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A Poison City Anthem

by Samora Chapman / 06.12.2012

I thank the lord for my recent musical emancipation. For 10 straight years I was a hip hop addict. Writing graffiti and studying the sages of rap. But I eventually started digging out the records all my favourite hip hop producers were sampling, like Lou Reed, Neil Young, Sadé and Tim Buckley. Since then, I’ve gradually been exploring the different corners of the musical universe and I reckon I know a good song when I hear one. So whether you’re a metal-head from Bosnia or b-boy from Brooklyn, do yourself a favour and listen to this song. It’s called Don’t Stop, it’s fresh outa the Durban underground and it’s a fucking anthem!

They recently made a live recording of the track on a lazy afternoon as rain leaked from the summer sky. The video hit the web last week, went viral and reverberated out of a few thousand speaker-boxes around the city.

So there was a lot of excitement leading up to the gig at the Winston on Friday night, where The Trees gathered on a small stage with a growing sense of purpose. A little awkward, the crew of tall, gangly, handsome cats shuffled into position like big kids at a talent show.

All the hype and excitement culminated in a bit of a chaotic performance. The first couple of tracks never came together. The sound levels and timing seemed out. But soon the rowdy gypsy-punk had the Durban kids jumping around, the energy and pace taking over.

The band gradually relaxed and started finding their groove towards the end of the set. By this time the crowd had filled the dark Winston den and everyone was ready to hear the track that had been ringing in their heads the whole week. At last, James began plucking the unmistakeable riff of ‘Don’t Stop’ on his banjo and it was like magic. The disparate parts became one. After a dramatic pause the song kicks off in earnest and it has an energy that simply lifts your spirit. The song is perfectly constructed, from the subtle drums to the transcendental melody of the violin and the humming harmony. As Daz breaks out in a husky howl, a Poison City anthem is born.

After the set, the Trees filter into the crowd and back to their familiar corners of the pub to commune with forever friends and strong whiskeys to calm their nerves.

Next up was Black Math, having just graduated from the deadly gauntlet of matric exams. The rock ‘n roll kids from the misty hills are so well rehearsed and tight; maturity beyond their years. They were a little lacklustre at times. But they played a couple of new tracks that were slightly more down tempo and soulful than their usual frantic grunge-rock. I loved the change in tempo and would like to hear them do it more. The way the Chilli Peppers undulate from ‘Breaking the Girl’ to ‘Suck my Kiss’ in their momentous album Blood Sugar Sex Magik.

Towards the end of the night, I managed to corner The Trees at the back of the Winston and we got to chat. Despite only recently breaking the surface, the band have been playing on and off for about two years, haggled by challenging circumstances as band members came and went in the search for ‘real jobs’. Heartbreaks and fallouts complicated matters even more. But recently, with their current line-up, the band has been gaining momentum, gigging consistently and finding their groove. The addition of Hezron from Fruit ‘n Veg on violin and the talented ‘new kid on the block’ Matt Ill on guitar has completed their re-birth. I lined up a couple of questions about fighting for sunshine in the great big concrete forest.

The Trees

MAHALA: Firstly, big ups to you guys for the success of ‘Don’t Stop’. As I said to Daz and James, it’s the coolest song I’ve heard come out of Durban in ages. What does all that love do for your confidence, and your egos!?

Hezron: Thanks dude, it’s great for the confidence and there is nothing wrong with stroking our egos once in a while.

Bobby: We are so stoked! It’s hard to imagine that a shitty folk punk band from Durban can get people so amped! If only we can sound that rad when we play live.

Daz: There’s lots more where that came from.

Matt: When we start getting folk groupies, I’ll be happy.

You guys have been jamming on and off for about two years… what has been the key to bringing the new line-up together? And who are the new cats on the team?

Bobby: Ya we had a few teething problems in the first year. Certain members weren’t amped on the style we were playing, guys would ghost band practice, dudes were hooking up with other member’s girlfriends. After we played Splashy, we decided to call it a day. Then after a few months of chilling out, we got Matt Ill (electric guitar) and Hezron (violin) involved and started experimenting with new styles such as swing, old time folk and blue grass and not so much of a celtic vibe. We got dissed a lot for trying to be celtic. A Flogging Molly cover band, etc. So far, the new line up is Daryn on vocals and guitar, Matt on electric guitar, Jimmy on banjo, Bobby on bass and Hezron on violin. We are still looking for a fulltime drummer.

Daz: Ja it’s been weird the way people have been coming in and out of the band all willy nilly and it still seems to be happening. But I think we have a solid group of very talented members now and the morale is way higher than it used to be.

Bobby: Sorry… It seems to STILL be happening. I’m probably moving to Cape Town next year so The Trees are gonna need a new bassist.

Matt: I met Bobby ages ago at Sibling Rivalry shows. We wanted to start a punk band but never really got around to it, mainly due to the fact that we were both in serious relationships. After we both got dumped, we decided to stop crying and wanking and actually sit down and jam. It’s hard at times being in a band with six dudes, only one of which has a job and only two have drivers licences, but we are slowly but surely upping our game.

The Trees

Tell me a bit about how the song ‘Don’t Stop’ came into being? What’s your song writing process like?

Hezron: James came up with the foundation for the song a while ago and it was not really going to be used for The Trees. But he played it for us and we liked it. The songwriting process is always fun… each member adds to the arrangement and I will take little solos in between the melody. Daz added some real flavour with the lyrics and Bobby, Matt and Justin are really good musicians who added their own touch to the tune.

Bobby: Most of the song writing starts with a riff from Jimmy, Matt or Daryn and then well all the just throw our own little style in. Daryn is probably one of my favourite lyricists and I love writing lyrics with him. We trying really hard to write lyrics with more depth and meaning and not just sing about getting fucked off our faces. What’s funny about ‘Don’t Stop’ was that the original banjo riff was supposed to be for Jimmy’s emo side project. Now it’s like the most banging gypsy folk song!

Daz: Bobby helps with the lyrics sometimes, we like to keep it conceptual. I wrote those lyrics in ten minutes flat. But I was quite proud. I have had some practice over the years. I have been trying and writing lyrics for years before I got to some level where I was happy with it.

Matt: Me and Bobby used to jam ska and punk songs in my basement like three years ago and it’s really cool to see some of those riffs get turned into trees songs!

The Trees

What inspires you guys? Does the place you live and the people you grow up with help fashion your musical style? I see Durban as a real tight scene where the musicians and artists all help each other and strive to work together. Is that true or just a bit of emo shite?!

Hezron: Honestly I have been doing this for a while and have performed throughout Europe and South Africa. Durban is real money-tight! The venues are always booking you for charity shows. Clubs, pubs and bars don’t want to pay you enough yet they make so much fucking money. Most venues use the fact that we love music and will play for next to nothing. I believe most Durban musicians don’t make it as they end up broke and have to find other jobs working at the same fucking bars they used to play at. I have played at 14 charity shows and 34 other free shows this year alone. Besides all this, Durban musicians still have a strong bond. They help each other out but it is about time more venues decided to help us out and treat us with respect.

Bobby: Ya look I love Durban with all my heart and I’ll admit that living in such a culturally diverse city probably does influence our sound. But Durban is not kind to musicians. A lot of the time the bands are getting shafted for cash. If I could have my way, I’d have the whole band move to Cape Town or something. As far as influences go, we all listen to very wide and diverse mixture of music. James and Hez listen to more indie stuff and Me, Matt and Daz listen to more punk and folk.

Daz: I think we all have different tastes, but there is still definitely a lot of common ground when it comes to tastes in music. None of us are purist or narrow minded about what kind of music we want to play and we experiment quite a bit.

Matt: I personally always try to add a bit of a drum ‘n bass meets grind-core feel to my guitar playing, but I’m willing to tone it down for a more sensitive folk vibe… just for the betties you know? Betties love the folk vibes. I will admit the Durban scene is tight. Some would say incestuous!

The Trees

You’re heading off to play in Jozi this weekend… your first road-trip as far as I’m aware? It takes a lot of commitment and cash to travel as a band. How’d it come together? Where are you playing?

Bobby: Ja this is our first tour and we are very excited! We have hit a bit of a speedbump and are playing with a new drummer but it should be fun. We are playing in Boksburg on the 7th (pray we survive), Beeg Day Out music festival on the 8th (only Durban band at a predominately metal festival) and at Zoo Lake on the 9th for a little folk vibe. We played a shitload of shows before tour to save some bucks and luckily Matt’s dad is paying for a van and accommodation.

Daz: Can’t wait to be playing outside of Durban for the first time, it was easier than we thought to organize it. I’m not sure what to expect… it should be good though.

Matt: We’ve got the worst timeslot at Beeg Day Out and we pretty much hooked it up by begging and grovelling. I still think we are gonna get killed in Boksburg, but that’s just me.

What’s your favourite track at the moment?

Bobby: The Devil Makes Three – ‘All Hail‘. I love old time swing folk so much!

Hezron:Immigrant Song‘ by Led Zeppelin.

Daz: I have been playing ‘Rocky Road to Dublin‘ by The Dubliners over and over.

Matt:Every Time We Touch‘ by that hot rave steki.

The Trees have written a song that has grabbed everyone’s hearts in a vice-grip. Once in a while a song articulates a collective angst, a well of emotions all tangled together. And it’s almost like the band that composed it was able to tap into a huge river of thoughts and feelings all around them. For me it’s a song about the perils of trying to grow up and find a pathway through the ruthless jungles of life. Something I think everyone can relate to. Keep an ear to the ground for more from this talented crew of musos from the mosquito coast!

*All images © Samora Chapman.

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