Future Sound of Pretoriaby Roger Young, images by Adriaan Louw / 12.03.2010
Wrestlerish are a country-ish rock band from Pretoria that formed around an EP that lead singer Werner Olckers and instrumentalist, Jacques Du Plessis recorded sometime in late 2008 called The Jackal. After over a year of touring and writing new material and taking on new band members they’ve put out a new album on Rhythm Records. The Rude Mechanical is a mix of honest lyrics about heartbreak and sing-along choruses that are destined to creep onto radio playlists and into your heart. Olckers talks to us about influence, pop hooks and drowning.
You get a lot of people singing along at gigs, that might mean you have some radio hits on your hands, some people in the “alternative” music scene in this country might see that as a bad thing.
Um, they’d be wrong. You know what, we’ve never seen ourselves as the great white folk, or the Country saviours of the South African music industry. I think a lot of people put that flag on us from the beginning but when we started the project it was about writing decent pop songs and that’s the goal. It’s having something that someone can take away from it, a good line that they can sing, or something that they can hum along to. I personally think that there is nothing wrong with having a good hook. In my opinion it’s harder to write a good hook than it is to write a twelve minute long prog song. At the end of the day this is our career and this is something we work very hard at. Songwriting for me isn’t about hipster credibility in the sense that for that it needs to be new and fresh and dark and broody, I mean that has its place but that’s not what Wrestlerish is all about. We’re about having a good time and just writing songs and melodies that people can associate with, we don’t want to challenge people in a sense that this is something new and they need to wrap their heads around it. If you can walk away from the show singing one of the songs, then we’re happy. That’s what Wrestlerish is, just catchy hooks and a good time.
But Wreslterish is quite challenging because there is a lot of emotional intergrity to the songs, the kind that you don’t really find on radio nowdays…
Ja, it’s a very thin line between love and hate, and it’s tricky I don’t know, I think that the lyrical content or subject matter are all pretty much about the same goal, y’know? I wrote the album when I was going through a rough patch with my ex-girlfriend and a lot of the lyrics reflect on the different stages of post breakup, make up, you know how things go in relationships, so lyrical content and stuff, it’s very themed in the sense that it’s about heartbreak, it’s about not getting what you want out of a relationship, it’s about getting what you want out of a relationship and not knowing what to do with it. It’s about feeling something for someone and not being able to describe it. And music kinda helped me with that. It’s a very universal thing, even if it’s in a darker context. I don’t see it as a different way of descibing love to any other radio song, love is love. love songs are love songs. “Baby you’re bad news, I don’t trust myself with you”, y’know it doesn’t get anymore ballady than that.
There’s a lot of water in your lyrics, lots of drowning.
I don’t know how that happened, Jacques and I write all the songs, this album is about seventy thirty with the majority being my songs. I’ve always had this thing that I associate not being able to communicate with drowning. You’re gasping for air but every time you do there is this body of water that fills your lungs. And Jaques sees it the same way, so we’ve always had this thing about drowning. We actually considered calling the album Bodies Of Water but, um we had already sent out a press release calling it The Rude Mechanical, so, it didn’t happen.
The Rude Mechanical, where is that from?
It’s actually a term from A Midsummer Nights Dream for the lower class actors in the play who toward the end take over the role of the actors and are renowned as being bad actors and it’s a term for the lower class or the everyman. So when me and Jaques started recording we were like we’re so not rock stars, we don’t even fit into skinny jeans, I’m balding, I don’t have fancy hair. You know Jacques, he cuts his own hair in the mirror, so we felt that we were an everyman band and the term The Rude Mechanical just fitted with that. Because we are the complete opposite of what a rock star shoud be, we’re country boys.
The first EP has a lot more of an alt country flavor than this album, is Country a point of departure?
It’s a route we had in the beginning but as we started playing live, the songs started to take on a more upbeat feel, it’s just that natural progression, that trucking vibe that upbeat country songs have. Then when we added Dave and Gavin to the mix, it started getting a more rocky poppy feel, because Jacques piano playing and my guitar playing became kinda secondary to the vocals and the drive that Gavin and Dave bought to the table. Our thing is that if we stop working, we stop progressing and we don’t want to do that. Jaques and I have already started working on an new Wreslterish EP that we hopefully want to launch by August, we gonna record it ourselves again and that’s completely rooted in the Country thing. We wanna record that in a Cabin, in a do it yourself recording. So if you know of anyone who has a farm or something, let us know.
You have Sesling as a side project, there are a lot of bands in this country that have a few side projects, is that a hedging your bets, see which is more popular thing?
It definitely helps, especially if you’re going for different sounds and stuff. For me it was just that I’ve always loved heavier music, and Sesling was just the right time with the right group of guys. I think everyone should push themselves in different music styles, different vibes, especially with the music industry that we have, it’s so small, there is so much space for people to experiment.
A lot of your influences come from outside of South Africa, that’s not always something that comes off popular with the critics.
We have amazing bands that have obviously developed their own sounds over time, but they needed starting blocks. And there’s no harm in referencing international bands for that. The best way to develop your own sound is to take what you think is best from the people that interest you, no matter where they come from, and, lets be honest, most of the local bands that we like are influenced by international acts. There just isn’t enough going on musically in this country at the moment for us to be nittpicky about where we take our influence from, and go on about being original and being totally African. You just have to put it all in a melting pot and go with it and come up with your own thing. I think critics are way too quick to fire their guns at younger bands, especially here, you need time to progress. It’s not like the music that we’re referencing is stuff you hear on 5Fm and we’re trying to get into a mass market. It’s a very niche sound.
Is there a big live music scene in Pretoria right now?
It’s a sad state, y’know Pretoria’s become this place with the most innovative and amazing bands, if you look at Yesterday’s Pupil and Isochronous and The Narrow, even if you take it back to Not My Dog, it’s been a long time where it’s always been very progressive and boundary pushing, but we don’t have clubs anymore. It’s sad, we used to have Nile Corcodile, which was absolutely the heart of the Pretoria scene, whether is was Jazz, Funk, Blues or Metal, everyone just got behind it and had a good time. It was very much a home to music in Pretoria and now that responsibility has shifted to Tings and Times, but unfortunately Tings is only one venue. There are still bands, lots of talented bands, but we just don’t have the venues that cross over, where everyone is welcome, where everything is happening and everything goes down well, that passed away with Nile Crocodile.
Before Wrestlerish you were in a band with Peach of Yesterday’s pupil and Barend from Kidofdoom, Shu, now they’re all progressive and electronic and you’ve gone off into country and metal, that makes you the outsider in that scene right?
I suppose a little, Peach was always the oddball of the Shu group, after high school he started getting into producing and the more electro vibe, I never really got into it. I never really got it. My roots have always been in Country music and Metal. My parents raised me on Country and Musicals, so I’ve always had that very melodic country shuffle thing in my song writing and my thought process, when it comes to music. I guess, I’m the oddball now in that sense because when Shu was around it was the opposite I was just one of the heavy metal kids who understood melody, then the whole Kidofdoom, Sovereign Academy thing exploded and stuff got swapped around. There is a lot of electro influnce in the later Shu stuff that Peach bought in, that mix of acoustic and electro, but no one really heard that later stuff because we never released it.
So, there is a missing Shu album out there somewhere?
It’s not missing it’s sitting in Peach’s house. He just never finished mixing it. When I got back from London we used to do Yesterday’s Pupil remix of a Shu song, which Liam Lynch still refers to as the song of Pretoria, for that time, when Shu was at it’s peak and Kidofdoom was booming and Isochronous had started, we used to just call it the “Clap Song”, because we couldn’t think of a witty name. It was kinda the Pretoria sound, it was heavy, but it was Indie but it was danceable as well. Maybe one day we’ll release it.
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All images © and courtesy Adriaan Louw