q&a Ahead of their gig at the Irish Village tonight, the frontman of The Parlotones, Kahn Morbee, reveals his views on fame, fashion and indie rock.
Hey man, you want to start a band?
It was probably an influence from my cousins, who were always listening to music; when I was growing up, they were into INXS, The Smiths and The Cure, that sort of thing. I wouldn't say we sound like those bands, but they were definitely inspirations for me, catalysts. I grew up in a quite strict religious family, too, so I was also involved in church music and singalongs.
We all went to the same primary and high school, but we didn't really know each other, and then at varsity we happened to be studying a few of the same subjects, and we were like, "Hey, man," and from there we decided to start a band. The name came about because a lot of our favourite bands were signed to Parlophone - Radiohead, The Beatles - so it was like a weird attempt to tempt fate.
Our charts are basically influenced by what comes out of America, so you don't really get UK rock, and for a long time we struggled to get heard on the radio because we sound a lot more British than American. Rock is definitely a scene, sure, but it's not as established as it would be in the UK or America, or even Europe. There's no consistent scene, like in London, where there are lots of bands on every night. I'd say I know only four bands who play full time: the majority have day jobs and do the bands in their spare time. You find a lot of the guys are educated, with fairly good jobs, so there's not really that typical rock-and-roll excess and debauchery because they've got to be at their desks the next day with clear eyes.
It does wonders for you in terms of people hearing the song, but it was only in Ireland, which is a tiny music scene, probably smaller than South Africa. But it definitely gave us the confidence to go and tour and cut our teeth out there. We're not signed to a major label in South Africa - they pretty much service the international catalogue, with a few token local bands - so we went to an indie label: if their bands don't succeed they don't eat, so we know they try hard for us. Although, at the end of August we're going to America to do some showcases for Sony BMG.
As a broad term, I'd say we're indie pop rock - at times more rocky, at times poppy, at times indie, at times mellow and melancholy. But I doubt my own description sometimes. I've read reviews of shows in the UK and one guys says we're like Dire Straits, while another thinks we're like Fall Out Boy, but I don't think I've ever been influenced by them - I don't think I even have the albums. People always want to pigeonhole you.
We decided a while ago to go for uniform - it just neatens up the whole thing. As a band you can get a bit lazy, especially if you're touring, and we were going on stage with oversized tees, and looking really disjointed, so that's why we decided on the uniform. The make-up thing stemmed from a party we were playing at for Cosmopolitan magazine. The theme was "glam vamp", so we all wore make-up, and then I watched Clockwork Orange, where the character Alex wears his eye make-up on only one side of the face, which looked good.
We've had a few moments in South Africa, when you're selling out venues and selling loads of albums, and you think, yeah, this is it. But you soon get brought down to reality. I think the bigger you get, the harder you've got to prove to people that you aren't arrogant. It's the people that don't know you, really, who make prejudements - they almost want you to be arrogant or a diva, so you have to go the opposite way and treat everyone like you'd wanted to be treated. I don't think anyone has a licence to treat other people, of whatever class or colour, with any less dignity than they would want to be treated with themselves.