Fresh but nostalgic: Annie Klopper chats to Nic Gaud of Goodnight Wembley

Taxi Violence’s George van der Spuy and Nic Gaud of 7th Son are the founding members of a grungy rock ’n roll side project that has me not only excited, but also a little worried that I might struggle to listen to anything else this year.

Together George and Nic run the Cape Town rehearsal studio Kill City Blues and have been talking about doing a side project together for quite some time. Working together and having a lot of time just to sit and talk about music, it was rather natural that they would eventually decide just to do it and get involved in making music together. So they called in Alex Krause (of Dead Lucky) on guitar and Jean Labuschagne (Dead Lucky and Bilderberg Motel) on drums, with Gideon de Kock (Like Knives and Yes Sir! Mister Machine) as bassist, and called it Goodnight Wembley.

The band’s quite aptly named first single, “Time Machine”, literally sped through the airwaves and on to the charts.

With sound-testing and guitar strokes in the background, on a rainy Cape Town evening I caught up with Nic at the buzzing Kill City Blues:

When you all already have your respective bands going, why a side project on top of that?

With Taxi Violence and 7th Son having been in the industry for quite a number of years, both George and I got to the point where we felt we needed a new canvas to paint on. Not all your ideas that you have as a musician fit categorically into your existing band. Especially with established bands like Taxi Violence and 7th Son there’s a certain sound that’s almost expected. It was really just an opportunity to showcase the different varieties of songwriting that we both have.

You’re being labelled as one of South Africa’s first all-star bands …

(Laughs.) Of course we don’t see ourselves that way. I guess it’s kind of been labelled like that because everyone in the band has come from an established background already. But that was more coincidence than anything else. Obviously, with running this rehearsal studio and pretty much everyone in the music industry who is based in Cape Town rehearsing here, we have the advantage of looking at a lot of musos and we had a very clear indication of who we wanted to get involved in the project.

Photo: Baden Moir

So you and George literally went and sat down and decided who you think would best suit the new band?

We spoke about who we wanted to be involved and for what particular reasons. Then we approached each individual and that’s really how the band was formed. We didn’t know how it was going to work out – we just had an idea of what we wanted to do and the people we wanted to be involved with. And luckily it’s just worked. It’s a very good dynamic and everyone is very musically capable.

So picking and choosing the ideal members for your project, it’s pretty much the same way a record label starts a boyband …

(Laughs.) We’ll do our best to try and steer away from that. It was more like who could keep up with us. We needed some young blood.

Photo: Kyle Miljof

You describe your music as “innovative yet familiar”. Where does “familiar” sprout, and also from where the “innovative”?

In a nutshell it’s basically taking our influences from both the ‘70s era with your Zeppelins and Sabbath and mixing them in with the ‘90s grunge era – both George and I were teenagers in the 90s and grew up heavily influenced by the grunge movement. And then putting those together with a modern-day twist, our current era thrown in.

On the topic of the current era, what do you consider to be the biggest challenges in the South African music scene on the one hand and pros on the other?

I think George would agree with me here: we both had the advantages of travelling overseas with our respective bands and getting some perspective on the South African music scene. Definitely the advantage is that here you can be a big fish in a small pond. The overseas market is saturated with great bands, there’s talent everywhere. So while the pro of being here is that you can be that big fish in a small pond, the cons are that it’s really really hard to make a living doing what you love to do in this country. You’ve really got to work hard. I mean, we’d love to just play music for a living and both of us have come from relatively successful bands, yet we still have to run a business like this one. (A bunch of guys clutching guitar cases walk in, high-five Nic and go to set up in one of the rehearsal rooms.)

Photo: Samantha Laura Kaye

It’s obviously hard work, all of this. So where do you get the energy to do two bands at once?

I’ve actually got a solo project as well, called Jonny Bud. I don’t think of it as energy or whatever. We’re musicians and that’s who we are. So it’s not hard to commit time to it. Finding the time sometimes is quite hard. But the easiest way to look at it is having different media to express yourself with. With more than one project it allows us to vent all the musicality that’s in us, get it out there and still be relevant. I come from 7th Son, which is a ska-punk-reggae band, and now I play in a retro rock band and my solo project is an acoustic-based thing. So it’s like three different universes, but it’s all music that I feel expresses who I am. And I think it’s the same for everyone who’s involved in Goodnight Wembley. Like Gideon, our bassist, from Yes Sir! Mister Machine, which is a very heavy band, and he gets to express a lighter side of himself.

And the name Goodnight Wembley …?

George sometimes used to jokingly end some Taxi Violence shows with the words “Goodnight Wembley”, referring to London’s famous Wembley Stadium – the Mecca of rock ’n roll in many ways. And then one night we were talking about names for the bands and that came up. It just has so many connotations to the name … in many ways we felt it’s like paying tribute to an era that’s kind of died through the pop culture. Bands aren’t as huge and relevant as they used to be, given the nature of pop music now. A great example is just looking at MTV in the 90s and looking at MTV now, seeing just how much it has changed. In many ways it pays tribute to that bygone era, but it also has a certain amount of tongue in cheek, some optimism at the same time.

Photo: Samantha Laura Kaye

Your first single, “Time Machine”, certainly has some symbolic relevance to how your music revisits a bygone musical era. Do you regard it as a motto of the launching of the band?

I didn’t really think about it like that, but obviously it would fit. George came up with the concept of a time machine as we were having this nostalgic moment about the 90s and how much we were into the bands back then. They were everything that you lived for – Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden … that whole grunge movement was something we couldn’t do without. It was huge, it was global, it wasn’t just geographically specific to one place. That it should have hit us, and we were in South Africa! It was a worldwide mass movement. And we were kind of reminiscing about that and discussing the pop culture of today. And then this concept of a time machine came about. Of being in that head space again, of being innocent and totally involved in music and what bands once had to offer. Something we feel has sort of died. So that’s where the motivation of the song came about. I wouldn’t say it’s a banner for what the band is about, but it’s a good indication of our sound and genre.

See behind the scenes here, courtesy of Boom FM.

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