Hard rockers Taxi Violence delve into modern vintage with a ‘Long Way From Home’, an unplugged album of reworked songs – and some new material.
This column originally appeared in the Cape Argus ‘Tonight; section on 07 – 08 May 2011.
Taxi Violence have never been a band to play things by the book. In their formative days they won a national “battle of the bands” contest – and promptly politely refused the prize of a record company contract because it didn’t offer them creative and financial control. Also, while their local peers dressed in skinny jeans and electro-neon and sought to emulate the burgeoning “indie” sound, the band followed their guitar-slinging muse by delving into the original life-blood of rock ‘n roll’s harder edges. After the last Taxi Violence album, “The Turn”, garnered rave reviews and a growing national fan-base drawn in by their riff-driven raunch rock, they followed it up with a series of delectably thrashing live sets – interspersed by a sprinkling of unplugged gigs. Now, “Long Way From Home” sees the band presenting songs that have been linchpins of their live sets – “Devil ‘n Pistol”, “Untie Yourself”, “Unholy” and “The Turn” – as well a trio of new works.
“These are not just a translation from electric guitar to acoustic, or quieter versions of the loud songs,” says George van der Spuy, frontman and co-writer for Taxi Violence. “We had to take a whole new approach and strip the songs down. To go really deep into the songs to make them work – some of the new versions, you wouldn’t even recognise with all the new riffs in there, until you hear the chorus.”
One of the band’s first acoustic outings was as part of the now sadly defunct Levi’s Vintage Sundays series at the Green Dolphin, itself also now lost to Cape Town music fans. Expectations were high for the rough songs turned melodic although, interestingly enough, more so for the other band on the shared bill. aKing were tour-fit and fresh off the high of their quick ascent to fame and the audience was clearly skewed towards their fans. Without detracting from that band’s performance, the way in which Taxi Violence had reprised, re-cast and re-interpreted their own material impressed as much as the sight of their drummer, Louis Nel, playing acoustic guitar while still keeping time with a modified kick-drum.
“Quite a lot has changed since then” says van der Spuy, “But we did get really good feedback from those shows and so we continued with unplugged sets. We thought the new album was a good way to get a broader audience – to give something to people that would not really go to a hard rock show. Then, we did pre-production for the album, we realised that the songs did not translate as well on wax as they did live. So we had to do the hard work of starting them again from scratch.”
Asked for his favourites on the new album, van der Spuy is quick to highlight “Between The Heaven And The Deep Blue Sea”, a song with music penned by the band’s bassist, Jason Ling, who plays acoustic guitar on the track. “It’s so simple, with simple chords and a simple structure that heads into a Beatle-esque or Led Zeppelin-ish vibe, and I love the cello pieces,” says van der Spuy, before adding, “The other things is that I wrote the lyrics to the song prior to when my father died. He had just had his first stroke and there were all these emotions going through me, talking abut how he had feared the worst, but now he was in a better place. It’s a very personal song.”
He also mentions “Venus Flytrap” a rocker of a tune which perfectly showcased the driving riff power that guitarist Rian Zietsman has become renowned for, but has now been re-phrased into a different key with slide guitar – and a guest spot by harmonica wizard “Lonesome” Dave Ferguson. “It’s got such a cool country rockabilly vibe, that it’s nice to play and to listen to. It’s got that big sound although it’s acoustic. I just love listening to it – something that you want to drive to along a very far road, and that you can also listen to in a smoky bar.”
As for the band’s fiercely independent approach to songs, albums and the business of being musicians, van der Spuy says, “If we’d taken that offer of a record deal, we would not have had creative control over our music and would not have owned our songs. We’re not in this to satisfy record company big heads in their offices, or their pay-cheques. We’re going to put our music out there and if people dig it, then that’s awesome. But we don’t want to go out there and play gigs one after the other and feel like we’re not getting anything out of it in terms of food for our souls. It’s hard work going out there to promote yourself, to go on tour and play a town and then get up early and drive to the next town. But I’d rather do that than my day job, so I’m not complaining about it. The scene here is all good too, but we would like to expand our horizons abroad. South Africa is home but, to be honest, I think for a band of our stature and musical style, we cannot go much further here, so I guess the only place we can go is overseas – and hopefully this album will help us push that extra mile.”
For newcomers to the Taxi Violence sound and scene, how would van der Spuy suggest that eager ears might expect from the unplugged sets? “You could say that it’s like a good wine that’s matured over time,” he laughs. “You definitely get an experience that you wouldn’t get at any other Taxi Violence show or, for that matter, at any other unplugged show by a South African band in our genre. Some of the songs are stripped down and you’ll only hear piano and cello and vocals. We don’t have to make a whole bunch of noise to prove what we do, but there are some songs that are very energetic and still very pumping. Songs that have got the Taxi Violence energy that we never want to lose, no matter what kind of set we play.”
Taxi Violence present “Long Way From Home” on Wednesday 11 May at Iziko Planetarium (25 Queen Victoria St, R100; limited tickets available on pre-sale only from firstname.lastname@example.org) and Thursday 12 May at Dorp Street Theatre and on Sunday 15 May at the Silvertree Restaurant (Kirstenbosch, 021-7629585, R110, which includes a starter and a glass of wine), before heading to Knysna (19 May), Grahamstown (20 May) and Port Elizabeth (21 May). All shows are unplugged and semi-acoustic. Hear preview snippets of the new album via http://bit.ly/TaxiV and find out more on TaxiViolence.com.
This column originally appeared in the Cape Argus ‘Tonight; section on 07 – 08 Mayl 2011. Find out more on Tonight.co.za