Kevin Ritchie

The album is called Evidence. The question is, of what? Well, it depends on who you ask from Prime Circle.

After 11 hard years on the road and in the studio, South Africa’s best known rock band still has plenty to say and, it seems, plenty to prove.

Frontman Ross Learmonth feels it’s a statement about the country; acknowledging the level of crime, but also, on the other end of the scale, evidence about being alive and having fun.

For lead guitarist Dirk Bisschoff it’s evidence about remaining relevant all these years after they started jamming in the garage of bass guitarist Marco Gomes’ parents’ house, trying to come up with a name for what was then a Witbank band of friends.

Bisschoff isn’t being idly philosophical. The band came face to face with the reality of playing to less than five people in clubs only two years ago – after they’d already won local acclaim on the back of a catalogue of four albums and a fanatical fan base.

“We never went [to Germany] with any other expectation,” Bisschoff admits. “We knew we were entering a different country, with different values and a different language.”

The gamble paid off.

They’ve been over numerous times since, but these days they no longer open acts or share venues with bands such as 3 Doors Down and Alter Bridge, but headline their own gigs. Evidence was fashioned throughout, starting during the final gestation of Jekyll & Hyde, and honed on tour both here and in Europe over the past 18 months.

Theo Crous produced the album, the third consecutive time he’s produced the band, with final mixing in Los Angeles by Kevin Shirley and mastering by Leon Zervos in Australia.

Like a typical rock album, there are songs about love and loss, joy and anger; but also about what’s happening here at home to fans and people close to the band. The album is as much about telling their fans that they know how much they owe them and just how determined they are not to let them down.

“We’re not bulls****ers. We live in the same country as our fans. We work as hard as them. Our job is to keep it real and keep it relevant for them.”

It’s a sentiment the no-nonsense Gomes agrees with heartily. He says the new album is for the fans, not as a marketing slogan, but as a real tribute to them.

“We’ve reached the point where we can express ourselves. We’ve experimented a lot more. It’s not about us any more, it’s about the fans and ultimately about the music – this beast must be fed,” he laughs.

The fans are in for a treat if lead singer, guitarist and songwriter Learmonth has anything to do with it. Evidence started as a catch-all theme; Learmonth was fascinated at a friend’s birthday party when they had an adult treasure hunt and it got him thinking about interacting with the fans in a different way from the band’s Facebook site or Twitter.

“I wanted to get the fans involved, because without them we don’t exist. I wanted a one-on-one chat with them, not using social media as a marketing tool, which is often what it’s become.”

If Learmonth gets his way, fans will be put on a treasure hunt in cities and towns where the band plays, given cryptic clues to find tickets to gigs or ways of winning unique merchandise, and generally having fun.

But, like everyone else, it’s about proving to themselves that Prime Circle remains relevant in an era when the music industry, particularly in South Africa, is so fickle, and so many of their contemporaries have not stayed the course – and reflecting the life they experience in all its shades.

Learmonth also needs the rush of being on stage and doing what he does best – call it being cross-examined in the dock of public opinion. He’s spent almost half his professional life performing live and gets easily bored doing all the old material. He needs to perform the new songs.

“I’m not like the other guys with wives and families… I last a couple of weeks at home and I need to be on the road,” he says.

Prime Circle’s Evidence will be on sale from next Monday.