While in the US, The Graeme Watkins Project was scouted by producer Jeff Blue. What do you think the opportunity to work with someone like Blue means for the band?
Graeme: I think, first and foremost, the trip to the United States was like a master class in itself. Learning not only about the music that you write but how to conduct your business, how to become more than just a band. You become an identity, you become a brand, and it’s not thinking local, it’s thinking global. Don’t write for local, write for the rest of the world and then obviously you have to crack it in your own country before you can crack it anywhere else. We also got a massive reality check in terms of thinking that you’re not going to go over there and just get picked up and be an overnight success – it doesn’t work like that. It takes ten years to craft anything, regardless of whichever territory you’re in. Working with Jeff was just kind of like a compressed version of that. Time is money, so we walked into a studio, we had two days to write, produce, track and record an entire song and he says that’s the maximum [number of] days they’ll work on a song unless it’s a really big artist – [then] they might take an extra day or two. That’s the reality of the situation nowadays: a 14-track album takes two weeks to make.
Ryno: It’s just cool to see on what level they think. We think you make a cool song, you’ll get a spin on 5FM. They think you make a cool song and you make millions of dollars all across the world. That’s what they’re thinking.
Rudo: That’s true. There was someone last year who asked, “So, how are you doing?” and we’re like, “No, we’ve got a few singles on national radio.” They were like, “Oh my goodness, you guys are rich,” and we were like, “No.” [Laughs]
Graeme: See, they don’t understand the size of our territory.
Rudo: They literally write for the world.
Graeme: I mean, it’s just totally different. There you get a top 10 hit and you are set for life. Like financially, you are set for life. That’s kind of what you are dealing with over there. But it was an amazing opportunity.
You guys are in the process of recording your sophomore album. How is that coming along?
Matt: It’s coming on well. I think we’re about six tracks in now. They are definitely going to be on the album. It’s more a refined sound. I think we were finding our feet with our first album and we really discovered the sound that works for us and what The Graeme Watkins Project is all about. And it’s very much based around our live show as well, about the energy that we can get to the crowd. So it’s quite exciting already — even six tracks in.
Graeme: I think [those] six tracks that we’ve done now we’re going to revisit regardless, taking on what we’ve learned with Jeff and how he did it. Obviously, we still have our own style and our own way of doing things but we learnt so much invaluable information, just on how to get a specific vocal sound, how to get a specific guitar tone, how to play midi drums.
Do you have a release date for the new album?
Graeme: No, I don’t think we’re going to rush it. We’re only four singles into the first album and our market, as small as it is, there’s still quite a bit of life in the first album, we think. But don’t worry, there are some really exciting things on the cards.
How do you think having Ryno as an engineer adds to your music?
Graeme: I think it benefits us both in studio and live.
Rudo: Well, you say “benefit”… [Laughs]
Graeme: No, he’s always the ears of the band. I mean, if there’s ever a situation where we aren’t sounding quite lekker, then Ryno just comes with wisdom and advice. That’s the only reason we keep him because, I mean, he is a ginger. [Laughs] No, but being the producer of the album, he knows exactly how he wants things to sound and everybody is like that. If you watch Rudo soundcheck bass guitar, he can start soundchecking at seven in the morning and still not be happy by seven that evening. Each person is very particular about what they sound like. I think that comes across on the live scene, for sure, and even on the recording but particularly on the live scene.
Rudo: When we’re writing as well, everyone prides themselves on what they’re doing. It’s either a hundred per cent or nothing at all.
After the immense success of your debut album, do you feel any pressure to be just as successful with your second one?
Graeme: Massive pressure. I do. I don’t know about you guys.
Ryno: I feel less pressure, strangely enough, since we’ve come back from the States. I felt confident coming back from the States [because] all the feedback we received was good. It was just a reaffirmation that we have something special going on. We must get back to why we made music to begin with – because we love it. There was so much thrown at us, like comments and critics and fingers pointing at us about our songs and our song structure. But that is who we are. That is our sound and that is how we write music.
You guys seem to produce radio hit after radio hit. What do you think the magic ingredient is that has made The Graeme Watkins Project so successful?
Matt: Um, drums. [Laughs]
Rudo: I think it’s really a nice vibe. Since day one, since the day we met, there’s been a lot of chemistry between us as friends and if it’s there offstage, you know for a fact it’s there in studio. It’s always present. I think that’s most probably the main ingredient.
Graeme: I think the music, in terms of the radio, in terms of the average listener, it’s easy sing-along stuff. You hear it once or twice and you’ve got the gist of it. The songs, as complex as they are musically, are very simple to listen to and I think that’s the secret. We can still have fun and be as creative and crazy as we like but still keeping it commercially viable for the Joe Public. You know, I was writing with a guy from Norway when we were over there and he said to me that you’ve got to think of your public as toddlers. They want to know that Joe goes to the bar, puts his hand in his pocket, he takes out change, he gives it to the barman, he gets a drink, he drinks his drink. They want it as linear as possible – point A to point B. There’s no C, D, E, F, G involved, because then it becomes jazz.
Rudo: Too metaphoric.
Graeme: It sounds weird, but I totally get that. If you listen to a Katy Perry song, the second time you’ve listened to it, you know all the lyrics. It’s almost like you knew the song before you even heard the song. That’s the secret to pop and the secret to a radio hit. You almost feel like you wrote the song yourself. I think that’s the secret, and we have to learn that. We’re writing hits but we’re not writing number ones yet. That’s what we’re going to do. Write number one after number one after number one.
Ryno: That was amazing. Well done. [Laughs] You were so into it.
Graeme, being on Idols, what lessons do you think you learned that you are applying to the music you are making now?
Graeme: Never enter a reality TV show again. That’s on my top 10 list of things never to do again. It was terrifying. I think what Idols taught me, most importantly, was how to communicate to an audience, no matter what the medium is. Be it with social networking, be it on camera, be it on a microphone, or be it face to face. And how to play to a large audience – I think we played to like 3 000 plus people every week. Not many rock stars in this country get to do that, let alone the rest of the world. It also made me realise how difficult this music industry is and what you need to succeed and the passion, the drive, and the balls you have to have.
You guys are renowned for delivering power-house performances. What elements do you think go into making a good show?
Ryno: I think all our backgrounds are performance-orientated. We’ve been doing the performing side of things for a long time now, so it almost becomes second nature and we do it because we love it. It doesn’t matter if we’re playing to 500 people or 5 000 people, we give the same show every time and I’m not joking. I get off the stage and there was nobody in the audience and I’m still sweating just as much and I think that’s the key.
Rudo: And it’s fun. It’s always fun.
Graeme: And music is just as much of a visual thing. If you are watching a movie and there’s a scene where someone is dying it’s not just the dying that makes you cry, it’s the music they play. That’s why I don’t watch sad movies, because of the music they play.
Matt: I think it’s also the tempo at which the songs are at. If we were playing ballads – you can’t rock out to ballads.
Graeme: You would do ballet. [Laughs] He is right, though.
Matt: The songs create the energy for us to let go and then we can.
Graeme: If you have fun and you throw your inhibitions away, everybody else is going to. They can see you are doing it and they’re like, “Yes, okay. Gooi `n dop and see what happens.” And I mean, the more you drink, the better we sound.
Rudo: You can spot people who are checking us out for the first time and those who have come back. The first timers are quiet, they’re just, like, looking but eventually it becomes a party.
Can fans expect any new music videos in the near future?
Rudo: There’s a single out now that we plan to do a music video for.
Matt: There will also be an EPK (electronic press kit) launching in the next two weeks or so, so check that out.
Photos: Eleanor Harding
Go to publisher's site: http://www.perdeby.co.za/the-graeme-watkins-project-on-the-usa-idols-and-a-new-album/