Nothing to do with Footballby Mahala High Five Brigade / 03.05.2013
What do you do when your side-project becomes more popular than the main event? This is fast becoming the rather unique position of the players who make up garage rock outfit Goodnight Wembley. And if symptoms persist bands like Taxi Violence, Beast, 7th Son and Bilderberg Motel may all have to take a backseat to the meteoric rise of Goodnight Wembley. Just hours before their first gig at the Puma Social Club, we thought it’d be a fine idea to touch base with frontman George van der Spuy.
Mahala: Goodnight Wembley is an amalgamation of a lot of different players from different bands Taxi Violence, 7th Son, Dead Lucky, Yes Sir Mister Machine and Bilderberg Motel – how did you guys decide to get together?
George van der Spuy: All the bands mentioned above rehearse at my (George) rehearsal studio in Cape Town (Kill City Blues), a sort of creative hub where musicians can rehearse/record and network. Naturally you then get to hear a lot of musicians play and so i singled out the guys i thought would be a great addition to the type of side project i wanted based on their strengths. Nic and I were talking about doing an old school 70’s and grunge type of band as we were heavily influenced by those styles and got the guys together for a jam. The rest as they say is history
What kind of effect does a new configuration like GW have on all your other bands and projects? How do you make the time and decide how much creativity to invest in each project?
We get asked this a lot and it’s quite simple really, good planning! Taxi, Beast, GW, 7th Son etc. share a calendar where we all put dates for shows up so there’s never clashes, it just means you need to be on the ball. Also, we give each other space in terms of when we release material so we don’t confuse the public and do each other any injustice. Wembley releases in May and Taxi for instance in July, so the time we spent on preparation is well timed and spread out.
Why the name Goodnight Wembley? Sounds very british and football. What’s the story behind that?
The name is a reference to big bands like Queen or AC/DC that have sold out the biggest stadium in England, Wembley Staduim. If you’ve played Wembley stadium it means you’ve made it to the top, the rock ‘n roll hall of fame! It’s kind of like a homage to the greats of rock ‘n roll. I use to jokingly say ‘Goodnight Wembley’ at the end of a disappointingly attended Taxi Violence show as a bit of a joke and so when GW started jamming together and we needed a name, I mentioned it to the guys and it hit home. Nothing to do with football.
Amalgamated rock bands have a very hit and miss nature – good ones like Temple of the Dog and The Travelling Willbury’s are insanely good (but they generally only ever nail one album). Bad ones are instantly forgettable like Audioslave and that rehab band with Slash from GnR.
Good question, but to answer it is quite simple. We’ve recently signed a 3 record album deal with Sony so the chances of us not doing more albums is slim if none. We’re in it for the long run and don’t plan on putting out substandard material. The beauty of this band is that with so many different backgrounds, things are always kept fresh but we have a common goal in mind. Yes, we are, technically speaking, a side project but it’s not really just a once off thing that comes and goes. We’re here to stay and we intend to make two more great albums AT LEAST. The future for us is looking very bright and we don’t intend on being a ghost anytime soon.
What kind of struggles do you guys have putting GW together. Does it sometimes feel a little manufactured? Or worse yet, like Taxi Violence-lite?
It’s nothing like Taxi Violence, musically and otherwise (rock yes, but styles differ) and just because the choruses have memorable hooks don’t make it lite either. There is a lot of balls! You don’t have to be underground to be respected or make music that’s too ‘intelligent’, look at Foo Fighters for instance. We truly love and enjoy the music we make, love performing live and there’s nothing in our minds that make it manufactured as we wrote all of the songs ourselves and it was a very natural process. There are too many bands out there in SA that either won’t or can’t write hooks, we possess that ability and we’re going to use it. Who doesn’t want to sing along to their favourite band’s songs in their car, at home or in front of the stage!? We enjoy it and want our fans to do the same, why the hell not? We’re all here to have a good time.
What’s your approach to writing music. What’s the GW creative process like?
Alex, the youngest comes up with the majority of the riffs which we then bash out at rehearsals and record at the same time (pre-production) to hear if it translates as well ‘on wax’ as it does in the room. Nic adds his two cents and also comes up with riffs and after myself and Nic will sit down with the recorded songs and write lyrics and melodies over it while also recording it roughly to see how we can make it the best possible song, trying to top the previous one.
How big is garage or retro rock in SA? What kind of future do you have playing music like this in SA, or are you aiming for an international audience?
We don’t care how big it is, we’re honestly just doing our thing and if people dig it, GREAT! We do think we would appeal to an international audience though and we’ll see what we can achieve with the help of Sony, but for now our focus is on SA.
Will guitar driven rock music ever be a relevant and reflective South African cultural product? Or is it necessarily a global thing?
The market for it is in SA very small, but once again we’re just doing our thing. So far we’ve had a great response from people and our fan base is ever growing with every show we do and every single we release so we can only work hard and see what happens. The market is bigger globally for sure but with local radio stations like Tuks Fm, Afm and 5fm playing a lot more of it and supporting the rock scene it can only get better.
If so, how do you get there, and why couldn’t you do it with your primary band (Taxi Violence)?
Taxi Violence has always had a DIY attitude and we prefer it that way, that doesn’t mean we don’t utilise avenues to promote and market ourselves to grow the brand. We still work hard and we have a team that works for us and feel they do a great job. With Wembley it’s exactly the same, except that we have financial backing and being with the label, they can develop the band and provide avenues Taxi could perhaps not explore due to the nature of the music but it’s basically just different approaches to things – you know, different strokes…
Tune us about the struggle of making original music in SA? How hard is it?
Everybody ‘borrows’ music from somewhere, and by that I mean people are influenced by their heroes. I almost think nothing is original anymore but we try to put our own spin or flavour on whatever we do to make it our sound that identifiable as Goodnight Wembley. So in that regard it’s not very difficult. We’re definitely not trying to sound like anybody but Goodnight Wembley. Just be true to yourself and your sound and don’t try to sing like Eddie Vedder.
What about the glass ceiling? You’ve been in the game long enough to have been squashed up against that puppy.
There’s a glass ceiling we’ve been squashed up against? Glad you think so. I’d say we’re a medium sized fish in a small pond. We’re not the Parlotones or Prime Circle and there’s still plenty to do, we do it for the love and passion, anyways. We get PMS when we don’t play or make music.
How hard is it to make a living in rock? What else do you do?
I own rehearsal studios, Kill City Blues in Cape Town so I’ll always have something to fall back on ,the other guys also do odds and ends… for now. We’ve been offered good fees due to the band’s popularity rising and the singles doing well on radio, we think it can only go up from here. We know lots of bands that maintain a living off just doing music and the harder you work and push, the more that will become possible. For a band that hasn’t even been around for a year, and to be doing this well, we need shades the future is so bright.
What do you make of South African audiences? And is there enough support for bands like yours to stay alive and new ones to make their mark?
The market, although small is ever growing and there will always be people into rock, they need their fix. With radio stations playing more SA music of our genre it definitely helps expose it to wider audiences that would otherwise not have heard it or be interested to begin with. A good song is a good song no matter the genre and there are plenty of new bands popping up all the time, I think they just give up too early because they didn’t think it would be so hard. Persist and you shall receive… providing your music isn’t crap in which case maybe go back to your day job.
How many opportunities do you have to perform? And how important are initiatives like the Puma Social Club?
I think there should be more initiatives like Puma Social Club who have financial backing and promote their events properly. We haven’t played there yet but from the word on the street, it pulls a wide range of people and that excites us as we’re not just playing to a majority white audience. Hopefully the word spreads.
Getting back to SA audiences, where do you find the worst groupies and stalkers? Small dorpies or the big city gigs?
That’s a tough one! Groupies and stalkers are all over the place, big cities or small towns. We’re stoked about the groupies or ‘Band Aids’. We don’t really see them as groupies though, just really big fans that support the band. Plus, they’re cool to hang with for our egos. The stalkers can get a bit much though, they usually do their stalking on Facebook which can get freaky when you get a weird messages in your inbox or someone ‘liking’ a photo from 2 years ago and then see them at a show. Can you say awkward?
*Images pilfered from the internet and Goodnight Wembley’s FB and © Henno Kruger and Samantha Laura Kaye.