Fresh from their tour of reunion we locked down some time with Cortina Whiplash for an interview. Tessa Lily (Lead Guitar) spoke candidly as we discussed all things Cortina, including, the state of the local industry, sexism in music as well as, She-Devils Of The Revolution, their sophomore album due for release just before Oppikoppi.
The Fuss – The small but robust Cortina is a legendary vehicle in South Africa and many believe that it was one of the main attractions in the movie ‘Stander’. It was considered an everyday hero, affordable and reliable, and it didn’t matter if you were from Soweto or Sandton – the Cortina was your ticket to the fast lane. Explain your interest in this vehicle and what the reasoning for naming your band after it was?
Cortina Whiplash – Well you summed it up pretty well. The Ford Cortina is a local icon and just about everyone owned one at one point or another. We were rehearsing in my father’s garage one day and noticed an old box for his Cortina’s car radio, so we all got to talking about how each of us had had a Cortina in the family and then Loandi came up with the idea of using it as a band name. The whiplash part was intuitive based on the style of music we’d been leaning towards and also it fit with the muscle car theme. As a side note I have to say that good band names just happen as if they were meant to be. I’ve sat for hours and days trying to think of good band names for various projects and for the life of me can never come up with anything good. Cortina Whiplash was one of those names that just happened naturally and I’ve never regretted it.
The Fuss – Previously the 3 of you were involved in another project called Rokkeloos which had another member who was the lead singer. What does Rokkeloos mean and why did you dissolve that group to form what is now Cortina Whiplash?
Cortina Whiplash – Rokkeloos is a play on words and has a double meaning. It means ‘dress-less’ and also ‘reckless’. The lead singer, Prinses started a family and the remaining band members decided to continue playing together under a new name and switched over to English.
The Fuss – What have been some of the challenges you faced in the change from Afrikaans to English and what was the ultimate reasoning behind this transformation?
Cortina Whiplash – Rokkeloos was an incredible band if I say so myself (although I only joined late in its evolution). The front-lady, Prinses was the key lyricist and in my opinion one of the most talented poets I know. Her lyrics were insightful, playful and also extremely thought-provoking. They often bit right into the core of our absurd reality as white, afrikaans South Africans.
In fact, Rokkeloos was often too much for most to swallow as audiences were always expecting coy, well-mannered christian girls to play some lekker pop rock tunes with lyrics about braais and rugby but what they got was pretty much the antithesis of that.
After Prinses left we felt like creating a project that was slightly more palatable. We still wanted to speak about relevant issues and remain punk in our approach but we also didn’t want to be taken to the broadcasting complaints commission and have angry tannies chasing us out of town after shows.
The Fuss – Next year you will have been involved together in musical projects for 10 years. How has the musical industry landscape changed from when you first started together and what are your general thoughts on the state of the industry currently?
Cortina Whiplash – A lot of live music venues have shut down since we started out which might speak to a general decline in live music appreciation. Dubstep happened, things got sketchy from there 😛 . Most of the venues were closed due to noise complaints which is sad because to us it demonstrates what we’ve always believed and that is that the majority of South Africans are pretty anally retentive. At least in compensation a few new local festivals have cropped up which is great. People have also taken a more DIY approach with bands staging unique events at unique locations. I guess ultimately you can take away the venues but you can never stop the music.
The Fuss – Being a band which consists of three female member gives you unique context in the local industry. We are nervous to call you feminists but you do strive for certain ideals in your own unconventional Cortina Whiplash kind of way – What with Queen Hyenas, Boobs and Vaginas. What are your opinions on sexism in music and how do you hope to be treated as a female rock and roll group?
Cortina Whiplash – This is a sore topic for us but I’m glad you asked and I have a feeling this is going to be a long-winded response. When we started out we tried hard to distance ourselves from the cliché of being an all-girl band because we felt that there were a lot of sub-par bands who used this as a gimmick. We wanted to be taken seriously for our music and not just be lumped together with all-girl or female fronted bands, so we would keep insisting that being all-girls was irrelevant. However as time went by we were often approached to perform on lineups that were comprised of all-girl bands or female fronted bands, ‘Hey we’ve got this really great idea and we’d love you guys to be a part of it, we want to host an event with only all girl bands or female fronted bands’. If I had a penny for every time I’ve heard that. But hey we have no problem with people promoting female musicians so we started to play these events quickly realising that a lot of these events were being sexualized. So it wasn’t at all about the music but more of a ‘Hey, come watch some hot chicks like play instruments and stuff’. This is round about when our feminist genes started to kick in and we alienated a lot of promoters over this period. After a while we changed our approach and started to highlight all things feminine.
We figured that we could take the power back by desexualizing and playing with the stereotypes often associated with female bands.
We also thought we’d start being more vocal about our experiences as an all-girl band and the fact that we’re so often stereotyped and sexualized – hence the vagina and boobs. We knew that our experience wasn’t unique and that women often find themselves facing the same challenges regardless of their chosen careers. So we chose to present ourselves as strong, talented women who were comfortable with ourselves, our sexuality and our appearance. We wanted to empower and relate to other women and girls by demonstrating a uniquely female take on things. We know we’ve achieved this because of the countless messages and personal conversations we’ve had with women thanking us for being us – Speaking to how we’ve encouraged them to start their own bands, stand up for themselves and thanking us for taking people on and so on and so on. We’ve seen the twinkle in little girls’ eyes when they see us perform for the first time or when we let them play on our instruments – this is the reason why we do and say what we do.
When Willim Welsyn of Rollingstone SA called us a ‘lesbian sandwich’ it was kind of like the straw that broke the camel’s back. All the significant things we’d achieved as women negated into one patronizing description.
But I’d like to thank Willem because he made us debate whether we should remove ourselves from any sort of ‘branding’. We contemplated totally disassociating ourselves from any form of public image and letting our music speak for itself. After much debate we ultimately realized that regardless of how we present ourselves there will always be those who miss the point but at the same time there will be many more who identify with what we do and those are the people who make it worthwhile. Let it be known that we no longer care how people choose to portray us or react to us. So go ahead and have a good wank after one of our shows or call us lesbians, whatever. We know who we are and we’re going to keep doing what we do. How do we hope to be treated? Take a listen to our music, we are, after all is said and done, just a band.
The Fuss – You just got back from a tour to reunion where you were well received with some in your audiences wondering why you haven’t achieved as much worldwide acclaim as Die Antwoord and demanding that you get paid more for shows in South Africa. What are some of the differences you noticed when playing there as compared to playing in South Africa and what could our industry learn from those outside our country?
Cortina Whiplash – Wow, Reunion was incredible. We totally underestimated the response, in fact we were nervous and thought that maybe we weren’t on par with international acts (we played alongside a great French noise band called Pave and, The Circle-A, who had just come back from a tour of Europe). So it was extremely uplifting to play to an audience that knew nothing about us and yet responded so well.
We learnt so much. Firstly, the sound quality was fantastic at every event. Whether it was a small club or big warehouse we had no issues with sound quality on stage or off. Special thanks to Romain, Alexi and the crew at Palaxa for that. Secondly the crowds were extremely diverse, from old ladies having a drink and listening to punk music on a Sunday to young kids with ear protectors. It was cool to play to such a varied audience. Most importantly I think we can learn a lot from the way they treat their musicians. We were really taken care of and you got the sense that as musos you were valued and appreciated. Every venue provided us with a beautiful sit down meal and wine. We were also given free beer at every event – I mean you’re the musicians so you can’t be expected to pay for your drinks. This is completely unheard of in SA and yet in Reunion it’s just par for the course- the least they can do to thank you for providing the entertainment. It irritates me the way we’re treated by many venues locally, very few will provide you with meals and a bar tab (there are exceptions of course) and most treat you with a slight air of disdain. A meal and a few drinks really isn’t asking much, especially when you consider that most venues expect the bands to cover all their hard costs and take only what is made at the door.
The government also subsidises a lot of the larger venues on the island, which I don’t think is an unreasonable thing to expect our Deptartment of Arts and Culture to do, but yeah… Let’s not get into that shall we.
Ultimately we came back with a sense that the world is our oyster and we shouldn’t limit ourselves nor should we accept the way the industry currently is here. It can be better!
The Fuss – Who are some of the local acts who excite you currently? What local tunes are gaining some traction on your iPods recently?
Cortina Whiplash – The ever-awesome Brother Moves On. Our brothers, The Slashdogs have just completed what we think is their best work and entitled Progress Through Plunder. Also Black Math from Durban. We have so many amazing local artists, feels wrong to single out any! But hey we did.
The Fuss – We aren’t fans of containing music in separate jars, using genre as a means of division. However, if you could create a new sub-genre which details the Cortina Whiplash sound and aesthetic appropriately, what would that new genre be? (In other words, describe your sound as if it were a new sub-genre. The new genres name can be as long as you’d deem fit)
Cortina Whiplash – Hmmm… lifeisajourneypussyrock
The Fuss – Your debut offering as Cortina Whiplash, Queen Hyena, was released in 2010 and it was a “tribute to the matriarchal hyenas which you emulate and admire”. Where is the next stop for this Cortina? Give us some insight into what we can expect from your new material and how it is different from your previous? When do you plan on releasing the material and what is the title of the album?
Cortina Whiplash – The album is called, She-Devils of the Revolution. It is a title we gleamed from an Oscar Wilde play called ‘Vera’.We’ve grown so much since our last album. We’ve also built our own studio in the meantime and are recording the album DIY vibes here at Arcangelmusic. So we’re extremely excited to take as much time as we need to get the sound we want. I’m super proud of the new material. It’s not just some shit we slapped together. It’s serious music. As usual with Cortina it is pretty eclectic – we can’t seem to settle on any sort of sound for ourselves. We really want to create an album we can be proud of – not that we weren’t proud of Queen Hyena but it was a pretty rough and a ready slapping together of bits and pieces. We’re trying to get the album out before Oppikoppi this year. We’ve completed pre-production on most of the songs and need to pencil in a few weeks to get the final recording done.
The Fuss – “The female spotted hyena’s clitoris is ‘sufficiently enlarged’, in that it is referred to as a pseudo-penis, capable of erection, urination, copulation and even childbirth. And in the hyena world, the female dominates.” What are your plans for domination in 2012?
Cortina Whiplash – Well we’re going to build a time machine and go back to 2012 and take back some hard drinking nights… Or if you mean our plans for domination in 2014? We’re aiming to get more material out there in terms of media, new tunes, new imagery. We want to start promoting ourselves internationally and we have set some time aside to slow down on the gigs and work on getting new stuff out there.