Peachy Keen: five-piece '50s for 2012 by Evan Milton
Some bands attract sponsors like cellphone companies and family car lines; others garner interest from denim or sneaker labels. As for this pair of buxom blonde gals and trio of slickback hair guys, they're sponsored by Cape Town ink-master Tyler B. Murphy and his 'Sins of Style' tattoo-studio, and by the brand-spanking-new-kid on the premium booze block: Sailor Jerry Rum. This is 1950s-styled, rockabilly-born and punk-suckled pre-paparazzi pop, people. This is Peachy Keen. They're not here for your souls or the hearts and minds of your children - they just want to see you smile, and to keep you dancing.
Put "Backstreet Bingo" on that stereo - ideally, one should be creaking down a gramophone horn on a mono shellac LP - and jive away to the jangly guitars and Fender Rhodes styled organ riffs of "Do I Have To Explain", one of the raunchiest break-up tunes in a long time. Or strut your stuff to the saloon-style intro of "Shot A Man" before revelling in the country-blues of a delightfully tongue-in-cheek tale of a jilted woman's revenge. When Peachy Keen are on stage, look around at the 2012 hipsters grooving to tunes rooted in musical influences that have been with us for over half a century. If this is bingo, baby, we're all hearing our numbers being called.
"I've always had big love for The Beatles, Elvis and Johnny Cash," says co-founder Dominique Otto (vocals and rhythm guitar). "I looked around and no-one was doing that. I thought, 'If I watch a band, I'd love to be seeing that so I can dance - I want to go out and hear that music and have fun.' So it was just a question of putting that out there. We worked hard to put the package together and put the band out correctly but, since then, we've gigged consistently, because it's easy for people to have fun and dance. People love the '50s - that's a common feeling amongst almost everyone. As a matter of coincidence, just after we put Peachy Keen together and started playing, the big fashion houses started bringing the whole '50s look back. It's like the collective consciousness said, 'This is something that we need now'."
"Dom and I had been friends for a long time," says Peachy Keen's other founder, Alex Wise (vocals and keyboard). "We'd been in bands before, and always wanted to jam together. We started writing together and, after about a year, we had a full set and then started looking for guys to be the band. We found Brandon (Shore; drummer) at the Mercury, just going off to The Beatles. We said we loved the band, and he said he did too. He has a strong punk influence on the drums, and we realised that's way better than the influences we started with. It was hard to find an upright bass player, and someone told us about Greg (Abrahams) and he was amped about the sound so he joined us and, now, he plays lead guitar. We've been friends with Ryan (McArthur) forever and we kept asking him, 'Please join our band'. Then, about six months ago, he was free and that was that, and he's with us now on stand-up bass. That's us, all The Peaches."
The blend of rockabilly, '50s rock 'n roll, swing-jazz and punk appeals widely, and it's been a bust time since Peachy Keen debuted. They've launched "Backseat Bingo", a five-track EP recorded with South African Grammy-nominee Cedric Samson, created a dramatic video for "Shot A Man" and toured Johannesburg, Durban and the South Coast, played a handful of music festival and counted the Rock The River crowd into the New Year. Television appearances include "Hectic Nine 9" and "Expresso". Oddly, despite the wider influences and interests, they're often described as a rockabilly band.
"I always so, 'No, we're not a rockabilly band'," says Otto quickly. "We're influenced by that, but we're definitely not straight-up rockabilly, and I appreciate you asking the question. If you listen to rockabilly, Peachy Keen doesn't sound like that, and we wouldn't want to give people the wrong idea. Also, there are hectic rockabilly followers out there, who say you can't deviate from the music, otherwise you're not being true - they take the music very seriously. We draw on that as an influence - we like to think of it that we build on that foundation, and then pull in genres like jazz and swing; like blues and a little punk, a little pop."
"We love The Beatles, Chuck Berry and Elvis, and we're big Johnny Cash and Andrews Sisters fans," adds Wise. "We never wanted to be straight-up rockabilly - more like '50s rock 'n roll, and always bringing in other elements. We've got the swing, and the bluesy-bluegrass and the dirty country. That's important - we want to keep the music in a place that's accessible for everyone. We've seen people who love metal and punk dancing to our music. Peachy Keen is fun and upbeat - you can dance to it, or even chin-dance to it. We always say that we don't take ourselves too seriously, but we take the music seriously. We want people to have a good time at our shows, and dance and sing along."
Then, of course, there's the band's look. "No, I don't walk around like that everyday - sorry to disappoint!" laughs Otto. "I live on a farm, so I am often in gumboots but, personally, that is my 'going out' look. For 'Lex, it's a similar thing - I mean, it's not like she dresses like that on a mundane, Monday-to-Friday level. The boys do wear plaid shirts, so I don't think it's too far from their reality. It's a hell of a mission for me to get dressed up for the show, but it's part of the whole thing. Getting ready, doing my hair and my make-up; getting into who we are on stage."
Peachy Keen's "Backseat Bingo" is available on Sheer Music. "Shot A Man Down" can be found on YouTube. Hear members of the band playing with Half Price and Crimson House Blues on Saturday 16 June at The Brass Bell
(Kalk Bay Station); also featuring members of 7th Son, LP Show, Hog Hoggidy Hog, Crossfire Collision and Alive At Midnight. More on Facebook.com/PeachyKeenSA and Twitter.com/PeachyKeenSA, with tracks on Soundcloud.com/PeachyKeenSA.
First appeared in the Cape Argus "Good Weekend" of 2012/ 06/10.
Music journalist, Digital marketing strategist, SA Music Awards judge and radio DJ for Fine Music Radio.