Lush Festival 2017: A Photo Review

All images by Marnus Strydom and Henk Labuschagne.

All images by Marnus Strydom and Henk Labuschagne.

Less Wes Anderson, more Wes Craven.

Mieliepop Festival 2017

Ticket Giveaway: Mieliepop 2017

Last year, Mieliepop Festival had everyone talking afterwards. Its boutique status means no overcrowding, its location means luxurious, lush, peaceful surroundings, and the organising team means a tightly-run ship and a diverse, kick-ass lineup of some of South Africa’s best bands. There’s no reason to think Mieliepop 2017 will be anything less. See more details below, and enter our competition to win a double ticket to this event! is an entertainment blog run from Gauteng, South Africa.

Staring at the Sun, and how We Are Charlie fight demons

Note: This is part two of my interview with We Are Charlie. Completists should probably read part 1 first.

I’ve been sitting down with two members of We Are Charlie at Pop Filter Studios in Pretoria. I’m intrigued by what they tell me about their recording process. Beyond their straight-cut lyrics, they even strive for honesty and reality in the music itself.

“This time around,” lead vocalist, guitarist, and lyricist Dylan Christie says, “we really put in the effort. We said, you know what, we’re not going to go into the studio unless we’ve really put in the effort, listened to the songs, tried them out on stage, feel the song, and then we’re like ‘Okay, this one, we’re still not over it, let’s record it.'”

But that’s only the beginning. Pre-production with producer Nic Dinnie changes things a lot. “On the latest EP, that we just did now, we said no to quantizing, we said no to major editing. Obviously you have to a bit, otherwise 5FM is gonna say nay. But it was amazing. Everything was analogue – not even the shakers, none of the percussion is digital. We all had auditions with each other in the room, so we sat in a circle, saying ‘who could play the shakers the best?’ And it was Nic. Obviously.”

“And then there he is, rocking out the shakers in that room for like 3 minutes straight. His arm is just going.”

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

Picture by Lourens Smit

Most productions would leave something like this to pre-recorded samples, or looping a small recorded section. Not We Are Charlie. “Nic’s like, ‘that’s lame.’ Cause we were like, ‘shame dude, you don’t have to stay on,’ and he’s like, ‘nah; I’m gonna stay on for three minutes.’

Throughout the process, they also decided to stay as natural as possible – and that includes accepting some imperfect takes. Wesley Reinecke, the band’s drummer, sits on the couch next to Dylan, and explains: “Some of the tracks, you can hear me clearly hitting the rimshot of my snare. But we kept that stuff. Those few mistakes, that aren’t really recognisable, we try to keep them in the recording and not edit them out.”

Well, if it’s hideous,” Dylan says, “we’ll take it out. Or we’ll do another take. But we just got the best takes we could get, and worked with that. And it’s great for us, because I don’t really see ourselves us these massively experienced session musicians.”

I find these kind of open, unflattering admissions about themselves fascinating. They’re definitely unconcerned with painting a super-cool, polished image of themselves. “We just wanted to be the cool guys who smoked and was in a band in high school. And that’s how we went with it. And at this point we thought that we’ve put in enough effort and we love this enough that we just don’t wanna lie about it.”

They’re also less concerned with things like radio play. “This time around we’re like, ‘we’ve been on the radio,’ and all this kind of stuff, we might actually – there was a stage where we were like, ‘we might be dying out now, so we don’t care anymore.’ We might be a one-hit wonder, so let’s just do what we wanna do from this point on. And it’s been great since then. Even better than what it was in the past.”

This attitude obviously means that they aren’t very concerned with ‘Sophomore slump’ – though they’re quick to remind me that Yard Sale wasn’t their first release (Check out their first EP on Soundcloud). “I was sulking in my room, cause I couldn’t go to America, cause I wanted to be famous, and I played wrote some songs and played them to Wes. He digged them and we released this EP.”

I asked them when they’re doing a full-length album, but that’s not in the cards right now. “I think this is just a quicker way to push out your music,” says Wesley. “You don’t have to sit on a twelve track LP which takes a year to produce, or edit or whatever, from the tracking to the final release. So doing a 6 track EP you can just kind of punt them as quick as possible – get them in and get them out.”

Dylan adds, “and you’re not forcing yourself to have 12 new songs. Cause, I mean, 7 of them are going to be terrible.”

“I mean, there’s so much new music out there all the time that the only full albums that people are putting the time into to listen to the full albums are the big bands. And we might get to the point where we realise that ‘shit, we’ve done 19 EPs,’ you know. But our first EP and our second EP was basically in the same year, so it was like a full album.”

So we start talking about their current work – their next EP is called The Sad Kind of Happy. Which is an appropriate title, since that’s pretty much how their music sounds, right? Yard Sale, for example, was fascinating for being a blue, pseudo-depressive work hidden behind upbeat indie rock, that acknowledges pain and brokenness of youth and society without dwelling on it or being miserable about it. “…Except we say it in layman’s terms,” explains Dylan: “‘Our lyrics are fucking sad, but our songs are kind of upbeat.'”

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

Picture by Lourens Smit

“We say to each other ‘Dude, I like you, but I do not want to live inside your head, man.’ We smile a lot, we joke a lot, we are care-free dudes who look at the positive around every single corner, but to be dead honest, we can’t fight the demons enough. You fight demons all the time. Everyone does. Some people hide it better than others, but we’re actually not even trying to hide it. I think music has been a good outlet for us.”

“I’m able to say the shit that I want to say and stuff. I also take the band into consideration when writing lyrics.”

We write our shit to be catchy and upbeat so that the people who the song is about, listens to the song. So if we’re tuning a bunch of people in a song, ten-to-one, they’re like ‘I can so dance to this,’ or it happens to make it onto the radio. And we do that on purpose.”

With this approach, it’s no wonder that they don’t sound that much like the bands that influence them (“the people we listen to religiously”) – throughout our conversation they’ve mentioned IncubusSmashing PumpkinsThe PixiesModest MouseTalking HeadsTalking HeadsThe Cure, Sad Lovers and Giants, Queens of the Stone Age, and Cage the Elephant. On the other hand, they’ve been compared to The StrokesKings of LeonShortstraw, Desmond and the Tutus, and Two door cinema club – definitely a pretty diverse mix.

The first single from their upcoming EP, Let’s Stare at the Sun, feels like an anti-globalisation statement. And while it isn’t as specific as Yard Sale seems to have been, it contains a similar sense of criticism towards people they don’t approve of, and a wider sense of self-deprication – representing the entire country this time around. It’s equal parts groundbreaking and familiar for We Are Charlie. Their current plan is to release the EP single-for-single as free downloads over the next couple of months, and then make the whole thing available as a product to purchase.

As I take my leave, the band gets ready to continue their rehearsal session. They’re already working on early pre-production for a next EP. Luckily, it looks like they’re ensuring we get a steady stream of new music for a long time to come.

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.

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 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.

Mieliepop 2016 Banner

Mieliepop 2016: The full line-up & ticket giveaway

It seems that March is music festival season. In addition to Splashy Fen and Otterlake Easter Festival, and the brand new Lush Festival in Clarens on Easter weekend, Mieliepop has moved from it’s traditional October/November slot to the weekend before Easter in 2016. Monday 21 March is Human Rights day, so it’s already a long weekend, and you can always take 3 leave days to just keep partying from this festival to the next – whichever one you choose! is an entertainment blog run from Gauteng, South Africa.