Exclusive Interview: The Parlotones

Love them or hate them, you can’t deny that The Parlotones are the biggest band in the country right now – if you doubt this, show us the artist who sells more records in South Africa than Coldplay, The Killers and Oasis combined! Speaking to MusicReview from the States, Glenn and Paul Hodgson graciously took some time out to discuss their US tour, TV endorsements, houses in Camps Bay and dealing with nitpicking haters. Here’s what they had to say.

Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. You guys are one of South Africa’s most beloved bands. How does it feel to make music for a living and make girls cry with excitement at your mere presence?

Paul: We are extremely lucky to be able to make a living from music; there are very few bands in SA that manage to do it. It does take a lot of hard work and you need to constantly push your boundaries to keep growing and keep your audiences interested. I read an article recently with Jesse Clegg, and he said his dad – Johnny Clegg, obviously – told him “It’s not a question of can you do it? It’s can you do it again?” And I think that’s where a lot of bands fall short, the effort it takes to maintain a band can sometimes be overwhelming. Bands want the money and fame too soon, and don’t realise it takes years of growing your product before you see any reward.

As for the girls crying with excitement, well that’s something else you need to learn to deal with!

With so many successful albums to your name and an electric live performance to back that up – what is your inspiration for writing music?

Paul: We love what we do, and want to keep doing it. Our life is always changing, and with that comes new inspiration. And it beats the 9-5 (smiles).

Due to your numerous TV ads and endorsements, a lot of people have the impression that you guys are loaded and rolling in the cash. So how are the houses in Camps Bay (wink, wink)?

Glenn: What most people don’t realise is that any money that does come from those TV campaigns and endorsements get invested right back into the band – not into our pockets. It’s not cheap to tour the world with a weak currency like the Rand. So, to answer your next question, the houses in Camps Bay are AWESOME, but sadly, none of them are ours.

Paul: …and hopefully once our overseas touring starts paying off, we can use those dollars and pounds to buy houses in Camps Bay (smiles).

Your success has naturally brought a fair degree of criticism from the haters. What many of them don’t know is that The Parlotones worked hard for many years to get to where they are and success didn’t just come overnight. Do you actually get pissed off when you read comments suggesting otherwise or calling you sell-outs?

Glenn: There’s an old saying that says, “A man can neither defend himself nor protest against criticism, he must act in spite of it, and it will eventually yield to him”. I really don’t care what people say about us or our music. We’re doing what we love, making music, and doing it for a living. That’s all that matters in my mind.

Paul: What I’ve realised is that haters will hate. They hate us, they hate our music and they hate people who like us. They will never like us, nothing will change that. So from now on I’m just gonna take secret pleasure in the knowledge that everything we do annoys them beyond measure, and that is our retort. Maybe even our revenge.

The tours just get bigger and bigger and you’re spending more and more time overseas, is it just a matter of time before you’re based there permanently?

Paul: I don’t think we’ll ever move anywhere overseas, South Africa is our home. Our tours are getting longer and longer and we’re spending more time overseas, but we’ll always come home, whether it’s after 6 weeks or 6 months.

Out of all your albums, which is still your favourite release?

Paul: They all have something about them that I love, you can’t really choose.

Glenn: Our first – Episoda.

Many commercially-accessible local rock bands have tried to break into the international market, but usually fail miserably and come back home disheartened. What has been your secret to making the cut? Is it due to having the right people around you or just looking in the right places?

Glenn: I think it’s a bit of both. The more time you spend abroad, the more people you meet, and the more you start to understand what needs to be done in order to survive as a band. Part of our secret has been to just come back regardless, you know? We have had the opportunity to do it for a while now, so we’ll just book the shows and take that step into the unknown time and time again. And it is has eventually yielded really good results, like we don’t have to sleep in our van anymore! We are also lucky to have a strong and loyal fan base in SA. It’s our tours back home that allow us, financially, to do what we do abroad.

Paul: Also, bands sometimes think overseas is this magical world where you play 1 gig, get signed and then you’re rich and famous. The truth is that it’s much, much harder, especially in places like London and the USA. It’s a tough industry and the competition is steep.

We were really excited to hear about your tour with Blue October. How did you manage to hook it up? Tell us more about it.

Glenn: Neil [Pauw] first introduced us to Blue October as his new favourite band, through his car stereo many years back! Years later, we find ourselves supporting them in the UK. How it happened? I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure a little bit of universal law was involved.

Paul: We actually met Blue October in MIDEM (Marché International du Disque et de l’Edition Musicale) 2 years ago; they were the headline showcase band. Another band dropped out and we were offered the chance to play after them, and we had literally 10 minutes to set up and start playing when they got offstage. We were tired and dirty from a long trip; we had just arrived in France a few hours ago. We could have said “no thanks” and gone to sleep, but we thought “let’s do it!” And Blue October liked us, and we toured with them last year in the UK, and now again in the USA. That’s one of our secrets; do everything you can, who knows where it will lead?

If you could tour the world with any band, which band would it be and why?

Paul: Wilco, they are the one of the best bands in the world.

Glenn: At the moment it would have to be Kings of Leon or Biffy Clyro. Kings of Leon have such a powerful, emotive energy about them at the moment that I just love, as do Biffy Clyro.

Thank you for your time, guys. We wish you all the best. One last question, if you could give any advice for South African bands that want to follow in your footsteps, what would it be?

Paul: Realise it’s gonna take a few years, be prepared to put in at least 5 years, but probably 10 before you get anywhere. You’re gonna struggle, play to 5 people in empty clubs, be rejected by radio…but if you love what you’re doing, you’ll stick it out. Get a good manager. Refine your sound, look at what kind of music is popular in SA, and think about it. A death metal band is never gonna be hugely successful, but success shouldn’t be your driving motivation, make the music you want to.

Glenn: Follow your heart – just make the music that you love and don’t try fit in with what’s happening at the moment. Use constructive criticism to your benefit, disregard negative trash talk – blot out haters from your world. Use bands that are hugely successful and that have actually made a name for themselves as your inspiration, because whether you like them or not, they ARE where you want to BE.

- Bret Dugmore
- Sergio Pereira
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Written by Sergio Pereira