Last week Go Barefoot invited us to their rehearsal space to get an inside look at what we can expect at Nothing Major. What follows is a chat about the lovechild of Jonny Clegg and Kings of Leon, Sick Chickens and the local music industry, and backpackers in Knysna amongst other things.
The Fuss – Let’s break the ice with an introduction to each of your members and your lives outside of playing in Go Barefoot.
Saul Nossel – I’m Saul. I play the drums and I’m studying music at Wits. I’ve been in a couple of bands. I was in Sick Chicken before this and I’ve been doing some jazz gigs. We [are]actually missing a member. Noah, who is travelling right now, plays keys. He kinda got us all into a room and said, “Let’s jam” and that’s where it all started.
Jonathan Smith – I’m Jonny and I play guitar. I also play in Earl Grey & Croquet and I’m currently living the dream.
Michael Dawson – I’m Mike D and I play guitar and sing with [Jonny]. When I’m not playing in the band, I’m studying architecture and I’m currently finishing my third year. So next year it’ll be a lot of music hopefully.
JS – Me and mike used to play these Jazz gigs at 44 Stanley…
MD – We’ve been playing for years. I think we started when we were 15.
Clive Vickers – My name is Clive. I play bass. I’m trying to become a [professional]soccer player and I’m playing for the Randburg Academy at the moment. I’ve also started a business for corporate events which is a team building, drum circle type vibe.
F – You spoke of how Noah put you all together in a room to jam. When did this happen? How long has your band been together now?
SN – I think it was around April or May this year. It was just [Mike and Jonny] jamming with Noah and I came to listen to them and try get something together…
MD – Someone actually called us from 44 Stanley and they wanted us to play at some party. Jonny, Noah and I used to play as a jazz trio on Sundays at 44 Stanley. Some guy liked us and he called us up after like 2 years of not playing. We decided to play [the gig]and when we got there we felt there was something weird about this party. There were barmen who were half naked and everyone was very touchy. [laughs]Halfway through we realise it was a gay party – which there’s nothing wrong with, we were digging it.
JS – Noah was milking that [laughs]
SN – They went to play that gig and I met up with them afterwards with a bottle of whiskey. It was in winter and we were chilling by the fire drinking a bottle of whiskey. That’s when we decided we should start jamming, so I started listening to them and jamming with them.
Then Noah fucked off to Europe and America…
MD – Idiot [laughs]
SN – It was just the three of us jamming. We needed a bassist and that’s when we got Clive to join. Lucy Pordon who was running for Miss Earth was looking for a band to play at her fundraising event in Greenside. Next thing we knew we had a gig booked and we were like, “Shit, we need a set”. We used most of the songs Mike and Jonny wrote and just fixed them up. We played that set and all of a sudden it just kicked off in August. From then we just started gigging almost every week.
F – Deciding on a band name can be the worst or best part of starting a band. If I glance at your feet I see Mike is barefoot so I guess it’s kind of literal. Tell us a little bit more about the band name and what it means to the band?
JS – Well this goes way back, before we actually had a full band. Los Castillos were playing a gig and the opening act bailed so they asked us, “Don’t you guys play in a band?” so we could fill in. They asked what our name was [and we didn’t have one]so I took my middle name [Robert] and asked Mike for his, [Stewart]. So our first name was Rob Stewart. And our first gig for the Miss Earth fundraiser we played as Rob Stewart.
CV – People started liking it and we were like, “Ah No”. [laughs]. It was just a joke
JS – I studied a short design course and I had to do a corporate identity for a hippie kind of backpackers in Knysna.
The slogan for that [backpackers]was Go Barefoot. That always stuck in my mind.
CV – For me it’s just a good feeling…
JS – We came through a couple of names and that was just the one that clicked. We didn’t like it immediately but it had a comfortable connotation to it.
CV – Who doesn’t like being barefoot?
SN – It took many a night and beers at Mama’s in Greenside to settle on Go Barefoot. I think we were going for something natural – something to do with nature. That kind of imagery. And Go Barefoot, worked. What’s crazy is someone at our gig took a photo and some people in the crowd took their shoes off. So it’s starting a bit of a thing.
MD – Someone even asked me before why we weren’t playing barefoot.
JS – It’s a bit dangerous…
MD – But we will do it one day.
F – One of the interesting aspects of being in a band is the relationship amongst the members. You guys were friends before starting the band – could you elaborate further on the dynamics amongst yourselves and how this affects the band?
CV – Jonny and I have been tight for years now – since primary school. We’ve always been jamming together. [Mike and Saul] have also been tight for long and then I met Saul…
SN – …we’ve all kind of always been NBF’s
F – What is a NBF?
SN – New Best Friends [laughs]. I was quite a regular at Wolves and Jonny used to bring me free cappuccinos and he gave me free whiskey once. I met him at Wolves through Noah.
JS – We’ve all been in kind of the same circle of friends. But we all just get along really well. We actually want to spend time together.
This is an ideal Friday, where I get to hang out with these guys and play music. It’s what we all want to do.
SN – We’ve made a rule for maintaining the friendship. There’s always a soccer ball in the car and you can see a skateboard lying on the porch. I keep skateboards in my boot and [whether]we’re at a party, or if we got to a gig early…
JS – …where the sound check is at 5 and we’re only playing at 9. We’ll go play soccer outside…
SN – …or have a bit of a skate.
F – There’s a trend for some of the local established bands where lots of their members won’t just be involved in the one band, but they’ll have side and solo projects as well. I know Saul was a part of Sick Chicken and Jonny also plays for Earl Grey & Croquet. Are there any other projects and how do you maintain a balance?
JS – Earl Grey is still going strong and we’ve been doing it for around 4 years now. Noah also plays in Earl Grey and him and I wanted something fresh.
CV – [Jonny] plays drums in Earl Grey. His songwriting is wow. It needs to be heard.
SN – Sick chicken was my high school band with four of my school friends. Our guitarist moved to Cape Town to study and the guys in the band needed practicality so they also studied engineering and architecture. We still jam every now and then but we aren’t an established band so we’re now just buddies that jam. I’m working on a new project with some of the guys I’m studying with. It’s also a South African rock group. We’re still busy writing songs and practising so it’s very fresh. I play in two jazz ensembles at Wits as well. I’m a session drummer so I’ve played for Jon Savage and I was gonna play for Elvis Blue. Elvis, Graeme Watkins and Jesse Clegg all live in the same studio and it was amazing to see. A lot of these guys were my music teachers in high school. [Go Barefoot] is my band but I’m a session drummer so I don’t have a side project. Everything is my primary.
F – You describe your music as ‘indie kwela folk rock’. Would like to elaborate more on this fusion, also telling us what sounds influence your band.
MD – The best thing is we all come from related but different musical backgrounds.
The most appropriate description of our music we’ve heard is that if Jonny Clegg and Kings of Leon had a baby it would be Go Barefoot. We think that’s fits pretty well.
MD – Jonny’s cousin, Barry Van Zyl, is the drummer for Jonny Clegg so throughout highschool we got a bunch of free tickets for his gigs which was really cool. I’ve always been interested in African music. I’ve also had relations with this one Maskandi musician who gave me one or two lessons. I’m very interested in those sorts of styles. I’m also influenced by Jazz music.
JS – I’m also interested in African guitar. But with my dad and cousin I was brought up on blues music and that kinda stuff. I would teach Mike stuff about blues and he’d teach me some stuff he learned about Maskandi. Our guitar playing has developed together and the result is what you hear with Go Barefoot.
F – What are some of the bands who influence your style and sound?
JS – Definitely Kings of Leon and Jonny Clegg. There are also lots of local bands like Shortstraw, Desmond and the Tutus, Holiday Murray and kidofdoom.
SN – We got some instrumental stuff with a kidofdoom kind of vibe. We used to jam instrumentally before we decided we needed a singer. Another South African band I enjoy is Bateleur. Paul Simon is also a big influence. So we got a folk-rock, instrumental almost prog kind of influence.
JS – But from the beginning when Noah put us together we just wanted to play music. We didn’t decide to go for a specific sound and whatever we jammed would be our sound.
F – So the sound was just an organic result of all your influences and backgrounds?
MD – Yeah. The feedback we’ve been getting is that it’s a unique fusion of sounds and I think it’s going in a cool direction.
F – With The Fuss and our series of Nothing Major events, we’re just trying to do our little bit to cultivate the local alternative scene. What are some of your thoughts on the current state and output of the scene?
JS – I’m very excited for the Joburg scene. It was always the Bellville scene that had the monopoly with bands like Ashtray Electric and Fokof. Now the Joburg scene is pushing out some really good music which I’m really excited about.
There’s more and more international acts coming here and South African acts going overseas. People are getting a lot more interested in South African music and I think we are generating something that’s original on an international level. South Africa is a good place to be making music.
SN – The Joburg scene has changed. I was with Sick Chicken in high school and it was very different. We were starting when Shadowclub, Isochronous and The Plastics were in their early phase, when the industry was starting to build momentum. Even with Shortstraw when they were still Uncut. Back then we got paid something like R10 between the four of us for a gig. [laughs]It’s definitely not about cash, but somehow now it’s better. It’s building up and bands have higher demands. The recording quality on the albums is getting better. I was speaking to Shortstraw’s album producer and they’ve got a rad studio and there’s also Openroom in Greenside. I think people are starting to take [the industry]a lot more seriously now.
JS – Desmond & The Tutus had the same producer who produced LCD Soundsystem on their last album. Recently, they also went and played in Paris at a South African music day. For us I think that’s amazing they would host something like that. Desmond, Blk Jks and The Muffinz all played. The local output is definitely something fresh internationally.
CV – If you want to make a band, now is the time. Especially in Joburg. Things are happening.
JS – It’s a lot more possible to make an actual career out of music.
F – Some people believe there is a lack of venues in Joburg. Do you guys agree with this and what are some of your favourite venues both as musicians and fans?
MD – I really enjoy the Boh. Just to chill out and listen to some music.
JS – There’s a nice level of intimacy at the Boh. Seeing Shadowclub at the Boh as opposed to a big festival – there’s something nice about that. But it’s not a good venue for sound. Rumours have a really nice backline. It’s professionally done and I enjoy playing there. It’s just people don’t seem to head out that way…
SN – It’s really far. We got the Boh which isn’t too difficult to get to. Besides for that there’s Greenside, which is really limited. I played at Tokyo Star and we had to close all the doors and play softly. The manager was super stressed. The thing about Joburg is that it’s very suburban. Braam used to have Puma Social and there’s also Kitcheners which is very small. Some of the best parties I’ve been to were in Newtown. Carfax is really cool.
JS – I really like Bassline as a venue. It should be used more often. It’s got a nice capacity and it’s actually like a theatre setup with nice sound.
CV – My favourite venue was where Little Dragon played under the cooling towers. That was the coolest venue I’ve ever been to.
SN – There are these cool gigs popping up lately. The 5Gum parties have been fantastic. They get bands like Shortstraw and Al Bairre playing. We do have these venues but what’s [that’s?] special in Joburg, and I feel it has been adapted from the states, is that we’ve got these crazy pop-up parties. Shortstraw [also]organises the Boosh parties at Bowls. They started at Mama’s but it was way too small [a venue]. The first Boosh at Bowls was so cool and Bowls was packed. The parking was full…
MD – …and they even broke the floor.
I think Joburg can capitalise on these pop-up events in spaces that aren’t usually used as live venues. There are tons of buildings in the inner city of Joburg which are vacant. It’s cool cause it also gets people into the city to enjoy these spaces.
JS – It’s a pull factor for people going to somewhere completely new.
MD – It would be cool if there was an organisation who just found these spaces which meet the health and safety guidelines.
SN – They should bring back the Emmerentia Dam concerts. Those were the best. Every Sunday at the end of the month they’d host an awesome and I watched OK! Go play there for like 80 bucks. It was a Park Acoustics kind of vibe. But Pretoria is a mission to get to. We actually want to make a secret event at the Emmerentia stage. A protest kind of gig to bring those concerts back. We’ll take our amps and drum kits and we make a mission. Even if we have to bribe the security guards [laughs]. It would be a free event with a couple of bands and maybe some DJ’s just saying, ‘Listen we want these concerts back, fuck the residents’.
F – So the spaces are available but the onus is on the bands to create these experiences themselves?
SN – Yeah, definitely. We got [companies]like Southern Pulse and Just Music, but most of the bands are independent. Like our gig with Shadowclub and Bye Beneco, was not organised by some promoter or brand. It was just the bands speaking amongst themselves to put the show together. The big brand parties usually get all these internationals and just one local act to play. So the bands do need to take it upon themselves to push these kinds of experiences.
JS – I’m not crazy about their music but I was really impressed with the Parlotones. They hosted a gig at the Dome which was a success, and they were the first local band to fill out a stadium kind of event.
SN – There’s a certain air of exclusivity with some bands where it’s hard to work with them. There is a hierarchy where there are a bunch of bands that have just started who are at the bottom – whether they are good or bad. Then there’s band at the medium level where they still quite approachable. Then there are the bands at the top that are signed and they just play massive parties now. It’s awesome that a band like Shadowclub still plays the Boh. Shortstraw, as well, they’ve been going for a long time now but they also still play the Boh and organising Boosh.
JS – We booked our show with Shadowclub just by networking. I know the girls from Bye Beneco and Saul is mates with the drummer of Shadowclub. There’s no space for arrogance in the local music scene. You’ve just got to be as generous and polite to everyone and hopefully it will come back to you.
F – Tell us what the fans can expect from your live show at Nothing Major? What kind of vibes do you guys want people to feel during one of your performances?
CV – People smiling and dancing.
MD – There’s a definite level of just this wild dancing. We will lose ourselves on stage…
JS – The music really moves us and we’d love people to actually be moved by it too. We have some songs which are really dancey and catchy. At the same time we have some instrumental songs where we just want people to think about the music. That’s one thing which I think has been lost. It’s all about being quirky and funny or whatever. I’d like to bring it back where people are actually listening to the music.
SN – We wanted to go for a more soulful approach which is important to us. When you go see Bateleur or kidofdoom live, it’s soulful and they are instrumental bands. Those guys lose themselves on stage and they are playing for something. That enhances the experience. We’ve been really fortunate with the responses we’ve got at the gigs we’ve played. Every time we go to a show whether it’s a 7 o’clock or 9 o’clock slot, everyone stands and comes to check us out. I’m not being arrogant or anything, it’s just fucking awesome.
JS – Regardless of [whether]you have a CD or not it’s all about the live performance. It’s awesome that we have iTunes [store]in South Africa now, but a band with an impressive live set will go further than a band with a good CD. I love it when bands take an extra initiative with creating a show with their live performances and not just playing their songs.
F – On a lighter note, the Fuss is doing some unscientific research into the laziest members in bands. Who is that guy in your band who is usually late or need a foot in the ass to get going?
MD – Jonathan [laughs]. He’s not very punctual.
JS – I’m not saying I’m the laziest [laughs]
MD – I think honestly I chill out when these guys are setting up. I’ll just take a skate or something.
JS – We actually all pretty good at this.
SN – I feel like I’m the dark horse. I pretty much never set-up…
JS – But Saul is a great host. He sorts us out with food and everything. Clive sets up the PA system. Mike was climbing a tree today though. Maybe today it goes to Mike [laughs].
MD – Lazy in the sense of setting up. [laughs]
JS – We’re all very hands on though. In terms of social networking, setting up, writing songs and anything, everyone is really hands on. It makes it really easy for us.
SN – Maybe Noah is the laziest [laughs]. He hasn’t been to a band practice for 3 months.
F – Just ending off, tell us what the future holds for Go Barefoot. What can fans expect from you guys in the short and long term? Where would you like to see Go Barefoot one day?
CV – At Rocking The Daisies.
JS – Definitely festivals all around. But I’d just love to make a significant impact.
SN – Our short term goal is recording. We recording our live set at Howl and we’ll release those [recordings]shortly after. Next year we’d like to get at least Splashy and Oppi on the cards