Welcome to Lords of Metal. That album travelled far, didn't it?
It sure did! Approximately nine and a half thousand kilometres from Cape Town (Africa's southernmost city) to The Netherlands. In South Africa, our record industry is geared almost exclusively toward commercial and mainstream styles of music, or genres that can be considered as feasible to the ethnic population. This presents a great challenge to South African metal bands, and most of our albums that are in circulation around the world have had to be sent by us personally.
I trust you take great pride in the release of your album 'Stigma'.
It was an exciting time for us. We love the songs, and most of those on the album are the ones that go down the best at live shows. There is actually only one song which was written “in studio” so to speak, 'Revenge' which is the last track on the album. In this respect, we consider the album – which is our first – to be more of a collection of hit 'live' tracks written over the three years that Mind Assault has been on the circuit, functioning mainly as a live entertainment act. Basically, it's something nice for our fans to say thanks for all the support, and an opportunity for new listeners to become familiar with Mind Assault. We're presently trying to raise the funds to return to studio to begin a new work. Next time we will be creating something where each song is written for the purpose of being on that specific album, the way many of our heroes have done it.
You are quite full of initiative when it comes to organising metal festivities in South Africa, don't you?
Yes, I suppose we are. It took Mind Assault about one year to climb the ladder of “hierarchy” in our local metal scene in Cape Town, and by the end of two years we had done so country-wide. But in that time we learned that the available help in the scene was not enough to grow Mind Assault to the heights we felt were possible. Over a few beers one evening, we reached the conclusion that the only way to become a main act in a big show was to abandon the commercial festivals that were placing us in rubbish slots, and capitalizing from our fanbase. Instead, we would harness the power of the metal fanbase and give them events that were organised for metalhead - and organised by metalheads! Everybody was much happier after that, and the shows have grown into quite a feature since. Many people in the local metal scene have followed this example, to various degrees of success.
What do you consider the biggest highlight, on that point?
Our album launch party was spectacular! We were very proud of the turnout as well as the sales on the night. You must understand that our scene in Cape Town is not very big, so if there is 1000 people at a show, then that is A LOT of people and unheard of for local metal. But there was just under a thousand people there that night and the crowd was amazing during our set. Interesting enough, the venue we played at was only one block away from the venue where we played some of our first shows – which were in the attic of a pub that could only fit about 40 or 50 people inside – so to see that kind of growth is really heart-warming.
And what is the biggest highlight in general?
It is hard to pin the biggest highlight onto just one date or experience. We have had so many great times travelling. I think it is safe to say that a big crowd, or a festival crowd does not always mean the best crowd. One show we played was in a town called Nelspruit. It's in the middle of nowhere, and surrounded by real rough country. There were people who had driven for more than two hours from whatever farm or game reserve, or wherever it was that they worked and lived out in the wilderness. They just wanted to be there because they never get to see metal bands. We were nervous at first because everybody in that part of the world seems to carry guns, and we saw people handing all their firearms to security at the door. They actually turned out to be one the warmest and most enthusiastic crowds we ever played to. What made this show so special was that we never really expected much. It is sometimes nice to be proven wrong.
As mentioned before, you are from South Africa, which is not a very well known country yet, when it comes to spawning metal bands. Is there a big scene around, nowadays?
South Africa is very far off the beaten path for international acts. We also are a very big country and travel between cities is long distance and expensive, and our larger cities are few. Because of this, the accounting never works out in favour of the entertainment. Few people can afford the premium ticket prices. As a result, our country provides it's own, more affordable entertainment. Sure, the quality is not always up to the standard we see on DVD's of our favourite international bands, but the heart and soul is definitely up on a very high level. Many South Africans who have travelled abroad come home to say that the intensity of local shows is better than most shows they have been to overseas. We give the credit to the supporters of metal in SA, because it's them that actually make the show. There are also many bands. Well over 100 at any given time, but many do not last long because of the hardship. A large percentage of people who go out to the shows also play an instrument themselves. I think that South Africa must have the highest number of metal bands on the continent.
Our two countries share a lot of history. I will not dig up the past too much, neither one of us have had any influence on it. But you did witness all the changes. Would you have had your band publishing anything before the transition?
We are fortunate enough to have been too young to understand much of what was going on during the years of transition. We could see that there was trouble! Any age kid can work out danger for themselves – when your school teachers are not in class because they have to take shifts patrolling the parameter of the school property for suspicious intruders and so forth. But we experience enough of this country's history on a day to day basis. It gives us a lot of food for thought and it definitely inspires some of the lyrics. Many of our songs are written in Afrikaans, which is the language of the “settlers”, and has strong roots in your own language. Although in this day and age there is much to fear in South Africa, we need not fear freedom of speech. Our new constitution makes that clear. Before 1994 we would have been subjected to very strict censorship laws. We hope that this new freedom is not temporary, though. Politics have a way of sometimes turning things around very quickly and often unexpectedly. Lot's of smoke and mirrors in politics, which provides for some more great lyrical content…
Apart from the music you love, what is one of the greatest things about South Africa?
The space. When you need to find solace and just get out of the “Rat-Race” from time to time, it is reasonably easy to do so. You can get out into the country side and just find peace of mind. It's also great to be able to make an open fire to cook. Many South Africans abroad complain that laws in those countries prohibit open fires. We like to “braai”, and it is a part of our culture. We just sit around a fire listening to music (in our circle of friends this is obviously metal), roasting meat and drinking beer with our friends. No visitor to South Africa has properly experienced its people if they have not joined in a “braai”. You should come!
Would you recommend bands from Europe and America, or from wherever to come to South Africa?
We would love to see more live bands from abroad. We have realized the problems attached to that possibility, though. Many of the artist managers don't really want to send their bands down here unless they can be guaranteed a minimum number of shows, for example. We only have three or four large urban centres that might actually be able to host bands of a higher calibre – in the whole country! And then there are no guarantees that the shows will be a financial success either. South Africans generally don't believe in pre-sales for tickets. It's a big challenge. Being such a weak economy does not help either, because when you've got to pay bands in Dollars or Euro, people cannot really afford the tickets. Some bands have come over the years, but very few. In living memory, we've only ever seen The Haunted, Entombed, Soulfly, Sepultura, Blind Gaurdian, Iron Maiden, Metallica, and one or two others. Most of them only came once. We drove about twenty hours (each direction) across the country to see Carcass last year. It was a ridiculous journey, but there is no way we would have missed it. Some other bands were supposed to come but then things go wrong. We've missed out on Sinister, for example, back in 2001 if I remember correctly. I had to get my ticket refunded, but I think it was probably because not enough people bought into it. I was pissed off because back then we did not understand such things. We do now.
Have you ever been to The Netherlands and what do you know about us, apart from the fact that it in the same time zone and it is a lot colder?
No, none of our members have been yet. Our drummer would love to come. I think he has some strong hereditary interests in The Netherlands. To some degree, I think most of us do have some trace back to The Netherlands. The Dutch were the first to settle in Southern Africa in the 1600's, and so much of that history is still very visible. In our home city, there is an architectural style called “Cape Dutch”, and many of the old buildings built in that style are now national monuments – even the venue where many of our large hometown shows take place is a national monument built in this style. The language of Afrikaans used to be called “Kitchen-Dutch” by the English colonists back in the day. This was not a friendly term either, and it was the tension with the English that resulted in a national identity of Afrikaaner culture. Otherwise today, maybe many of our people would still consider themselves as Dutch – who knows?
You wrote some songs in you native tongue, Afrikaans. Why is that?
We realised a long time ago that it would be a long way before the world took any kind of significant notice of music from South Africa. Particularly metal music. We knew that the majority of our audience would be South Africans, and we wanted to make music that they could enjoy and relate to, and that we could also. Even though most South Africans speak English, Afrikaans is still the first language of most of the metal-listening population, and so is it for three of our band members. Our vocalist writes his best lyrics in Afrikaans and the expression and feeling comes across as true. Afrikaans is also a great language for metal just because of how it sounds. It is much more rough and guttural sounding than English. More true to the nature of metal, really.
They seem to deal with breaking free from oppression a lot, am I right? Breaking free from which oppression would that be?
Haha, good question. Oppression exists in so many different levels. If one thinks too hard on it, it would drive you mad! Some of the lyrics reflect the oppression of one who grew up as an outsider, always rejected by society because of what you stand for. “Ek sal bloie vir alles wat ek in glo…” means: I will bleed for all in which I believe. That was a very popular phrase used on one of our T-shirts. On another level, we still have deep political undercurrents causing trouble in this country. It often feels like people are trying to dig up the past rather than focusing on the future, so that they can twist current situations to their own advantage. There is also a saying that goes: “nobody wants to be a pale male in the new South Africa”, because politics make it hard for this specific demographic to find work. This demographic also happens to be the majority of metal supporters, although recent years has begun to see a little more variation in racial diversity at metal shows. On the other hand, our fathers and grandfathers were oppressed from a different kind of enemy – it is well known that our former government used all sorts of techniques and methods to engage in a form of social engineering – essentially, this means to have control over people's perceptions of things and to influence their actions as a result of those perceptions. Not too unlike the Nazi's. This may explain our choice in name: Mind Assault. We have no doubt that similar antics are being exercised by powers in every level of society in every part of the world, and will continue do so for all eternity to follow. We want people to understand that and to see that they can make choices for themselves.
What is the general idea, when you write a song? Does it have to have a message, to a certain point?
We like to think so. Sometimes we write a song and lyrics come on impulse, and it sounds good so we run with it, shaping verses around that theme. But more often than not, those impulses reflect that same continuity that is found in all of our music. There have been a few songs consciously written for specific purposes. For example, the final track on our album, “Revenge”, was about how a friend of ours felt (the guy who did our album art, actually) when his best mate was murdered in a senseless gang initiation. He was not even involved in a gang or anything like that, but was targeted randomly. Just in the wrong place at the wrong time cost him his life. We tend to get wrapped up in stuff on emotional levels that we like to synthesise into music. Angry music! The music gives the listener a sense of liberation through venting. It sounds all very serious, but we actually have a lot of fun and our audiences do too. We might start a show with a message about being pissed off about something in the news lately, and the crowd gets all charged up – sometimes on the brink of riot, but then we ease them out through the set by giving them an opportunity to blow off some steam to some good head-banging heavy metal. Afterwards, we will all drink and be merry.
Do you first write the music, of do the words come first?
Not always. Some of the songs just start out with a jam. This is usually me and Andries (guitarist & drummer), and then we have a bunch of blistering riffs that need to be woven into song by the rest of the band. Mostly, though, if Jacques (vocals) has some lyrics that were written, he likes to sit with Francois (other guitarist) and work something out that can come to the band room in a raw but nearly complete format. Then we rehash it a little to give it the Mind Assault “signature”. Other times we have music and words must follow. We all have our creative ways and preferences, but there is no set regime.
You play a kind of music that balances between death and thrash metal. Which one is the most appealing to you? You don't have to pick if you can't, by the way
Haha, if you ever want to start a band fight in Mind Assault, then just make each member choose and back his side! We are all from such diverse backgrounds of influence that we don't even know where we stand. I'm into the more doom and gloom styles of metal, and Andries is very much into symphonic black. I think that's he and I gel quite well on our instruments, because our common ground is the dark, sinister, and mystic. Jacques loves his technical death metal while Flapper is a huge fan of 80's metal and a lot of today's power metal. Donovan tends to like stuff with a bit more funk and groove – like Primus or something really bizarre like Maximum The Hormone! Essentially, we all love metal in every shape and size, but what comes out of the jam room is never guided by an individual and his preference. The thrashy-death vibe is just a natural product of five very different guys finding some happy common ground.
Is there one mastermind in the band, or do you make everything democratically?
Democracy has become something of a national treasure in South Africa, and we all hope that it stays that way. Take a look at the rest of Africa and you will see why. As a band, we do our small part in the spirit of democracy.
Next year you will be hosting the World Cup Football (it is only called soccer in America). Will Bafana Bafana spray the champagne?
It's quite funny, actually. Our national sports that excel are our rugby and cricket. Both have done really well internationally on a continuous basis, despite the hiccups along the way. Football is still an emerging spectator sport in South Africa, but I think that 2010 will change that dramatically. At present, there is not a particularly strong faith in the local team, as they have yet to prove themselves on the level we have become accustomed to with regard to our rugby and cricket teams.
Do you know our team? Do you give the Dutch any bit of chance?
None of us in Mind Assault follow Football too closely, unfortunately. I think this is because our country does not really have any major tournaments, thus very little media coverage. As a result, it is not a strong part of our national culture as other sports are. South Africans who follow Football seem to be more interested in Club Football for some reason. As said, this is likely to change in SA with the coming of World Cup. On a positive note, many Afrikaaner South Africans will definitely be rooting for The Netherlands, simply because of our heritage, so your boys must not be shy to walk in here with some attitude. It is also widely believed that your national team has a history of being quite formidable.
Wouldn't it be a dream come true when you could perform on the opening ceremony?
You have no idea! Although our scene is filled with energy and passion and buzzes with activity, the fact remains that very few South Africans are even aware that SA metal bands exist. We get zero radio, TV or media coverage. If not for the internet, we'd probably still be jamming in our garages and recording with old cassette decks. To go in front of a global spectatorship and blow them sky high with some home-brewed, bone-crunching metal would leave us ready to die happy.
Well, I think it was really special to do a review on a band from South Africa. Let's hope one day it becomes common. I'll leave you for this time. Is there any final thought you would like to share with us?
Yeah, thanks! It's great to have the spotlight shifted this way every once in a while. Although we are very isolated and don't have much money to pump into our scene, we believe that the quality of music and showmanship from South Africa is improving every day. Do yourselves a favour and visit www.metal4africa.com to keep track of what is happening. Visit at least once a month and you might be amazed by the growth. The site is still a new concept and run basically by unpaid volunteers, but the idea is to grow it into an international resource of information for metalheads that ever wanted to know what is going on in Africa. Someday soon our country is going to deliver something to the global metal scene that the whole world can be proud of.