Friday, 24 May 2013

Shortstraw: Good morning, success

This interview was originally published in Perdeby on 20 May 2013.

                                                                                                                                               PHOTO: Christelle Duvenage

Just over a year ago, quirky indie-kwela quipsters Shortstraw were the little-known band that was playing the opening slot on a bill, only really known for their spoof song that pays a hilarious homage to actor Keanu Reeves and for dropping the deplorable f-bomb in the chorus of “LYSAGFY”.

Fast-forward a bit and the picture looks quite different. First they nabbed the coveted award for best indie band at this year’s MK Awards after going head to head with local genre heavyweights like The Plastics and Ashtray Electric. Then they opened for Brighton rockers The Kooks, a night that turned out to be an icy battle of the elements under a bridge in downtown Jo’burg, easily the perfect setting to mark this pinnacle in their careers.

Most recently, and perhaps most importantly, Shortstraw have released their follow-up album, Good Morning, Sunshine. Not unlike their debut album, You’re Underfed, I’m Wonderful, it presents a collection of boogie-inducing beats that make any crowd jive joyously as they sing along to the bodacious hooks and choruses.

What they have done differently is up the afro-influence ante by making the distinctive skiffle-like beat that characterises kwela music prominent throughout the album. 

“We’ve made a concerted effort to take an influence for this new one, which was the kind of afro vibe, and that strung together some of the songs that weren’t necessarily influenced by that,” says frontman Alastair Thomas.

Good Morning, Sunshine was written collaboratively by the whole band, a process lead guitarist Tom Revington also credits in giving the album its dance sensibility. “Songs would start and finish in the band room,” he explains.

“If all five of us are contributing to a song, there’s a good chance it’s going to be loud,” bassist Russel Grant adds.

 By December last year, Shortstraw had about half the tracks for their second offering. To write the remainder, they went to Verkykerskop in the Free State, which allowed them the time to focus solely on making music. 

“It was about getting out of Johannesburg, which I think was very important because otherwise we would have been quite distracted,” says Russel of the reasons behind their platteland getaway.

                                                                                                                                                 PHOTO: Christelle Duvenage

                                                                                                                                                 PHOTO: Christelle Duvenage

“We would have been together [on tour] regardless, but it was nice to be in a creative space with creative people,” says Alastair.

But did the Shortstraw boys feel pressure to get the writing of the album done in a mere week? 

“We knew we wanted to organise this whole tour and have the album ready, so we kind of worked backwards from that deadline,” says synth and keyboard player Gad de Combes. Without that pressure, he says, it all came easily.

There was a great moment during that week in Verkykerskop, says Tom, when the band was narrowing down the tracks for the album. 

“I remember looking at the list and thinking, we’ve got a good selection. It’s not like we’re struggling to fill up an album. We’re struggling to choose which ones to put in, which is cool. It’s a good space to be in,” he explains.

For Russel, the great moment was during the week that Good Morning, Sunshine had to be ready and everyone in the band was ecstatic with the final product.

 “I think if we had problems, we would’ve delayed things and really made a point to change it, but it just worked out that we were all happy at the right time,” he says.

While Good Morning, Sunshine still offers the witty lyrics that characterise Shortstraw’s sound, some of the tracks on the album suggest that the band has grown into a more mature sense of humour. 

“We’ve been writing songs for quite a while now. I think it’s just a natural progression,” says Alastair. 

“The more you do anything ...”

“... the more refined it gets,” says Russel, completing his sentence.

Gad wants to clear something up. “Look, there are still things that make us laugh on the new album...”

“But it’s not as much toilet humour,” says Alastair, his bandmates laughing.

Another thing they all agree on is that the process of creating their second album has brought Shortstraw closer together something evident as they complete each other’s sentences.

 “I spend more time with these guys than I do with anyone else,” explains Alastair.

Says Russel: “I spend three, four times a week with them when I’m not working, so these dudes become your ...”

“... bros,” says Alastair.

“Your besties,” agrees Russel, provoking yet another explosion of laughter.

Read my review of Shortstraw's album, Good Morning Sunshine, here

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