ANY aspiring band’s big dream is to get the attention of a major international record label, and ideally get signed. For Desmond & The Tutus that time has come, six and a half years after the four-piece started a musical journey that’s made them quietly cool.
For a band who have done a really good job at not aggressively marketing their genius, Desmond & The Tutus’ infectious blend of rock and kwela pop has miraculously found its own place in the mainstream universe. And this Saturday at 8pm The Assembly hosts the band midway through their latest nationwide tour.
Their independently released 2008 debut album, Tuckshop, and subsequent EP – & – enjoyed niche critical acclaim, but with both well-received releases the band never felt pressure to play the part of being a traditional, professional band.
“From the time we started we had very little idea how the whole ‘being in a band’ thing worked,” lead singer Shaun Durrant recalls.
“Because of that, everyone got to invent their own part in it. Booking and playing gigs was another area we didn’t know what it took to do. That said, we did learn rather quickly how not to do it.”
Since then they’ve acquired a wall of experience sufficient to have undertaken tours of Japan, France, Sweden and the UK – and, this month, a four-city jaunt in celebration of their latest album, Mnusic.
“It’s always been about having fun,” is Durrant’s view on why The Tutus got together in the first place.
“There was no pressure to do anything other than improve, and before we knew what hit us, people began taking an interest.”
The band’s first collection of recorded material, Tuckshop, was a home-made affair, with drummer Craig (Durrant’s bother), Nic Dinnie on bass, and guitarist Doug Bower cutting their initial batch of crowd pleasers at a home studio. Their singles Peter, Pictures and High Fives all had local and community stations stoked and before long their early creations got airplay.
When the live touring circuit beckoned, Desmond & The Tutus didn’t fall over themselves to secure bookings either. “We didn’t tour the first album extensively,” Durrant confirms. “Until now we’ve never done the traditional tour thing, choosing to rather do shows we liked. We found that the few gigs we did do were all very well attended.”
Then everything changed. Three years after their first release, and with a growing number of fans ready for more, The Tutus made a fundamental change in how they went about tackling their much-anticipated second album.
“Last year we decided that we wanted to do it professionally,” Durrant says of the foursome’s shift toward the commercial side of music making. “Eighteen months ago we had no money or energy to keep the band afloat. We needed a lifeline and to get that we needed to become a more streamlined version of our former selves.”
The band got their break when, in what Durrant describes as a watershed moment, Sony Music put pen to paper and sent an airline ticket to respected US engineer and producer Eric Broucek to fly out and record Mnusic.
Based in Los Angeles, Broucek has worked with LCD Soundsystem and Hercules & Love Affair, experience that served Durrant and the band well: in just 14 days all 11 songs that now make up Mnusic were captured.
“Musically, Mnusic is the same as Tuckshop,” says Durrant.
“As with the first, it’s all punk rock you can dance to. We’re so chuffed with the sound. It’s simply bigger than anything we’ve recorded before.”
Lyrically, The Tutus have always enjoyed laughing at life and on the new album there’s more of that tongue-in-cheek playfulness they are known and loved for.
“It’s anti-rock, in a way,” Durrant says. “That said, labels are restrictive. And we’re in this to entertain, pure and simple.
“People are looking to have fun, as are we, so the chances of everyone getting what they want is pretty good, I think.”
With a major label now behind them, the gloves are off – and The Tutus are happily playing in the big league. “Being signed to a global player may do something for us,” Durrant considers. “It may also do nothing. All we know is we’ve got a platform, bigger than we’ve had before, and we’re going to play every square inch of it.”
As The Tutus pack up their wall of sound and head out on the road, they’re ready to spread their Mnusic far and wide. “We’re well rehearsed,” says Durrant. “We’re playing as a unit and we know our stuff. It’s going to be a rousing ride.”
l Tickets to the album launch at The Assembly start at R50. See www.webtickets.co.za