A few hours ahead of the vinyl launch of the new album, Into the Primitive, at gourmet burger spot, Clarkes, I was informed by my editor of an act of kindness on the part the Future Primitives. The garage-rock trio had graciously pushed their event by an hour so as to make time for an interview with PLATFORM. Grateful and somewhat flattered, I made a mental note to draw some extra cash to grab a copy of the vinyl – that the album itself is superb had nothing to do with it. Band members that work 9-to-5’s can be hard to pin down.
The interview at Clarkes was revealing – not just in terms of understanding why the Future Primitives play the music they do, but how they can do so and make it authentic. Garage rock is a sub-genre born of the 1960s, aptly named because the fuzzy, distorted sound of the recordings and generally amateurish musicianship gave it the feel of music that young bands practiced in their garages. The genre has therefore always come with a combination of raw honesty and an absence of pretence – both of which seem to be embodied by the Future Primitives.
Johnny Tex (vocals/guitar), Heino Retief (bass) and Warren Fisher (drums) are set to tour Switzerland, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Spain and France next month. Yet, the polite and unassuming triumvirate do not appear a buzz band on the cusp of a Napoleonic conquering mission of Europe. They seem grounded. Whispers of the diva-esque temperaments of some of our finest exports come to mind and make me believe that the Future Primitives are the right kind of ambassadors for South African guitar music.
ZH: For starters, I want your take on a very current debate amongst my Music/Radius colleagues. Who is more the voice of a generation: Radiohead’s Thom Yorke or Arcade Fire’s Win Butler?
JT:Thom Yorke for sure, although The Arcade Fire, especially before The Suburbs, brought out some pretty amazing stuff – song writing and patience within a song that was just on another level.
HR:Bob Dylan? Haha. No matter what kinda music you’re into, Radiohead should always have a place in your heart/playlist/record collection. So definitely Thom Yorke.
[“I guess I have the internet to thank for that because there was no other way I would have come across those bands.”]
ZH: You guys are doing experimental garage rock with rockabilly and psychedelic elements. Were your folks’ tastes influential in the music you enjoyed and now play? And did the scenes in which you hung out as a teenager foster your tastes, or was it more of a personal discovery sort of thing?
JT: Yeah I would say all 3 – my earliest memories are The Stones and The Beatles, most parents listened to that kinda stuff.
HR: I don’t recall my parents ever listening to music – or maybe they did, it just never grabbed me. I only really started getting into music in my teens, with punk and bands like The Clash for instance. Later, I really got into Television and Velvet Underground.
JT:Growing up, my older brother was listening to a lot of The Pixies, The Gun Club, The Cure (early stuff). Then my brother and I started listening to Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, from there I was looking for other bands that just had two guitarists and that’s how I found The Gories – and I think that opened up a whole new world of music for me, got into garage comps and stuff.
HR: When I met Johnny, I didn’t really know anyone else who listened to the music I did, so I guess we kinda clicked over that. From there, he introduced me to Gun Club and garage rock bands like the Sonics, which kinda changed my whole view on music. So since Johnny introduced me, I’ve been digging up garage gems through comps and random (lucky) finds. So I guess it’s a mish-mash of hanging out with him and personal discovery.
JT: I guess I have the internet to thank for that because there was no other way I would have come across those bands.
[Interview is then interrupted by the very bearded dude from Roastin’ Records’. There is some chattering before Heino politely informs him that we are mid-interview. The man leaves and Heino apologises about the ‘bearded mountain-man that came to destroy the interview’]
ZH: I want to discuss the paradoxical name itself, “The Future Primitives”. It appears to reference the Primitives – a 80s contemporary of the likes of Jesus and the Mary Chain, and My Bloody Valentine. Considering that your music is more of a product of the 60s what does the name embody?
HR: Strangely we only found out about the Primitives about a year or so after the band was formed.
JT: It actually came from a book I was reading at the time called Boonville. The Future Primitives were a group of crazy people who acted like animals in the book. I just liked the name and thought it would apply to our sound – like old, yet new. There’s a lot we like about old recordings and old analogue gear, but we also like new stuff if it sounds good. It’s just that blend between old and new, or past and future – something like that.
ZH: For any fans of The Cramps, is Songs We Taught Ourselves a reference to their 1980 debut, Songs The Lord Taught Us?
JT: Yes, definitely! It’s a little play on the title.
[“Honestly, garage is too young in South Africa and I’m sure it will need time to grow before one could really say there’s a ‘scene’.”]
ZH: With the obscure songs you covered on Songs We Taught Ourselves: was your intention to reveal songs that you guys liked, or was it to draw the attention of your listeners to music and bands that they would otherwise never have listened to?
JT: I suppose it serves both purposes, really. But we really did it because we dig those songs. It’s almost like a DJ set where you’d play your favourite songs – this is pretty much what we’d play. But I guess it also opens people up to a lot of our influences and says a lot about the band as well.
HR: It’s like if you’re really in love with this girl and you make her a mixtape of your favourite songs, except now you’re just playing it.
ZH: I’d like to talk about the SA garage rock scene, or perhaps the lack thereof. Is there a scene or are you guys on your own?
JT: Honestly, garage is too young in South Africa and I’m sure it will need time to grow before one could really say there’s a “scene”. At the moment – if you play garage, or psych, or anything close – then most likely someone will organise an event with us or any of those kinda bands playing. So yeah, I’d say there is no Garage scene really, but more like anything from garage, psych, surf, punk, and anything trashy – that’s where we fit in.
[“It comes down to the feeling you’re after – so if you like something, you should listen to it. We make the kind of music we like to listen to.”]
ZH: Are there any up-and-coming acts that are going to facilitate some scene-rivalry?
JT: Well I’d say The Dollfins are close enough. Danielle, being my ex girlfriend, obviously spent a lot of time listening to music with me and we are completely into the same stuff so they definitely fall into the same “scene” as us.
HR: There are lot of really good psych-inspired bands coming out these days, like Changeling, Bad Drugs and Wild Eastern Arches for instance.
ZH: A hot-topic amongst the music nerds at Platform is the notion of authenticity. There is an argument to be made that your lived-experience and the environment in which you were raised affects the music that you play and the authenticity or credibility thereof. You play music that originated in North America and Europe and remains most popular in those areas. Do you feel that your growing up in South Africa adversely affects the authenticity of your music?
WF: Pretty deep.
JT: I don’t think it’s got anything to do with the country you’re in. It’s a matter of taste.
HR: Definitely comes down to taste. I’m from a very Afrikaans suburb and that didn’t affect my taste in music at all. Everyone was into the Afrikaans rock scene and I was an Afrikaans kid that was into The Clash. It comes down to the feeling you’re after – so if you like something, you should listen to it. We make the kind of music we like to listen to.
ZH: I agree. Look at a band like Tame Impala: they’ve managed to achieve widespread critical acclaim and they’re from Australia. And it’s not like Australia was ever renowned for a thriving psychedelic scene.
JT: I think the internet changed everything. If we had no access to music from anywhere else in the world then I think it’d be different. But now we could just as well be living anywhere, the way we have access to anything. You can download garage comps and just find tons of bands – sometimes ones that people from their time didn’t get to hear because they only released two songs. I think that has to a great extent fallen away with the internet – being solely influenced by what’s around you.
[“I don’t think we’d ever be able to be that big…”]
ZH: So it’s fallen away?
JT: I mean, people can still get influenced by what’s happening in their country. If you take the Afrikaans scene, like the ‘Vokof’ crowd [the Vanfokkingtasties clan], there were a lot of bands that did the same thing. They were obviously hugely influenced by what happened in our country.
HR: It’s ultimately about what you want to hear. That’s basically what we’re doing: making the kind of music we want to hear.
JT: But yeah, shit, if what we’re doing influences people here to do the same thing then that’s cool. We’d dig to hear more bands doing stuff along the same lines as what we are, with similar influences.
[“I twerk myself to sleep at night.”]
ZH: So you guys are touring Europe soon. You’re going all over the place. Acts like Die Antwoord and Blk Jks were both, in many ways, received more warmly overseas than they were in South Africa. Do you ever see yourselves moving overseas for the sake of the band?
JT: I suppose we also appeal to… I dunno. Maybe in South Africa we’ll never do that great! I really don’t know [laughs]. I think something like Die Antwoord is so different that they were bound to catch people’s attention.
WF: Their image works well in the public eye.
JT: I don’t think we’d ever be able to be that big and so I don’t really know. I suppose if we could make a living like that it’d be pretty sweet.
ZH:Lastly, and perhaps my most intellectually challenging question so far: what do you think of twerking, and is there ever a chance of seeing it in a Future Primitives music video?
JT: Don’t really have an opinion, but yeah, who knows – we’re actually gonna be shooting some videos soon. I’m sure Warren is capable of pulling off a decent twerk – he’s been twerking off since the release of Nicci Bruce’s instructional video
WF: I twerk myself to sleep at night.
HR: If we put our minds and bottoms to it, I’m sure we can pull off a decent twerk. Much work is still needed though.
Stream and Buy their latest offering, Into The Primitive, here.