WG is a reluctant reviewer of rock, preferring to settle in next to a nice warm fire with some tonal, comforting chamber music, preferably from from the period circa 1815 to 1820, gently puffing on his pipe, his slippered feet up whilst perusing the ramblings of such fine minds as Charles Darwin and that excellent read, The Origin of Species. He only sullies his hands with the medium of rock due to its popularity, and well, a man has to have a day job after all.
SHINE WITHOUT THE GLOSS – WELCOME TO THE WORLD OF MATT ROUX
pic (c) Branwen Slayne
During the Mojo Thrillpower Tour of Cape Town venues in December of 2012, Skyt Muties, Arc Reactor and singer/songwriter Matt Roux took to the stage. WordsworthGrimes secretly went about his business of destroying the Muties by sabotaging their sound and removing batteries from their effects pedals (rubs hands and cackles), but inbetween these pernicious acts, Unbeknown to the Muties, however, one act caught Wordsworth’s attention. “Hmmmm,” he thought to himself, while gently rubbing his beard, “That would make a decent article for the Wordsworth Grimes pages!” So he set about posing some questions for this Cape-Town based performer who is impressing audiences with his well-crafted and personal songs.
(You can Hear Trax from Matt on the NBTMusicRadio every night at 7 PM Berlin time (6 PM UK/2 PM New York/8 PM Cape Town)
1) How long did it take to write Square One?
The total elapsed time from the writing of the first song to the writing of the final song was just over two years, but there were two distinct halves. I rattled off the first eight tracks (Hand on my heart, Broken Wings, Up in your room, Square one, What could have been, Moth, This change does not come cheap, Mr Duplicity) really quickly, one after the other, but this was before I started performing live. So once I started performing live the writing paused, but it resumed about a year later and I added A Thousand Lungs and If Not Now.
2) Was it intentional to go for the sparse production of Square One, or was it a practical issue? (Budget, hassles with finding the right Muse players, etc)
The biggest factor was time. I have a busy day job and a family. I tried twice to work in semi-pro home studio environments but the late nights coupled with a lack of progress drove me to the point where I realized that the only way I could get the songs out there was a stripped down home recording. So I bought an Mbox 2 Mini, a good microphone and I nailed the ten tracks in a very few short weeks. I then shipped them to Ramone Pickover who did some great mixes.
3) You wear your influences proudly on your sleeve - one artist looms large in the work, Dare I say it, John Mayer. Do you feel you have found your own voice yet? Is that a work in progress, in as much as many great artists in their earlier work find it hard to stamp their own identity on their work (example the Beatles, the Stones, etc).
There are songs on Square One that definitely show my unique style, I’m thinking specifically of If Not Now, Moth and Up In Your Room. And my writing for the second album is taking me closer to a completely unique Matt Roux sound.
4) While on the subject of influences, JM's debut album was called Room for Squares, and yours is called Square One. Is that a subtle reference to John Mayer's work? Or are you saying in some sense the work is unfinished, it's at the beginning stages of its development, hinting perhaps it's part of a larger body of work? If so, can we expect a new album to take up the slack where Square One left off? If not, what is the significance, for you, of naming the album Square One?
It’s a very unsubtle reference to Room for Squares, but most people don’t know that John was riffing on No Room For Squares by Hank Mobley, so I’d like to think I’m extending the riff. But it also has the very literal meaning of it being the first in what I will make a long line of albums.
5) Are there any plans for a follow up to Square One, and will you be using other instruments? The reprise of Moth with Louise Visser on piano gave the song great depth, showcasing just what a strong song that is. Also the duet live with Ramone during the December dates worked very well. Any chance of more instrumentation on new material, if any?
Absolutely, in fact I’ve taken Square One and given it to Ashton Gardner, a great Cape Town producer, who has added piano, bass, drums and some melodic reworkings. It’s sounding huge and killer. I think that’ll set the blueprint for what’s possible. In terms of new material I’ve already had a go at programming drums, bass and other percussion on one my newly finished songs. The practical constraint I faced when doing Square One hasn’t gone away, time is still really limited.
6) The mini tour with Skyt Muties and Arc Reactor went very well, and the blend of artists seemed to work well together, providing great variation, which the audiences genuinely seemed to enjoy. How was it opening for bands such as the Muties and Arc Reactor?
Completely unexpectedly awesome! I said yes instantly when Ramone asked me because the thought of a mini-tour over festive was too good to turn down. However, when I arrived at Gandalfs / ROAR for the first evening and heard Arc Reactor sound checking I did think we might have engineered a sonic mismatch. But the minute I took to the stage everything fell into place. By the third night I had this heavy metal guy come up to me after my set raving about how entertaining I was – I take that as a mini-victory. And I was blown away by the Muties and Arc Reactor – ridiculous levels of talent and songwriting.
7) Which of the three dates went the best for you?
It’s a tie between the first night at Gandalfs / ROAR and the final night at The Jolly Roger. Zula was too impersonal for me, I was too far away from the audience. I like to make eye contact.
8) The shows weren't especially well attended, to what do you attribute that fact?
It’s hard to get people to come out to listen to live music with so many other entertainment distractions available, especially in December in Cape Town.
9) The people that did come to the shows seemed to grow in their appreciation, by the end you had established a real rapport with the audience. Which songs did you feel connected most with the audience?
I’d single out three. Opening with Square One set the tone of my energy levels and approach to entertainment. The duo with Ramone for the cover of Crazy (done the Ray la Montagne way) was a crowd pleaser of note, and finally having Megan (girlfriend of Dax, lead guitarist for Arc Reactor) sing with me on my cover of John Mayer’s Waiting on the World to change was completely rad.
10) Are there any plans for upcoming shows, and how was square One received regarding radio stations (if you submitted it at all).
Yes, I’ve just struck a deal with the Riverclub in Cape Town to host a weekly show called Matt Roux and Friends. I’ll do two sets of originals and covers and will handpick artists I admire to do a short set between my sets. I’m getting airplay on the internet radio stations and I must thank Knysna FM 97.0 and Zone Radio for their tremendous support.
PS since writing this, Matt’s weekly show seems to be going from strength to strength. More about this in the articles to come!
GROWING OLD WITH WILD YOUTH by Wordsworth Grimes
Wild Youth, one of the seminal early punk bands on the South African scene in the late seventies, have been receiving a lot of attention courtesy of its inclusion in the documentary Punk In Africa. I posed a number of questions for Michael Flek, the guitarist and singer in the band.
I first saw them at the Coloseum in Joburg, alongside the Radio Rats, back in ’79, when punk and New Wave was bringing its own revolution into the somewhat staid musical scene of those days. It stands out in my memory as one of the all-time great gigs, and Wild Youth were so hot that night, no act in SA has come close, in making an impression on me, in terms of sheer excitement and energy, a perfection of rebellion that still rings true to this very day. And what most don’t realise is how poppy they were, the riffs being three and four chord snatches of catchy aggression that have genuinely stood the test of time.
Written off as a Pistols pastiche as the 70s drew to a close, time has shown that Wild Youth definitely had their own angle on punk, had their own sound, albeit they wore their influences on their clumsily slashed sleeves.. And just how exciting that time was, historically and musically, is hard to describe to people who weren’t there. And how we loved them for it. Genuine danger! Wild Youth put themselves on the frontline, and for a while, during an all-too short flowering, they ruled. I spoke to Michael Flek and posed questions for him, which he was kind enough to answer.
Going back to your roots, the early days of Wild Youth, what year did you start under that name?
How old were you at the time?
Had you been to the army?
No, I had a British passport and was lucky enough to be rejected.
Did you study after school?
Yes I went to University.
Who thought of the name?
It was democratic. We all prepared lists and then voted.
How did you meet the other band members?
We met at school and through friends. Rubin was introduced to us by someone walking past our practice room.
Were they into punk as well?
They got into punk via the band.
What was music like in Durban before you hit the scene?
It was mainly hotel bands playing cover versions of current hits.
Do you think you changed music in SA?
Yes. We introduced people to a music, attitude and lifestyle they had never been exposed to before. For a short while we shook up the South African music scene. We wrote our own songs. We showed that you did not need great musical ability to create music. We had a stage show. We were part of the future.
You used to quote death statistics from WW2 on one song, I seem to remember.
Was that the song Hiroshima? Do you have a recording of it?
Unfortunately not. Can’t remember the name of the song, but it was effective and dramatic. Was that the extent of your political vision, or were you a revolutionary politically as well as musically?
We were young, naive, not particularly literate or sophisticated and we feared the consequences of our actions, the unknown that happens behind those prison walls where you have no rights. We heard rumours of beatings and torture. The country lived in fear and paranoia and people were encouraged to inform. We had seen one of our teachers disappear only to hear later that he had been prosecuted under the Immorality Act. He lost his job and was probably ostracized by family and friends. You had as much to fear from civilians as from the police. People were narrow minded and conservative, and the majority of the white population believed that the government was correct and that they were on some moral crusade. A mention of Nelson Mandela’s name in conversation could result in a prison sentence. I did try and write some more pertinent lyrics but they were inept and never got further than the dustbin.
I learnt more about the real South Africa when I met my wife, a journalist and former court reporter. She told me about waterboarding, torture and people disappearing and dying in detention. She took me to Kwa Mashu.
I wrote the song Fork Tongue in 1987 about Apartheid and we organised an anti-Apartheid benefit in Tufnell Park a couple of years earlier. We marched outside the South African embassy. All small things, yes, but still a contribution.
Punk started out as a general expression of distaste with conformity, and evolved into a cogent political force in the late 70s that influenced a lot of thinking in the 80s. In SA it had obvious significance. Do you feel you have received just recognition for your role in assisting people to shift away from conservative and fascist thinking?
For years we were forgotten but the Punk In Africa film put that right, so yes, I think we have now got the recognition we deserved. Malcolm McLaren gave me good advice when we met in South Africa, which was to stick at it and one day you will be discovered.
The inevitable comparisons with the Pistols have no doubt plagued you through the years. Do you think the criticism is justified that you were a Pistols pastiche?
It doesn’t bother me at all. The Pistols were a great band. They obviously influenced us but so did many other acts including Bowie, T Rex, The Who, the Stooges, Rolling Stones, Lou Reed and even Pere Ubu in that song you mentioned earlier on. If you play our music side to side with the Pistols album we sound very different. The Pistols had a unique sound and songwriting and nobody sounds quite like them.
As time progressed we developed and started finding our sound.
On So Messed Up the band plays out of time to each other at one point, but it comes together and seemed to work in the context of the song. How was it recorded/produced and where?
It was professionally recorded on two occasions at C&G Studios. It was my idea to have the extreme levels of lead guitar on the demo and to have stereo panning during the solo. The Six Of The Best version was more produced.
Contemporary mastering technology could phatten the sound, have you remastered those songs? If not, why not?
All the songs on the CD were remastered in London. We decided to master it in the spirit of the time that the songs were recorded and not to clean it up or phatten it. We are not trying to be Green Day. It is really in yer face, raw and full of electricity and has been getting great reviews worldwide. I even found a review whilst browsing the local news agent in London. Now that was a blast. File us in the garage section please.
How many songs did Wild Youth play in their sets, and did you record any of them other than what was to be found on Six of The Best and Wot about me?
In the early days the set was about ten songs but sometimes it could be up to 20 songs. We had about 50 of our own songs plus some covers. The set was constantly changing and some songs were only played live once. All the studio recordings are on the CD that was released last year on Fresh.
How well did they sell?
Only about 300 copies of the single were pressed and sold but it took a bit of time.
Did your concerts make money?
We never made money. We got paid about R500 for one of the gigs and that was about it. We certainly laid out more than we got back.
There was an article in Scope magazine, did that help to establish a wider fanbase for the band?
There was a lot of press so it was just one of many articles. I guess it did attract a few people.
Did you get radioplay and TV airtime during WY?
We got radio play maybe once or twice and were never on TV. There was very little music on TV in those days. TV had only just been introduced in SA. Rabbit got on TV but very little else did.
Your last tour of Jozi you mentioned the concerts were all great except the last one because the band had broken up. What was the cause of the breakup, and how did it affect your life?
Andrew wanted to form his own band and be a singer. Both Rubin and I were devastated. We lived for the band. I was depressed for years after. Eventually I rejected the experience from my memory.
I saw Wild Youth also in concert in the Wits Great Hall - that must've been in '80 - was that a Gay Marines show? I remember the music had become somewhat dub influenced, and it seemed to be a similar direction to that of Pil. Was Pil an influence?
I am not sure if you saw Wild Youth or Gay Marines. Wild Youth were in 1980 and Gay Marines in 1981. There was a dub and PIL influence to both the latter days of Wild Youth and early days of Gay Marines. There were many other influences as well.
You seem to want to leave WY or the name at least, almost as if meddling with that history might somehow taint the legacy.
That is true. The CD and the film brought closure to a job left unfinished and I now feel happy to move on. I am no longer young and am a different person to who I was. There will always be an element of Wild Youth in anything I do but the energies are channelled differently.
You don't feel that way about the Gay Marines. What's the reason for that?
The Gay Marines were more edgy in my opinion, even the choice of name. We could have been slaughtered. I remember when we played the exhibition centre on the beachfront. I had painted my face like a negative, white makeup on tanned skin, the inverse of what is normally done, I looked very strange. Rubin and Bruce Mills had to escort me out of the show afterwards.
Mainly from immigrant families we were classless with none of that class distinction that sometimes exists in colonial families. Franco was an art student with an artist’s sensibility to creating music. We are all still friends. We have had our Sabbaticals (sometimes for many years) and our tiffs but they are always reconciled. I cannot even remember the reasons for any disagreements that might have occurred. These days I speak to Franco every day. We are working on new music and it is sounding great. When you play with the same people for a long time something clicks. We never had the chance to develop in those crazy days so we are completing a job left unfinished. The great thing about getting older is it focuses one’s mind. There is only limited time left and there is no room for pettiness. There is give and take. You must hear the Gay Marines recordings from 1987 with Antonio. They are incredible, very spiritual.
After WY broke up, where did you go and how did you start picking up, the pieces?
With difficulty. It was starting from scratch again but this time in the public eye.
Was it a painful process to have something that was seemingly shooting for the stars come crashing down?
If you could change anything regarding that moment in history when it all went up in flames, what would it be?
We should have done a lot more recording and also filmed some of the shows.
Describe the scene when the band decided finally to call it quits.
Andrew called a meeting with the band and manager and told us. We asked him not to leave. That was it. I think it was at Doug the managers flat.
Did you feel it was more difficult to get through with GM than WY?
Not really. The band was not ready for big gigs. We needed time to develop.
Are there copyright problems with the name WY?
Not as far as I am aware. There are several bands with that name so I do not see a problem.
And would you ever consider doing shows under that name –
No, a bunch of fifty-year olds calling themselves Wild Youth would be abhorrent to me. I would be more interested in four young women, in PVC and animal print performing a set of Wild Youth songs electronic style. Wild Youth -The Opera. Kraftwerk meets the Monkees.
It's a great name, iconic, and in the present climate there might be a great reception for WY. What with this whole move to unearth talent that has remained hidden from the public view, a la Rodriguez et al. I'm sure you have quite a story to tell. Do you have enough memorabilia and material from those early days (and subsequent years) to make up the body of a documentary? If so, what would you like it to be named? And who would direct?
There are many photos but very little film footage but a documentary would still be possible. Like the CD it would be a collage, using a mix of different media. We could have animated scenes, video interpretations of the songs plus new footage mixed in with old. I have no decision yet about the name or director, but would be looking for someone with a fresh outlook. Persepolis meets Blade Runner via Bernardo Bertolucci and Man Ray.
Wild Girl was classic WY/MF - catchy proto punk, four-chord sequence with minimal but evocative lyrics. Everything speaks of the iconic in that track, that old school vision of a bad babe on a bike, with the motorbike revving in the middle 8. Valley of the Dolls. Almost an answer to Iggy's Wild Child. Iggy has spoken of his method of writing songs - he'd walk around until he got a clear vision of the song title in his head, and the song would follow. Do you write in a similar way, or what is your process?
Every song is written in a different way. Sometimes the music is written first, other times the lyrics. Sometimes it starts with the riff. Others arrive fully formed. Some songs take years to write. Others are written in a few minutes. I have numerous uncompleted songs. Sometimes I wake up with a song. I often write songs in my head in the car while I am driving and then rush home to work out the chords and melody on guitar, write down the lyrics or quickly record the ideas before I forget them. In Wild Girl’s case it was a spare riff from years before. The first line of the song was about seeing my daughter and her friends going out, young, carefree and confident, without a care in the world, fearless. No matter how cool an older person is they could never compete with that. Then the change bit was added, influenced by ACDC. When we recorded the song in the rehearsal room the only lyrics I had beforehand were the first verse. The rest were improvised on the spot. The backing track was recorded live in one take including the lead solo. I did the lead vocals and two backing vocals overdubs all improvised and all first take. Paul did some backing vocals as well. The chorus sections are a reference to the perfect figure statistics that were talked about when I was a child as in when a girl walked past, guys would wolf whistle and go “wow she’s 36 26 36”. The whole recording took about twenty minutes. Adding the wolf whistle sample took longer.
Iggy’s “Wild One” was not an influence. I prefer the original rockabilly version by Ivan. Wild Girl was influenced by sixties biker songs like “Blues Theme” from the film “Wild Angels” and “Get Off The Road” from “She Devils On Wheels”. I have never ridden a bike. I have another great biker song called “Cut Loose”.
“When things get tough and you know you want to die
You got to get on the road and leave the shit behind
I don’t care what’s around the bend
Who cares what’s around the bend
I’ve got an untamed heart
I don’t care if I live
I don’t care if I die
I don’t care about anything I just want to fly
I don’t care what’s around the bend
Who cares what’s around the bend
Because sometimes you go to cut loose”
When was that recorded, and are there more tracks of a similar vein?
It was recorded in about 2010. I have many more songs in a similar vein.
What happened to Michael Flek and the Retros?
We had a disagreement. We are now friends again so I don’t want to kindle further bitterness by saying more about the subject.
What schooling in music, if any, have you had?
None. I learnt by listening to records and trying to work them out. “Electric Warrior” was a huge influence when I was first learning guitar.
As far as the technical side, one of the South African magazines published some chord charts and basic scales and I learnt from there.
What was the first electric guitar you had and how old were you?
I had an Ibanez gold top Les Paul that looked like Mick Ronson’s guitar. I was about 15.
Were the kids in your school into music?
They were into prog rock, folk rock and heavy metal. Bread, Uriah Heep, Yes etc.
What school was that?
Do you write the songs alone and then work them with the band?
I write a lot of songs alone but also some with the band. At present I am writing with Franco from the Gay Marines.
You left SA at some point. When was that, and why?
April 1983. There was nothing happening. I wanted to experience the true rock and roll that London had to offer. It was the best decision I ever made.
Did you get married and do you have kids etc?
Yes we married in London in 1983. I have a twenty year old daughter, Ella.
Do you support yourself in any other way other than music?
I work one day a week doing admin in the fashion industry. I sell records online and at Portobello on Saturdays. I do a bit of market research. I have now started a record label.
You're recording at the moment, presumably Gay Marines material. Is there enough for an album?
We will be releasing a series of vinyl singles. I have many songs and am constantly writing so there is a huge backlog to unleash.
If so how many tracks, what's it called, who's performing with you, who's producing, and where are you recording it?
At present we are working on three songs: “Suspended Animation”, “True Love” and “Trash City”. I play guitar and sing. Franco does the beats and electronics. It is a joint production. We have other people contributing including Dean and Steve from the Gay Marines. We record on computer using Ableton and send files by Yousendit. I record the vocals in a tiny studio in Willesden.
Did you ever have "drug problems"? If so what's your weirdest drug story.
I am not a big druggy. I only started smoking dope towards the end of Wild Youth. My sound is created by nervousness not drugs. People were often surprised by how quiet we were before shows. I had problems about 15 years ago when I started smoking daily. I stopped soon afterwards and have not had a single drug since. It was starting to affect my health and mind. I was looking old, my voice was shot and I was constantly coughing and was depressed and paranoiac. I also felt responsibilities as a father so felt it was better to stop. I definitely made the right decision. My voice is so much better now and I feel so much stronger as a person. Drugs started out as fun and ended up as no fun. I have some great memories from those days in SA and my early days in England. Many stories but the one that comes first to mind is the time we went to a house (as in dance music) party in a squatted mansion in Regents Park. One of the members of hardcore punk band Conflict was the DJ. Guitar music and punk were finished and house music was the vogue. There were hundreds of people. My friends and I dropped acid and started hallucinating. Pat and I sat in the garden. We were extremely paranoid. The acid changes your perception and colours look much more vivid. The grass looked so green and Pat’s face looked as white as a sheet of paper, like a ghost. It was like being on the cover of the first T Rex album, the one where Marc Bolan and Mickey Finn had their faces covered in white pancake makeup, eerie, otherworldly. It was surreal.
Can your fans in SA ever expect to see GM or dare I say it WY on tour? If money was not an issue, would you do it?
I would do one or two shows if it was organised properly and professionally and to do so costs money. I am not really interested in doing a full tour. At my age I prefer to focus my energies on individual shows. What I would really love would be to do something that was organised on similar lines as the Meltdown Festival that is held each year on the Southbank during the summer. It would be as the Gay Marines as Wild Youth no longer exists. I would never work with a pickup band. Musicians are not interchangeable.
Have you had any record company interest in any of the material you're working on or have done in the past?
Fresh Music released the CD. I have started my own record label.
I then posed further questions for Michael in the form of the following::
Over this period of time I got to thinking about the nature of performance and what it entails, what drives performers to want to do what they do. It strikes me that at the core of this drive is essentially a narcissistic urge that we may all possess to a lesser or greater degree. The adulation we receive as performers, or the recognition, seems to satisfy the ego-centrism that drives this desire. And it can turn on a tickey, as you know, one minute it's there, next it's gone, and what's left in its place is a gaping hole. Do you see yourself in narcissistic terms, or is this just a Wordsworth Grimes misguided type of thing? Is it just entertainment, in which case one must be able to separate oneself from the product if one wants to survive.
I am driven by psychological problems which go back to my youth. I am introverted, serious and suffer from depression. I am naturally inclined to solitude and music is my means of expression and my way of dealing with these problems. My stage performance reflects this. Narcissism only comes later, from being liked and enjoying it. It keeps the machine moving.
Can anything ever replace that sense of gratification from the adulation one receives? If so, would that then be "real" value, as opposed to the fickle attentions of an audience (and indirectly a culture) that is celebrating itself by celebrating a performance or performer? The performers may change, they may disappear, but the audience does not. It remains, it continues its process of self-celebration long after the performers are gone. It may morph into different components, it may separate out, but its essentially still there. Even more so now with social media becoming so prevalent. It's why people don't buy albums so much anymore, concerts are often blase affairs - everyone has got access to everything, and a kind of blandness is setting in. This allows the audience to celebrate itself continually, non-stop, and in so many different ways. The need to do it with a band, especially unknown bands, just doesn't exist like it did when "rock was young," to coin a phrase. How does one counter this, especially as a performer/writer of the old guard, which still, bizarrely remains "new" in so many ways?
As I get older the creative process is now what is most important to me. I am more confident in my abilities as a lyricist and songwriter. The driving force for a musician needs to be an overwhelming burning desire to create that surpasses everything else. I do not think playing music as a career move will create greatness. There needs to be more than that.
Lastly, there was a sado-mas element to early punk that gave it an edge - Whip in My Valise being a case in point - it quickly got sidelined by other more pressing drives in punk, as it became a cogent force of rebellion to INFORM the consciousness of a generation. Is this a crucial aspect of punk, what are your recollections/experiences, if any, that you had. Is indulgence of sexual fantasy and fetish liberation or oppression of another kind?
Sexuality and submission, feeling pain, is part of punk, and has been dealt with by artists including the Velvet Underground, Iggy, Adam & the Antz, Depeche Mode and the Germs. It is baring yourself to your audience, as in here I am, do what you want to me for I have no fear or do not care. It is certainly part of my music. It is a cleansing, a purification, a getting in touch with one’s spirituality. It is the feeling of underdog, or the purging of one’s sins. It is the opposite of misogyny but at the same time the ultimate form of control. I have my own experiences in fetishism, mainly role play and as voyeur. I like drama and am attracted to decadence. As far as my personal experiences go, they remain personal.
As for Wild Youth, the priority for me at present is recording. If a promoter comes up with a serious proposal I am open to consideration.
Once more and finally, thank you Michael for these honest and informative replies. I’ll wager a bet there are many who would love to see Wild Youth or The Gay Marines onstage once more. Michael has stated he cannot work under the name Wild Youth, but that the Gay Marines might include some of the earlier Wild Youth material in their set. We can only but hope. And yeah, bring it on! Growing old with Wild Youth? It’s this music that has kept me young.