We Are Charlie - Let's Stare at the Sun. Picture by Lourens Smit

Staring at the Sun, and how We Are Charlie write honest songs

I met Dylan Christie and Wesley Reinecke on an ice-cold night at Pop Filter Studios in Pretoria. It’s right behind Menlyn. The third member (and bassist) of We Are Charlie, Rowan van Eeden, was away on a trip to Germany. But between Dylan & Wesley, they had more than enough to say.

“I think Pop Filter Studios is a great place,” Wesley, the drummer, raves. “I think many people don’t realise what a great place it is or actually haven’t heard of it. As for the facilities, the acoustics are flippin’ awesome. There’s not just one live room or one iso booth, or some guy’s home made studio. It’s international standard studios and spaces. And the gear here is phenomenal.”

Pop Filter has, since launching in February 2016, become We Are Charlie‘s home base, rehearsal space, and recording studio of choice. They recorded their upcoming EP, The Sad Kind of Happy, here, under the guidance of producer Nic Dinnie.

Vocalist, guitarist, and lyricist Dylan explains: “Nic was a long-time friend of ours. And this EP was amazing to record, cause they almost gave us free rein with time.”

The production process started with simply playing through the songs in studio, and giving Nic an opportunity to get used to it, and maybe come up with some ideas. Only after this time did they move on to traditional pre-production and recording guide tracks. Nic’s help, along with Theuns Botha, who “was basically the drum tech of the session,” and mastering engineer Jacob Israel, provided some more experienced opinions and input.

“Just purely because we are youngsters and a little bit messed up, we lack experience in those fields. So that was amazing.”

And We Are Charlie really took their time with the process, refusing to compromise by forcing anything. “We said, if the song’s not done, it’s not done, we’re not gonna force time. We’ll finish it when we finish it.  If we just aren’t feeling it that night, we’ll just mess around with one of the other songs so long. So I guess it’s safe for us to say that we just never looked back.”

We Are Charlie - Let's Stare at the Sun. Picture by Lourens Smit

Picture by Lourens Smit

Often, the songwriting process starts with cellphone voice memos. Dylan explains: “When we have a good idea, we’ll pop the phone on voice note mode and we leave it outside, and we’ll just play through. And then I’ll sort of listen to it in my car sometimes.”

“Also, the way I write lyrics, is I just talk a bunch of shit – like you can tell, I’m good at that – so I just sing a bunch of shit, you know. And I’ll listen to it over and over again, and it’s almost like I subconsciously write some of the lyrics, until I go ‘Ah, that actually works.’ And then I’ll clean it up a bit.”

“And then once I’ve got enough cleaned up to make a story, then I’ll write the rest of the song. So then I’ll listen to it in the car over and over again to pick up little bits that I might have by accident said. And then I write the rest around that.”

“I think it’s also cool that way cause then it’s honest – You’re just singing what you feel at the time.”

I ask them about honesty in songwriting, and between the two of them, they agree that Dylan’s lyrics might not always be direct, but it can be straightforward and blunt.

“Not necessarily blunt toward someone,” says Wesley. “But also towards the reality of his thoughts.”

To which Dylan provides an example: “Like that song, You’re not that Great? I just straight up thought someone wasn’t great.”

We Are Charlie - Let's Stare at the Sun. Picture by Lourens Smit

Picture by Lourens Smit

“Look,” Wesley starts. “I’m not a musicologist or whatever you call them – ” [Dylan: “please let that be a word.” Yes, it is.] “But I think the only thing a person can relate to when hearing a song is the lyrics.” In his opinion, the rest of the music helps to underscore and frame the meaning of the song, but “the lyrics are the key, dude.”

But despite having relatively straightforward lyrics, it appears as though the band’s latest single, Let’s Stare at the Sun, is the first time that the majority of people are really connecting with the song’s message.

One of their first big singles, Hey Friend, for example, is “not what most people think it is,” says Wesley. [So it’s not about post-friendzone murder fantasies?]

It’s not just a ‘hey, I love my mates,'” explains Dylan. [Okay, maybe my theory still holds up. The guys were tight-lipped about the truth.]

We Are Charlie - Let's Stare at the Sun. Picture by Lourens Smit

Picture by Lourens Smit

On the other hand, Let’s Stare at the Sun‘s message is very culturally and socially relevant, but that’s coincidental. “It’s so weird, it came at the perfect time.”

I mean, I wrote those lyrics to that song at the end of last year, and now all this shit that is going on around the world with westernisation. For example, people don’t give a shit if there’s a bomb going off there, but if it goes off over there, then it’s a huge problem. And that’s what I hate. I hate that kind of stuff.”

He thinks of another example. “Burger King opened up down the road – and it’s delicious – but I’m like ‘FUCK! We never used to have Burger King and we used to be special because of that for a weird reason.’ Now everything is the same. It’s almost like they’re trying to make it all one thing.”

“It’s death of culture,” adds Wesley. “And of being yourself.”

But is this a thematic and lyrical change of course for We Are Charlie? Are they going to start writing anti-war protest music soon?

I mean, we’re not necessarily the biggest fans of society and what the movement is of westernisation and globalisation, but I don’t think necessarily that is going to be the direction of what is to come in our lyrics.”

I think we’ll continue being honest,” Dylan adds. “We’ll get more honest as we go, as well. Especially now that we’ve played cool venues, we’ve had a bit of the vibe, we’ve toured a little bit, we’ve gotten it out of our system.”

We’re going to be writing music and lyrics where it’s an opinion that we believe in,” Wesley says. “And we’re going to be very opinionated. So it’s going to be about a certain situation. It’s going to be something that Dylan really believes in. And that, to me, is an ingredient for a good song.”

We Are Charlie are the first to admit: “We talk a lot of shit.” But it’s entertaining and informative, and have therefore turned this piece into a two-part interview. Check back on TheFlow.co.za soon for part two, where the band reveals why they haven’t made a full-length album yet.

We Are Charlie is an indie rock band from Pretoria. They recently released Let’s Stare At The Sun, the first single of their latest, yet-to-be-released EP, The Sad Kind of HappyLet’s Stare At The Sun is available on iTunes, or free download from Soundcloud (for the time being), and you can check out the band on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Soundcloud.

Floris Groenewald

Floris sometimes writes things when he’s not watching movies or playing video games or editing videos or folk-rock singing/songwriting.

Akkedis - Onder Ou Tafelberg

Onder Ou Tafelberg: Akkedis kyk terug na 20 jaar

Akkedis bestaan uit die bebaarde langhaar tweelingbroers van Somerset-Wes, Rudolph en Arthur Dennis, met AJ Graham as derde lid. Hulle musiek het ‘n element van klassieke eenvoud, ten spyte van hulle voorkoms. Dis ‘n soort pseudo-folk blues-rock met ‘n groot fokus op lirieke, en sterk Afrika- invloede. Hulle sing hoofsaaklik in Afrikaans, met bietjie Engels en ander tale bygevoeg vir afwisseling. Portugees kom spesifiek op een liedjie op hulle nuutste album, Onder Ou Tafelberg, voor: Nos Amamos Mozambique is ‘n ode aan Mosambiek en Ponta Malongane, en daarmee saam waarskynlik STRAB, die jaarlikse musiekfees wat dáár plaasvind.

Floris Groenewald

Floris sometimes writes things when he’s not watching movies or playing video games or editing videos or folk-rock singing/songwriting.

blink-182 California

Blink-182 pens an ode to California

Blink-182 has released a new album called California

This album is the Blink-182‘s first release since their poorly received Neighbourhoods (that’s how we spell it in South African English) in 2011, which saw the band members to scatter to the four corners of the Earth. Well, three corners.

Before I delve into California, I think I should clarify where I stand on Blink-182. See, I am, apparently, a millennial. When Enema of the State and Take Off Your Pants and Jacket was released, I was in high school, and the perfect age to enjoy the finely crafted dick and balls jokes that were so expertly delivered by Tom, Mark, and Travis. I was also into guitars and playing music, so I learned a bunch of their songs, as they were easy and fun to play. In the process I took in the raw and relatively unprocessed Cheshire Cat and Dude Ranch as well. Then, a couple of years later, Blink-182 released their eponymous album, which I still believe is their best work. It brought a darker, more serious sound, and showed that the three Californians were capable of more than just bubblegum punk. In fact, the 2003 release showed that they could take what they had learned thus far, and craft it into something incredibly beautiful and haunting while still displaying the barely contained anger of their punk roots. I still listen to that album from time to time. 2011’s Neighbourhoods disappointed me, so if you liked it, I won’t be hurt if you disregard this article’s opinion completely.

blink-182 California

The band members had several side projects. Mark and Travis started +44 in reaction to Blink-182’s initial hiatus in 2005. Similarly, Tom formed Angels and Airwaves. I was never much of a fan of either band, feeling that the pop rock they delivered was weak and somewhat soulless compared to the 2003 Blink-182 album, as well as the first side project, Box Car Racer‘s only release, Box Car Racer in 2002; Tom and Travis wrote one of my all time favourite albums as Box Car Racer.

I think it’s clear from all this history that I hold the band’s earlier work in very high regard.

On to California. Apparently Blink-182 has been trying to release a new album since 2013, but Tom deLonge wouldn’t commit to picking up the guitar to write and record. Eventually, in 2015, Mark Hoppus (bass and vocals) and Travis Barker (drums) got tired of waiting and had a festival date to play. They asked Matt Skiba, vocalist and guitarist of Alkaline Trio, to fill in for Tom, and he soon became a full time replacement. It seems like the new trio gelled quickly and wrote a bunch of songs at a lightning pace, because about a year after joining forces, they released an album together.

The album, California, has its ups and downs

It starts off with a handful of songs (including the lead single Bored To Death) that still carry a strong influence of the older Blink-182 sound, even in the guitar playing. I got flashbacks to Take Of Your Pants and Jacket while listening to it. The sharp hooks of these songs immediately pull you in, and promise to earworm for the next month at least. The vocal harmonies immediately jumps out at you; it’s clear that Skiba knows how to sing and harmonize. His own style of guitar playing also shines through in interesting and highly unorthodox (for Blink-182) counterpoints using chords that they previously wouldn’t have dreamt of knowing.

The album then skips for the first time

The track Los Angeles starts off dark and driven, and stays dark throughout. Much darker than the first tracks, anyway. It’s a good song, with its sombre tone emphasised by the contrast of the bright and hopeful, highly melodic bridge. It is followed, however, by Sober, which is a generic pop rock song with nothing really special to offer, and Sober especially doesn’t fit into the tone of the album. It’s not a poor song, but I’m sure that Blink could’ve written something more tonally suitable for the album, as its inclusion is jarring.

The album really hits its stride following a brief joke track (that really might as well have gone on the cutting room floor too. At 30, I’m over the dick and ball jokes, and I can’t imagine the Blink guys really finding it all that funny anymore. Skiba cries “Is that really it?” when Mark finishes the songs, and I feel the same.) The song No Future has clear influences from the Take Off Your Pants era, and while there is a slight attempt at recapturing the feeling of being mad at all adults in the chorus, the harmonies are excellent, the guitar playing is layered beautifully, and Matt Skiba’s vocals really shine. The next track, Home Is Such A Lonely Place, again feels somewhat out of place as a ballad on a rock album, but the rest of the album is a combination of smooth vocal harmonies, good guitar work, Travis’ trademark energetic impossible drumming, seriously impressive vocal harmonies, high tempo songs with a good mixture of Blink and Alkaline Trio influences, and I can’t emphasize how well the vocal harmonies work on this album.


California has its shortcomings. The title track is another ballad-y pop song, which is not suited to the general tone of the album and the final song is called Brohemian Rhapsody… (I was steeling myself for the absolute worst, but it turned out that it is another joke track. Seems that the only way to make me thankful for a joke track is to instill fear of something much, much worse.)

In general, though, California is good, and if the evolutionary trajectory from high-school-Blink-182 to dark-and-serious-and-get-Robert-Smith-from-The-Cure-to-sing-with-you-Blink-182 continues to this Blink-182-with-Matt-Skiba, we can expect some more great albums from Blink-182 in the near future.

Blink-182 is an American rock band started in San Diego, California, in 1992. Their new record, California, released on 1 July 2016, and is available all over the place; I listened to it on Google Play Music. You can buy it on iTunes, or check out the band on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or YouTube.

Nardus Groenewald

Nardus Groenewald is a geek for music, computer games, tech, gadgets, and those chocolate eggs with jelly in them that Woolies sells at the tills. In his spare time he grows a decent beard and holds down a full time job.

About You - digital cover large Boketto

Gazing Vacantly? Boketto releases their debut album, About You

The last time I heard a groovy jazz-rock band who named themselves after a Japanese word with no English translation – oh wait, that’s never happened before. Enter Boketto. Apparently roughly translated, it means ‘The act of gazing vacantly into the distance, without thinking.’ Which is a pretty cool name for a band who produces smooth, soulful, jazzy groove-based music.

Floris Groenewald

Floris sometimes writes things when he’s not watching movies or playing video games or editing videos or folk-rock singing/songwriting.

Jerain - Gold

Q&A: Jerain tells of her journey in music with new single, Gold

Jerain, a Namibian-born urban alt-pop singer-songwriter currently based in Cape Town, just released her newest single, Gold, today. It’s an interesting song, lyrically, that explores the inside of the music business, and addresses some of the challenges and ups-and-downs that come with writing and recording songs.

Floris Groenewald

Floris sometimes writes things when he’s not watching movies or playing video games or editing videos or folk-rock singing/songwriting.

Gerald Clark Studio__DSF8123_1

Life on the road with Gerald Clark and the Goldengoose

If you haven’t heard of Gerald Clark yet, you’ll almost certainly recognise him as the cool and lively “Afroboer” bluesman who regularly pops up on festival and other stages throughout South Africa. Last year he released his fourth album, titled Afroboer & the GoldenGoose, which was largely inspired by his meeting his girlfriend, the titular Goose.

Recently, Clark and the GoldenGoose gave up their home and comforts, deciding to settle for a nomadic lifestyle. They describe themselves as “happy campers” – traveling the country and permanently touring. We stole a few minutes of Gerald’s time between shows to ask him about this interesting journey.

Floris Groenewald

Floris sometimes writes things when he’s not watching movies or playing video games or editing videos or folk-rock singing/songwriting.

Springbok Nude Girls

This movie is NOT porn: Springbok Nude Girls

Before Fokofpolisiekar and The Parlotones, the breakthrough, height-of-alternative rock band from South Africa was Springbok Nude Girls. I don’t know if they were really “a band who captured the imagination of a generation” [the film’s tagline], but they were definitely big, important, and defining in the history of South African music. The film is a production by Thinking Owl Films in association with Sony Music Entertainment Africa. It’s unclear exactly where the money for the movie came from, which means we don’t know how biased or objective the film really is. Is it a true documentary, or more of a propoganda publicity piece that helps promote the band’s latest shows?

Floris Groenewald

Floris sometimes writes things when he’s not watching movies or playing video games or editing videos or folk-rock singing/songwriting.

Stanley June - Define Love

Stanley June (re)defines Love

Love, to me, is all about connection.” That’s Stanley June‘s definition – and you’d want a definition from someone who just released a single called Define Love. “Sharing a bond with someone or something. Something you miss when you can’t be with it and something that you treasure when it’s in your presence. Losing what you love can often bring confusion or upset, and that is what the song ‘Define Love’ is about.”

Floris Groenewald

Floris sometimes writes things when he’s not watching movies or playing video games or editing videos or folk-rock singing/songwriting.

Graeme Watkins Project - Love in Abundance

The Graeme Watkins Project puts the “dance” in Love In Abundance

The Graeme Watkins Project released their first new single in years: Love in Abundance, with a beautiful accompanying video. Though their Facebook page describes the band as an “Electro Indie Rock” group, the new song doesn’t sound very electro, but it still contains elements that’ll thrill dance floors.

Floris Groenewald

Floris sometimes writes things when he’s not watching movies or playing video games or editing videos or folk-rock singing/songwriting.

Shortstraw by Hanro Havenga 07 - Hear Yee!

We Tolerate Shortstraw – a chat about Hear Yee! – RecordingStudios.co.za’s 5th Birthday party

For their fifth birthday party, recordingstudios.co.za is throwing a party at The Good Luck Bar in Johannesburg, in support of a charity called Hi Hopes. With this event, they’re aiming to raise money to fund cochlear implants and to buy hearing aids, giving children the gift of hearing – and therefore music! The party happens on 25 June, and will feature performances by ShortstrawNaming JamesDavid Beretta OwensHellcats, and PitVirus.

We spoke to Alastair Thomas of Shortstraw about the band, the charity, and the future.

Floris Groenewald

Floris sometimes writes things when he’s not watching movies or playing video games or editing videos or folk-rock singing/songwriting.