The Parlotones on Dancing, Politics and Making it in America
Chances are few in the crowd at Arizona Fall Frenzy will have heard of The Parlotones but, believe it or not, they've sold more records than The Killers, U2, and Coldplay.
In their native South Africa, at least.
Like X-Japan, this band who's huge on the other side of the world -- as in, they sell their own band-branded wine -- is currently making a push for success stateside.
You can hear what they sound like, and read about their thoughts on South African politics (it still gets a little heated when party officials from the ruling government sing songs about shooting Boers), the media, making it in the U.S. and dancing during World War II.
Up On The Sun: First, I hate to do this, but please forgive my Yankee arrogance and tell me what American band you think you're most like? People love to hear that, trust me.
Kahn Morbee: We are massive fans of R.E.M and Grant Lee Buffalo so our earlier stuff may have sounded a little like that. Nowadays the band we get compared to most is The Killers which is probably a vocal style, I know Brandon Flowers is a huge Morrissey fan, and so am I. I tried to mimic Morrissey's style of singing when I first started learning how to sing. I also used to mimic Thom Yorke's and Billy Corgan's style of singing as I was a massive fan of Smashing Pumpkins and Radiohead.Should We Fight Back - The Parlotones
UOTS: Also, do foreign bands hate that question as much as I think they do?
KM: Nah, I don't mind. People do like to pigeon hole you and as no-one is an island it's only obvious that you're bound to sound like something, we're ultimately a product of what we digest and we grew up on a diet of The Beatles, The Smiths, The Cure, Radiohead, INXS, R.E.M, Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam etc. and later listened to anything that sort of sounded like those bands.
UOTS: I was reading recently about a huge musical controversy in South Africa. It seems this young up-and-coming politician from the longtime ruling party named Julius Malema sang a song with the lyrics "Shoot The Boer" after a court told him not to, and some people were devastated and others offended. It was a little crazy to me that a song could have such power, but it apparently does. What did you make of that whole controversy?
KB: I think the media love to create controversy out of nothing, much like when the leader of an extreme right wing party, AWB, was murdered. The media implied that it was politically motivated (which it wasn't) and that a huge clash would break out (which didn't) the truth is the politically party is now so insignificant it has less followers than an under six girls soccer side.
The parties leader only ever grabbed headlines because of controversy and we know how the media love that. The song sung by Julius Malema was an old political song which is truly out of context now and he shouldn't have sung it, he is constantly in the papers for not thinking before he acts/speaks and the papers give him more attention than warranted and in doing so give him more power. I think he knows that if he says something sensible he'll get the fourth page but if he creates controversy he'll get page one.
Who's to blame in this scenario: Julius or the media or the society that loves scandal? I personally feel the song has very little power or relevance amongst the majority of people who are genuinely working towards the ultimate concept of a rainbow nation, however the media will document the 30 people singing it with such enthusiasm and ignore the positives being achieved by people who should command more print space. Such is modern society!
UOTS: Listening to your music, it's almost striking how little politics is in there. Is that a conscious decision or do Americans just hear about South Africa so much in the context of politics that we're maybe a little surprised to hear a simple, sweet song like "We Call This Dancing."
KB: We've never really been a political band but in this particular album there are certainly political songs which use metaphors and universal concepts to speak about our society so that the songs may have universal relevance. For example 'Should we fight back' was inspired by Nelson Mandela's autobiography; 'Long walk to freedom', 'Brighter side of hell' and 'Welcome to the weekend' touch on the stereotypes surrounding life in Johannesburg, 'We call this dancing' was inspired by an old bomb shelter in London (which is now a restaurant) because it was a place where even during World War II people would dress up in Ball gowns, etc., and dance. It shows the resilience of the human spirit and the power of song and dance to provide escapism. Even though these topics are touched on, other songs allow for escapism and ultimately music is a cathartic release.
UOTS: What's your goal on this upcoming American tour?
KB: This particular tour will be a massive learning curve in terms of how people respond to us live in the states and what it's like to tour the states. The ultimate goal is to keep growing our fan base in America
UOTS: We recently ran a feature on X Japan, who are their country's Beatles, pretty much, but basically have to start over on their career here. And that was apparently a very hard decision for them, because it's changing their focus from somewhere they've had amazing success to a totally unknown situation, and several members of the band were not into it. You've sold a lot of records in ZA -- more than bands like Coldplay, The Killers, and Oasis -- why come to the U.S. and play clubs?
KB: I think for us we've achieved great things in South Africa and we could certainly stay there and continue to be relevant and live off the successes but we're motivated more by the concept of being able to rewrite South African history in being a successful band around the world. In order to achieve that we need to move backwards and practically 'start over' - I think I would be very sad if we became complacent and never tried to take our music beyond our borders. For me the success is not in what we may eventually achieve but in actually taking the journey, yes there's a lot of risk associated and we may fail spectacularly but we would've tried and soaked in such a wealth of experiences making that journey so worthwhile.
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