Beast - "Smoke Swig Swear."
I'm from Johannesburg, South Africa, but I've been living in New York for the past eight years. When I left the country, Bloc Party, The Killers, OutKast, and Franz Ferdinand were still big news. As for SA's homegrown music, since I moved, I'm bummed to admit, I haven't been following what's been going on as closely as I'd like. When people think about popular South African artists they think Die Antwoord. Those who dig deeper may know about Jack Parow, Spoek Mathambo, DJ Black Coffee, BLK JKS, and maybe a couple others, (and yes, we know, now everyone knows Rodriguez). But South Africa has a thriving, internationally untapped music scene. Recently a friend from back home encouraged me to listen to BEAST. A quartet who are two bassists strong—no guitars, thanks—and who create a brawly, raucous hybrid of last 70s rock, punk, and grunge, while singer Inge's emotive, visceral vocals rip straight through you. And like all the best music, I wanted to share them with as many people as humanly possible.
So here are three awesome BEAST-related things for you:
1. We've got the video premiere of "Smoke Swig Swear," the title track of their debut album (above).
2. A frank interview with singer Inge.
3. And finally, a short documentary film about the rise of BEAST. Shot during the process of rehearsing, recording, and launching the album (which you can download for free here), this doc combines compelling live performance footage and interviews with the band to create an authentic look at the personalities behind the music and what drives them.
Noisey: What is BEAST?
Inge: BEAST happened when all four of us came together as a band. I actually originally wanted to call the band Bow Beast. I liked the idea of the beast bowing. It had a really interesting visual effect in my mind. The first feeling I had about BEAST was that it had more of psychological edge to it. My first premonition or visual inspiration was actually a scale. Like a step scale. That became our mascot image for quite a while: just a white scale that's on zero. So depending on individual-to-individual think of it like, how much does your beast weigh? Playing along more of a psychological angle instead of the whole monster, literal interpretation.
I like that. Maybe because in music now—and I guess where I am in Brooklyn—the whole beast versus human thing has just been completely milked.
I steer quite clear from any literal interpretations there.
Is the same feeling taken into the songs and subject matter?
Definitely. I sing about genetic predispositions and nature versus nurture and that sort of stuff, human stuff. Also we're very much a live act. So maybe we should have called the band Mongrel. I don't know. [Laughs]
How did the band come about? How was the identity born?
Basically Rian and Louis, the two bassists, wanted to learn how to play bass because they're both in another band in which they play drums and lead guitar. They started jamming with Sasha, the drummer, so it was more like a jam out kind of band. And they had a working title that I really did not connect with. At all.
Am I allowed to know what it was?
Well, I guess you're South African so you'll get this, KOMBASS. [Kombuis means "kitchen" in Afrikaans.] This title did serve an important purpose though. Everything as it should.
Do you feel like your personality resonates with BEAST's sound? Or do you go into a character?
As a vocalist I approach my craft almost like a character actor. I like to play around with different styles and vibes and it was nice for me to return to a style that I really enjoyed listening to but never really had the opportunity to perform or write in. It's a heavier sound that I grew up listening to, so for me it was very exciting to start BEAST.
How long did the whole album take to make?
Shit… actually quite quickly. We did it in like four days or something!
Ya! The guys basically set everything up in one live room. The lead vocals had to be tracked separately and in places the guide vox were used as layering certain chanty parts. We also at one point formed an entire vocal village of people in "Man in Between." It was special. We just droned together around four microphones.
My friends who have gone to your live shows have told me you guys are insane.
It just comes together on stage. It's very exciting for me to perform with these three guys. All of them are performers, they're not just musos, so something really special happens. We just have a fuckload of fun.
I hate to use this analogy just because I'm talking to another South African band, but when I saw Die Antwoord playing here in early days, their live performance drove American crowds completely nuts. Having a definitive live performance changes everything.
Ya, I mean people want to escape, you know?
What genre would you define your sound as?
Psychological rock and roll. A four-nippled aberration.
It's interesting to people who aren't South African that this sound exists there and that you're creating this fervent fan base. Is living there a part of your guys' inspiration? Anything about the album that's linked to where you are geographically?
I want to listen to bands that sound like BEAST. I think we're definitely filling a hole in the market. We're sick of fucking indie and electro and soft cock rock. We're making music that we want to listen to and that we want to watch live. So perhaps it's born out of a need. South Africa is a trip. It gets under your skin and crawls deep inside your heart so of course it played a role.
I think people here want to listen to that too. I don't hear bands like BEAST in New York.
We're really hoping to fill a gap. Start a little revolution. Go back to the way it sounded. That same flavor that you can't really put your finger on. I don't even know what it is. It's just an ingredient that we've re-introduced in the broth.
Are you going to start working on another album soon?
Yes, we want to release an album before the end of the year. We'd like to give birth to two this year.
Do you have ideas for what that might sound like?
There's bit of a style developing, even though the songs on the album are all quite different. We've been playing with mashing up two completely different riffs in different keys and making that work. When you listen to it you're like, "Fuck I didn't expect that track to go there." We kind of try to surprise each other while we're writing. And of course we like to keep it filthy. Just simple. Especially with the bass, just simple dirty riffs. That gives me the space to be a little more acrobatic vocally. Essentially I'm using my voice as a guitar.
Inge: pretty flexible.
Do you play an instrument?
I use instruments for song writing purposes mostly and rarely perform as an instrumentalist. I enjoy playing piano and guitar and I find percussion fascinating, but if I had a gun against my head I would sing first.
Are you going to keep it totally analog? There'll never be a little synth thrown in there?
If by some off chance we had to work with a producer that's fucking incredible and he convinced us that that would be a good little layer to throw in, then we might consider it. I don't know, the bass and the drums have that drive and that sludge and that fuzz, it gives my voice the opportunity to break and slice through. I think it'd almost be too much. We want to keep it raw.
That's rare at the moment.
This is the thing! As soon as you start throwing those things in, it'll start becoming overproduced. So keep it simple.
Cool. You were recently in LA, are you going to come to NY anytime soon?
I'd love to explore that territory; I need to set up some meetings.
You would kill it here. You're a gorgeous South African woman.
So you're saying I have to charm the pants off people? Is that how you did it? Did you suck your way to the top lady?
Ya. Oy vey.