Cover Image | @bit_direction on Instagram
Shortraw’s Facebook bio may describe their music as “a pot of bolognese bubbling in the background” or “a 56k modem dialling up” and “two pages of a magazine that are stuck together pulling apart” but don’t let the punk satire of original band member, Alastair Thomas fool you – Shortstraw are are nothing short of indie magic.
Their 2016/2017 [12 track] record titled ‘Those Meddling Kids‘ was a blissful and idiosyncratic journey where each song starred in its very own premier. Starting from September 2016, Shortstraw released one song on the first Friday of every month for a year, with the full album officially being released after the final song in September 2017.
Excited to see Shortstraw live at Saggy Stone next month, we reached out with some questions for the band to give us a better understanding of these talented musos, their history, experience overseas and more behind the creative process and release of their albulm ‘Those Meddling Kids.’
MCBN: It’s our first time connecting with you guys so let’s take it straight to the beginning. How did all of you meet [are you all originally from Jozi?] and how did the band Shortstraw come to be?
SS: We all played in bands growing up, and through gigging in Joburg we all met and became friends. Once those bands had parted ways, we all go together to form this band. Al’s from PE, but everyone else is Joburg born and raised. Al started the band with an old high school friend and it was a two-piece for a while before it eventually grew into the band it is today.
MCBN: You guys have a fantastically witty “OUR STORY” write up on your socials, who wrote that piece of magic and why does it best describe your sound or collective style?
SS: That would be Al. Bios are always so boring, so we figured we should make ours stand out a bit. There are various incarnations of it too. It also sounds like unicorns feeding in a lush, green field.
MCBN: Which artists/genres inspired each one of you growing up and do you think these influences are brought ‘to the table’ and felt in the bands collective sound?
SS: Everyone’s a little different here, Al listened to a lot of pop punk in high school, and that definitely comes across in some lyrics and the humour we try to bring to the table. Russ pretty much religiously listened to Foo Fighters, so he always tries to bring a solid groove to the table. Tom has a bit of a blues guitar influence, which isn’t really evident, but he’s super adaptable in how he plays. Gad has always been a massive Cake fan, so that can kinda be heard in his playing style. And Jakey listened to a bunch of ska, which comes through a bit in the drumming. I mean, we can justify the influences, but we’re not too sure if they’re conscious influences.
MCBN: Who would you say to date has been your most memorable collaboration – one that you found inspiring or educational on some level and why?
SS: Probably the collab with The Kiffness. It really took us out of our comfort zone trying to write a dance song. The skeleton we were given originally was very different to anything we ever would have listened to, let alone played. But Dave worked some magic in turning it into the song that it is today, and we’re really stoked with how it turned out.
MCBN: Take us through your songwriting process – do the lyrics or the music come first and what sort of experiences do you draw on the most when creating music?
SS: That’s changed over the years. In the beginning, Al would pretty much write the whole song and bring it to the band room, but that was when it was a 2-piece, so it made sense to work that way. As we’ve grown as a band, we’ve started to write together rather. So we’ll fiddle around with an idea in the practice room and then flesh it out from there. Lyrics usually only come right before we record.
MCBN: Does the band have any special pre or post gig traditions?
SS: None that we’ll mention publicly.
MCBN: Of your five records released, which one was the most challenging for the band [if any were] and why?
SS: Youthless was probably the toughest because it was the follow up to our first successful album. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to create something special that would live up to the hype. We spent a lot of money on it too, paying more than the recording cost, getting Emily Lazar to master it, which turned out to be a bit of a waste of time. I think we had about 25 songs that we whittled down to the 15 on the album and we spent just shy of a year writing and recording it. Managed to get it to number 1 on the local iTunes chart though, so that was nice.
MCBN: You guys have been blessed to take your music to an international audience, tell us what it’s like playing abroad; what were your favourite cities to play at and where you would love play next?
SS: It is expensive. And humbling. There were some cities where we played to almost no one, which sucked a bunch, but it did make us appreciate the good ones. London was special, we got to play at King Tuts in Glasgow, which is a landmark and very rad, and Japan will definitely be our favourite country to tour to for the rest of our lives. We haven’t done anything in the states yet, but we’d dig to go there next.
MCBN: Beyond your music, the band has also founded ‘The Bowsie Foundation’ – tell us more about this incredible cause and how fans can get involved.
SS: The Bowsie Foundation is an initiative set up by Shortstraw as a means to support animal charities in South Africa. Al’s love for dogs inspired the regular use of dog iconography throughout our career. With us often practising in Al’s house for many years, we all became close with his dogs Bowser and Killah, our band mascots, the ones who had to tolerate us the most! It came with great sadness to find out that Bowser had unfortunately passed away while we were on tour in Europe in May 2016. This incredible being deserves to be honoured in any way possible, and thus she also has her own song as part of our ‘Those Meddling Kids‘ collection of songs.
SS: A little bit of this and a little bit of that. We might play a new song, we will definitely play some old songs.
MCBN: Last week Saggy Stone selected your track JETLag as our ‘Song of the Day’ off your album titled ‘Those Meddling Kids’ – tell us more about the entire creative process behind the record, from creating it, to releasing the tracks and the artwork featured with each single.
SS: Instead of a conventional release where one gets everything upfront, starting from September 2016, we chose to rather release one song on the first Friday of every month until the end of the collection. This move was aimed at giving each song its time to shine. We wanted to put a strong focus on our songs this time. We were writing and recording as we went and released songs and videos once we were done.
Putting the focus on a single song gave each piece its own artwork designed by a different visual artists/designers, and everyone involved in the collection of music, artwork, and film, formed part of the collective ‘Those Meddling Kids’. Instead of just a small album liner note, we will take every opportunity to profile, advertise, and celebrate all those involved.
There are incredibly talented people out there, both locally and overseas that we have been lucky enough to work with and we didn’t just want it to be another job for them, we wanted them to be a part of something!
We have seen them live and we can guarantee we loved what we saw. It’s just three weeks to go until Shortstraw will take the stage at Saggy Stone Beer & Music Festival 2019 in Robertson. Don’t miss out on Cape Town’s freshest live music festival this February. For more information, join the event page. Tickets available on Webtickets.
Party-goers can look forward to another celebration of fine local music and craft beer at the home of Saggy Stone’s Brewing Company this coming February. Their incredible lineup of artists features some of the countries top live acts, who will be performing over a massive 12-hour line-up…