The last time I sat down with Gangs of Ballet – around this time last year – they were going through ch-ch-changes. Like Bowie, they were trying new things. The band were coming out as a trio after making a name for themselves as a quartet. They were also embarking on a mammoth task: releasing one album through three EPs.
Made up of Jonathan “Jono” Rich (keyboard) and brothers Brad (lead singer, electric guitar) and Josh Klynsmith (drums), Gangs of Ballet have now settled into their threesomeness, but the changes don’t stop. Following Form and Function 1, which was recorded in Joburg and produced by Denholm Harding, last year, the guys released Form and Function 2 last month. It is a more minimalist take on their rock sound and boasts six tracks. In addition to switching up their sound, they decided to go it alone when it came to producing the EP. They also recorded in their home town, Durban.
“We flew the engineer to Durban and produced it ourselves,” explained Josh.
“It was way more organic. We didn’t think too much about it. We wanted to put down good songs. Enjoy making music. So there are different sets of variables. We decided we wanted to have a go at producing it ourselves.”
Brad added: “The more art we’ve created – and I consider music as art – the more sensitive you become. With us going back home… it was quite a long year for us last year and we were tired and jaded. So we were looking for energy. For that fire again. And we found that in Durban.”
For the first EP, the lads wrote 40 songs and only chose six for the offering. This time, they wrote new jams and even carried a few oldies but goodies over into the new offering.
“We’re up to 60 songs and there’s a big pool of stuff to draw from to complete the album,” mentioned Jono. Then Josh said: “Brad and I each wrote a song and they had similar traits. The one song was Something and the other was Higher. They both had this ‘80s vibe to them and we started experimenting. It almost pushed us into a sound already.
“Something is an infectious ditty that makes you dance, even though the lyrics – which include lines about someone being like a train wreck ?whom others aren’t able to look away from – can seem melancholy.
Josh, who wrote the song, said: “Quite a while ago I saw a YouTube video for Australia’s Got Talent. He was a strange guy and no one knew how to take him. All he did was club dance. By the end of his performance, he’d transformed the whole auditorium and everyone was on their feet, jamming. I thought, ‘it would be a cool idea to write a song about somebody like that’. Like a train wreck, but you can’t look away.
The song is about someone like that.”To this, Brad added: “Creatives are very misunderstood, especially in Durban. There’s a difference between tolerating someone and understanding them. Tolerance has an expiry date. So the song is about saying: I don’t fully get it, but I love you for what you’re doing.”
Based on the success of this multi-award-winning group, it’s difficult to say that a lot of people don’t “get” the band. But as Jono explains, the changes they’ve gone through have been beneficial to their growth. And that’s why, visually, they gravitated toward the Bauhaus art era for the album.”We’ve been inspired by the whole Bauhaus movement,” said Jono.
“We were going through things as a band. We lost a member and had to regroup and gel as three-piece. That worked well with the Bauhaus concept of breaking down things to their simplest form and then building on top of that. We wanted to portray that through the straight, geometric lines on the CD cover.”
An interesting song on the new EP is Life Goes On. Because of its toned down nature, it can remind listeners of the neo-soul Nylon off the previous EP. I ask the guys if the songs are companion pieces. They look at each other and then Josh speaks.
“For Life Goes On, the first part was written in studio. It’s a pretty vulnerable, minimalistic song. Nylon is the same, but has a little more swag. Life Goes On was a really old idea I had in my phone and we were originally going to do two stripped down songs for the EP. When we were in the studio, we realised we hadn’t really done that. Sometimes you spend your life worrying, but really, it should be water off a duck’s back. You should roll with the punches.”
• Form and Function 2 is available in stores and online.