Walking into The Assmebly this past weekend, you would be forgiven for thinking you were at the wrong venue. Apart from the reconfiguration of the house furniture, a 70s rock theme had taken over the live music nightclub.
But of the eight bands that were showcased over the Rock of Ages Weekend’s two nights came a sound as current as it was forward-thinking. By the time the second act of Friday night’s set had sung their last note and strummed their last chord, I ambushed Red Tape Riot for an interview.
In between recording a new album and gigging singles that will eventually make the cut, the five-peice part-rock, part-dance-electro outfit, got down to telling me about the inner workings of their forthcoming record (studio time with TJ Terblanche at Coffee Stained Vinyl no less), clearing band name misconceptions and why their union just works.
By the end of the interview, I’m reminded of an interview with Chris Martin of Coldplay. He spoke about Michael Stipe’s imfluence on the psyche of the band by letting them know that there was something sacred about their union and that they should never forget it because it would keep them going.
There isn’t a single member of Red Tape Riot who isn’t sold about a feeling between them that’s keeping the drive within the band alive. If I left The Assmebly knowing anything for sure it’s that these guys are probably going to be around for a while.
Decibel360, in association with Feedback Musiq (FDBQ), bring your this exclusive interview.
FDBQ: How did the change from Overgraze to Red Tape Riot come about?
John: No, we didn’t start off as Overgraze. My previous band was a band called Overgraze. I left that band, started another band, and I called it Red Tape Riot – it was the first sort of ‘edition’ of the band. And after about a year of not making things happen within the band we decided all to go our own ways but I decided to keep the dream alive that I had for the band originally and to start a new band, with a new drummer and bassist. A lot later; like two years later; these guys who are sitting here – Justin, Jared – they joined the band about three of four months ago. So we feel like we’re a very new unit. So, ja, the band Overgraze doesn’t have any link to this band. It just happens to be my previous band.
Justin: The name Red Tape Riot has been going for like two years now—
John: Jump in there, bruh! (bassist, Rubin, joins the table) Ja, Rubin’s just arrived.
Justin: Ja, it’s come to a point now where it feels – I mean, Jared and I have just joined but like – it honestly feels as though this is the Red Tape Riot.
John: This is what it’s always meant to be.
Justin: This is what it’s – how it’s meant to be and like I don’t know how—
John: And it’s true because this was the vision from the start. I mean, Rubin, who’s just joined us, he’s like, you know—
Justin: Groove master central!
John: He’s very much like a founding member with me, you know. Him and I set out to find the right band and we found the right band to do the right thing, and everyone’s on the same mission now and it’s quite fantastic. Ja, it’s awesome.
FDBQ: Is this part of why the band is called Red Tape Riot? Are you guys breaking through the red tape?
John: Ja, well, I mean it can be interpreted in many different ways. I mean Red Tape Riot just, we decided, is a bit of a, it’s quite a strong name. It sounds like a fight against anything that puts shackles on you or holds you down. Originally the meaning is quite global and quite sort of anti-establishment; quite sort of the things that are happening right now which are tying people down and the formula that we’re all forced to live [by] and that we all have to live that from every day, and if you don’t fit into that you almost become a homeless person. It’s ridiculous that you actually have to live only a specific way prescribed by government or whatever in the world these days. If you’re Red Tape Riot then you’ll riot against red tape, through hoops and jump ropes and just to get something done and just to fight for your freedom.
Justin: I think bands are forgetting as well that not only do you play music but you have a voice. You have a voice on stage and you know you’ve gotta like, you’ve gotta make it count for something because I mean, what’s the- I mean, people feel that; they connect with that. And, you know, I think that’s one of the most important things that makes us Red Tape Riot: is that we go up there and we feel something. We all feel- We can have the shittest day. Like today, we all came here, we were like, I don’t know, like 80% here in soundcheck but we get on stage and then somehow, you know, you just click.
John: You know our outside philosophy is to have fun and make people dance and make stuff that people can sing along to. The inside philosophy is a lot biggeFDBQ: to speak about things that really matter. We just believe that the best way to get that message across is through music that connects people and can sing along and have fun to you know. If you’re getting too serious and too preachy then, you know- You’ll notice none of our songs; we never speak about what we believe or we never get specific about anything but—
Justin: We’re not gonna preach but you gotta stand for something so there’s a balance.
John: In this world you gotta stand for something otherwise you’re wasting your time.
FDBQ: You guys have got a very large sound what with your name being Red Tape Riot. What are some the bands you guys are listening to?
Jared: Isochronous. Absolute favourite! I saw them live; I saw the keyboardist. Like, that band is crazy like what they’ve done with, in terms of the keys, like, great band!
FDBQ: It shows in your performance!
John: Yeah, big ISO fan over there. But we’re listening to lots. I mean, like from the early sort of 2000s where the indie movement was changing; bands like The Killers and—
John: And Editors came out a bit later on and—
Justin: Moving Units.
John: And very much influenced by the Brit indie scene the 80s: The Smiths and obviously The Cure as well and bands that—
Justin: The Smiths; Joy Division is a big one.
John: Joy Division is also big. And then we’re also influenced by the dance sound. So like we do a lot [of] dance moods, drum and bass. Ja, so we use those things and that’s where the electronic angle with Jared comes in: a lot of synth, a lot electronic stuff. I mean we’re trying to embrace all styles. As you heard, the last song is kind of African-electro-something.
FDBQ: This is true. Couldn’t really pin it down to something specific.
Rubin: Did you enjoy it?
FDBQ: Absolutely! I think what’s interesting about you guys is that you’re one of the only rock bands that’s putting so much emphasis on keys in your sound. I don’t know if there’s really anyone else who’s doing that.
Justin: It really takes it from this level to that level. (gestures with hand) It makes that sound in between just fat, you know. Even if it’s synth chord that he’s holding, it’s just like another level.
FDBQ: You played some new singles tonight which is what I want to talk about. You’re headed towards an album launch.
John: Ja! This man was in the studio today. (points at Rubin)
Rubin: Oh, yeah. Three hours of studio work. I laid all the bass notes so my work is done.
John: We’re working with TJ Terblanche and Riaan Loubser at Coffee Stained Vinyl. We working on our first album. Three of the title singles coming from that album were played tonight obviously to be released to be singles before this gig. But we also have played the singles that we are going to be releasing in September with the album. It’s always good to test them out, and see, like, try stuff out, and see how they work, and they went down beautifully. The last track, “One More Minute”; went down like a house on fire. It was awesome! Like a good house on fire.
FDBQ: How has the recording process been going?
Justin: We’re still very much in the beginning. It’s still drums and bass at the moment but by the end of next week we’ll have both guitars down, or we’ll have the start of vocals down, and we’ll have some keys down as well. So, ja, it’s happening quickly but at the same time after the recording process there’s still an editing process and that usually takes the longest, because, you know, you’ve gotta tweak, and you’ve gotta see, and, you know put a lot of trust in the producer and you’ve just gotta go with it. So, at that moment, at the moment now, that’s where we at. We just putting trust in the producer and seeing where this is gonna go.
John: And for being so kind to interview us, you get a free copy of the album.
FDBQ: That’d be great actually.
John: It’d be awesome, man, to get your feedback.
FDBQ: You’ve just played Rock of Ages. Any forthcoming gigs planned? And can we expect a tour when the album drops?
John: Yes, definitely. We planning on a Joburg tour sometime after the launch, and then we’re planning an East Coast tour in December. When everyone goes on holiday we’re just gonna make our way up the coast and see as many places as we can play at. Next year, June/July, we’re going to try Germany and the UK for a couple of gigs. So we have some good sites set. We’ve got a lot of stuff going on. But our next get is 28th at Buckley’s, Northern Suburbs [Cape Town]; 28th of June. I know it’s quite a while away. I mean it’s a month- uh, three and half weeks away but we’ve been playing a lot of gigs now back-to-back. So another three and half weeks to focus on the album, some tracking, and then if you wanna catch us; Northern Suburbs and then there’s a whole sequence of gigs. You guys can get us on Twitter and Facebook for that and find out where the gigs are.
FDBQ: Just to go back to the album: with music being in the state that it’s in today, a lot of people aren’t listening to a whole body of work anymore. We seem to be living in a singles generation. What’s the importance for you guys in recording an entire album?
John: It’s a like a poet who released music and never sold. Or a painter who released a series of paintings that are never gonna get [displayed]. It’s most important for the artist to say those things and to put it [out there], and to document it, and to make it feel like, we’re documenting our lives and our beliefs, and sometimes those things, they get recognised much later, sometimes they get recognised in the moment. It is important to tell the whole story because I s’pose, at the end of the day, you don’t just wanna tell someone a little happy tune and that’s all they hear. You wanna give them the entire breakdown of what you do and what you believe. If someone falls in love with your band, you want them to be able to see the whole story you know. That’s the most important thing. I mean, we can have 75-thousand people listening to our singles and loving them but it’s more valuable to have one or two people who really connect with what we do, that’s why you produce a full album, so people can hear your full story. It’s for the artist and it’s for the people who really love what you do; people who connect with you.
Justin: You also have to have something to tour with, you know. You have to have a, like something that drives you to go somewhere. I mean there’s no point in like having three singles and being like, “Okay. We’re gonna go tour Joburg now!” and you have these three singles. You’ve got have like a – I hate to say it – but you have to have a ‘product’ at the end of the day, and you have to have something that you can stand behind and be proud of.
John: That’s the other side. I mean, commercially, an album puts you on the map. Once you have an album, I mean, that’s the good thing about [it]; that’s not exactly why we’re doing it. I mean our dream is we wanna put this album out but it definitely is, you know, bands in this country have to put focus on the business and the business requires you to have an album so that people can hear more than just one song, and that’s pretty much where we’re going now.
FDBQ: What would be the ultimate goal be for each of you?
Jared: Well, I can just say for me is that – I’m sure I speak for everyone – we went away three weeks ago and we got to a point where, we didn’t really, we knew each other, but we didn’t know each other. And then you spend five days together making music and then you fucking know each other, and then you become like a band of brothers and that is so important. I think that’s a goal we reached already. I mean and I’ve been in bands and I know everyone else has been in bands and I know no one else has felt the same, you know. It’s just somehow we feel like a—
John: Something’s clicked hey. What do you think Rubin?
Rubin: What do I think?
John: You’re not gonna just sit there quietly in the corner. Give us some shit, bruh.
Justin: Rubin is always the quiet one so.
Rubin: My ultimate goal is to play in front of thousands of people in a moersa stadium.
Justin: More importantly, not just to play in a huge crowd; to get like everyone in the crowd going crazy, like often you say you’ll be keen to play in front of like five thousand people. No, the best thing is to get like every single person in the audience going crazy and to get the best known vibe ever.
FDBQ: You pretty much had that tonight.
Justin: If I could go chill with each of these guys for the rest of my life, I’d be the happiest man.
John: The biggest goal for me, I mean like everyone here has said everything that I would say, but the big thing, the goal here, is to really feel; to feel what we’re doing. The moment there’s like a feeling in what we’re doing, it’s like- We’ve been in bands, all of us have been in bands – this band, that band – but right now there’s a feeling that’s happening and like we don’t necessarily know where that feeling’s gonna take us but it feels so freakin’ good right now, you know. You know when you first meet a woman, you don’t quite know what it is but she’s got a pretty weird nose but there’s something about her. You just really wanna go on a date with her again. And it’s the same thing with a band: it’s like this amazing feel; you just wanna keep going. It’s that feeling – feeling shit – that counts. It’s beautiful man. I mean I’m touching his [Justin] leg right now.
FDBQ: It’s your band. Go for it!