Are Shortstraw Growing Up?

Words & Pictures: Chelsea Haith
Rocking The Daisies Photo: Jonx Pillemer
Bent over their menus around a table in Grahamstown’s favourite pub and restaurant, the Rat & Parrot, Shortstraw are quiet, pressed for time. Dinner had better be quick or they won’t make it back in time for their show. “Is the band getting this?” lead singer Alastair Thomas asks.  Someone nods. Black Labels and Tequila shots ensue.

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Shortstraw are currently working on their upcoming album Youthless which seems a departure from their last two which were primarily focussed on the jol and the consequences of the jol (for instance, women who are less friendly in the morning). While we await the arrival of steak and pizza, Shortstraw share a bit of banter with Archetype, discussing Rocking the Daisies, the SA music scene, Gary Glitter and what it would be like to live inside keys player Gad de Combes’ head.

Archetype: So you just played Daisies, how was that?
Russell:
Daisies was very fun.
Alastair: On a scale of 1-10 it was 9.5.
Archetype: Where did the 0.5 go?
Alastair: The free Jägermeister on stage took away the 0.5 point.
Tom: We don’t remember.

Archetype: How do you compare last year’s Daisies to this year’s?
Alastair: Well we were really lucky to get such a good slot this year, we played just before the internationals. So we played to a much more enthusiastic crowd, not to say that last year was shit, but this year everyone was super amped.
Russell: I don’t think you could have asked for a better slot as a local band we were just so excited for that.
Tom: And also, the weather this year was just on point.

Archetype: What’s the criteria for a great gig?
Russell: Everything needs to come together  in a way that can’t quite be explained.
Alastair: A good time is had by all?
Gad: A combination of everything sounding good on stage, the crowd responding well etcetera.

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Archetype: How do you guys feel coming off a massive festival and going on tour to the Eastern Cape?
Alastair: Without sounding conceited, Daisies is a big festival and a great one but we don’t treat it as a major… I don’t know how to say this without sounding like a dick. It was just another weekend for us? It’s a Cape Town gig.
Tom: Also we hadn’t played Cape Town in a while so it was quite a nice build up.
Alastair: This whole Eastern Cape tour is booked around the Cradock Fish festival.
Jake: No it’s booked around Grahamstown.
Alastair: (laughing) Yeah, we only booked Fish because we were coming to Grahamstown.
Gad: We could have been playing with The Parlotones guys.
Alastair: Yeah, we turned down The Parlotones to come here.
Russell: We have always said, especially in the early days, that Grahamstown is the biggest party. And we didn’t just say that to people in Grahamstown.
Archetype: Why’s it the biggest party?
Gad: Everyone is so amped.

Archetype: So you flew this time but drove last time, what do you listen to in the car?
Alastair:
Well when you’re doing long distance driving, which we’ve done our fair share of, it’s always nice to listen to some stand-up comedy.
Archetype: Who are your favourite comedians then?
Alastair: Louis CK
Tom: Louis CK!
Jake: Eddie Izzard.
Gad: Patrick… urgh, no, or Jim Jefferies.
Alastair: We listen to a substantial amount of comedy in the car.
Gad: And it’s more likely that everyone will listen to the stand-up because it’s a difficult thing to get music between five people right.
Tom: Yeah, Gad loves his death metal, his trance (everyone chuckles).

Archetype: I hear that often, bands often don’t share music taste and I think “But you all play the same music?”
Alastair: No, we all have similar taste in music except Gad likes Fountains of Wayne and no one else does.
Russell: That’s not a problem though; it means every person has come with their music that they listen to. If each person had to name our top five of all time we’d probably all be different.

Archetype: This kind of leads into this question, if you could be any musician in the world other than yourself who would you be?
Gad: I want to be Damon Albarn from Blur.
Russell: Maybe just for a day? I wouldn’t mind seeing the world through Dave Grohl’s eyes.
Tom: I want to be Jake Rubenstein from Shortstraw.
Alastair: I want to be Tom Revington actually yeah.
Russell: Gad.
Alastair: That’s actually true dude, to spend a day in Gad’s fucking head, that must be terrifying!
Russell: To see what’s like in there, night-blind, colour-blind, world of panic!

Archetype: And on that, what’s your dirty little secret song?
Tom and Jake break into ‘Need you now’ by Lady Antebellum: “It’s a quarter after one, I’m a little drunk and I need you now…”
Alastair: That was terrible.
Gad: Didn’t you do that at karaoke?
Russell: You totally did, in Japan.
Tom: It was quite bad though.
Alastair: Yeah, because you couldn’t remember it.
Russell: You guys don’t know the verse.
Tom: Mine is Wiggle Wiggle Wiggle.
Gad: Toto.
Alastair: (laughs)I don’t have one; I have impeccable taste in music.
Russell: Billy Ocean, Lover Boy.
Alastair: I can vouch for that one. Oh wait, I Shazamed an Avicii song the other day. I can tell you what it was, I’ll just go to my tabs. I’ve actually Shazamed a few shockers. Rock ‘n’ Roll Part II by Gary Glitter.

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Archetype: Which town do you think is better for emerging bands to come from?
Tom: I don’t think there’s any town that’s better to come from, it’s what you do.
Alastair: Student towns I suppose, because that’s your target market… unless you’re an older musician.
Russell: It’s about who you are I suppose?
Tom: It’s not where you come from it’s where you’re going.
Archetype: How very deep you are.
Russell: You’ll be wherever you are when you start your band.
Jake: What supports emerging music? I’d say Cape Town over Johannesburg.

Archetype: Do you think different sounds come out of different towns then?
Alastair: Well I think there are a lot of more rockier bands coming out of Joburg and a lot more indie bands coming out of Cape Town.
Gad: There are no metal bands in Cape Town.
Russell: No, there’s a huge metal scene in Cape Town! You know, for me, it’s not about the genre, it’s about the cities. The economy and the city themselves. Joburg for example. There are a crap load of bands, just like there’s a fucking giant economy, some of it might be good, some of it might be bad. But Cape Town has always seemed to produce less, but of a more kind of conceptual and thought-out quality.
Alastair: But I can tell you know there’s shit bands in Cape Town as well. But Cape Town is a cooler city. People dress better in Cape Town, it’s just a fact.
Tom: I never feel cool when I’m in Cape Town.
Alastair: I’ve never once felt cool in Cape Town. And Rocking the Daisies. It’s a terrible place to be if you’re from Joburg, because everyone is fucking tanned and handsome.
Tom: Ripped, hot, well-dressed.
Alastair: They all seem to spend a lot of time doing what they need to do.
Tom: Gyming.

Archetype: You have all these little friendships in the industry, Shane (of Desmond and the Tutus) is on Good Morning, Sunshine; Nic Preen (from Al Bairre) was on stage with you at Daisies, so who is your favourite band in the country at the moment?
Gad:
Beatenberg.
Tom: Gangsterdam.
Alastair: Yeah, it might be them.
Tom: Go Barefoot.
Russell: They’re around us, bands we see in Joburg. I would say a band like Go Barefoot could in a year’s time be a big time band.

Archetype: How would you describe your fan demographic?
Alastair: Well it’s definitely grown. I mean there are only so many sixteen year old girls in the country so… It’s gotten better in some ways.
Russell: I think that the moment you start getting mainstream play on radio you’re going to find a handful of different and interesting people coming to your shows. You can’t predict or control that. You just keep doing what you’re doing and you’ll draw a crowd.

Archetype: Favourite memories from the Australia/Japan tour?
Tom: The ones we can’t remember.
Russell: We loved every bit of Japan, it was special, it took us all completely by surprise.
Alistair: My fondest memory of Australia was…
Tom: Leaving.
Alistair: Not really. My fondest memory is probably eating a kangaroo pie and then a few hours later patting a kangaroo. I wish I was joking.

Archetype: Alright, last one, tell us something you’ve never said in an interview before.
Tom: (dramatic voice) you’re my first.
Alistair: It’s just a really thin condom.
Russell: Which is kind of pink in colour.
Alistair: Your penis is pink?! (laughter).
Tom: Barbie dick.
Archetype: Thank you guys.

Shortstraw are Alastair Thomas on vocals and rhythm guitar, Thomas Revington on lead guitar, Russell Grant on bass, Gad de Combes on keys and Jake Rubenstein on drums. They can be found here and here and here.