MELISSA PARSONS

Upon their return from a tour in the Netherlands, Boo! made a quick stop in Pretoria to wow the capital city with their Monki Punk. Perdeby spoke to Boo!’s frontman Chris Chameleon about touring, a book in progress and a new album on the way.

You’ve created your own unique genre called Monki Punk. How did the substitution of guitar with brass and keyboard come about?

In the beginning of October 1997, Ampie, Leon and I decided we were going to form a band. We started auditioning for guitarists and we found a couple of guitarists but [he] had to be skinny (this was an absolute must) and all the good guitarists were fat. Then we had to gig as well because we had no money. We supported Sons of Trout on 31 October 1997 – that was our first gig. By then we hadn’t found a guitarist so we thought, “Oh, we’ll just go on without a guitar”, and the night went down a storm. It was fabulous. Then we were like, “Oh, maybe we don’t need a guitar”, and I started adapting my playing to make it a little less traditional bass.

You are a widely recognised Afrikaans musician. How difficult was the transition from writing for Boo! to writing for an Afrikaans audience?

I’m Afrikaans speaking – it’s my first language. It’s like, tonight you go to a gig and you hang out with your friends and you drink and you party and you laugh at silly, dirty jokes and tomorrow you sit at the Sunday afternoon table with grandma and grandpa and you’re the sweetest little girl and it takes nothing from you. It’s not that you’re being dishonest. You have these different sides that you show to people and it’s like that. It’s totally natural. You’re a different person in front of your boyfriend than you are in front of your boss, than you are in front of your mom, than you are in front of your friends and it’s just natural.

How would you say your sound has developed from Boo!’s formation in 1997 to The Three of Us, your latest album?

Well, The Three of Us is indeed a little different but if you listen to all the Boo! albums, you will notice that they too are very different from each other. There’s a huge difference between Seventies, Eighties, Nineties, Naughties and Pineapple Flava and an even bigger difference between either one of those and TNTLC or The Three Buddhists. [The Three Buddhists] was this far-out project that we did and we did a lot of interesting studio work on it and then a live studio recording as well. So we were always changing but there being a seven year hiatus between TNTLC, which was an album that we recorded in 2003, and The Three of Us, you missed out on all the potential albums that could have been made to arrive at that sound. You know, any band [that] stays the same is either dead or lying. Like, you change. If you don’t look in the mirror for a year you’ll be surprised at what you look like a year later. It’s the same for me. I think it’s a good thing for music to change. Music is an organic thing. As a creator of music, you’re representing these changes in your personality and your life. Musically, what that means, I can’t tell. I don’t know much about music.

Boo! has performed in Bloemfontein, Cape Town and now Pretoria since returning from a tour in the Netherlands. How different are South African audiences from foreign audiences?

Every audience is different. There’s a difference between a Cape Town audience and a Pretoria audience. Internationally, with Boo! we’ve played in 17 countries, often, it’s not like you only went there once. A few countries we only played once, like Hungary and the Czech Republic. But then, you know, Italy, Croatia, Spain, France, Germany, those are places that we’ve played in frequently. They are all different. Holland and Belgium together are smaller than the North West Province and they are completely different. Belgian audiences will suck you dry because they give you nothing. They are an incredibly reserved audience and you get off stage thinking they hated you but then they come to you and say, “Wow! That was really cool.” The Swiss are even worse: it’s like playing to a dry sponge. But then your Dutch audience is very jovial, very outgoing, very loud, friendly and extroverted. The American audience needs to be tickled into action. The English audience, the less respect you give it the better. We did this one tour in England where both the first and the last gig were in Oxford and the first gig was a nightmare, but I was being too polite. Then after that we kind of figured out the English a bit and went back and I got up there saying, “Well, you know f**k all you. Don’t mind me. We’re just here, we’re just wallpaper.” We had them eating out of our hands by the end of the third song. It’s weird. I think it’s that class system, you know? If you’re nice it means you’re nobody.

Do your ever feel pressurised to convert to a more mainstream sound to gain a larger fan base?

Hell no. You know Boo! was a full-time job between 1997 and 2004. It’s a horrible thing to have that pressure put on your passion, with all due respect to most occupations. But I think with many occupations, people do it because they’re good at it or that’s where they’ve found their niche but they’re not necessarily completely passionate about what they do. Not every person that works in a bank wants to do that all the time. Generally, if people end up in music, you can pretty much tell that music is a thing in their lives that really gives meaning and it’s terrible to have that pressure put on your passion and your love. That pressure is eventually what hurt the band. That forced it into a seven-year or six-year hiatus. Now, we all have our own thing going, other things. Boo! has now become something where, if five people show up tonight, great. We’re going to give them our best show. What [this attitude has] done is it’s also taken the pressure off how it should sound. I think with the next album, you’re going to hear that rather acutely because now you don’t even make money from selling CDs, so there really is no reason to record and create a sound and care about what the … I hate using the word “product” but really this is what you’re doing – if you’re taking money for something, it is a product, whether you want to admit to it or not, that’s what it is. It being a product, you always consider the customer. But I think Boo! has come to that point where we just do whatever tickles our fancy and don’t care. That’s why I am very excited about the album we’re working on at the moment.

You’ve recently released your fourth single “Make Me an Offer”. Can we expect a new music video to follow soon?

No, I don’t think there will be one for “Make Me an Offer”. It depends on the performance of the single.

What do you think the secret is to BOO!’s longevity?

You know, you go to London and you see a guy like Eric Clapton or Sting playing and they’re playing [to a] modest audience. It’s full, it’s great but it’s not a stadium. It’s 2 000, 3 000 or maybe 5 000 people but not 50 000. Not the way it used to be. When you do those sorts of things you realise what the reality of our business is, especially music. If you’re not going to grow with your audience, it’s going to be very sad. There’s nothing sadder than a 60-year-old guy who’s been rocking since he was 18 and who’s still doing it for the 18-year-olds. You know, just move on guy. It’s sad. That’s why I’ve changed my dress code a bit. Ten years ago, I was a hot chick, now I’m a “tannie”. It’s the unisex thing and the androgynous look.

You’ve been asked on your fans’ question page if you’d write a book on all of Boo!’s albums and you replied that you would start applying yourself. Have you?

Yes, I started with one of my solo albums. I’m doing it album by album, one album at a time and the Boo! story will probably all go into one book. That will probably happen later and I’ll tell you now why. A lot of the people who like what I do find a certain safety in my ability to present myself as a decent human being, which I am. But a lot of people can’t distinguish what is commonly viewed as a decent human being from the past of this human being or the alternative side of this human being. When I tell the Boo! story, I want to be honest. I don’t want to have to present it with parsley and slices of lemon to make it look nice. I want to get out there and tell it the way it is and that is a tale of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Interestingly, in Boo!’s music, there was never sex, drugs [nor] degrading comments about the sexes. There was none of that. It was wholesome although the presentation freaked a lot of people out. Like the other night when we played in Bloemfontein. The venue [could] only take 170 people and it was full and it was seated and most of [the audience] were my age and older. I am 40 now. They were sitting back and saying “D**m why did I miss out on that, you know?” and I was like, “Ja, you should give things a chance.” And they’re like, “But it’s so benign”, and I’m like “Yeah, it is.”

If you guys could go back to one particular gig and play it again, which gig would you choose and why?

Do I have to? Because I’d rather not but if a fairy godmother says she’ll turn me into a frog, then it will be … you know what, any decent Monki Punker who claims to remember any of his previous gigs didn’t really play them.

Chris, you wrote the song “Minutes to Midnight” at the request of the Leadership for Conservation in Africa organisation’s request. The funds produced from the single will benefit the 20/20 Vision campaign. How does it feel to know that your music has reached the level where it can create change?

I believe my music has always made a difference. Like I said earlier, it’s always been very benign. Most of the stuff I write about love, I try not to fall into the whole smelchy thing but love doesn’t necessarily mean smelchy. It’s universal inspiration for artists, composers, sculptors and painters and my work has always been benign, my work has always been positive, even in my dark stuff. I use dark to set it up for light, you know, and shine that little spotlight. I mean, it’s always made a difference. This was just one particular cause.

Do you know about the gin trap guys that are on my case? I’m playing a gig next week in Prince Albert and it’s a nominee for Town of the Year. Gin traps really cause a lot of damage to animals. It bites animals’ legs off and it mutilates them. Some lobby group has gotten hold of the fact that I’m playing there and have now told their 60 000 followers to mail me and tell me to cancel my gig in that town. So this week my mailbox has been completely inundated with requests [from] as far as Canada and the U.S. and Germany and of course all over South Africa telling me, “You must cancel your gig.” Obviously, I formulated a standard reply to say to them that if I’m going to have to cancel a gig because I don’t agree with what’s happening in the town, you have to petition the government to allow that, don’t come to me. If I have to cancel gigs on the basis of what happens in those towns, I can’t play in Pretoria because there’s a lot of stuff going on around here. What about the corruption? What about the police? This whole R500-million scam renting a building, that’s taking money away from what could have fed and educated children and education is the biggest problem in this country. I will find a very good reason not to play anywhere. I got hold of the letter that motivated all these people, that was sent to all these people that are now petitioning me. It said “This artist makes a lot of publicity out of his conservation efforts”. Putting it in a way as if I’m into conservation to get exposure, which I thought was terribly mean. But the saddest thing about that is not the mean misrepresentation of my views. It’s rather that good people should stick together. You shouldn’t alienate people because the thing that drives [me] is no different from the thing that drives someone to fly into a building. It’s the same “do as I say if you believe what I do or I will f**k you up” [attitude] which I think is terrible. That was just my little rant.

What can we expect from Boo! in 2012?

Expectation is the mother of disappointment. Don’t expect anything. Just enjoy it.

Photo: Bonita Lubbe

(See the “Minutes to Midnight” video @Perdeby7410a or below.)

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