South Africa’s Musical Jungle Gains Some International Wildlife

Words: Dave Mann
Illustration: Fiona Christensen
A Q&A with Golden Animals about their tour to SA
“With your eyes like smoke through a shadowed hall, dry the rhinestone tears from your diamond face, let me climb your rope to a delicate place in your eyes. Here I go.”
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Based in the USA, psychedelic folk rock band, Golden Animals have a unique sound to their music. Perhaps it’s because the group is comprised of three members from three different parts of the world, namely Tommy Eyes on vocals and guitar, Flor Zabala on keyboard, organ and backup vocals, and Linda Beecroft on drums. Eager to set their gilded paws down in further areas of the globe, the band have recently embarked on a European tour before heading through to Johannesburg and Cape Town for their first ever South African tour. Archetype stole a few cyber minutes with frontman Tommy Eyes after their show in London to speak about touring, possibly bumping into Rodriguez, and releasing an album with the support of their fans.   

A: So you’ve been crazy busy lately playing shows in Italy, Berlin and London. What’s the tour been like so far?
TE: It’s been great. Off the top of my head: A lot of pasta in Italy. We ate at a place called Velvet Underground pizza one night. We played a party in a Roman theater built in the renaissance. A lot of pretty drives through mountains. Waterfalls in Switzerland. We’re playing a lot of new songs we plan to record this summer. Getting ready for the studio on stage. Berlin and London were particularly great nights, but there have been a lot of highlights. We’re traveling with six people, the three of us (Tommy: vocals/ guitar, Flor: keyboard/ organ/ bass keyboard/ backing vocals & Linda: drums) plus a driver, a sound engineer and a visual documentarian; our little tour family. It’s been great.

A: How did South Africa end up on the tour list?
TE: We had already worked with Simon Berndt at One Horse Town on poster art. He was the first to mention the possibility of us coming over. He definitely had something to do with it. We’re very excited. It’s not a place you really get to tour, unless you’re Rodriguez. Who, I believe actually walked by me last time we played Detroit this winter. We were on tour with The Black Angels and Roky Erickson and I think he came to the show. Outside, after the show, a man who looked exactly like him walked by with his family around him really slowly and carefully over the ice, I asked the guy walking behind him if he was Rodriguez, he turned around and said (mysterious voice) “Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t.”

A: What have you heard about the SA music scene, and what are you looking forward to?
TE: It’s sort of a mystery to us. I asked Danny from Night Beats how their experience was over there and I think he said ‘mind blowing’. So we have high expectations now. But look forward to learning more about the local scene.

A: Your lyrics are pretty trippy. Describe your lyric writing process.
TE: It usually begins with a melody and then the melody implies sounds and those sounds imply words. Like a camera coming into focus. And over a certain period of time it works itself out or never fully comes into focus and it’s sort of left behind. Lyrics are very tied to melody. There’s mathematics behind a song and you can feel it when it adds up. Lyrics fit together like a puzzle. Words suggest the next word and phrases suggest the next phrase. Beginnings correspond with endings. Lyrics are poetry and poetry is usually pointing at something which can’t be articulated directly, because it’s too big, so there aren’t words to express it. But there are sequences of words that can point to it within you. Mystery is key.

A: You say you’ve formed a lot of your core musicality at home in the Californian desert. Has anything been added on to that whilst on tour? Do you think SA could add to that?
TE: My home is Baltimore, MD where I grew up… As a duo, we spent three years based in the Desert in California, but we became a trio after returning to Brooklyn. That (time in the desert) did have a big effect on the music we play and us as people. For me, it gave me a perspective I don’t think I could have had growing up in Baltimore and moving to Brooklyn at 19. We were in the desert playing electric blues at the same time I was supposed to be finishing college. It was liberating to be entirely focused on our band and music and things they can’t and don’t teach in schools, having isolation and beauty around us made that possible. Things seemed to open up out there in a new way. I also got more interested in health and nature from being out there. But after 3 years, it lead to wanting to do new things. So, returning to the city in Brooklyn became liberating and inspiring after that experience in a similar way. Every place can give you something, it’s all about where you’re at and what you’re looking for.

A: You guys released ‘Hear, Eye, Go’ with the help of the Kickstarter programme. Do you think funding your music this way could be the way forward for all musicians?
TE: Whatever works. There’s many ways to record and release music now and the industry is evolving very quickly. Five years ago, I would have said Myspace was the way to release music, so you can’t really tell what the future holds from here.

A: If even the most dedicated fan of today would rather illegally download their favourite group or artist’s music than pay for it, why do you think the Kickstarter programme was such a success for you guys?
TE: People think somehow money spent buying music won’t ever make it back to the artist, which can be true. ‘Crowd-funding’, as it’s called, gives people a chance to support a band’s new music directly and make it possible to exist, it’s kind of a more special and direct interaction than downloading a band’s music off I-tunes. It also gives the artists a chance to own their own recordings, which means a lot.  Maybe someday bands will be public entities like stocks and fans will own shares of bands.

A: Pick one: Zuma, Kwaito, Bunny Chow, Zamalek.
TE: Zuma, why?

A: Anything to say to your SA fans before they get to see you on stage?
TE: We’ve all been looking forward to this. We’ll be playing a lot of new songs, which we’re preparing to record. And we’re launching a PledgeMusic project to help us make our new recordings. Anyone who’d like to be involved with that or find out more can visit here: pledgemusic.com/projects/goldenanimals And that’s it.  See you soon!

Golden Animals will be performing two shows in SA:
Friday 13 June at Town Hall – Johannesburg
Saturday 14 June at The Assembly – Cape Town
Tickets are available via webtickets.

To find out more about the band, visit their websiteFacebook page, or Soundcloud profile.