In dimly-lit music venues across Cape Town, South Africa, a captivating psychedelic rock scene is bubbling. At the forefront of this tight-knit community is The Very Wicked, a five-piece band whose members – Andre Leo, Lucas Swart, Calvin Siderfin, Lucy Kruger, and Werner Von Waltsleben – see themselves as passionate non-conformists leading a revolt against mainstream commercial music. In all this going forward, though, is a going back. Experiencing their music is akin to dusting off your parents’ old vinyl and feeling every crackle and pop. And their look mirrors the decade in which this movement was born.
Vocalist Andre Leo is a pioneer in his own right, having co-founded the “Psych Night” series in Cape Town. Since August 2012, Psych Nights have offered a platform for budding musicians and artists to demonstrate their talents on their own terms. For The Very Wicked, that means both an audio and visual trip complete with a backdrop of vibrant, swirling lights. Repeated monthly, these events have rapidly generated an electrifying movement that is beginning to fill a void in the South African music scene.
The Very Wicked is currently working on a debut album, scheduled for online release later this year. Leo recently spoke with SCOPE about Psych Nights, the band, and the rising rebellion against pre-packaged music he has helped spark.
JESSICA BIANCHI: Tell me about the first real gig you performed as a band. How did it go?
ANDRE LEO: We played our first show in September 2012. We’d been rehearsing and writing for almost a year prior to playing live. We’d all been in bands before and knew that if we were gonna do this, we wanted to do it well and not rush anything. That being said, playing that first show was worth six months in our little rehearsal room. That’s really where you learn your craft, the live stage. Lucy had actually just joined less than a month before that show. I think she was a bit nervous!
The show went down pretty well. And it just got better from there.
What pulled you all together in the first place?
Well, Lucas and I had been playing together for a few years and when our old band kinda hit a point where it couldn’t go any further, we decided to start something new. This was around the end of 2011. Seeing Black Rebel Motorcycle Club was a real turning point for me. That’s when I really realized the power that live rock and roll can have over people. After that it was pretty obvious that this is what I need to do.
Why decide to focus on psych rock?
To us, it just feels better playing very splashed out psych music. And this band is very much about what feels good to us. It was also something very few people were doing in South Africa. It’s grown a lot since then, which is nice.
I think of “psych rock” as more of an umbrella than one genre. It’s very much open to interpretation. I guess that’s the feel thing. I mean, last year bands like The Night Beats and The Cult Of Dom Keller both put out records on the same psychedelic record label (The Reverberation Appreciation Society). To a passerby they would probably sound worlds apart. But there is a very strong core to it all.
What would you say that strong core was? And what makes South African psych rock different?
That core is the psychedelic element of the music. I don’t think there’s any real difference between what we’re doing in South Africa and what’s happening in the rest of the world, besides that it’s an extremely young movement. The great thing about this kind of movement is that there’s a real sense of camaraderie between the bands. That helps it grow and blossom.
The South African psych movement of the ’70s wasn’t able to reach its potential due to political restrictions. Where do you see the movement headed this time around? And do you feel that your country’s political history has had any effect on this generation’s music?
The fact that musicians from here can travel abroad, and musicians from all over the world can come play here, means that this generation’s possibilities are a lot greater than they were during our country’s bullshit apartheid years. Rock and roll is still a tiny fraction of the market in South African music, but the possibility of a community greater than just South Africa is what’s gonna make this grow. You can’t limit yourself to just South Africa. Well, you can, but you’ll either be very hungry or probably make terrible music.
The political history has affected a lot of music from our generation, for sure. There is still a lot of conservatism here that musicians and artists are constantly battling against. But it’s like that all over the world, really. I think we’re just a bit newer to the battle.
How do Psych Nights fit into this? And how did the band get involved in them?
Psych Night was started by me and four friends about a year and a half ago. We wanted to provide a platform for musicians who didn’t fit the mainstream mold to properly showcase what they do, and at the same time, have a killer party. We also have events promoting local fine artists, graphic artists, photographers, film makers, etc…
Our first show was at the second Psych Night, and we’ve been on the bill pretty regularly since then, alongside bands like Wild Eastern Arches, The Future Primitives, Bilderberg Motel, and more. It’s been the biggest pleasure working on Psych Night. The people involved are all super-passionate and talented. The highlight so far has been hosting The Night Beats in December last year. It was the first time we brought down an international band and also the first time we visited Johannesburg. From when we started, we knew we wanted to bring out bands from all over the world and wanted Night Beats to be the first one. So to see that vision materialize was something real special. There was magic in the air at all those shows. I think people were really reminded what good, live, loud rock and roll can do to humans.
You’ve said you want your music to “hit from the inside out.” What do you mean?
I generally don’t like “rock” music. It seems like so many bands just try to rock out and that’s it. There’s nothing more to it. It’s easy for crowds to bang their heads and sing along to, but that’s not my idea of a good band. I prefer music that tells a story: ups and downs, louds and softs. I want our music to kind of resonate out of you, instead of coming down on you.
I dunno, maybe I’m sounding like a pretentious douche-bag here.
Tell me about your debut album. What are you hoping to achieve with it?
The album has no title yet. We’re throwing some ideas around at the moment.
We recorded the bulk of it over a weekend in November last year with Warren Fisher and Johnny Tex from the Future Primitives and finished tracking on Monday, actually. We have no record label, and pressing your own vinyl in South Africa is real pricey. We have no vinyl press, so we have to look overseas. The shipping and all that comes to more than we can afford, unfortunately. So at the moment it will only be available online, with hopes that someone takes a liking to it and decides the world needs it on a record. Otherwise, there has been talk of doing a split with some of our friends. But no solid plans. We’ll see how it goes.
We’re hoping for what most artists hope for with their first album: to reach a bigger audience and expand our horizons. We’d love to be able to tour different parts of the world soon.
It’s been a long time coming, so I hope people like it.