A Real Gypsy Bandby Willim Welsyn / 22.05.2012
Piet Botha has been a cornerstone of original South African music for some time now. Son of the apartheid era Foreign Minister, Pik Botha, Piet shot off on a tangent into music and has forged a varied and interesting career, both as the frontman of Jack Hammer and as a solo artist. Highlights include opening for Deep Purple, Uriah Heap and ZZ Top and playing in a band with Billy Bob Thornton back in the 80s. He’s also well known as a man of collaboration having produced excellence with artists like Tidal Waves, Not My Dog and Albert Frost. We sat down with the old gypsy maestro and talked about The Lyzyrd Kyngs, the Horrible Commercial Fascist Beast and Surfing.
You’ve been playing with the notorious Afrikaans rockers, Akkedis, as The Lyzyrd Kyngs for a while now, how did this collaboration ignite? And what makes The Lyzyrd Kyngs different from Akkedis and Jack Hammer?
Piet Botha: Well it’s friendship, but it’s more than that, you know, around 20 years. It’s a rock and roll thing. Just happened over the years and fate probably had a lot to do with it, so here we are. I think that Jack Hammer and the Akkedis Band are like connected somewhere out there because we don’t care for the plastic, we just get down and play. So what I am saying is we are all brothers and all we care for is the music.
You guys just dropped your debut Lyzyrd Kyngs album. What can the fans expect from the album?
We started out last winter at Farmyard Studios… it was hard going at first because of other stuff, you know, lost love and loneliness… but luckily Arthur kept it all together. I was flying back and forth from Tambo doing gigs with The Lyzyrd Kyngs and then back to Gauteng to do other gigs. We had time and so by the springtime the mixing was done, then we had to wait for the new year. But let me be straight, the idea was always to do an honest album and we never even tried to use digital stuff to make it sound “pretty”. It was straight up, recording the basic sounds and hopefully the songs would carry the album, not just the songs but the friendship and the humility that we have.
Can you give us a little insight on The Lyzyrd Kyngs’s song writing process.
At the moment we are still writing “apart”, Arthur and myself… but then I work his song and try to get some underlying theme (musically) to go with the song, you won’t always hear it at first but it’s there. Arthur and Rudi (Dennis) do the same with my tunes, and then we hope for the best, I do believe this is just the beginning though. When we start writing together there could be some serious magic, fortunately we don’t have the “ego” thing.
How do you feel about digital distribution and the fact that CD’s are dying out?
Well this thing about selling CDs has been changing for a few years now, especially for “indie” bands like us, real gypsy bands. You always sell more at the gigs than in the shops, the monopolies that the industry consists of do not care for music, only for numbers. The internet is a powerful tool for destroying the horrible commercial fascist beast that the music industry has become. But it will start out on a small scale and eventually victory will come, but we don’t really care about fame and fortune, we just want to gig and go surfing and enjoy our lives.
You have a pretty steady narrative in the South African music scene that started back in the 70s. What is your recipe for success and sustained longevity in an ever changing music scene?
I have no idea, maybe I’m just lucky. One tries to create “a body of work” and you have to keep building on that, but whatever the style, you have to do your best and try to write good songs.
Let’s get a little personal… you have three beautiful daughters that accompany you to almost all of the festivals and shows you perform at. How do you keep intoxicated guys away from your girls?
Mmmmmm… the kids are alright!
The Akkedis-twin brothers, Arthur and Rudi Dennis, are famous for their never ending parties. How do you survive their late-night antics? Are there any new anecdotes on recent debaucheries?
The whole legend about Akkedis Band and their antics is, well to be honest, quite true, one has to keep a cool head to deal with this sometimes, but recently things have improved a lot, now there is discipline in the band. [He laughs]. Actually Arthur and Rudi are choir boys, unfortunately certain episodes in time have led to this urban legend. Anything we ever did was without malice to anyone, and it was real. But lately it’s just the music and we go to the ocean and get fit, and go on the road and play.
Which local bands have really impressed you recently?
There are so many that I cannot single out just a few, but it warms my heart to hear them writing and performing real music. They are there at Up the Creek. They are there in Mozambique at Strab, they are everywhere.
If you have to choose… rock or reggae?
Rock or reggae… it’s all the same to me, if the song is good and has substance it will always be good… just no plastic.
Who is Piet Botha when he’s not on the road or stage?
There is no other persona, all I do is play music day and night or go surfing with Arthur and Rudi.