Welcome to Episode Two! In this episode, you can hear Paul talk about his favourite guitar effect, Radiohead, and some more info about the upcoming Patreon site (amongst other rambling musings). Hope you enjoy!
So by now I’m sure you’ve heard that our tour van was broken into while we were parked in Dresden, Germany. Amongst many other things, my laptop was taken and thus I am doing this on my phone. Writing anything more than a few words on a phone is extremely frustrating and and this will be short.
I’m actually doing this because I don’t really have anything else to do at the moment. I have some books in my Kindle app I could read but I don’t really enjoying reading on a small phone screen in a moving van. I also have a bunch of podcasts to get thru but I keep falling asleep. Not that they’re boring, I think it’s just the motion of the van again.
I even looked forward to taking a driving stint just to have something to do!
You don’t realise the convenience of a laptop and iPad until you don’t have them anymore. I didn’t even bring any physical books on tour this time, think I’ll need to find a book store somewhere along the way because there’s still like two weeks left of tour!
I had grand plans of making a serious dent in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series on this tour, as well as getting lots of things work done on the Parlotones book I am still writing. Alas, all the Word documents are now gone, along with all the progress I’ve made in the last month or so. Lesson learnt, make backups into some sort of cloud storage!
Anyway, I’ve already had enough of all this typing on my phone, so expect some missing words and bad grammar.
Regarding the tour, we are currently in Austria for our show tonight at a venue called Chelsea. We’ve played here once or twice before.
We’ve already played a warm-up show in Berlin in the lobby of the nhow hotel, a really cool place that has a music studio on the top floor and lets you order a guitar and amp to jam on as part of their room service!
Then we played our show in Dresden at Scheune. Despite our glum dispositions after the robbery we had a great show. That’s one of the great things about what we do; no matter how down or tired you’re feeling, when you hit the stage a new energy and attitude takes over. For those 90 minutes or whatever, all the worries of the world disappear. I like to hope it’s the same thing for the people watching the show.
Alright, I think that’s enough for now. Here’s a photo of Glen and I:
I had to share this story from the book I am (still) working on. It’s the tale of the first time we stepped onto the streets of New York. It’s still a little rough, but it’s a great memory….
From Canadian Music Week we headed off to New York, our first ever step into America. We were fairly experienced travellers by 2009, but somehow the idea of America was really exciting, and a little daunting. When we started touring the UK we had started at small clubs and had slowly worked our way up, but in America we were basically jumping right into the deep end by going straight to possibly the largest music conference in the world: SXSW.
We caught a train from Toronto to New York. It was a lot cheaper than flying, and was also a bit of an adventure. We’re always up to trying new things, especially when it saves us some bucks! The first half of the journey was fairly uneventful, we just rode the train for hours and hours until we got to the border. We figured it would just be a quick stop, but it took ages! We always get extra attention at customs, I’m not sure if it’s because we’re South Africa or because we’re a dirty dishevelled rock band. Probably both.
The guys at the border were really thorough, even going so far as to go onto MySpace and look up The Parlotones. Some of the guys behind the desk even let their stern demeanour drop for a minute to compliment the music. We offered them some free CDs but they weren’t allowed to accept gifts in case it looked like a bribe. All our paperwork was in order and we were allowed to return to the train. You always feel like such a criminal at customs. Even though you’re 100% sure all your paperwork is in order, your passport is good, your visa is correct and you’ve got all the details they need, you still feel like something is going to go wrong.
We returned to the train and were informed by the conductor that we were sitting in the wrong seats and had to move. We were a little disappointed because we had set up our little space quite comfortably. Everyone’s devices were plugged in and charging, but we couldn’t argue with the guy and so we reluctantly packed up all our stuff and followed him through the train. As it turned out we had actually booked business-class seats, and had been sitting in economy this whole time! The seats were larger and more comfortable and there was a really friendly bartender guy working there. We looked at the bar prices and they were a little steep for us, horribly expensive in fact. However, after only an hour or so, our friendly bartender announced it was Happy Hour; buy one beer get one free. Even at this reduced price, they were still rather expensive. I remember one of us saying “who is ever going to fall for that?” Of course the boredom and the temptation of “just one” beer soon took over and we ordered a round of beers. And then another, and another. The bartender must have been having a beer every time we did because soon we were all quite loud and jovial. I can’t remember if Kahn played a song on his acoustic or if they played the CD on the train but there was quite an interest in the band, and we ended up giving out quite a few signed CDs to the passengers and our friendly bartender. We eventually stopping drinking his overpriced beer and fell asleep. When we woke up the train was completely deserted. It was quite freaky, there was literally no one else on the train, it was dark and quiet. We quickly gathered our stuff, walked back to the economy seats to retrieve our luggage and guitars and walked outside to the train station. We went up the stairs and stepped in New York.
There are certain moments and situations that stick with a band forever. And usually they’re completely random. Our first few minutes in NY was one of these moments.
Right outside the train station we were approached by an African American who had spotted our guitars. He walked up and in a loud New York accent asked: “Who is the best bass player in the world?”
Glen immediately answered “Gene Simmons.” How he came up with that I don’t know, but the guy on the street had a different opinion.
“Bullshit!” he exclaimed, “It’s Stanley Clarke.”
And with that he unfolded a push scooter he had under his arm, got on it, and scooted off.
We looked at each other with a mixture of confusion and delight, what a strange but utterly unforgettable moment. And to this day one of us will still randomly ask who the best bass player in the world is.
So… anyone still here? As usual I’ve been neglecting this poor little blog site. Lately I’ve switched hats and been filming stuff with our Nikon camera and Neil’s GoPro camera, and then I’ve had to learn how to edit the footage into something people might actually want to watch. I film lots of stuff, but often the focus is out, or the sound is terrible, or it’s just boring. However, I’ve found it’s better to just try film as much as possible and then sift out the few gems from all the rubbish. I try film things people don’t often see. Us talking rubbish in the van, sitting around backstage staring at our phones, the silly jokes on stage and whatever other random moment occurs. I’m still learning and I try not spend too long painstakingly editing the videos to perfection, I’d rather just get content out there. I’m sure it’ll slowly get better, and hopefully you’ll find it somewhat amusing or interesting. If you’ve watched any of the videos and have any advice or feedback, I’d love to hear it! Check out our YouTube channel here: The Parlotones YouTube Channel
Tour life is great, but I reckon people think it’s way more glamorous and exciting than it actually is. There is a lot of sitting around involved. Hours in the van, hours of waiting around, wearing the same dirty clothes for days and days. It seems no one in England has tumble dryers, they just hang their clothes on heaters, crazy! So there’s no time in-between shows to wash our clothes and have them dry in time before we leave. That’s rock ‘n roll for you though, we don’t mind, and luckily it’s pretty chilly this side of the world so our stuff’s not too sweaty. Except for socks, those are gross. Either way, we wouldn’t change our job for anything.
So anyway, this is just a quick note to say we’ve been having a blast touring Germany and the UK again. I’ve really missed Germany, and personally can’t wait to be back.
Here’s a photo of our setlist for Manchester, sorry it’s the only photo I could find on my PC that was somewhat relevant. Those scribbles are our roadie’s notes about which guitar he needs to bring on stage for specific songs.
So I am still writing and rewriting the as-yet-untitled Parlotones book. Whenever I go back to the stuff I wrote a year ago it seems so amateur, and I have to try fix it. Quite frustrating. Anyways, to inject a little content into my poor starving blog, here is a small bit of a rough draft of an early chapter talking about the recording of our first album, Episoda.
If you haven’t heard that album before, you can hear it on our website: The Parlotones website
And here’s a photo of the band way back then, red eye and all…
John Boyd was now in the band, and we rehearsed all the way out in Edenvale where he was staying. After Neil moved out of his parent’s house we had a few practises in his townhouse. That wasn’t the greatest practice room in the world. Firstly we had to carry our gear up three flights of stairs (good training for the tours to come!), and then cram evereything inside a tiny townhouse. Amps were turned down low and the drums were covered with blankets to muffle the noise. It was kinda frustrating, so it was nice to be able to set up in John’s larger room and make a bit of a noise again. It made the long drives every Saturday morning worth it. Almost every morning without fail we would all arrive for practice and John would either be asleep, or in the bath. John was a real prankster and often got up all kinds of mischief during band practice, and once we got to touring with him, he was a real terror. Once, during band practice, John smeared Kahn’s microphone with fish paste and tabasco sauce. Kahn retaliated by tossing peanuts into the fan and spraying tiny bits of peanuts all over John’s room. It became a nonstop back and forth between John and various other band members through the years, much good-natured pranking. We were writing a lot of songs at this time. One of the most promising was a ballad called “long way home” but we also getting very creative with crazy songs like “loud and clear” and “where do we go from here.” John’s Roland 303 was adding a very interesting layer to the songs, filling out the sound and adding some creative elements. John liked a lot of the same bands we did, but because he was a few years older than us he also introduced us to bands like Echo and the Bunnymen, and The House of Love.
We had been playing live quite often by this point and had built up a small fan base. Jaxon Rice was the singer of a band called Diesel Whores, we had played a few shows with them and he was interested in getting us recorded. He was willing to put in the money and was in touch with Theo Crous of the Springbok Nude Girls who would be doing the actual recording and producing. Unfortunately those plans fell through.
A band called 57 was doing fairly well on radio with a song called “projection man” until they were suddenly dropped from their record label. We weren’t sure exactly what had happened, but John got in touch with the singer. His name was Andrew Lester and he had just built a studio at his home. 57 had recorded their EP and their full-length album themselves, and we thought it sounded great. We had a meeting with him and agreed to record a full-length album for us for R12000. Quite a good deal, looking at what we spend on recording albums these days!
Our label couldn’t pay for the recording, so we put the money together on our own and couldn’t wait to get into studio. We were excited about the songs we had written and were full of creativity.
Sometime in 2003 we went into studio with Andrew Lester. He was very open to the band’s ideas and let us do almost anything we wanted. He was there as a producer and recording engineer, but the band were also producing the album. A producer is basically the person who guides the band in studio; overseeing the studio sessions, discussing and helping to choose which songs should be recorded, managing the entire recording process. So Andrew Lester as the producer was there to help us shape the songs into their best form, picking which ones should go onto the album and helping us to refine and perfect the various musical parts. We were also producing though, so we could also put in our own ideas and suggest any changes he had made. A producer basically becomes an extra member of the band for the recording process, working on the arrangement and recording of the songs, as well as the final steps of mixing and mastering the album.
We had a great time in Andrew’s studio and I think you can hear it if you listen to the album. It was quite a rough recording and definitely doesn’t sound as polished as the later albums we recorded. We experimented with a lot of things that were new concepts to us. Like running John’s keyboard through fuzz pedals, distorting the bass guitar and sliding the neck against a microphone stand (listen to the opening of “where do we go from here” to hear this effect), and leaving in mistakes and studio chatter. All the guitar parts were recorded through a Line 6 amp and using mostly our own pedals for effects. I had quite a decent selection of pedals by then. I was using the Line 6 Distortion Modeller (which had cost me a whopping R2500 back then, I got a credit card just to pay for it), a Boss Digital Delay (DD 3 I think it was) and also the purple Boss Analogue Delay (DM 2), and a Carl Martin Trem-o-Vibe. I had bought the tremolo purely because someone told me that’s how Radiohead got some of their weird sounds. It quickly became my favourite effect, I tried to use it in every song. You’ll hear it all over Episoda and Radio Controlled Robot. Kahn had traded in his few Boss pedals for a Line 6 Pod, the original bean-shaped one. He also got the floor board which you needed to control it live. It was a fairly complicated system to try get working properly and we struggled with it for ages before figuring out how to use it effectively. It seems so rudimentary now, compared to complicated systems available to guitarists these days. We got some mad sounds out of it, listen to the guitar solo and the ending from “inside” to hear an example.
I can’t remember how long it took us to record, but I’d guess about a month. We worked fairly fast but to be honest I really can’t remember anything much from the actual recording sessions. We did have loads of fun with my delay pedal in songs like “loud and clear” where it’s just this crazy noise. We didn’t really have much to prove or live up to at this point, and I think that’s why we were so creative and had an “anything goes” approach to the recording. There was no real pressure from anyone to write “hits” or to conform to any specific sound. We had always been the outsiders up to this point, not really fitting into any of the scenes or sounds of the day.
Our fans, the few that we had back then, liked everything we were doing and we were certain there was going to be an interest in the album. We were playing with lots of interesting bands then; from the all-girl punk band The Phoebes to the alt-country sounds of the Diesel Whores.
When the album came out the fans loved it, and we got a lot of praise from our fellow bands and of course our friends and families. Unfortunately not many radio stations were interested. TUKS FM, which is a student radio station in Pretoria, was quite supportive of the band. I can’t say for certain, but I’m pretty sure they played some songs off Episoda and we did a few interviews with them.
Our manager took the album to the program manager of 5FM, and tried to convince him to support the album. Unfortunately the album had little commercial potential, and mainstream radio wasn’t interested in it at all. Despite our best efforts, we couldn’t get anything off Episoda playlisted. Going back and listening to it today I see about half the album is definitely too weird for mainstream radio, and maybe it lacks a quality recording, but there’s some great songs on there that could have been hits.
So I am writing this in Word, apparently you can upload the blog straight from here, which is pretty cool. If I can figure it out anyway.
So without waffling on about all the rest of the shows, I can just sum it all up: the #antefacts tour was awesome! We really haven’t had such a great tour in ages. Nothing went wrong; no broken-down vehicles, nothing stolen, no trailer wheels flying off, no dodgy backpackers. The whole vibe was just fantastic, everyone on the tour was having a great time and the positive energy really carried through in performances and interviews and whatever else we did.
Thanks to all the hotels, venues, and most of all, the fans! You guys have given us the best job in the world, and we would be nothing without you. And of course to Mentos, coolest sponsor! 🙂
I’ll tell one story, and then just post a couple of photos!
So the final show of the tour was in Swaziland. Neil had recently downloaded an offline SatNav app for his phone so he could navigate around Europe without needing a Garmin, or use Google Maps and pay a fortune in data roaming coasts. Each country had been about a 600Mb download, and we decided to test out the app while in Swaziland. Swaziland has different network providers to South Africa, obviously it’s a completely different country. So Neil downloaded the map, 1Mb! The app got us to the venue without any issues. We had a great show and had to leave Swaziland by 5pm, we hoped to be back in Jo’burg by 8pm. We left the venue, following Neil’s phone which was navigating us to the border. The phone had some trouble and kept re-routing us, and we literally drove past a huge sign on the highway reading “Border” four times, but instead of following our (mostly) fully-functioning human brains, we decided to follow the phone. It took us off the highway, along narrow roads full of potholes, all the time it was steadily getting darker and the fuel gauge was creeping down past a quarter-tank. Eventually we started driving up a mountain, with a narrow twisting road that occasionally turned into a rough dirt road. This couldn’t be right, we decided, and did a very complicated 67-point turn in the dark on a dirt road, and drove all the way back down. At the bottom of the hill we found some security guards who told us we had been going the right way, all the way over the mountain was the border. 20 minutes away, they told, the gate closes at 8pm. It was about 6pm or so, so we figured we would make it with lots of time to spare. Back up the mountain, along the winding road, and eventually we arrived at the border. All the lights were off, and the gate was chained closed. Border closes at 6pm, oh hell! The tour had been going so smoothly until now. Someone suggested sleeping in the van until the border opened in the morning. Then our roadie Bigfoot thought he spotted a Doberman watchdog prowling around (which turned out to be a goat) and we noticed the spooky building across the road was called “Emergency Butcher”, this place was too creepy. Our van told us we still had 150km worth of petrol, and Swaziland is only about 200km across, so we had a good chance of making it back to the big sign on the highway we had seen two hours ago.
And so we drove all the way back, lo and behold, the border was about 20km from the venue. We eventually got there around 10pm, and I finally got home at 3am! Crazy. Lesson learned, don’t blindly trust technology, use that brain!
There’s so many good memories of this tour. I am starting to edit together the footage I filmed, it’s blurry and noisy and shaky, but it should be entertaining. It’s mostly us talking kak in the van, talking kak backstage, talking kak in soundcheck, and lots of footage of driving. Hopefully it’ll be ready soon, in the meantime, here’s some random photos.