That Shadowclub planned to record their debut album in just 12 days, but completed it in nine, says much about the Johannesburg- based trio’s attitude to music. Their rootsy, bluesy rock is purposely fuss free. The dozen songs on their debut, ‘Guns & Money’, were recorded live with no backing track. Modern recording techniques may have been used, but they certainly weren’t relied on. Like the classic rock acts that inspire them, Shadowclub are about powerful songs performed with a passion that explodes from the speakers and, live, can be felt at full force by their fans.
“From the start, this was a back-to-basics band,” explains singer Jacques Moolman. “It had to be a three-piece so we could keep it simple. We wanted to make short, fast, banging tracks. Basically, music that was fun to play live and easy for a crowd to connect with.”
With ‘Guns & Money’, Shadowclub have succeeded in doing just that. The album’s title track is a furiously-paced, feel-good rocker, driven by an insistent, funk-fuelled bassline, cacophonous drums and a hip-shaking groove. You’ll hear shades of The Doors and The Ramones, snarled, seductive vocals and woo-hoos that cry out to be chanted back. On the woozy, bluesy ‘ Lucy’, a desolate Moolman describes leaving home for the first time and, intriguingly, recasts himself as a girl. ‘Good Morning Killer’ is a snappy song that recalls The Strokes, manages to be sexy and sleazy at the same time, and is based on the tale of a serial killer who is also a lover. Elsewhere, you’ll spot hints of The Who, The White Stripes, John Lee Hooker and Howlin’ Wolf.
Shadowclub’s desire to make stripped down songs stems partly from the bands they were listening to when they formed at the end of 2007.
“We were big White Stripes fans,” says drummer Isaac Klawansky. “We liked The Kings Of Leon who, back then, were still quite tough and bluesy and a bit underground. Wolfmother had just come out and we adored The Black Keys. Throw in the old blues that Jacques grew up with – Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Leadbelly, Blind Lemon Jefferson – and that combination became the basis of our sound.”
Moolman and Klawansky formed Shadowclub after the demise of their former band, Airship Orange, who had caused a splash in South Africa as much for their bad behaviour as their music.
“Airship Orange had a terrible reputation,” admits Moolman. “And rightly so. We were signed when we were 20. We were extremely immature and constantly in trouble. We got in to skirmishes with other bands, we got drunk, we trashed our own equipment. It didn’t help that we were sponsored by a brewery, so there were always crates of free beer about. I mean, it’s funny to look back on, but in the end we all wanted out.”
Crucially, Moolman and Klawansky quit to start afresh in a band that sounded nothing like their old one.
“Airship Orange had a very complicated set-up,” explains Klawansky. “There were five of us, we used lots of instruments and the songs had intricate, jazzy arrangements. It was a relief to be in a band with just three members.”
Shadowclub got serious in early 2009 when, after a brief breakup, Klawansky’s long time friend, Louis Roux, replaced the band’s original bassist. At school in Johannesburg, the pair had played together in garage bands, covering Radiohead and Stereophonics songs. Moolman, meanwhile, has spent most of his teens in England, where he was writing songs first on piano, then guitar. He returned to Jo’burg aged 18.
The new Shadowclub line-up picked up a following in Jo’burg and Durban by playing clubs and handing out CDs of a set of demos they had recorded in a day. Six months ago, they signed to South African label, Just Music, and got to work on a new batch of songs. Recorded earlier this year and mastered in the States at Magic Garden Studios by Brian Lucey (The Black Keys, Jane’s Addiction), ‘Guns & Money’ contains both reworked songs from those early demos and new tracks, mostly written by Moolman.
“I write all of the lyrics and a lot of the music,” says Moolman. “I come up with the basic riffs, then we all turn them in to a song. As soon as a new song is written, we play it live. It’s important for us to take songs out of the rehearsal room. Only in front of an audience can we tell how well they work.
“Lyrically, my songs tend to be character based and quite dark, but not too serious. I studied drama at art school and my mum was an actress. I like developing characters and giving them a voice. Some of the songs, like ‘Lucy’ – which is about me running away from my dad’s farm and finding my legs as a musician – are based on real life. Others are entirely made up.” With Shadowclub enjoying radio play in South Africa and ‘Guns & Money’ due for release on 11th July 2011, the band are ready to take their rock further afield.
“It’s our dream to play in Europe and the States,” says Moolman. “Since we started Shadowclub, we’ve wanted to play to as many people as possible. Our sound would suit arenas – and we’re ready to play them.”
Written by: LISA VERRICO (London, United Kingdom)