City Varsity Interview with Saron Gas

Shaun Welgemoed better known as the front man for one of South Africa's biggest and most talented rock acts measures the quality and standard of South African music very hightly:

"South African music has all the potential to join the world market. There is not now, nor has there ever been a reason why SA bands can't take their sound and music to foreign shores."

Shaun admits that the international progress of South African music is slow but also steady at the same time and he sees it increasing pretty rapidly in the future:

"We just need to get the fact that there are bands in this country exposed! Give it 5 to 10 years and we'll also be part of the global music community, Maybe with worldwide comunication being as easy as it is these days, the world is small enough to discover new things in new areas."

"I was influenced by everything from Nirvana to Pantera to The Counting Crows. It's not something I deny - although I have never tried to sound like any of my influences, rather trying to re-invent them. It's hard to be different and original these days so I don't claim to be."

Even though Shaun doesn't claim to be original the South African fans feel otherwise, in just a short period of two years Saron Gas has developed a huge following, who knows Shaun may even turn out to be the next Kurt Cobain. Theres no deniying that the rest of South Africa has noticed Saron Gas thanks to their talent, originality and attitude and there is a good chance that through them the international door has been pushed open slightly more than before so that other talented musical acts can be next to find their way to success:

"We hope that this will give us the opportunity to make a career for ourselves, and for other bands to do the same. If we can do it there is no reason why other bands can't follow in our footsteps, so to speak."

"Hard work. Dedication. Good songs. Belief in yourself and your purpose. Never letting negative comments get you down."

That is the philosophy Shaun lives by and he firmly believes that those are the essential qualities needed to be a great band anywhere, be it here in South Africa or the rest of the world.

Since signing the hugely talked about 7 CD record deal with Wind Up records in America theres no doubt that things have obvioulsy changed for the Cape Town based band and things will only get better:

"Everything has changed - down to the type of plugs we'll be using. It's really difficult to fathom at the moment. The idea that we'll be in a different country working with some of the most amazing people they have to offer - that's mind numbing, but incredibly exciting at the same time, you know? We were just trying to amuse ourselves on weekends. We never wanted, or expected people to like us. We were lucky in that sense - that the music we play appealed to people enough for us to do this for a living."

Like most bands the guys of Saron Gas are the best of friends and they will experience rough patches it's all part of the process but ofcourse the Pros always out weigh the Cons anyway:

"I have good friends, a career I love and an amazing opportunity ahead of me. There will always be negative press and people judging you so you try to ignore it without taking it too personally."

Once Saron Gas relocate to New York at the end of this year they will put the finishing touches on their new album and get ready for their assault on the U.S and Shaun has promised that the band will be back to visit their home when they are all rich and famous:

"We'll definitely be back as soon as we can. We don't know how busy we're gonna be or where we're gonna be so it's hard to say for sure now. But that is our intention."

The problems Of SA Music: The South African music industry in my opinion needs to expose it's artists into the international arena with a greater concentration on the music and ability from the musician. The white South African market needs greater promotion and awareness overseas. Hopefully the recent break of Saron Gas will allow for more South African pop/rock bands to enter the international arena. South African music in general (Jazz,traditional, kwaito,gospel, rock, pop,R&B) is of a high quality. South Africa is proudly represented by artists like: Johnny Clegg, Sibongile Khumalo, Hugh Maskela, Soweto String Quartet, Saron Gas, Just Ginger, Ladysmith, Don Laka,Tananas, Bongo Maffin to name a few. The quality of South African music canbe rated by the experience and skill of the musician, production levels, experience and international exposure. Even if the South African Music scene already has a presence internationally it needs to be expanded with more artists and genres. It's All About The People: If you look at it from a fans perspective the amount of PR and press that the Saron Gas record deal has attracted it no doubt makes a statement regarding South African music in the international arena and gives hope that other bands will one day do the same. The whole story is very current and therefore sits first in everyone's minds. Many people either are slow to think of or don't know of other South African bands like Q zoo, Groinchurn, Tananas, Boo etc. This is probably due to lack of information provided to the public. Up until very recently, and still to some extent even now, the South African public was either disinterested in local music unless radios played it and made it cool, or were unaware of the size of the industry. It makes sense in a way if you haven't heard the band, or of the band why should you go and watch them? I QUIT: What happens then is that the bands eventually give up because there is no interest in them and eventually they disappear. (E.g. Pestroy, Trematone - ever heard of them? Both these bands have been around the Johannesburg rock scene as long as Saron Gas have but are considered too heavy etc. etc. so no interest from the companies or radio.) It counted highly in Saron Gas's favor that they were actually quite well known in South Africa they couldn't do that without the fans' support. But take a band like Limp Bizkit for example says Shaun Welgemoed the lead singer for Saron Gas: "I guarantee that half the people that like the songs "Rollin'" or "My Generation" don't have a fucking clue what else is on that album (unless radio plays them more tracks). A true example of how radio play sold Limp Bizkit to the public." Promotion And Exposure Is Crucial: Shaun said during the interview that Wind-up records referred to their "album" as a good demo, which gives you some indication of what I'm trying to get across. Example: Weak product, get's too little exposure and once again the band breaks up. Another example of what I'm saying is the Johannesburg band Jimmy 12. They were in studio for about 2 weeks doing only 5 songs. They pressed their own CD and did their own artwork and delivered an awesome product. It got them noticed and they had a name for themselves but eventually broke up due to band tensions. How Would One Achieve Success Locally And Internationlly: According to Shaun, a good demo tape or CD is imperative, however the problem is that lots of bands will save demo money for a week and try to do 15 songs in day. That won't sound right, surely! Rather save some money for a longer period and do 3 songs in a week. This will ensure that the band sounds better and they have more of a chance of someone listening to them and apreciating them. You also can't get anywhere without the right structure. This structure includes a management team that actually does something for the band. Management will secure sponsorships, gigs, guest appearances and press interviews. Unfortunately South Africa only has a handful of good managers in the country and they're all too busy to work for all the bands, obviously. It then becomes the bands' responsibility to phone around and hound the right people. It's hard work, and thankless, so nobody does it, because they're either holding down a job or busy in school. Managers also sample out the band's music and hopefully get it onto the desks of the right people. The band Groinchurn, for example, had no manager so they were doing everything themselves. They sent demos all over the world, and eventually got a positive response from a company in Germany. Nothing ever falls into anyone's lap you have to expose the product. South African and International Music: "Record companies don't sign local bands. That's it, I don't care what anyone says."(Shaun Welgemoed, Saron Gas) In the past 10 years only about 10 South African bands were signed to major labels. White rock bands that is. There is not enough support in South Africa for our own music, which will ultimately end in a complete waste of good music, and the demise of the South African music industry. "German labels are at the moment only signing German bands with the sole intent of boosting the industry. That comes straight from the CEO of Sony Germany." says Shaun Australian labels must have 60% of Australian music in their stables, and radio stations have to play 60% local music. Shops have to sell 60% local music. Now you could say that South Africa doesn't have enough music but I guarantee you we do, promotion in South Africa is limited and it needs to increase drastically. Once that happens South Africa will have an industry to speak of. One final note says Shaun: "Work hard, play hard and don't take it all too seriously. Remember it's all supposed to be fun!!!"