Wednesday, October 8, 2008

White Noise 1.1: Frank Ellis

We posed the same series of questions to each of the White Guys. In series one, we chat about genre-hopping, influences and being boxed. These are their 'shoot' views.
1.1: Frank Ellis

The concert-going kids seem to be into many different streams and genres and the impression is that they seldom cross over. Metal kids, for example, would seldom go to a punk show, and the pop tarts hardly ever see anyone except Arno Carstens. Your thoughts?

I don’t think that’s anything new. There have always been borders between genres that only the brave few have dared to cross. The mods and the punks, the rockers and the ravers, you can follow the breadcrumb trail as far back as you like. I don’t really mind it either. It provides a bit of exclusivity for whatever it is that you do musically. It’s like a club that people are proud to belong to and that they support.

Leading on from that ... the labelling of the band as country or rockabilly, as they were calling you at one point (and still do); do you feel it was limiting or indeed helpful?

Most people need to categorize something to be able to process it. If labelling the band helps people make sense of what we do then I’m fine with that. Actually, I’m even fine with people labelling the band for no good reason at all. So, what I’m saying is that I don’t think it’s limiting or helpful. It just is. However, what I do believe is limiting is when a band labels itself. In doing so you lock your music in box and throw away the key.

You’re tossed in with the 'fringe crowd". Some would say your audience is older and less likely to see younger genres of music…?

Personally, I think that the whole concept of a ‘fringe crowd’ is bullshit. There is no such thing. There are just people who are better at posing than others. There are no true ‘outsiders’ in our social paradigm. There are only plagiarists and people who don’t give a shit. I don’t give a shit. As for our audience being older and less likely to try younger genres: When I’m on stage I see old faces and young faces and when I’m not on stage I see those same old and young faces at various venues and shows. Our audience is everyone.

How much other literature (books, films, etc) filter into your music and lyrics?

I’m not a very prolific writer of lyrics. For me the process is visceral, like a mental fugue. So I couldn’t really say that literature inspires my music, at least not in a conscious way.

I was going to ask you about other artists too - the commonly-held "influences" on your music. Dylan, Cash, and the like?

This is a difficult one for me. I don’t really consider the music that I love as an influence. I just play the sounds that sound right. As inspiration I visualize my grandfather playing on stage. He was a country musician.

If an artist is not likeable as a person, does that detract from your enjoyment of their work – looking at some colleagues in the scene you might know?

It comes down to honesty. If a person’s attitude, good or bad, is truly an extension of their personality then I don’t care because at least it’s honest. It’s the performers who adopt attitudes that they believe aid their expression that really irritate me. Don’t get on stage and tell me your going to smash my face in unless you mean it.

Do you think that your work in any way captures the vibe of the city or scene or people of your surrounds?

Not at all. I think what we do is more a realization of our collective mental landscapes than our actual surroundings.

You decided early that you were happy to perform other people’s work – many of your peers are horrified by the idea. What's your take?

I don’t see the problem. If I like a tune then I want to play it. If it sounds cool then I want to play it for an audience. What they do with that is up to them. I’ve had my fun.

You've done standards like Ring of Fire but also songs that South African audiences wouldn't have necessarily heard of. Warren Zevon anyone? The Bottle Rockets?

Um…. Yes, we have.

So when you’re playing other people's songs, do you draw inspiration from their work?

Not at all. As I mentioned before, my inspiration comes from somewhere more personal.

If someone were to receive a collection of all your material right now (including what you've done solo or with other projects) and start browsing randomly, what would you suggest they listen to?

I haven’t recorded all that much. In fact, you could probably get through all of it in an hour. So that’s what I would suggest…. Listen to the whole of ‘Chicken, Live At Sui Studios’ and the Three Bored White Guys EP.

Is being in a successful performing unit a case of “know your limitations?”

No. There really aren’t any limitations except those that you impose on yourself. It’s a case of knowing what you want to do and doing it, period.

How do you feel when you look at your earlier material now?

Depends how early. I have definitely improved technically over the years and I’ve eased into a style of playing that I am happy with. Lets just say getting here was a process.

Are there any modern artists among your peers you enjoy?

A list:
Sugar Drive
Black Milk
The Dolly Rockers
Them Tornados
Unit R
Taxi Violence
Jimmi Dludlu

There are more…. many more.

Are you surprised or happy at the amount of material that you’ve generated?

I don’t care, really. It is what it is.

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