Prime Circle

Let the Night In is Prime Circle’s sixth album and their first independently released offering. They are also planning their first arena tour. Therese Owen met them in a Joburg music store and managed to tear them away from the toys on the wall for an exclusive listening session of the new album.

‘Ross (Learmonth) is somewhere inside,” announces a somewhat amused Diane Chidrawi of Total Exposure, the PR company hired by Prime Circle. “He is like a kid in a toy shop.”

Walking into Music Connection, you are greeted by instruments of all shapes and sizes situated around the showroom. Outside, drummer Dale Schnettler is casually smoking a cigarette while waiting for the interview to begin. I bump into Matthew Mole, whose star as a singer and songwriter is verging on a meteoric rise.

“What are you doing here?” he asks me.

“I’m here with Prime Circle.”

Mole looks star-struck: “Oh, wow! You say it so casually.”

But that is the thing about the Prime Circle boys. They are so casual and normal that it is only when their fans are around that you realise just how famous they are.

For instance, at a party held by Tsogo Sun at the Maharani in Durban, Schnettler, Learmonth and keyboardist Neil Breytenbach were some of the guests. But it was only when the trio went on stage to perform that people realised who they were.

They had agreed to play a few songs for free at the party just because they wanted to play. And what a performance it was. The audience was treated to classics as well as new songs from Let the Night In. And while guitarist Dirk Bisschoff and bassist Marco Gomes were not there, the other three members were just as loud and enjoyable.

After their performance they were surrounded by fans all wanting selfies with them, for which the trio obligingly posed.

“We are not stereotypical rock stars,” says Learmonth when we finally sit down with Schnettler and Bisschoff upstairs at Music Connection.

“We are not arrogant,” continues Learmonth. “I don’t have a tattoo or a drug problem, We’re about the musical journey. We’ll probably land up on a porch playing blue grass in our old age.”

Bisschoff goes to the sound desk and plays the first track, Not Alone, from the new album.

“This is a potential single and my favourite,” announces Learmonth over the loud music. “We have a key change in the song. In fact, with this song we have made the key change cool again.”

The next track is the title and opening song, Let the Night In, a song all three of them are proud of.

Learmonth explains the concept: “You can work all day and be normal and then the night seduces you. You become who you really are. In the song I compare it to being seduced by a woman. We have always wanted to bring sex into our music, but it’s harder than it seems. Like the Deftones play heavy music, but there is always sex in their songs.”

Bisschoff picks up: “The cover is by a friend of ours who took a picture of a girl with wings on at Africa Burn at sunset as two others look on. We thought the picture suited the album title.”

Learmonth grins mischievously: “Yeah, it’s supposed to be mystical, but they were all probably doing something else.”

The album was produced by Just Jinjer bassist Denholm Harding, at SABC’s Radio Park studios.

“It’s not a heavy album, but it has more emotionally heavy content,” says Learmonth. He pauses, then that wicked twinkle appears: “Lyrically, I try to be coy, but I can’t.”

This is true. While Learmonth doesn’t come across as a deep thinker, lyrically he is deep, which is why their songs resonate with people and stand the test of time. He looks at me in surprise and frowns.

“The next song is called My City. It’s been around for five years. I was always protective of this song. It’s one I wrote for for myself so I didn’t want it to be criticised. But as soon as the band got hold of it, it became 10 times better. I am playing it for you to prove that I am a deep thinker,” he scowls playfully.

Then they play their first single from Let the Night In, Gone.

“We wanted the first single to be different and prove that we have been thinking deeply,” he quips.

It certainly is a departure from their expected sound.

“We have a sinister verse and bass line and a happy, forced smiley face chorus,” says Bisschoff.

“We write in visuals and the concept is about a guy stuck in a weird town and he can’t get out.”

The next track, Doors, is bound to be a huge hit, on radio and certainly in the live arena.

“We wanted a big, strummy, live song and this is it,” says Bisschoff. “We wanted to write a ‘you can’t sit still to’ song.”

Adds Learmonth: “This song makes you think of fireworks and makes you wanna go to the concert. We wanted for people to hear when the band flexes their muscles. That’s what we captured on this song.”

Suddenly Schnettler, who’s been uncharacteristically quiet, raises his hands in the air as the song breaks into a clapping beat. He smiles as it then kicks into double claps. Obviously this is gonna be his big part when they play the song.

Having joined in 2008, Schnettler says the journey with this great band has been “amazing”.

“I have four older brothers to keep me in line,” he says.

Learmonth interrupts: “Yeah, put me as older, even though I am only a year older than you.”

The album will be released through their newly formed label, Prime Records, with a distribution deal through Electromode.

“Prime Records signed Prime Circle,” laughs Learmonth. “It’s quite a big deal.”

The band are also, for the first time in a long time, managing themselves, from finances to tour bookings, and they are enjoying being in control.

“We asked ourselves, ‘what are our biggest passions outside of music?’ and we are using those in the daily running of the band. For instance, Dirk is a meticulous guitarist, therefore his department is the finances,” says Learmonth.

On the European tour front, the band are setting out on a 30-date tour. This includes playing Graspop in Belgium with headline acts such as Soundgarden and Black Sabbath “as well as lots of band names we can’t pronounce”. They are also showcasing in Paris and Spain.

“These are exciting times,” says Learmonth. “It’s the biggest album we have done because it’s the best we have ever done. We are doing what we love. We are playing music.”