With a debut album almost four years in the making that sports artwork created by the legend behind Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Muse, Cape Town band Machineri are finally ready to take on the world.
First appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2011/ 08/28.
In an age before CDs with tiny booklets and MP3 players with “Cover Flow” views, conceptual artist Storm Thorgerson became one of the go-to creative minds for creating a single image that summed up months and months of musical creativity. Iconic album sleeves like the giant driftwood hand coming out of the sea for Muse’s “The Resistance”, the pig floating above Battersea power station for Pink Floyd’s “Animals” and the curious naked children ascending what looked like a lava flow for Led Zeppelin’s “Houses of the Holy” are all his, as is what’s been dubbed “the greatest album cover of all time”, the prism that graced Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”. As of this month, Cape Town band Machineri can proudly add the image on their eponymous debut album to that list.
“I know, it’s really frikkin’ crazy, isn’t it,” says Sannie Fox, vocalist, lyricist, guitarist and co-founder of Machineri on the eve of the release of the album. “It came about, as everything does on music, through a network. We knew sombody who knew somebody who knew Storm. He was down in South Africa shooting a job for Pink Floyd, just for a short while, and we were playing a gig. Amazingly, because it’s not like he’s in his twenties anymore, he came down to the show with his photographer, walking with his crutch, and he liked the music. We put the question to him and he said cool, he’d love to do the artwork for the album. He decided where to shoot it, whether it would be England, or back here, and then decided to do it there. It’s quite a psychedelic cover – very in line with his style, but also with our style and who we are as a band. A woman, with machine parts on her back, crouching on boulders so that she almost looks like she might be part of it; also a boulder. I love it.”
With Machineri being female fronted, and the image on the cover sporting a naked woman, an inevitable question arises. Fox laughs about that. “Yes, people want to know if it’s me and I don’t mind that – she’s got a really beautiful buttocks!” she says. “I love Storm’s work – he’s made the covers for the two rock bands that I love the most, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, and he reminds me of Salvador Dali, creating images that have a surrealism of a sort. I think the crux of his work is that he puts very human elements into landscapes – people buried in deserts with their legs sticking up in the air, or women floating in the water. There are these elements of the human that look almost like they’re part of the landscape, but they’re also out of place. When I look at our cover, I don’t think the woman looks like me – I mean, she has red hair – but everything Storm does is on purpose so, of course, I’m sure he wanted to people to think that it might be me on the cover, but it’s some lovely English lass. I’m completely picky when it comes to bringing anyone in to work with us, but I was completely happy to let Storm have control of this, and we love what he’s created.”
We discuss the idiom about not judging books – or albums – by their covers, and Fox mentions the other key figures who’ve worked with Machineri: recording engineer Paris Zannos and mixing engineer Brian Lucey. “We did three singles with Paris before we recorded the album, so we knew he was a very cool dude to work with,” explains Fox. “He has an awesome studio overlooking False Bay and does a large variety of music, from Christian rock to heavy jazz. It was really nice to be in there and we worked fast. Daniel (Huxham, the band’s drummer) is a machine; he does his parts mostly in one take. Then there was two days for Andre (Geldenhuys, Machineri’s blues-drenched guitarist) and then two days for vocals. Then we sent if for mastering to Los Angeles to Brian Lucey, who’s some kind of genius. People don’t often think of mastering and, if the recording is crap, it’s not really much help. But, if you’ve got someone like Paris and they’ve done a good job, then mastering is an opportunity to add a whole other layer to the music. When we got it back it was really beautifully roughed up and transformed.”
The band’s debut album is a long time coming. In late 2008, Fox, who used to front the impressive but short-lived Black Betty, met Geldenhuys after he’d returned from sojourns in Europe and the two started jamming on what was supposed to be a side project. Fox’s deep interest in blues, but her equally fervent intention not to play tired 12-bar ditties that everyone had heard before saw her finding an instant musical soulmate in the Stratocaster-weilding Geldenhuys. It took only six months to record the demo for “Searchers” and create the song’s video (courtesy film director Revel Fox, Sannie’s father). Billed as “duelling guitars, Arabic-like rhythms and a Celtic folk feel; simultaneously modern and steeped in the past, with the lack of bass guitar giving it space and, tumbling alluringly over the top, Fox’s husky, smoky vocals – part Marianne Faithfull, part Patti Smith, but with shades of The Cocteau Twin’s Liz Fraser and a bit of Kate Bush”. Over and above the PR-accolades, the song was a hit on YouTube and, later, amongst the band’s ever-growing live audience. It took the better part of another year for the band to find a drummer, after which regular gigging ensued.
“It’s very exciting,” says Fox. “It’s the first album I’ve ever released in my whole career, which I guess isn’t that long, but I have been doing this for quite a few years now. An album is the one thing that solidifies your work. If you don’t have that, the music just disappears into the airwaves and, after a hell of a lot of sweat and years and years of work, that would be a shame. We kinda did things backwards, with videos for ‘Searchers’ and ‘Machine I Am’ being out before we’d recorded the album. But then we got the money to finish the album from our label, Just Music, and now it’s recorded and out there and, last weekend, we finished shooting the debut video for the album, for a song called ‘Ladder Operator’. Then it’s our launch in Joburg and Pretoria, and then in Cape Town and then it’s all about us taking it to the people – and hopefully they like it.”