I spoke to South African Blues guitarist Dan Patlansky ahead of his UK and European tour.
What’s the Blues scene like in South Africa?
As you can imagine, I think Blues is a niche market anywhere in the world, so in South Africa it’s a micro-niche market. It’s really small but it’s growing year by year. I think when I started out playing it was mostly people my parents age going to shows because they grew up with the Blues, but there’s a big resurgence with a younger generation coming through. So it’s growing and getting pretty big there – we’re able to do fairly big shows, like a thousand plus people sometimes which means that the scene’s getting healthier by the day there, so pretty good.
You’ve presumably got a fairly limited number of venues and cities to play – Cape Town, Johannesburg and a few others, and then it’s a long distance to play places like the US, Europe, the UK, Australia.
Being based in South Africa, travel is an essential part of the job. If I look at the Blues scene or the roots music scene in general here in the UK, it’s a far healthier scene here compared to South Africa, a far more extensive scene – there are more venues, more festivals, bigger following, so travel’s essential, and it’s a pleasure to be out here to play.
Apart from in Winter when you freeze to death?
I’m freezing to death today and it’s not even that cold. This is like the middle of winter for us.
I imagine being based in South Africa you hear different music to what we hear, so that might influence your music.
Yes and No. Most of the stuff I listen to – I’m really passionate about the blues and stuff, I don’t listen to much traditional African music and I’m not really influenced much by it – it’s just never been my thing. I grew up listening to more of the Western music – American blues and British blues and classic rock so I’m quite heavily influenced by that. In todays world I think in the old days you were kind of isolated and you had to kind of listen to the music that was given to you locally, and since I’ve been around it’s always been fairly easy to access whatever music you wanted to access. I’ve always had this passion for it.
You released your latest album, Introvertigo last year. Where did the album title come from?
I’m an introvert by nature, and Introvertigo is a condition where an introvert spends more than five minutes with an extrovert and you start getting like a dizzy feeling, which I’ve had a couple of times in my life, so I thought it was a fitting title seeing as I wrote all the songs on the album, so it’s kind of the memoirs of an introvert. So I thought it was a fairly good title. It’s not a traditional blues album by any stretch of the imagination but all the songs have come from the blues and are rooted in the blues, and it’s my take on the blues – a more modern take on the blues and blues-rock. It’s definitely the direction I’ve been going in the last couple of years. I started out doing definitely more traditional blues, which I still love listening to, but I’ve evolved more into the more modern blues/blues-rock thing and draw from more genres than there used to be.
I think that’s the thing, when you mention the blues people automatically think of the old traditional blues artists but there’s a whole new generation of young blues players coming through and it’s getting more diverse.
I couldnt agree with you more. I think “Blues” is such a loose term these days, so much can be considered Blues because of where it comes from, and I agree a lot of people think of Blues as that old traditional thing. There are still artists out there doing that and doing it well, I’m just not one of those artists who can do an entire hour and a half show of traditional blues, I don’t have what it takes to do that. So yeah, I’ve had to kind of evolve.
There’s also the varying amounts of rock – you’ve got Blues and Blues rock genres but really it’s a whole spectrum with varying amounts of rock mixed into the blues.
Exactly, which is great.
As long as it’s good music, who cares what label is attached.
Exactly and I think that whole genre thing, human beings naturally want to attach a label to whatever music they’re listening to, and it’s in a way silly. You either like something or you don’t, and if you like it, listen to it, and if you don’t like it then don’t listen to it. That’s always been my philosphy on new music and discovering music.
You played Hard Rock Hell Blues a few days ago. How did that go for you?
It was one of the coolest shows of the year so far for me, it really was. The audience reaction was fantastic, the response we’ve got on social media has been possibly one of the better shows we’ve done in the UK. It was great, we had a great slot, 9pm and sound was great. It was a really well put together festival, and it was fantastic to be on the bill with those other acts. I enjoyed the hell out of it.
Did you get chance to watch many bands?
I didn’t unfortunately because we were in Poole the night before, so we got to the hotel (in Sheffield), had a shower and got to the show literally half an hour before we went on stage and then had an early start the next day to head to London, so really didn’t get to see much.
People assume when you play a festival you get lots of time to spend watching other bands, but there are interviews to do and lots of travelling sometimes.
You never get to see the bands you want. One of my favourite current Blues musicians is Joe Bonamassa, and I’m always in the UK when he’s in the UK, I’m in Germany when he’s in Germany but I’ve never ever seen one of his live shows. He’s playing in London on Thursday night at the Royal Albert Hall, and I thought Fantastic, then I looked at the schedule and we’re playing in Munich that night. I don’t think I’ll ever get to see him live which is a bit sad.
You’re on tour with some dates in Europe then some UK dates, with Ash Wilson as support.
yeah, we go to Europe for ten shows, Holland and Germany, then we do I think the last six shows in the UK. Ash Wilson is fantastic, we’ve done one show with him already. Great guy and his band is fantastic, he’s fantastic, and I think it’s a good night out coming to see the show. We’re both in the general vague Blues genre, but we both have a different sound, so I think the sounds complement each other and it won’t become a monotonous evening listening to the same type of thing, so it’s a good match up.
I think that’s where the skill comes in with choosing the right support – you want something similar enough to appeal to the same people but not so similar it’s like seeing the same band twice.
Exactly, and of a certain quality too. A lot of people think the worse the quality of the support act, the better they’re going to sound after them, and that never works out for anyone, because all that happens is that the audience gets very annoyed because they’re listening to stuff they’re not into, and the higher the quality the support act, the higher the quality of the evening. For me that’s the priority, just having a great support act.
If you have a great support act, the audience is in a good mood and ready to have fun when you come on, rather than being in a bad mood and hard to win over.
On one of your previous trips to the UK you supported Joe Satriani.
That was obviously an incredible experience, playing all these big grand venues and it was fantastic to build up a fanbase. Last time I was here was on tour with King King and that was also fantastic – a great band, one of the coolest live acts I’ve seen in years, and a great bunch of guys. All of that support work for where we are now, money can’t buy playing in front of those established audiences, and the right type of audiences.
There’s no point supporting the wrong band.
Madonna – imagine going on tour supporting Madonna, we could play to 80,000 people a night, and 2 of them might come to one of our shows again.
Whereas Satriani is very different to you musically but there’s that guitar connection.
It’s that guitar culture. King King was different because Satriani was that guitar lover culture which was great, and just built a great following for us, and King King was a much more focussed thing because they’re a similar audience type to us which is great.
With the Satriani tour you played the big stages and venues, and on this tour you’re playing much smaller venues. Do you have a preference as to what type of venue you play?
They both have ups and downs. Advantages – I love the sound. The quality of my performance is very much based on how it sounds to me on stage, and the bigger rooms it always sounds fantastic on the stage because it’s a lot louder and you can hear the room. When we did Hammersmith Apollo with Joe Satrianim it was fantastic just to hear that big sound in the room, and the smaller the venue, it can still be a big sound, but it’s a different kind of sound. In the big venues you lose that intimacy with the crowd, and in the smaller venues you get that and there’s a lot of energy in the small rooms because you can see the whites of peoples eyes and it’s kind of scary sometimes because you can see the reactions on peoples faces. So in a way it’s more intimidating playing the smaller venues.
But if the songs are going down well then you get to feel that energy in the room
Yes and it really drives the performance to another level because you’re feeding off the audience. It really is everything, that separates a good show from a bad one.
After the UK and European dates what have you got planned?
We do some touring in South Africa then we go into the studio and we record the new album in June, and that album is scheduled to be released this time next year. So we’ll be planning for that and hopefully I’ll be back in the UK touring in November, maybe preview a new song or two live, then back for the official launch early next year.
When you’re writing, is it mainly personal things that inspire the lyrics?
Very much so. When I was writing traditional blues stuff when I was younger, I felt the songs I was writing and the lyrics I was writing sounded false somehow, because I was trying to write like a 1950s blues guy singing about whiskey and women, and really I don’t know that world, it’s almost pretentious to write that for me. So now I take a more modern approach and write from personal experience. I’m a big fan of writing about social commentary things – stuff that bothers me and society and the world. I think that’s what I feel passionate about writing – in other words having a fat moan for an extended period of time on a song. So that’s where I draw lyrical inspiration from.
A nice release valve – vent all the feelings that cause stress.
Exactly. That’s it.
South African politics – is that something that inspires lyrics?
I think that’s a bottomless well of lyrical content right there. I try and stay away it, I try and not watch the news back home and maybe ignorantly, turn a blind eye to what’s going on there because it’s a circus back home, it really is. Then we come to the UK and see how pathetic our currency is against the pound all of a sudden, a cup of coffee costs you a months salary, ridicuolous.
On the other hand it’s great for us when we visit South Africa.
yeah you can live like a king – best hotels, best food.
And the food is good over there.
It’s fantastic, especially the meat. I’ve yet to have a good steak in the UK or Europe. The steaks I’ve had are ridiculous amounts of money and they’re like an average steak back home.
Do you have your own studio or are you recording in a particular one?
We’re going into a particular studio, and the reason is it’s very much a vintage analogue based studio which I like, so we still record on tape, the old school way on tape. Vintage microphones, vintage compression, vintage pre-amps, and that’s the sound I want on the albums, so we go to this studio in Cape Town with the producer that’s done our last few albums, and it just feels like a very comfortable place for us to record.
A lot of musicians seem to like that analogue sound, it feels more organic I think.
Digital is very clinical and precise. I suppose it depends what genre of music you’re playing but I certainly want more of that organic sound. I always feel that analogue tape sound has more of a three dimensional sound even though there are imperfections in the sound, those imperfections add to the music.
If something is too perfect you can lose the feeling.
Exactly it’s like theoretically perfect and note perfect, but there’s no more energy left in the album, it’s sucked dry.
When you’re not on tour or recording, what do you like to do to relax?
Because we tour so much and I’m away from my family – I’ve got a three year old daughter at home, and a wife, then I like to spend as much time as I can with them. When we get a couple of weeks off I try and devote 100% of my time to them, adn relax at home. I like being at home, like I said I’m an introvert at heart and because we spend so much time on the road, the worst thing I can think about is then going out somewhere, especially the shopping mall or something crazy like that. Sometimes it’s even hard for me to go and see live shows because we spend so much time in that world, so a lot of the time is spent at home with the family.
When you spend a lot of time travelling it’s hard to describe how nice it is to have a few days at home doing nothing.
It really feels like the best thing in the world. You’re in your own bed, your own bathroom, peace and quiet, it’s lovely.
Dan Patlansky tours the UK in April and May with special guest Ash Wilson
24 Hour Box Office – 0844 478 0898
Islington O2 Academy, London Tuesday 2 May
Manchester Deaf Institute Wednesday 3 May
Cardiff The Globe Thursday 4 May
Bristol The Tunnels Friday 5 May
The Factory, Barnstaple Saturday 6 May