Monday, 25 February 2013

A Jakkals expedition: who's new in the zoo?

I visited Joburg's Puma Social Club for the first time to interview Jakkals. Published in Perdeby on 25 February 2013.

Jakkals at Puma Social Club.

“We’re from Cape Town, but the funny thing is, by the end of this tour, we will have played more shows in Jo’burg,” says tousle-haired Jakkals lead singer and guitarist, James Boonzaier, to a rather rowdy crowd at the Puma Social Club. Some are playing table tennis, some foosball, but as Jakkals launch into another one of their syrupy spoonfuls of indie pop, the crowd slowly starts paying more attention.

Boonzaier, drummer Tim King and bassist Mark de Menezes are venturing up north for the first time as a mere three-month-old three-piece. The popular venue in Braamfontein is the third stop of their tour and, having played only two small acoustic shows so far, tonight’s considerably larger audience will be the barometer for how well their new sound is received.

Truth is, Jakkals has seen many incarnations over the years and with so many members coming and going, it’s quite tricky keeping up while Boonzaier tries to explain the band’s history.

Boonzaier and King first did a few small shows with session musicians before putting together a formal line-up for a gig at Purple Turtle in Cape Town. That’s when former bassist Patrick Skuce and guitarist Johnny Kotze (popularly known as Johnny Neon) came in. The members eventually went their separate ways for various reasons, leaving Boonzaier and King in the company of session musicians once again.

Fast-forward a few months to where popular alt-indie-rock band The Dirty Skirts was winding down and drummer of the band, Mark de Menezes, was keen to try his hand at playing the bass guitar. Boonzaier, who had been friends with De Menezes for years, invited him for a jam session and the rest, as they say, is history.

Have all these changes in Jakkals’s line-up affected the band’s sound? “Profoundly,” says Boonzaier. “The energy, the song-writing process has changed. Jakkals 1.0, let’s call it the first Jakkals, was very simplistic rock. I would call it less intricate, less interesting, perhaps. I think with this set-up, there’s been a lot more push and pull, a lot more people bringing in their opinions, rather than going along with what’s happening. There’s been a bit of a tug to and fro and that’s resulted in a more intricate and interesting sound, something I’d like to call a bit more fresh,” Boonzaier says.

King agrees. “I think this time around, we’ve all grown up a bit and become a lot more mature. Our whole process has been a lot cleaner and it’s resulted in a sound which is, I suppose, more mature,” he says.

Jakkals went into studio mid 2012 to record a three-track EP, Trifle, at Teejay Terreblanche’s Coffee Stained Vinyl Studio in Cape Town. “We had a discussion about it and we kind of feel that albums are possibly a bit in the past. People want singles,” says De Menezes, explaining why the band decided to record a mini-EP.

Another reason is that an album would be inappropriate to the style of writing that Jakkals is working on at the moment. “An album would just be a collection of songs rather than a themed collection of songs,” says Boonzaier.

So are there any lyrical themes on the EP then? “The way I often write lyrics, no individual song seems to be about a particular theme, but over a period all the songs I write are mixtures of current themes. I think those songs are deeply rooted in being love songs, but not in the generic sense. Love songs in the sense of relationships and your life reconciling, transition periods, coming of age, reaching adulthood and juggling things, changes, and making it work,” says a contemplative Boonzaier.

Their new set-up seems to be suiting Jakkals well, with the band gaining momentum quite quickly. Last year they were chosen as one of 12 bands to have a music video commissioned by the MK Music Video Project. They teamed up with Kelsey Egan from production company Crave Pictures to make a video for their track “Rum Trifle”. “She [Egan] is very passionate and has a lot of drive. I mean the team that she put together was completely insane. We were very lucky,” says De Menezes about the experience. “It was a hotshot crew, hotshot equipment,” adds Boonzaier.

Back at the Puma Social Club, Jakkals have just completed the final song of their set. Boonzaier props his guitar against a speaker on the side and heads straight to three girls who have been standing in front and who are easily the band’s most vociferous fans. He wraps his arms around each of them, whispering a soft “thank you”.

As the crowd erupts in a call for an encore, another group of girls head to the stage for a photograph with Jakkals, followed by another hug-seeker who squeals with delight when she gets what she is looking for.

If the Puma Social Club gig is supposed to be Jakkals’s likeability barometer, it’s safe to say that the forecast looks good.

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