Arguably one of the best bands in South Africa (if not the best), The Parlotones are searching for something more. And that’s not easy, considering their mighty résumé.
Multi-platinum records? Sure. Opening for Coldplay in front of 60,000? You bet. World Cup performers? No problem. U.S. stardom? That’s next on the list. And I wouldn’t want to be the one to bet against Kahn Morbee, Neil Pauw, Glenn Hodgson, and Paul Hodgson.
Of course, they were just here in the States, completing a mini-tour of clubs, which was when I caught Kahn Morbee en route from Denver to Salt Lake City. And naturally, it was snowing. In October. But hey, the road to success is never easy, even for a band whose status and story overseas is already somewhat legendary.
The Parlotones’ last studio album, Stardust Galaxies, was released in 2009, winning Best Rock Album at the 2010 South African Music Awards. Let’s take a few minutes to listen to the single, “Push Me To the Floor.”
If you liked that, don’t worry, there are more tunes on the way. Morbee and I talked about the band’s successes, touring the U.S., and what’s on tap in 2012. Enjoy.
So, tell me, you guys are in the U.S. in the middle of a tour, right?
Yes, that’s right. Yesterday, (the road was closed) from Denver to Salt Lake City (because of snow). So, we sort of took a detour, and instead of taking eight hours, it took fourteen hours! But, we got there, and played the show, and it was great. Actually, I’m glad we took the detour, because it really is a pretty part of the country.
How often do you make it to the U.S. to play shows?
Well, this here is our third tour, and we normally go five or six weeks at a time. We should be back here in February 2012. We obviously have a great fan base in South Africa, and we’ve got an established fan base in England, and parts of Europe. And we’re trying to develop a pretty significant base here (in the U.S.). We’re just trying to repeat the successes that we’ve had elsewhere.
Can you talk about the audiences here and compare them to Europe and South Africa?
Well, generally I find that Americans are slightly more exuberant. The audiences in Europe are sort of a passive audience; they are watching you attentively while you play, and then at the end of the song, they all kind of cheer. Here, they are into it throughout the song. But generally, rock audiences around the world are universal — the way they behave at shows are kind of similar. I do find with Americans is that they are very fanatical — they will drive ten, twelve hours to see a show. There really is an enthusiasm that I haven’t seen in other parts of the world. Which is great, we love it! (laughs) It bodes well for future shows.
Well, your last studio album did really well in your homeland of South Africa, and you’ve got to perform on many big stages — opening for Coldplay, and playing at the World Cup. Can you talk about those experiences?
Yes, there were so many big shows we played. I’ll sort of sum it up in a few shows.
Probably our proudest moment was playing in an arena in South Africa which had never been headlined by a South African band. It was always international acts that had come to play there, or international acts supported by South African acts. Two years ago, we were the first South African band to headline this arena, which was 20,000 people. And then the soccer World Cup, which was also a very proud moment. Obviously, we got to play in front of a very large physical audience, but a very large televised audience — millions and millions of televisions across the world.
And playing with Coldplay was awesome. (We played) in Capetown at the venue that hosted the World Cup finals. It was awesome meeting a band that we grew up listening to; it was great to actually meet them in person, and great to actually share the stage with them.
I think your live album captures your sound pretty well. Is it that polished sound what you’re going for?
To some degree, I think it just happened by default. We’ve been a band for over a decade, and we’ve played so many live shows, roughly 300 a year. By default, it’s become quite a polished act.
How difficult is it to get a following in the U.S.?
I think if a special formula existed, a lot more bands would follow that blueprint, and they would be a lot more successful. Our strategy has always been, regardless of the activity of the traditional format — radio or TV or even press — we’ve still got try try our best. Sometimes the press and radio play comes quickly, which affects the growth, and sometimes it doesn’t. But, eventually the two meet, and from there it defaults to another level of success. We hope to grow each time (we’re here), but the more people hear about us, the more opportunities we’ll be presented with.
In a nutshell, I don’t think there are any shortcuts. It’s almost like we have to prove ourselves a little bit more, and obviously, we’re competing with the biggest artists in the world — the ones who come out of America. We’re all fighting for the same space.
It sounds like things are going well. Do you feel a sense of urgency playing in the U.S.?
It’s certainly a sense of urgency. It’s made it exciting. We’re maybe a little complacent in areas that we are successful. (Over here) we’re kind of humbled, we’re hungry again to win over the (U.S.) audiences. As much as we like the big stages, there’s still a lot of enjoyment in playing the small venues, and going back to our grassroots.
What about festivals?
We’ve played a lot of festivals. The biggest difference between a festival and your own show is that at your own shows, you know everyone is there to watch you. And you can feel that energy and feedback — they know the songs. At a festival, it’s very broad — a lot of people come to the festival just for the vibe. So, you kind of get a disjointed sense of involvement from the audience. But, it’s still a great vibe. The festival environment is generally quite rushed.
So, you’re enjoying your time over here so far?
We really do enjoy our time here in America. The drives are a little bit long, but there is a lot of picturesque countryside to soak in. There’s so many cities we haven’t gone to — that’s the thing with America, it’s so big. (laughs)
Tell me, what’s on tap for next year?
We just spent the month of August in the studio in South Africa. And when we get back in December, we’ll spend another few weeks in the studio. And we should hopefully have about 25 songs to choose from, and we’re probably whittle that down to an album of 14 songs, and hopefully release that around April. And then start what we do — start the whole cycle of touring new material. We usually take off two weeks off in January and familiarize ourselves with our families! (laughs) It’s exciting now, because we’re going to be promoting a new album. It will be great to bring something new to the stage. But, we’ll always keep a significant collection of past songs in any setlist — there’s nothing I hate more than seeing a band play an entire new album and none of the classics that you fell in love with.