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The life-size bust of the orange stag that is the Jagermeister mascot stands defiant in the bar area of Cape Town’s popular live music venue, The Assembly.
George van der Spuy, the lead singer of the much-loved rock band, Taxi Violence, faces the same direction as the mascot. His hands clasped on the table in front of him, he’s explaining how sobriety was the catalyst for some of the songwriting on the group’s newest and fourth album, titled Soul Shake.
On Brainmash, the single that’s been shaking up the radio charts, Van der Spuy sings: Oh why would you leave me for dead? Guess it’s my own fault, I’ve made my bed.
When I ask what the inspiration for this song was, Taxi Violence’s frontman smiles: “There was a lot of substance abuse going on at the time – alcohol or whatever. And then I had to get myself out of that sh*t because I regret spending all that cash and my brain turning to mash.”
The song that follows Brainmash on the 10-track album is Seize the Day, which Van der Spuy describes as “the recovery phase”. The singer continues to elaborate on how the song represents the other side of the coin as the band’s guitarist, Rian Zietsman, joins us at the table.
“Seize the Day is the follow-up to Brainmash because I know I’d rather not get f***ed up,” says Van der Spuy.
“Maybe I was scared of the world and (writing these songs) helped me to get that out of my system. I am going to drink tonight, though.”
Without skipping a beat, Zietsman chips in: “For f***ing sure,” and they both laugh.
Taxi Violence, which is made up of Van der Spuy, Zietsman, Jason Ling (bass) – who replaced Loedi van Renen in 2008 – and Louis Nel (drums, percussion) have good reason to drink and be merry.
When I sat down with them for this interview, the rock kings were doing a soundcheck for the huge launch of Soul Shake. During Taxi Violence’s nine years of existence, the members have kept things fresh by starting side projects with other musicians. Van der Spuy is also the frontman for Goodnight Wembley and Zietsman and Nel are a part of Beast.
“With this album,” starts Van der Spuy, “Rian, Louis and I had side projects going and Jason was getting more into songwriting. We had a different approach in that we wrote acoustically and then translated that into electric. This album came easier and we tried to do something new. We wanted to make a party rock album with music to move you from your waist down, but an album that is also about emotions and pulls at your heart strings.”
A year-and-a-half in the making, Ling says Soul Shake was originally meant to be an EP.
“We were going to do this EP,” he explains, “just to get some stuff out there. But we listened to the songs we had and thought they were pretty good so we decided on a full album. But for one day in December, we put the album online just to give people an idea of what was to come and a lot of people were very excited.”
This comes after their 2011 album, Unplugged: Long Way From Home, a departure from the sound the band’s fans are accustomed to.
“With Unplugged, we wanted to challenge ourselves,” says Van der Spuy. “It opened us up to a wider audience – young and old can listen to it. It allowed us to be flexible on tour so we can play a club like this or play unplugged somewhere else.”
Soul Shake has a mix of songs that will allow the band to remain flexible on the road. Songwriting by Van der Spuy (and, in parts, Ling) has helped in that regard.
“I brought the lives of all of us into the lyrics,” Van der Spuy says, “especially after The Turn album, there are songs that related to all of us. Of changing management – how we felt mismanaged and how that influences careers.”
The flexibility is also evident in the band’s cover of God’s Gonna Cut You Down. Zietsman recalls how the track ended up on the album:
“A few years ago we were asked to play at a Johnny Cash tribute and before then, I’d only heard that song in movies or on TV series and Shazaam-ed (cellphone-based music identification service) it. I researched it and found that the origins were unknown. If you’re going to cover something, this is a good way to go because you’re not drawing directly from an artist.”
Van der Spuy says: “This is actually the first cover we have put on an album,” before Zietsman says: “And we don’t have to pay royalties!”
Van der Spuy admits when they were ready to work on Unplugged, Taxi Violence “started looking for studios and Mark McCree (of the band McCree) suggested we go to Brendyn “Rusti” Rossouw at Heritage Sound Studio, Cape Town. We went, listened and unanimously agreed to do the Unplugged album there. It was a no-brainer that the next album would be with him, too.”
Rusti is credited as the producer of Soul Shake. It was mastered by Rogan Kelsey, who has worked with Kenny Rogers and Freshlyground, and Theo Crous of Springbok Nude Girls mixed the album.
“We wanted the album to sound as big as possible and Theo has done that before,” says Zietsman.
Taxi Violence have some heavy hitters who’ve had a hand in the making of this album, but the band didn’t get this far by relying solely on others. Next year, they will celebrate 10 years of existence. There are no concrete plans yet, but Van der Spuy says they “might release a vinyl of the Best of Taxi Violence and a few new songs. Either way, we want to keep creating a new sense of interest in Taxi Violence.”
• Taxi Violence’s Soul Shake is available in music stores.