Royalty and Painby Roger Young, images by Luke Daniel / 25.11.2010
aKing have changed. Hunter Kennedy has left the band and has been replaced by Andrew Davenport from Thieve. They’re busy recording a new album with the new Hunter-less line up. Theo Crous is on production again, in a newly revamped studio and being in a comfortable and familiar space the band are taking a more relaxed approach. From what I hear before they break for lunch, the album has a curiously Toto early 80’s soft rock vibe. Laudo and the boys go outside for a “smoke” while I start talking to Snake Venter.
Who produced the other albums?
Snake: The first one was Johnny De Ridder and the second one was also Theo. But previous time round there was a lot of shit that fucked out while we were in studio…
Hennie: Jy moet ophou huil.
Snake: Theo had to get an operation and the hard drive crashed so there was a whole lot of… the previous album title Against All Odds, we thought it was fucking cheesy but at the end of the day we had to call it that regardless of the cheese because we thought the album was never going to be made.
Hennie: Is this thing recording? [bashes computer] KA! KA!
[I turn up the screen]
Hennie: I want to watch it record.
But don’t you find that if there is shit you have to fight against while you’re making something it makes the end product better?
Hennie: I think in Theo’s case it’s always been a fact that all these things crop up, or something breaks, or we have this thing to go to and whatever. All of this contributes to lending you thinking space about it. Because we’ve all got this idea about the songs that we wrote in our own studio and then when we come here you have to forcefully depart from that song because it will never turn out exactly the same way and also Theo is musically involved in the project, he’s not just an engineer twiddling knobs. So I think the very slow pace contributes to giving us time to mull over it.
[Laudo enters knocks chairs around a bit; Andrew and him debate swapping chairs briefly.]
He’s got the stronger voice he can sit further away
Laudo: I am just going to baritone the living shit out of this computer.
Hennie: What are you talking about man?!
Laudo: [whispers] I can’t do this interview, I have to sing later. It’s the best excuse.
By the time you get to the final product you have to let the songs go and grow on their own, right? I mean you guys wrote a song about that.
Laudo: Ja, Ja but I think the most important thing is that we are starting to learn that, well fuck we still feel like amateurs although you feel like you’ve been doing it for a while but that’s great because I think we’ve realized that you have to let go of the sentimentality of the pieces you’ve figured out. You have to be willing to take everyone’s opinion and it’s something we’re only getting used to now but it’s really changing our perspective. Because if you associate the mental vibe with a certain piece of music you cannot let it grow, you know. It’s like having the vision, you have to kill the vision before you can manifest it. I think that’s what we’re learning again and it really makes a pleasant change in how we do things.
But aren’t there some ideas that you have to be hardcore about keeping?
Laudo: I think it speaks for itself. The one song that we feel is the strongest, we shat out in two days. We didn’t change much, you know don’t fuck with it, it feels good.
Snake: Some of the other stuff you keep on re-writing and re-writing and eventually you abandon the song.
Laudo: Or you change the course of a song completely at first you were not amped at all and then you change a chord and…
Hennie: Usually the first thing is the best thing.
Laudo: Oh and Theo knows that as well, he’s always keen on keeping…
Snake: Take one is usually the best take. Well, it’s the most human take.
Hennie: It’s the most spontaneous take; it comes from a point of feeling not one of thinking.
That’s why I’m not a huge fan of prog rock.
Snake: A lot of time to think on those signatures.
Laudo: That’s also a cool balance that we’re checking out now. Hopefully we’ll still feel this way at album ten or wherever we are in our lives. On the first album we pretty much had everything down before we went into studio. We got in there pretty prepared what ever that means, I mean you literally touch your instrument for two days out of a months time. I mean obviously you can fuck around but you literally track and in two days everything is done. And you end up not being as creative as you could have been. It’s cool to make sure you’ve got enough material to work with, I still rely on it but obviously it’s a slow road and it has to take its course but it’s important to stay creative in the studio not be too prepared but not to be too under-prepared that you don’t have shit.
Snake: Not to waste people’s time.
Laudo: To know that you have planted the best seeds you could and now you have to work with it. And work with what you can conjure up together. Theo has another perspective on music and you have to embrace that.
You embraced him by choosing him.
Snake: Ja, we came back.
Laudo: We do speak the same language.
So how have songwriting duties shifted over the three albums?
Laudo: The first was more me, the second one I just wrote the music and me and Hunter worked on the lyrics and that happened pretty much here in studio. And now we’re all writing together, for the first time. Which means there is more emotionally invested from every member, rather than just ‘oh that’s cool” because you know, people can get bitchy.
[to Andrew] Do you feel emotionally invested, this being your first album?
Andrew: What? Ever? Or with aKing?
Laudo: Because the previous one doesn’t count.
Andrew: Ja, the last one was a bit of a failure so let’s call this our first one.
Nervous laughter all round.
Andrew: It’s just a joke, guys.
So, does everyone feel more emotionally invested?
Hennie: Ja, a lot more hey. On the first album I was doing a nine to five so I would get there at five in the afternoon, read through the lyrics they had written or listen the guitar part, maybe track a bass part and then for the rest of it…
Laudo: Get on with your life.
Hennie: I wasn’t there and these guys would be hanging out in my house in the garage, drinking wine and smoking bongs and then I would just kinda join in. It was totally different.
Laudo: In the garage, that was amazing.
Snake: It was totally awesome.
Laudo: His garage was the frame of my life.
Hennie: And now every verse, every chorus that we’ve written, all four of us have contributed literally or just been there. It’s not like coming into this song that someone else has written.
Laudo: That’s obviously awesome, the fact that it’s a new thing, we know that this can grow. We’ve got amazing strong points that we still have to discover, or at least exploit or work on. I mean the fact that he [sort of motions in Andrew’s direction] can sing amazingly well is fucking an amazing contribution to the whole act and we’re still looking for a way to embrace it fully because we can become a vocal thing now. And to me that’s befuck because I normally do most of the harmonies but now he can do the higher stuff that I can never reach, it was never really everyone sings the different parts, so this time around it’s awesome to get everyone singing… and it’s everybody’s song!
Snake: It’s quite cool; we’ve got a new manager, Pilot, the Aryan looking tall blonde guy.
Pilot? Jesus, I’ll stay away from him.
Hennie: Laudo had a dream that we have our own private airline and…
Laudo: No, I actually just remember talking off and he was the pilot of the plane and…
Snake: But he was our sound engineer at the same time so Laudo saw him flying with a sound desk.
Laudo: We added the sound desk.
Snake: And then we called him Pilot but his name is Jaco.
Hennie: He just needs the hat now.
Snake: So, ja, what was I about to say?
You have a new manager and?
Snake: Ja, Ja, we’ve always been looking for a rehearsal spot, we used to rehearse at Corner Bar but most of us have moved to town now. And that was a schlep because every time we rehearsed you have to take all of your stuff there, set up play, break it down, take it back. We’ve been looking for a place where we can just keep our shit and go jam anytime, day or night. And the first thing Pilot was assigned to was to find us a place and he found us this awesome place, this old rehearsal studio, separate booths and sound proofed and everything and we got it for a fucking steal. And that’s one of the key things that’s going to make a difference on this album. We’ve been working in our own studio doing pre-production, writing, re-writing and approaching it as a nine to five thing.
Is it a comfortable space?
Snake: It’s cool, Pilot has his office there, it’s got a kitchen and a shower. Hennie has slept over many times.
After the Merc?
Hennie: Did I sleep there that night? I think I slept at home.
Laudo: Probably slept in a ditch somewhere.
Hennie: I found some ditch that night.
Snake: The fact that we’ve got a space we can make some noise at, anytime of day. We’ve been able to jam a lot more as a band.
Hennie: In my garage he couldn’t play drums. We could only play one guitar at a time.
[Laudo leaves to go warm up his guitars]
So having a rehearsal space like that means you can grow into the songs.
Snake: Sometimes I think it would be befuck if we could play the songs live for like a year before we record them. Because the songs do change, different people bring different energies into them over time.
Hennie: The only problem with that model, it’s a kidofdoom/Isochronous model, people have to not really be into your band so you can play it for a year, then when your album comes out then everybody should be into your band. Because otherwise everyone comes to your gigs, everyone loves your shit and then by the time the CD comes out, people just copy it, because they’ve seen you a million times live. The songs just aren’t that new to people.
How many songs did you demo before you came in studio?
Hennie: We did about 16 but we’ve dropped a few, we have nine almost finished songs, three that need a verse or a bridge and two that haven’t really been developed, they’re just riffs and ideas.
Snake: But in the last four months there’s been a lot of stuff we’ve started on and then just abandoned. If something doesn’t feel right within the first couple of tries then it not worth going down that avenue.
How much longer are you in studio for?
Hennie: We’ll probable be here until January.
Snake: We’ll be mixing until end of January.
And you’re around for the mixing?
Snake: Yes, but usually it’s track, track, track, mix and then send it off for mastering because it’s too late and we’ve already postponed the release date. This time around we’re only releasing in March so we can finish up the tracking, take a break over December, listen to the rough mixes and then come back, which is cool, we get a bit of simmering time.
Does the sense of public expectation get in your head at all?
Hennie: We’ve been letting the rope out very slowly. There has been a little on Facebook and the website is still brewing, but once that goes live I think public expectation will rise.
Snake: I think for us, we just wanted to make an album we really like, the previous one to me felt like we came to studio, we wrote everything in studio, I wasn’t really happy with it, there were some cool songs on there but it could been much better, not really playing into anyone’s court. Not making an album for anyone specifically but rather a cool album for everyone to listen to. For, you know, the average Joe.
Is there anything else, fuck this is going to be a lot of transcribing.
Snake: Thinking about the workload all of a sudden?
Hennie: Why do you have to talk so much, talk so fucking much.
Short answers, I told you, soundbites!
Laudo: No answers.
I’ve always been curious what does aKing actually mean?
Laudo: That’s a very good question.
Hennie: It doesn’t mean dick.
Laudo: For me it was just as a play on royalty and pain. And I liked the fact that it was singular.
Snake: Our graphic designer, Merwe Marchand, Laudo used to play with him too, when we were thinking, what are we going to call ourselves, he was straight off the bat, “King!”…
Laudo: There’s a Prince, there’s a Queen.
And a Queensryche.
Hennie: Queen’s thrush.
Snake: Then it turns out there was another band playing under King, so…
The fact that you guys play in all these different bands seems to me to be quite an organic thing but the public perception of that can be very different.
Hennie: The only perception that really bothers me is that when it’s seen as a business move.
Laudo: It’s a Super Group!
Hennie: In reality we’re just friends, we knew each other from before the band or the gig happened, if he wasn’t in a band then we would still ask him to play.
Snake: The whole VanFokKingTasties thing, people think it was just a business thing but it wasn’t. The other day I was sitting on the couch pretty hung-over and I was checking out with the Nudies, Theo’s got Kobus, there was New Porn and Frosted Orange. We’re all playing music for a living and if we don’t bring out anything new, we have to move back to our parents place. So we were just faster to bring out the next thing. All the Nudie bands happened over a longer period of time, with us it just cool the next year we all have different bands.
Laudo: And it immediately set the tone for everybody else, for us to think, fuck an album is HERE! [bangs table] You know, it’s sort of idealistic you know but least now we have the space, I think now we can fulfill that, because we tried and I think and where we were good at succeeding in sort of by the albums but I think it’s like trial and error you have to change things every time around just to keep it interesting. I mean the whole process as well, I think every time you should keep it fresh for yourself, take bigger risks without even knowing it.
[Everyone is just looking at Laudo at this point.]
Laudo: What the fuck was that? What was I talking about?
I’m not even going to transcribe that, I’ll just put Laudo rambled on.
Snake: He said something about the album.
[Laudo gets up and walks out.]
Laudo: Something about the album and then drooped away.
Made excuses about warming guitars or some shit. So, ja, do you have a release date?
Snake: We’re going to try stick to first of March but maybe the console explodes or something like that. There’s usually some shit that pops up.
Hennie: I think we’ll make it.
Snake: Someone gets arrested.
Hennie: Or Theo has to go to hospital.
Bonus Round: A couple of days later I realized I had missed some crucial questions, so I asked Laudo by email.
What’s up with the Toto/Journey-esque early 80’s stadium rock vibe? Where did that come from?
Laudo: We’ve been playing around with sounds and songs and the 80’s vibe became quite a theme throughout. We all enjoy 70’s and 80’s bands the likes of Thin Lizzy, ACDC, Jeff Lynne, Paul Simon, Boston, Billy Joel, Fleetwood Mac, etc. and more recent bands like Phoenix, Arcade Fire, Foo Fighters, Yeasayer, Black Rebel motorcycle club, and it definitely made an impact having a new guitarist/ backing vocalist, so expect a lot of harmonic vocals. There are a couple of synths over rocky riffs, a ballad and an instrumental; so it’s a journey for us and hopefully will be for the listener as well.
So, tell us about these car rides up the West Coast road with Theo?
Laudo: Theo is quite a car enthusiast. Buys, sells and drives the living shit out these automobiles, so it’s difficult not to go on a couple of joyrides with a total renegade in a very expensive sports car. His latest trade-in was for a Jaguar XKR that immediately gets your palms sweating and balls shrinking. It’s a nice treat in between recording songs that hopefully people will want to listen to while driving.