By BRUCE DENNILL
Go The Rodeo is an alternative electro-rock band from Johannesburg. Their current line-up is Robert Mitchley (bass guitar, backing vocals, keyboard), Corne van Niekerk (vocals, guitar) and Craig Atkinson (drums). Van Niekerk gives some insights into the band.
“Influence” is a loaded, often misunderstood concept. An artist may sound similar to another but have no knowledge of them, or be a super-fan of someone whose output is completely different to their own. Who or what was the artist, album, song, era or scene that initially mapped out the road to you becoming a musician?
When Rob and I reached our late teens and really started hanging out, the SA music scene was booming. It was the MK89 [South African music video television channel] era, and we were completely in love with the indie culture that came with it. The first band we watched together was Ashtray Electric, and seeing them at Back2Basix was probably the defining moment in our musical careers. From there we dove into the music of Fokofpolisiekar, New Holland, Van Coke Kartel, Foto Na Dans, aKing, and various other local artists. We were so infatuated with the South African scene that we barely explored international artists at that stage.
Has that changed over the years? If so, how and why, and what are you currently exploring?
Absolutely. I’m open-minded about various different genres of music, and I feel that certain genres and the subcultures that go along with them have unique aspects to them the others might not. Craig and I are big fans of the hardcore scene – bands that come to mind are Architects, Bring Me the Horizon, Atilla, Underoath, and Enter Shikari. There was also blues rock phase where Rob and I listened to a lot of White Stripes, Black Keys, Royal Blood and Kings Of Leon. Currently I’m listening to a bit more commercial electronic sounds, and trying to focus on the direction that I want to go with our music. That includes MGMT, M83, Sir Sly, Stephen and Twenty One Pilots.
Name one song you wish you’d written (or, if you’re not a writer, one you’d like to be known got as the definitive interpreter of). What makes that song so important?
Let It Happen by Tame Impala. Any time I listen to this track, it blows my mind. The way Kevin Parker was able to capture that psychedelic presence while bring poppy melodies into play just melts my eardrums.
Which aspects of your music do you prioritise? For you, would you rather have that your lyrics, your melodies, or your vocals or instrumental work are the are the most memorable parts of your songs?
I think that it varies depending on the song. For me the most important is that people are able to connect with our music, whether that’s through lyrics, melodies, or beats. In terms of prioritising, I believe that good and catchy melodies have to come first. If you try and force certain lyrics into a song, and the melody sucks, then you’ve lost the opportunity for people to connect with those lyrics. I’d definitely want to be remembered for my lyrics, but few people are going to be bothered by good lyrical content if they’re connected to bad melodies.
The music industry is no longer a single-narrative operation. For you, what is the best way to get your music from your head to potential listeners? Please comment on digital means (from social media to full streaming and download distribution), playing live (how often; where; to whom), being a cottage industry (eg selling CDs from a box in your car) and any other creative channels you’ve explored.
There are so many channels nowadays that you can’t just focus on one. Most of our streams come from Spotify, and the SA Spotify team has been very good to us when it comes to curated playlists and getting our music within public reach. Instagram has also been a good platform for us, and a lot of our loyal fans found us through Instagram. But when it comes to loyal followers and getting fans that will attend your shows, the best approach is impressing them with your live music. Most people that stream music or find you on social media aren’t as likely to come out to live shows. So we take our live shows seriously, and try and bring something to it that you won’t find by simply listening to our songs. That also gives us the opportunity to sell merchandise and physical copies of our music, which makes our music a lot more tangible.
In terms of the above, is there a gap between what you envisioned and what you are experiencing now? Does it matter, and if so, how do you close that gap?
Yes, as I said earlier, we grew up in the MK89 era where bands were able to reach a much wider audience in a shorter time-frame. We obviously didn’t expect MK to be cancelled, and also didn’t foresee the consequences that it would have on the local industry. So building a following nowadays takes more work, and the best approach we’ve found is to firstly have a quality product and brand, but also be transparent and real on social media. People are overwhelmed with choices of artists, and advertising in general, so showing our human side has been our way of standing out.
What is your new/most recent release? What is the story behind it – the genesis of the song, the people involved, the muse behind its creation?
Our most recent release is Smoke Me Like a Cigarette. We wanted to explore a something a bit more poppy that would appeal to a different audience. Even though a lot of artists and music fans object to the idea of pop or commercial music, it’s definitely worth exploring, and it’s not so easy writing something that wide audience will like. So we tried that, and our producer Tjaart van der Walt helped guide us with this track. In terms of lyrics, it’s about being used in a relationship, but in such a way that you’re an addiction to them, and something that they don’t want to get too attached too or too reliant on. I found myself wasting a lot of time pursuing this girl, and trying to persuade her to be with me, but it just ended up killing me. The line “played me like Russian Roulette” summed it up quite well to me, because I was being played, and she was afraid of getting hurt or killed by the situation.