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Born out of lockdown, GoodLuck release their first acoustic, jazz-infused album and chat the reinvention of their sound

To mention the name GoodLuck to any music festival-going South African is to trigger memories of getting down and dirty to a saucy selection of chart-topping electro-pop bangers during a sweatier time when parties were popping and live music was thriving.

They’ve spent the last decade cultivating a jol culture and topping dance charts both locally and internationally, so you can only imagine my surprise when I heard that they were dropping an acoustic, jazz-infused album.

Genuinely intrigued by the unexpected new direction, I made my way to Get Lucky Studios in Muizenberg to spend some time with the trio and get the scoop on their musical reinvention.

Founding members Juliet Harding (vocals, songwriting) and Ben Peters (producer, beats, electronic percussion) are joined by the newest member of the GoodLuck family, Tim Welsh (saxophone, keyboard, previously of Money for Bali and Crimson House) as they welcome me and give me the grand tour of their headquarters.

Welsh — a South African College of Music jazz graduate — had just started a digital marketing course when he was offered a bandmate position, and with five international tours on the cards, subsequently dropped out to join the gang. After exactly one show — Huawei K-Day — COVID cancelled all of their plans which, in retrospect, was a blessing.

“A positive of [joining just before lockdown] was that I got to know Jules and Ben from a different angle than if we’d just been on tour,” Welsh reasons, “When shows stopped it was like all these things were starting from scratch, and we all are developing this new thing and all of our ideas are being listened to,” he elaborates.

Harding confesses that, even though they were busier and more successful than ever, both her and Peters were in a dark space, going through all the motions but having lost their love for their craft. “Then we met Tim, and we were like ‘This guy’s rad, like really, really cool’ and things just started to fall into place really naturally,” she explains of Welsh’ influence on the band and their subsequent happiness, “Even with COVID where everything’s sort of collapsing around us, the storm was something that we could weather as a team.”

The trio’s chemistry is palpable as they tease each other affectionately, laugh at each other’s jokes, and are genuinely excited about their accomplishments so far, their latest release, Up Close, the proudest accomplishment of them all. Peters takes me back to what sparked the idea of doing an acoustic album in the first place. “So basically what happened was Jules came in here one day just outta the blue, and she just wrote this piano part for [“Together Like Rum & Cola”, a classic] and the original is this jump-up party song, and I was like, ‘Oh my God this is insane, we need to do this properly, so we worked a little, and we had a band meeting and Tim was like, ‘Let’s do an acoustic EP’ and then we took it from there,” he explains.

Calling on some of the hottest jazz musos in the country, they assembled a super band comprising Nick Williams (piano), Ross McDonald (trombone), Lee “Lips” Thomson (trumpet), Lumananyo Unity Mzi (drums & percussion), Ryan McArthur (double bass), Shen Winberg (guitar), Nhoza Sitsholwana (vocals) and Zeldene McDonald (vocals) to reimagine some of the band’s biggest hits over the years, and the result is astonishingly refreshing.

They recorded at Digital Forest Studio, the intention being to capture everything as live as possible — something neither Peters nor Harding were used to — and feed off of each other’s energy and magic. “It was an extraordinary process, every day of recording was like another day of ‘Oh my God!’”, Peters explains.

Harding then confesses, “Technically this has pushed me completely out of my comfort zone and I really had to step up to the plate, like I know how to write songs but when it comes to [performing and recording] I do hide a lot behind really good production and this was like, ‘No Jules, you’re gonna be completely heard and exposed and there’s nothing to hide behind and that was very scary in the beginning but then once I got started I got really into it and I found myself pushing myself”.

Peters admits that he, too, was a fish out of water. “The hardest thing for me was like to produce a whole room of people, in a genre that I haven’t been in. I haven’t made music like this, but like this is sophisticated on so many different levels. It’s not that you have egos, it’s that you have limitless capabilities,” he explains of working with Welsh and the rest of the super band, “I could be like, ‘Tim, here’s this song, take it on a fucking adventure’ because he has the capability to take it on an adventure, but then so did nine other people in the room”.

In just under a year, South Africa’s favourite electronic trio welcomed a new member into the fold, launched a television show, became experts in live-streaming, and with their latest album, Up Close, reinvented their signature sound in a way no one, least of all themselves, saw coming.

All pics courtesy of Cam Van Tonder.