In anticipation for NOTHING MAJOR we met with the guys from The Barking Trees at Amuse Café. We discussed previous projects, George Michael, Boeremusiek, the state of the local industry, the social background in the West Rand and all things Barking Trees.
The Fuss – Introduce us to each of your members and tell us what each of you does when you’re not shredding for the Barking Trees.
Sias Olckers – Besides for playing [guitar]for the Barking Trees I’m a law student. I’m studying at UJ and I’m in my final year now [whilst]working part-time for a law firm.
Matt Kennedy – I’m Matt. I play bass and Protools[laughs]. My brother and I run a music shop.
Hugene Koekemoer – I’m Hugene and I sing. I’m [also]a payroll clerk.
MK – I never knew. [laughs]
Chris Kennedy – I’m Chris and I play the triangle and the cowbell when they let me[laughs]. I run a music distribution store and a studio with Matt. Our store is in Jeffreys Bay.
MK – We have a guy down there who manages everything pretty well. All our suppliers are up here [in Gauteng], so we do all the supplies up here and send stuff down.
The Fuss – We understand that you for your name, The Barking Trees, in an arbitrary conversation when Matt was still in the Contradicting Clouds. What significance does the name hold?
MK – Obviously you know the story of the name, we got the name from a member of the Contradicting Clouds who actually lives up the road here [in Linden]. It’s a cool name, we thought it was catchy. As far as I think about it, it’s not really as much about linking the band instrinsically to a certain concept. A name is something that people know you by, it doesn’t reflect who you are. But it’s something that people need to be able to remember. The Barking Trees is something that is easy to remember.
The Fuss – The Barking Trees is an amalgamation of previous projects – with Hugene and Sias being involved in what was Old Brown & Sherries. Explain why the projects dissolved and how The Barking Trees came to form.
MK – Contradicting Clouds still gigs but very rarely at the moment.
HK – OBS just split up and we worked on something new [laughs]. There were a lot of personal differences amongst us [in OBS].
CK – It’s amazing how being in a band can influence you.
MK – It’s like being in a relationship with four people.
CK – Not just one girlfriend[laughs].
SO – You go through a lot of stuff from gigging and practicing together and going on tour and all that type of stuff. It’s a lot of pressure on you and we’ve all got a lot of stuff going on in our lives. I think we just kind of grew apart – creative differences and personal differences. At the end of the day we thought it better to call it quits [with OBS].
The Fuss – Having been in previous bands its seems you guys have learnt a lot from those experiences. The Barking Trees launch seemed meticulously planned and organised with your video and the single. What other things have you learnt from those previous projects and how would you say they influence The Barking Trees?
HK – [OBS taught me] how to listen to music and how to play bass[laughs].
SO – We learnt a lot from the scene. Doing all those gigs definitely taught us a lot – how the scene works and how to engage with the venue…
CK – I’ve also learnt about playing music with [the Barking Trees]. I used to play too much all the time and [I’ve learnt] how to step back and play less – letting the music take form…
MK – …actually playing drums[laughs].
The Fuss – You have alluded to Fokofpolisiekar and Albert Frost as some of the artists which influence your band. Are there any less likely influences fans would never have guessed inspired The Barking Trees?
SO – We have a little local boeremusiek band. Die Teelepeltjies. They have some pretty hardcore guitar shredders in there. They are definitely an influence. Boeremusiek…
[Our waiter approaches the table]
HK – Can we please have beer?
[Laughs and Black Labels for everyone]
SO – …we all come from very different musical backgrounds. I personally started with classical music. Then I eventually progressed in old afrikaans alternative stuff, metal and indie. Chris did a lot of jazz stuff with the drumming. We do come from very different musical backgrounds but we all have elements that coincide with each other. The different backgrounds definitely come through our music – You get your really hard breakdowns; epic guitar solos; epic drum solos and awesome melodies. You’ll also get some blues here and there. Our set is structured in such a way that almost anybody from any background would find at least one or two songs they can listen to.
The Fuss – You spoke of your classical background in music. Was this a formal academic background and do any of the other members have the same?
MK – I did a few Unisa exams playing classical flute[laughs].
HK – …’one time at band camp’…[laughs]
[Matt proceeds with a whistled air-flute rendition of the brass melody in Careless Whisper by George Michael]
CK – I studied drums through Trinity College London.
MK – I studied bass also through Trinity.
CK – It’s amazing we don’t make better music[laughs].
The Fuss – You have described your West Rand Brand of Rock ‘n Roll as ‘Zack Wylde having sex with Kurt Cobain with Ozzy watching’. How does the West Rand influence your music as compared to Johannesburg? How does the environment affect your output?
HK – [In the West-Rand] we have the conservative side and these funny people.
CK – …and nothing in the middle.
SO – It’s completely different. Randfontein is predominantly a very conservative afrikaans Christian town. A little main ‘dorpie’. And then you have these random people who just completely rebel and like Hugene said, there is no middle-ground whatsoever…
MK – …The only more prominent in Randfontein than churches are bottle stores.
SO – It influences us a lot. We’re a while away from Joburg, so coming and gigging this side is totally different to anything we’d be able to do at home. Our surroundings and the way we grew up there has a huge influence on our writing.
The Fuss – Are there any undiscovered gems or coves of greatness in Randfontein. What is the Rock ‘n Roll scene like that side?
CK – We pretty much are Rock ‘n Roll in Randfontein.
SO – It’s not really what one would call a ‘musician’s hotspot’.
MK – Every single bass player in Randfontein is in this band already[laughs]
CK – It gives us a lot of space. Obviously we are a part of the [Great Johannesburg], but its nice to come up this side and experience the culture and people. It’s good for us.
The Fuss – On a wider scale, what are your thoughts on the state of the South African Rock ‘n Roll scene. And what have been some of the challenges your band has faced?
SO – Its really hard for us because when we used to play in OBS. We were still gigging hardcore just a little over a year ago. The scene was completely different back then and it was a lot bigger as well. The vast majority of venues are being closed. The biggest blow [for us]was the scare that the Boh was possibly closing permanently. Coming back now and seeing that some of our favourite venues are gone is really weird.
The Fuss – Do you think it’s a problem with the output and quality of content provided by the artists or is it more an issue with the consumers and fans who go to the shows?
MK – It’s a little bit of both. But you must also understand that venues make it little harder on the bands as well – ‘Here’s a stage, we’re gonna take all the money from the sales and you guys keep door’.
SO – I think its just general change. With a lot of the venues closing [its partly due to]not a lot of people go out anymore. It’s a struggle on both side with pressure on the venues to actually close their doors and people are just not coming to gigs anymore
The Fuss – The Barking Trees played their first show at the Bohemian. What are some of your favourite venues both as artists and fans.
HK – The old Bohemian was the shit. That was our home. Horrible sound and everything – but a wonderful vibe.
SO – Our two favourite fans ever. Michael and Willie, those two punks were the shit. They made our gigs at the Boh. That was a lot of fun. But I think our most amazing and fun gigs were at Memphis Rock in potch. Holy shit. Sadly, it also closed down. They had an awesome stage and awesome sound. No matter what day of the week you played there, the place was packed and all those people were in front of the stage jamming.
HK – It was so cheap to get drunk so everything was awesome to them. It was such an easy crowd[laughs].
SO – Cool Runnings Fourways was also an awesome venue.
HK – Yeah. [As fans] Cool Runnings Fourways was the shit. And Arcade Empire obviously.
SO – We also had a soft spot for Cool Runnings Melville. We had our first gig as OBS in that dodgy little smoky dungeon. We had so much fun there.
The Fuss – It seems that the scene is going through a lull at the moment – With MK closing down their channel and all these venues closing down. As a musician there’s close to no better feeling than seeing your video broadcast on television. What are your thoughts on this.
SO – I’m pretty pissed off about that – considering we just released our music video. We were in the process of getting that shit on MK. Now all of sudden… It’s like we have the worst luck ever.
HK – But we will need to embrace it and use the internet.
CK – It’s closing one door and opening up another. The industry is changing. We just have to make the best of where it’s going and figure out what it is and try and beat it there.
The Fuss – How often does the band rehearse? And talk us through the creative process – Who write the songs? Melodies or lyrics first? Is it an organic process?
HK – For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been nailing it twice a week.
SO – [The writing process] is pretty weird. Sometimes you come up with a set of lyrics. Sometimes you come with a few chords. We just sit and work at it for a while and it all starts coming together.
HK – We’re still learning to work with each other. We’re figuring each other out and working to blend.
SO – I started jamming a bunch of new songs with Chris early in 2012. We got Matt in a month a two along the line and Hugene joined us in September. We started practising once a week – working on a set, planning out our music and recording some of the stuff. Basically preparing for our comeback to the scene for this year.
The Fuss – You have labelled Matt as the laziest member of the band, but who is always late to rehearsals?
[The whole bands replies as if it was choreographed]
MK – I’m just really early for the next one[laughs].
The Fuss – In your music video for, ‘Where Gods Go To Die’ there is recurrent post-apocalyptic visual imagery. Talk us through the themes of the video and how you came up with the concept?
SO – The whole theme of the video is connected to a bigger general theme of the entire band. The actor in the video is Hugene’s little brother. Basically the round-up of the video is based on this guy who’s alone in a post-apocalyptic world. Being alone for such a long-time has started to wear him down psychologically so everywhere he goes he just starts catching glimpses and figments of his imagination – which are the band members. The video is just the first instalment. We are going to do another two or three music videos that will follow-up on this one. The whole series will play like a short-film. We are working with a small production company that is doing all our stuff pro-bono. We came up with the idea and pitched it to them and they wanted to make it into something bigger and a little longer. This series is our focus currently.
HK – In that post-apocalyptic world, anything can happen. We’re not limited to characters. This is our world.That area is our world and we’re working on developing it.
CK – In the next video you will see an expansion on the themes we brought in the first one.
The Fuss – Do you write based on personal experience or are the topics based purely around this fictional narrative?
OS – Our music is based on our personal experiences. A lot of our songs actually refer to certain situations we have all been in. On the other hand you have songs that don’t really mean anything. It’s a little bit of both. And in regards to the [post-apocalyptic] theme – It [represents]a surreal take on our personal experiences. It is normal stuff that everyone goes through on a daily basis. For example when you go on a long drive – sometimes you get little flashbacks of stuff you used to do and places you’ve been. It’s all connected.
The Fuss – The Barking Trees is based in the West Rand, but what are your general thoughts on the battle between Cape Town and Joburg?
MK – They are very different scenes.
CK – Cape Town has a great vibe but I don’t think the scene is quite as big as that of Joburg.
MK – The Cape Town scene isn’t rock based and obviously as a rock band, Pretoria and Joburg are the biggest. There are a lot of Jazz orientated students in Cape Town. And the scene doesn’t have the same structure which Joburg has.
CK – Joburg is fast-paced and everyone is trying to get stuff done. This breeds a lot of competitiveness and it sort of works against [its success].
SO – Joburg has a ridiculous amount of bands. You will never struggle to find bands that will fill a slot. Especially now with all the venues closing down – It turns into a very competitive thing to try and get gigs.
HK – But the scene is [slowly]starting to pick up again.
The Fuss – How many songs have you guys written?
HK – Twenty million [laughs].
SO – We’re standing on about 15 completed songs. We had a lot of time on our hands, so we started writing a lot of material. We don’t have a problem with coming up with songs and new material constantly.
The Fuss – If you could go back in time to steal a song and say The Barking Trees wrote it – Which song would it be?
SO – Every single song by Queens Of The Stone Age.
HK – We would just become Queens Of The Stone Age. If we wanted to take it next-level we woud steal Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen.
The Fuss – What does the future hold the Barking Trees?
MK – We are busy setting up a studio. So we will be doing some recordings to put together an EP and making it sound as decent as we can. We also want to continue with the story of the videos. That’s short-term in the next two or 3 months.
SO – We’re approaching this project very differently to how we approached things as OBS. OBS basically got together and started gigging like crazy – We would do two to three gigs a week for almost two years. We learnt a lot from it, but we thought we would try something different this time. We sorted out a lot of our social media stuff and recorded tracks and a video before we started gigging. This project is going to be a long term project. Its something that we are doing for fun so we’re [not stressing]about doing a certain amount of gigs per month. If we get preoccupied in a certain period in our [personal]lives, then we can put It on hold and take it off again anytime we like to. So this is definitely a long term project. In the long term, we’d like to get bigger in the scene and definitely [play]Oppikoppi in the future. That was the only thing we never achieved as OBS.