I remember the first time I saw The Plastics. It was at Zula Bar and they immediately caught my attention with their fresh, energetic indie rock sounds. Pascal Righini, guitarist and vocalist impressed. His voice crisp and full of promise. Over the next year or two I took close interest as they climbed up the Cape Town scene, their net ever open scooping up new fans. They won the Rocking the Daisies Red Bull RADAR new-comer competition in 2008 and since then they haven’t looked back. Their first album ‘Kiss the Plastics’ was playful and lively and served its purpose but now they have new album ‘SHARK’ and they’ve gone big. A speculative email to Gordon Raphael who produced The Strokes and Skin (Skunk Anansie) among others saw him accept the challenge of producing The Plastics new album. The result is quite simply; staggering. Pascal has come into his own as a vocalist and the band have pushed themselves to make an album that shows diversity, richness and bravery. This is an album to savour and respect; to dance too, to kiss a girl too, and to cry too. It’s full of emotion.
I sat down with Sasha Righini (drums), Karl Rohloff (bass) and The Plastics manager Jeremy Moyle to discuss the new album, working with Gordon and sounding like The Strokes.
What was it like working with Gordon Raphael?
Sasha: Really cool, he’s a very chilled guy. You’d think that because he’s worked with so many big bands he’d be a bit a diva but he’s not.
Karl: He was very chilled. When we asked his opinion he said ‘Well, what you think?’ and then he’ll give his opinion so it’s a nice collaborative style.
Jeremy: He never pushed the guys. He would give his opinion and let you decide whether you would used it or not. He wasn’t gonna throw a hissy fit and run away. I could see from the first day what a difference having a producer around made. Even just being in the band room, playing him the songs it was great to have that external ear. He’s got vast experience and knowledge and from day one we knew it was money well spent.
How did he get along with the sound engineers?
Sasha: He didn’t really have a problem. The biggest frustration was that he uses Pro Tools and Sound & Motion uses Qbase so he had to learn a whole new program as he went along. It would be frustrating when he wanted to do something but then needed to explain to the engineer and have the engineer do it for him.
Jeremy: He works really fast, a lot of producers record everything and then mix afterwards. Gordon mixes as he goes along.
How does having someone like Gordon behind you help your street cred overseas?
Karl: They’ll at least give it a listen. He’s produced bands like The Strokes and Skin so he has some sway.
Sasha: On top of that he’s also got his connections so we won’t necessarily be gifted a way to the top but he’ll put us in contact with some good people. Its up to us from there.
Jeremy: He’s really been proactive in trying to help us out, punting the stuff to labels. Nothings happen yet, but it’s cool to know that he’s amped on the band.
Do I detect a Beatles influence in the new songs?
[Karl grabs his jacket superman style to reveal a Beatles t-shirt]
Sasha: Definitely. Collectively the Beatles are our favourite band.
Karl: We’ve all grown up on the Beatles and we’ve all been listening to them a lot the last while.
What happens when a band takes itself too seriously?
Jeremy: Take ourselves too seriously?
Ja, I mean you have to take your music seriously but what happens if you take yourselves too seriously?
Jeremy: That’s bad.
Sasha: We’re just normal guys. We’re not these rock gods.
Jeremy: The guys have all been in other bands, I’ve managed other bands, and when the Plastics started you obviously try to get shows with bigger bands and when you approach them they’re all hesitant but as you start to grow you notice those people suddenly want to be chilled to you and its kinda funny. It’s something I’ve always remembered because now we get bands that want to play with us. Sometimes it doesn’t work out but it’s not because we’re the Plastics and we’re to cool to play them so you gotta remember that you were once in that position.
Locally, the live aspect of your music is important. It’s where you get your name out, it’s how you make your money. Do you keep that in mind when you’re recording, think about how you can incorporate your sounds into a live environment?
Karl: The way we’ve always written songs is by jamming live and lucky Sound & Motion have the facility to allow you to record live so most of the songs were recorded with all of us in the room. Everyone gets recorded at the same time. Obviously parts could be redone later, like the bass, if need be but playing and recording together means it’s easier to put it into a live environment.
Sasha: We didn’t want it to sound to perfect. We wanted the bleed, we wanted the messy stuff happening because that’s fun to listen to. It doesn’t sound great but you like it because it’s got personality. Make it sound unique.
The new material seems to have more melancholic undertones compared to Kiss the Plastics, which was more fun.
Karl: I think so. We definitely explored the minor keys a lot more.
Sasha: Pascal has a talent for writing melancholic stuff. He writes all the time, he has books full of stuff and I think that filtered into the new stuff. You won’t be depressed when listening to it but I think that’s a fair observation.
What challenges come with bring out a second LP?
Jeremy: Well we like to consider this our first full length album. Kiss the Plastics was a mash up between the first EP and Kiss the Plastics.
Karl: When we recorded Kiss the Plastics, Arjuna had literally just joined as we were recording that album so the songs were mostly written for a three-piece. These songs have all been written with the second guitar in mind.
And how has the scene changed since that first EP?
Sasha: The scene’s just getting bigger. It’s really encouraging. More people are going to shows, with things like [Your] LMG coming out; it’s bringing a lot of life into the scene. More young people are getting involved with the different aspects, yourself with the journalism, guys setting up blogs it all helps to grow it.
Karl: Festivals are getting bigger. It’s clear that it’s growing.
There’s no denying that you sound like the Arctic Monkeys and The Strokes, what do you say to this?
Karl: We didn’t ever really care much. Maybe in the beginning we thought like…
Sasha: Like we were being attacked. I did let it get to me one day and I was all bummed out and was like ‘All these people say we sound like these other bands but we want to sound original’ and a buddy asked me why I let it get to me, he said ‘Think of all the people who like The Strokes and Arctic Monkeys and will read about you and say, I like those bands let me check them out’.
Karl: Every band has been accused of sounding like or compared to other bands; I mean the Strokes have been compared to Television, Muse to Radiohead.
Sasha: I see where people are coming from but we do have our own ideas that go into the music.
Jeremy: I think with Shark, the Plastics have made moves toward their own sound. They’re not hundred percent there yet but they’re definitely finding that unique sound.
Sasha: They’re all ingredients of the whole package.
Karl: If you like something you’re gonna wear it on your sleave. If you grew up wanting to play football you might take queues from Steven Gerard, copy his style, wear his shirt.
There seems to be a more nuanced sound to Shark. Interesting additions like strings and synths. How much of this was Gordon’s influence or did you come in with your own ideas?
Karl: Well for Caves we knew we wanted the synth in it so we said to Gordon ‘go wild’. So he did.
Jeremy: For Jukebox too, they wanted the string quartet. Gordon just worked his magic.
Karl: That song was his baby. Obviously though, like we’ve said, you have to be conscious that you will be playing the songs live.
How much of South Africa has the band seen? Are you planning any touring with the new album?
Sasha: We were in Durban for less than twenty four hours [laughs].
Jeremy: We’ve played Oppikoppi, Joburg, Pretoria, Potch, Durban, Jeffery’s but with Shark we definitely want to tour more. You can’t just stay in Cape Town. People up north are great to play too, they seem to appreciate the music more.
Karl: For our gig at The Woods we were almost the last people to our show.
Jeremy: We’ll be taking the new album on tour. We’re looking forward to the response.
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