Yeah it’s been good, we had a great year last year, and yeah we’ve got a couple of shows coming up.”

It’s do or die now, so I fire off a question about their most recent tour in Japan and Russell Grant (bass) is ready to open up to me, “Sjo, the Japan thing has been just one of those magical, special things that no one could ever have seen coming, it’s become such a big part of Shortstraw.”

Their love affair with Japan began a couple of years ago, a hook up through Desmond & the Tutus’ Shane Durrant, who’d sent their stuff off to a Japanese label. The record label liked their music, agreed to re-release it, but that was about it.

It wasn’t until Shortstraw toured Australia in 2014 with Jungle Giants that they’d actually booked their first couple of shows in Japan.

For one of Shortstraw’s album launches, they invited Sawagi, a band they shared line-ups with in Japan and formed a good relationship with, “Just as much as Japan is such a crazy world for us, you can only imagine how crazy South Africa is for [Sawagi],” laughs Grant. “So they came here, and this incredible relationship formed. And we kept getting invited back – they came here twice, and this last tour was our fifth time.”

He tells me how this last tour to Japan was particularly emotional, Sawagi having invited Shortstraw to play their farewell tour with them and I have to pretend that I’m not on the verge of tears courtesy of the most romantic long distance love story I’ve heard in awhile. 

I change the subject and ask why it had been such a long time since their last album, “Those Meddling Kids” (2017)and their latest single and video, “Beacon Isle” (2019) and he responds calmly, even though I know he’s been asked this question too many times, “It was literally, in every sense of the term – a hiatus. We were really afraid that people thought we were gonna break up but we use the word “hiatus” because that’s exactly what you need, that’s exactly what many bands need. It can all get a bit overwhelming.”

But Russell seemingly needs to get something off his chest, pausing thoughtfully before continuing, “What I’ve really always wanted to get across to people is that we don’t have these sort of boring day jobs and then get to live our rock star lives on the weekend. We’re all doing quite amazing stuff outside of the band. And we’re pursuing these great careers.”

Russell owns The Bioscope, an independent cinema in Johannesburg. Alastair Thomas (lead vocals & guitar) owns a production company, Tom Revington (lead guitar) is a cinematographer. He interrupts his own train of thought and adds, “[Tom’s cinematography] was a good reason for the break. He wanted to really be able to pursue that, ‘cause he was just finding that the band was taking up a lot of his time and the schedules weren’t working.” It’s the classic band dilemma.

Once they’d pressed pause on the band and focused on their individual careers, they were able to make time to fit the band into their lives as opposed to having to live around the band’s requirements.

Russell admits that music began to feel like a competition for him, “You’re competing against other acts, and you’re competing with the expectations of what you have to do, and how often you have to say stuff, and what music you have to release, and when you have to release. And when you remove yourself you get this clarity that you can do it at your own pace.”

“I think we’ve found a way to make it work. We only wanna play the shows that we wanna play,” he says and I can swear I hear a soft sigh of relief.

One such show that they’re happily involved in is Night Walkies, an event geared towards raising funds in aid of the Animal Anti-Cruelty League. Shortstraw will be donating their time and Night Walkies a portion of the funds raised towards The Bowsie Foundation.

Joburg dog owners and lovers alike are invited to join the +/-3km walk kicking off at Roosevelt High School and each doggy ticket costs R50 with the first 3000 tickets get a doggy hamper including an LED collar and more.

There’ll be music, food stalls, photo booths and plenty more treats for both dogs and humans, all in the name of animal anti-cruelty.

Check out the Facebook event here for more information.