INTERVIEW: Desmond and the Tutus

Desmond and the Tutus have been a staple band of the South African indie rock scene since they came into formation in 2005. They opened the way for the success that South African indie music is currently experiencing. They are performing at The Assembly on Friday and we decided to catch up with lead singer Shane Durrant ahead of this performance to talk about bad interview questions, being in a band in his 50s and the South African indie scene.

I need to get this out of the way. How sick and tired are you of hearing people ask you about your name? It really baffles me that people are so obsessed with figuring out why a band chose their particular name. We don’t walk about asking parents how they chose their child’s name so why constantly ask bands.

Thanks for saying something. It’s an easy question and for people that aren’t familiar with the band, they feel they must know, too bad the story is really boring – “we thought it was funny 10 years ago”.

I did some brief research on this interview and Google’s front page was kind enough to throw ten different articles at me and I quickly learnt that nine out of ten of your interviews consisted of some really stupid questions. Do you often find that people don’t take Desmond and the Tutus all that seriously?

We don’t want to be taken seriously but I hear what you’re saying. I think generally the quality of band interviews is quite poor – most of them are just classic band questions: what inspires you, who do you look up to, sometimes they throw in a wild one – if everyone in the band was a superhero who would you guys be and why. Great question, why indeed? We generally don’t mind but it does make the quality interviews stand out – like immediately you can tell the guy has been following the band for some time or has, at least, bothered to listen to the album.

It is actually a prevalent theme with regards to people’s approach to South African music. Why do you think so many people seem to regard the South African music scene as a rather frivolous entity that isn’t really worth any serious attention?

It’s not that they don’t take local music seriously otherwise, they wouldn’t be trying to interview a local band. It’s more they just have no idea how to write an interesting article and even less idea of how to interview a band that you’ve never heard of before.

You guys have been around since 2005 even though you only released your first album in 2008. Was it difficult starting out at this particular point in time where everybody seemed to be obsessed with anti-establishment Afrikaans punk bands rather than eclectic English-speaking indie rock meets post-punk?

It actually was a great time for English rock bands, at the time English rock was Watershed, Mean Mr Mustard and so forth. There weren’t really any bands that that appealed to kids that wanted to rock out and have a good time. I think we started a little underground indie scene back then and for the kids that came out it meant the world to them. So like most things in music – right place right time had a lot to do with it.

2008 marked a point in time where people started to drift away from the traditional rock and punk formula and rather started experimenting with weirder sounds and at some point the South African indie scene took shape. Is weird to look back and kind of acknowledge that you, in some way, played a hand in shaping an incredibly popular niche of South African music?

Again, I think right place right time – lots of suburban kids didn’t want to have to rebel against society just to go out and watch a band. We just wanted to have a good time. I think that resonated with people – you don’t have to have some crazy rebellious message or make some defiant statement you can just be a dumb band that wants to have fun. That’s what our little scene was back then, just rocking out having fun. Rock music doesn’t have to be sad and angry forever, guys.

However, do you ever wonder what would have happened if you had started your band later. Do you think you would have had the same success, or even made the same kind of music?

I have no idea, part of what makes us love what we do is the response we get from people for it. It’s great to make music but I don’t consider myself a musician so to me it’s all about helping people have a fun, weird night out. We’re lucky enough that the timing was good and kids got into it. If any of the variables had changed – timing, band members, style, it might not have taken off and there’s no way I’d be making songs about Pretoria Girls and Youth Group Leaders ten years later for the sake of artistic expression.

I am awfully fond of discussing the South African music industry with people – to the point where I may prompted a certain band to complain in an interview. So, what your honest thoughts on the current state of the South African industry and what are some of the biggest challenges that currently face it?

Everyone has something to say about it but really none of that matters. The only thing that matters with music is making something and finding people to like it. And that is all on you. No promoter or manager or record label can fast track that – either you make likeable music or you don’t, some people just don’t. But if you do, things will happen.

You released your third album last year. It was initially scheduled to be released as a three-part EP series but it seemed like you guys went straight from releasing Enjoy Yourself Pt. 1 to releasing a full-length album. Did I miss something or did you just decide to skip part two and three, and head straight to the full-length album?

Ja, look, we wanted to release three parts but it took us so long to prepare part 2 for release that it looked like the release would be split up over 3 years which is just ridiculous, so around the time, we were going to release part 2 we just released the whole thing. I mean does it really matter?

Enjoy Yourself is by far the best Desmond and the Tutus album to date. It is also the most mature album. Can we expect further releases to continue in this mature vein, or are you going to be South Africa’s Bowling For Soup and just end up pretending to be 20-year-olds when you’re nearing your 50s?

If I’m still in a band in my 50s I want you to hunt me down and shoot me in the face. We are really proud of Enjoy Yourself, the process was great – we worked with High Seas Records and they just “got” us immediately. I think after ten years we have finally figured out how to work together, so that helped. I enjoy writing about teenage stuff, growing up stuff – life was so easy and simple back then but we all made it seem so hard – so there’s a lot of fun stuff to write about when you think about your childhood. But I have started writing more about my life as an adult too and it’s just as fun, so I think we’ll continue to do whatever we want and hope for the best.

You performed at Hillcrest on Valentine’s Day. I was incredibly lucky to be privy to that particular show but I noticed that the crowd to which you performed as very different to the kind that usually turns up at a Desmond and the Tutus gig. What was your take on the show?

It was great. We’ve been playing sweaty nightclubs for a long time and that is what we love the most, but there is something really special about watching a field of picnic blanket owners grimacing through our hectic nonsensical songs.

I noticed that you got a bit annoyed with people constantly insisting on you to play “Pretoria Girls”. Is this something that you wished people did less of at gigs?

It’s not that I’m upset about it. It’s just that obviously we’re going to play that one at the end guys. So don’t chant after song two. Maybe we should just start by opening the show with it, get it over and done with and move on.

Finally, I have always loved your merch designs. Are you planning to release some new designs and how to incredibly broke people go about acquiring one of these shirts?

We are hopefully going to do a couple more this year – they are available online.

Purchase tickets to see them this Friday via Webtickets.

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