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Only Pure THOTS

by Roger Young, images by Kevin Goss-Ross / 01.04.2010

Tree Houses On The Sea (THOTS) are a Durban based hip-hop/jazz rock crossover band that sound a lot better than that genre description. A six-piece band comprised of  jazz students, hip hop heads and a heavy metal drummer, they’re about to play Splashy and their first Joburg gig at the Battle of the Bands. We spoke to Raheem (Vocals), Ross (Drums) and Dylan (Guitar) about rocking different material for different towns, genre descriptions and their debut album Return of The Book Thief.

What kind of music would you say Tree Houses On The Sea makes?

Raheem: That is the hardest question ever.

Okay, how about this, do you think it’s necessary to compartmentalize music?

Raheem: I don’t think it is, especially not our music, because we are influenced by so many sounds and the only right thing to do is express our influences in their naked form. We are inspired by different genres, our music is a mixture of all these sounds and we’re compiling them together and just expressing them, not putting a tag on them. 
Dylan: Every song should have its own characteristics, like a person. You shouldn’t label it. Ross here is Indian but Ross has his own characteristics as a person. 
Ross: Within that, at the end of the day, the race group of our sound is music. I don’t know how better to put it. It’s really hard to nail it down, it just stems from the different aspects of what we know. We still bring in other elements from things we don’t have in the band.  We experiment with a lot of stuff.
Dylan: Sound is our genre. 

Is this a problem when you’re trying to get gigs or press or radio play?

Raheem: It became a problem when we gave our CD to East Coast Radio. The woman there said: “We couldn’t place you guys”. Like if you have one hit, your next track must be the same sound, listeners mustn’t get lost or confused. They stations should just let them listen to the music and decide for themselves.
Ross: So yeah, it is a problem in terms of that.
Dylan: We need a pirate radio station. A Tree Houses On The Sea station.

And this Battle of the Bands competition is primarily a Heavy Metal competition?

Dylan: Anyone could have joined, a folk band coulda joined.
Ross: Yeah, it was open to anyone
Dylan: But metal bands only entered.

What’s that all about, Metal bands seem to me to be a lot more amped and have bigger scenes than other types of music.

Raheem: Maybe it’s the venues they chose to have the competitions at?

But a folk music battle wouldn’t really happen….

Raheem: Well if you look at the history of battles, well the little bit that I know, it’s mostly the rock cats that wanna battle.  You’ll never find a jazz trio stepping up and saying lets go to a Battle of the Bands.  It just doesn’t make sense.
Ross: I suppose in some ways it doesn’t make sense for us, but we just thought lets do it, lets just go there and do our stuff.

In Durban you play mostly to a punk or metal crowd, even though you have heavy jazz and hip hop influences, and you’ve built a following, but when you play outside Durban, do people get you instantly?

Raheem: It’s surprising actually, I had this heavy metal cat during a gig sing back one of my hooks to me that was straight up soul skatting, I was like WHAAAT? You feel that shit?!  Like when you see him face value you think this dude is on some screamo shit.
Ross: At Burn once when we played Beverly from Theatre Runs Red, like when you look at this lady you think full on hardcore metal, I mean she’s a vocalist for a hardcore band and she came to us and she loved it.
Dylan: Those guys, I think, gave us the best feedback we’ve ever had.

Do jazz cats get into it as well?

Dylan: We’ve been rehearsing at Howard College at the music school, now and then one or two of the jazz students will sneak in and bob their heads along. And then they get amped you know, then it’s like: “When’s your next rehearsal?”

Your album The Book Thief is mostly comprised of what you’ve been performing, but you haven’t toured extensively outside of Durban, are you getting to a point where you have different sets for Durban and everywhere else?

Raheem: It’s not a problem, it’s just common sense in a way, those people don’t know us, you have to come up with fresh shit here in Durban just to keep people in the loop of it. In Joburg and Cape Town you have to play the album, maybe we sneak in a new track here and there just to satisfy, y’know…
Ross: Ourselves
Raheem: You know what I’m saying; it’s all about pushing.
Ross: We’re touring our album and we’re there to sell albums so we can’t play our new stuff because then they buy the album and it’s not what they heard. And we haven’t been there so it’ll be fresh for them.
Raheem: What we tend to do, as well is we play the album tracks but because we want to satisfy the need to create new material we just mix the track up.

This album is completely independent, is that because you struggled to find a record company?

Raheem: We didn’t need to. Someone stepped up to us and believed in our dream, he saw the vision and we spoke and he instantly became part of the crew, regardless of whatever, lets just make music. And that’s Rueben from LYD productions.

What is the “vision” that he understood, can you put it in words?

Raheem: We all have individual visions as artists. I think what he saw was a bunch of eager young musicians that want to make music that is different. But at the same time teach and connect with people. I mean we have fun, but we don’t want to come across like we’re teachers or anything. He saw something that has longevity.

The album is based on the novel, The Book Thief, is this something that Tree Houses will continue to do?

Raheem: That was just the first one. As a writer I like conceptualizing, so I think concept albums will be the future of THOTS, but definitely different concepts, like it wont be a book, specifically, but a concept for the whole album.

You’re playing Splashy Fen for the second time this year, is this the biggest audience you’ve had so far?

Dylan: You get onto stage and there are already five thousand people in the marquee, I mean we’ve done big shows but a gig in Durban might have a few hundred people.

How difficult is it to play an afternoon slot?

Raheem:  I can imagine if we weren’t playing and rolling around Splashy and having nothing to do, then someone plays in the afternoon, yeah I’d watch. Because by the time the night comes, y’know, people binge, so no one plays attention to the music anymore, I mean yeah, the beat and all that, but they don’t focus on the music.
Dylan: Everyone is at Splashy on the Saturday, and we’ve got a good slot, Four o’clock, it’s when people have finished their hangovers and start walking around and getting their drink on again.

Any thing special planned for Splashy?

Raheem: Um,
Ross: You’ll see when you get there.
Raheem: For us the music is special.

So you’ve lost a member of the band recently, are you replacing him?

All laugh.

Raheem: Well, that’s actually the surprise, uh. Papercut is a well known DJ in Durban, a hip hop DJ, one of the best. He’s been involved with the scene for a while, he plays beats for MC’s at places like Lifecheck, so he’s now filling in that gap.

All images © and courtesy Kevin Goss-Ross

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