The Parlotones on Radiohead, personal space, and how long they can keep going as a band
Formed in 1998, South African rockers The Parlotones worked their way up in the domestic music scene, breaking into the mainstream with 2005’s sophomore effort Radiocontrolledrobot. Now firmly established as one of the country’s biggest and best-loved bands, the quartet have picked up a string of nine South African Music Awards, and were the first native band to sell out Johannesburg’s Ticketpro Dome, in 2009. National treasure status is secured, with lead singer Kahn Morbee is currently a coach on the South African version of The Voice.
Internationally, the band have played across each of the six continents, on tour bills with Coldplay, Starsailor, Snow Patrol and Blue October. Sharing the stage with Black Eyed Peas, Alicia Keys, and Shakira, at the 2010 Fifa World Cup helped the band reach a new international audience.
Returning for a fourth gig in Dubai, we caught up with 39-year-old guitarist Paul Hodgson.
At your last UAE gig, at Party in the Park in 2015, you supported your heroes Stereophonics. If you could warm up for anyone, living or dead, who?
It’s a tough question – Radiohead have always been a favourite. [Bassist] Glenn [Hodgson]’s a big fan of Rancid, and he’s always said he’d do anything to support them. It’s hard when you tour with someone whose music you enjoy – it’s said you should never meet your heroes, because you will be let down.
Who has let you down?
None that I can think of. We met Serj Tankian, from System of a Down, at a songwriters’s thing in Palm Springs in America, and he was just a bit weird – you know how some people are just hard to engage with. He wasn’t unfriendly – just odd. He was a little strange.
So, as a fan, what do you make of the new Radiohead record, A Moon Shaped Pool?
I really dig it. The last few albums have been almost challenging listening, you have to force yourself and then slowly get them into. We’re all huge fans of OK Computer, that’s kind of our benchmark, but I really like the new one. They’ve almost gone back to songs, in a way, not just these soundscapes of strange noises. There’s almost choruses, occasionally.
How do you stay sane on the road?
Luckily – technology. We’ve all got iPads, phones – our secret is to disengage. It’s not like we were ever the Gallagher brothers, but sometimes you just want your own space. We never play music in the van anymore, it’s very rarely a communal thing, everyone’s got their own noise-cancelling headphones. Which is sad in a way, we used to burn CDs with playlists for the tours where everyone chose a couple of songs – but everything changes.
How do you guys write?
It’s mostly the music first, someone will come up with some chords or a riff, and often Khan will have a semi-made song already, rough melodies that he hums. Lyrics normally come right at the end, once the song structure and melodies are there.
Any idea what album No 9 will sound like?
We haven’t. We actually want to take a bit longer this time and write tonnes of stuff, and sit and record practices. It’s not like we’re going to go crazy and do a Kid A or something, but I think it will just be nice to spend a lot more time slowly working out things.
How long can you see The Parlotones lasting?
We’re all mid-to-late thirties now, and unfortunately playing live is the only real stable form of income when it comes to music right now. So since playing live is what you’re kind of going to be forced to do, I think we can probably keep going for another 20 years. If you look at AC/DC and The Stones, you can keep going into your fifties quite comfortably. We have no intention of stopping anytime soon, but at some point you’re going to have to start taking it easy.
If the band had never made it, where would you be today?
I was in IT before the band, so I’d probably still be doing that, as computers rule the world. Khan was a financial adviser at a bank, so he’s probably still be doing that. Glenn qualified to be a teacher, so it would probably just be that regular job kind of stuff. Rock n’ roll saved us from the office – it’s an unpredictable, fickle industry, and we’ve been lucky to be around for so long.
• The Parlotones perform live at McGettigan’s JLT on Thursday, June 2, 9.30pm. Dh90 (with free drink)