Strage Interview

Can you explain how and why you came up with the name Strage? Generic opening question, I know.

Brandon: I watched a movie called Strigoi. They are something from Romanian mythology akin to a poltergeist; troubled souls of the dead rising from the grave with the ability to transform into an animal and go invisible before draining the blood of their victims. So they are a kind of zombie vampires. I initially liked the word as a name for a band, but when saying it out loud it didn’t sound very vicious. It sounded more like an Italian pasta dish. So I ended up digging around online and reading more about them and somehow came upon the Italian word for ‘massacre’, STRAGE. Being an instrumental band, I felt by using a meaningful phrase or word as a band name would immediately create preconceptions of what the band sounds like. I preferred something kinda non descriptive and possibly meaningless (depending on your knowledge of Italian) but still had a feel to it, so we just went with STRAGE.

Photo by Duane Smith

What genre/s would you say that Strage falls under?

Matt: Sludge, Post Rock, Ambient, Instrumental, Organica. I made up Organica.
Brandon: Always hard to define, but Atmospheric Sludge seems to be where we get cataloged.

Who/what inspires Strage’s music?

Matt: For me, it’s the hunger for creating powerful, organic music/noise with our instruments that can evoke some sort of emotional reaction. In a band with no vocalist, this can be far more challenging. I guess this challenge is also inspiring.
Brandon: I write most of my better riffs at home or jamming alone. It’s definitely a release of emotion from a deep and hidden place that not many people get to see. I wouldn’t say it’s personal, as I imagine most people feel similar emotions, but they’re the feelings and opinions we have all been taught to hide and push down within us. I’m inspired by music that makes me think a little, like “Why did they do that?”, or “Why didn’t they do that?”. I’m constantly analysing and evaluating everything I hear and see.

Photo by Duane Smith

Strage’s music is pretty different to all of your previous bands i.e. Crossingpoint, Monkey Slutz, and Paige of State. Did you guys just feel like playing this kind of music, or is there a reason for the drastic change in sound?

Jono: I didn’t really plan on playing any specific type of music when I started jamming with Strage. I think the music we play just came out the way you hear it. I think it comes down to the diversity of the 3 of us putting our creative sides together.
Matt: I suppose it’s a combination of both. Our sound naturally evolved to be what it is, and is currently still evolving as we write new songs. On top of that, to an extent, it happened for a reason. We definitely set out with a goal of creating something along these lines, and after a few practices together it became clearer that we were heading in the direction that the 3 of us had some what initially planned.
Brandon: In a lot of ways, the creation of Strage was similar to what I felt when starting Crossingpoint; a reaction to what I was currently seeing in the scene and wanting to push myself just a little bit as a musician. It’s not easy for me to write or play some of what we do. I really have to focus on it to get it right each time. Some of what drives us is to create a space in music with less ‘noise’ to allow smaller subtleties to start standing out and be noticed if you’re REALLY listening.

The music that Strage plays is pretty new to South Africa, let alone Durban. What kind of reactions were you expecting from people when they first heard your music? Were they different from what you were expecting?

Matt: I never had a clue! I guess the thoughts of negative reactions typically played through my mind, but I came to realise that all I wanted was for people to take something away from our music and shows, that they hadn’t seen or heard before. Whether they enjoyed it or hated it, I wanted them to appreciate some elements of it.
Jono: I wasn’t sure what people would think. In all honesty, we just write songs that we enjoy playing. We don’t write to make people like us or to get people to party. We write stuff we enjoy and will enjoy playing and sharing with people. If it is dark and heavy we get amped and keep going till we have what we think is a well written song.
Brandon: I didn’t expect many people to pay attention, as I imagine it can be quite demanding to listen to. But there definitely has been some great feedback from people that ‘get it’. It isn’t incredibly groundbreaking, but what matters most is that we enjoy playing it really loud.

Photo by Matthew Stroud

I remember that there was talk a while ago about Strage considering getting a member on vocals. Why did you decide not to?

Matt: Really??? Haha. We have debated it before, and people always ask us where our singer is. But that’s just not the point. We’re instrumental, and that’s how we’re enjoying it right now.
Brandon: Well, when we started jamming, and had written a song or two, we tried to think of someone we knew who could sing (really well) and had something intelligent to say, and whether there was something we actually wanted to say that hadn’t already been said before and would complement our music. We couldn’t think of anyone. In that way, living in Durban is kinda difficult, and that difficulty sometimes lends itself to exploring different ways to do things. We just ended up going “Nah, it sounds better without singing”.
Jono: Vocals? What are those? Just kidding. I think we all felt our music worked without vocals. It gives the listener a chance to put their own story to our music. People can hear our songs and listen to the music and decide for themselves if the song conveys anger, happiness, or whatever it is that speaks to them.

What was the idea behind the design that Ross Turpin (i.e. shirt, album cover, banner etc.) did for you?

Brandon: I think I just asked Ross to help design something for us cos he said he liked our stuff. In Crossingpoint he always liked my doomy riffs, so I think he enjoyed what he started hearing us do in Strage. The image is a corruption of a very old South African stamp. Ross may be able to tell you more, but that’s as much as I know.

Photo by Christelle Duvenage

Strage seems to have an extremely DIY ethic i.e. recording your album yourself, staying independent of labels and sponsors, putting your album up for free download. How important is this to Strage as a band, and why do you do it? I\’m sure that you could get sponsored by some backpack company or something.

Matt: It’s pretty important to us. Nobody’s going to just do stuff for us! We’ve gotta make it happen ourselves, and we enjoy putting in the effort too. The album was somewhat of an experiment, and turned out well, considering that it cost us nothing, and we did it ourselves with very minimal equipment. I think making your music freely available is pretty
important nowadays, and we just want people to listen to us!
Jono: It is something we just do. I don’t think it was planned. Was It? Coming from bands that had toured and been around the block per say, I think we all have a realistic view of how the industry works. It all boils down to hard work and nobody is going top do it for us we have to do it ourselves. The more we put in, the more satisfaction we get out. We’re not
scared to work hard and do stuff and you’re living in a dream world if you think starting a band is going to be easy and people will carry your gear, put up posters for you, or throw money at you to record an album. It doesn’t work that way.
Brandon: I have no use for free backpacks! We recorded the album ourselves in our band room at no cost, so it felt right to make it available for free. We worked really hard on getting the sound right but personally I’d feel really guilty if I made people pay for something produced in this way; it’s just not ethical. There’s that, and as an artist I would obviously rather more people hear the album than not, and if we put up a block saying “R100 to download”, we’d have had a lot less than the 500 or so downloads so far. I don’t know many people that actually have money to spend on a band’s first release that they’ve never heard before. We all have full time jobs, which we use to finance what we do in the band, which is not only our hobby, but our passion too, so in that way we’re ok. I highly recommend this route for any new band today; put your music up for free. No one pays for music today, unless you’re really good, or well known and established. We produced 50 limited edition digipak CD’s though for collectors. These have almost (surprisingly) sold out, with copies being sent to Russia, Sweden, Holland, UK and USA. Really stoked with that.

Photo by Christelle Duvenage

Do you have any specific goals as a band?

Matt: Current short term goals are to play some shows in Cape Town, and get back to Joburg again, and do a music video. Discussions for the video recently took place, and right now if we told you about it, we’d have to kill you. Long term goals are to keep up what we’re doing and continue to evolve this band into something bigger.
Brandon: To play good quality, professional shows. Guess that should be a norm for every band, but it’s something I think most local musicians face every gig they play. Bad equipment, PA, lights etc. are just a way of life for everyone here. One day it would be great to do shows in Europe or across the States, but that’s pretty much every bands dream.

Is there an overarching concept in The Fire In Hell? Are there any general themes that run through the meanings behind the songs? Are there any meanings behind each song?

Brandon: There isn’t a single unifying theme. Each song came together at various times and took varying amounts of work. May the Bridges You Burn Light the Way: This was a saying I read somewhere that hit home and made me think a lot. I read it in reference to someone else in my life and reading it put me more at ease with what they were doing. Pastures of the Fallen: This song has a ‘lead’ bit that reminds me of one of my favourite gothic metal bands called Fields of the Nephilm. Pastures = Fields. Fallen = Nephilm. The Fire in Hell (Never Goes Out): I’m not entirely sure, but I think this was just a matter of gathering together words that came to mind when playing the song. Crawling Towards a Hole: Similar to Bridges: this was something I read once that made me think. I imagine someone really struggling with something in their life, crawling along a desert floor, to what ends up being a dark hole that they just end up falling into as they get to it. But the phrase can also mean the process of getting into a hole to hide from what is going on in life. People are straining to get somewhere, fighting against all odds, but they don’t realise until they’re in it that their destination is just a hole that’s masking them from what’s truly going on. 1000 Razors: “…like 1000 razors to the throat…”, it can mean a few things. My interpretation is painful.

Photo by Duane Smith

Is there anything you hope that people will take away from your live shows?

Matt: Anything they wish! Ideally something positive, and to feel as if they’ve experienced something new, or out of the norm.
Jono: I would be super happy if people can see the amount of hard work we put into our shows if nothing else that would be really nice. We work super hard on our live shows and try to make them all a different experience. We bring in our own lighting at every show to try make shows a little bit more. We are also always trying to come up with ways to entertain people and hopefully they walk away from our show and tell their mates to come top our shows if they get a chance.
Brandon: I like knowing people have actively listened and allowed themselves to feel the music fully.

Do you think that you’re possibly hindering yourselves as a band by being based in South Africa, let alone Durban? Do you think that people may appreciate your music more overseas?

Matt: That stigma’s always going to cross my mind. But at the end of the day I’m quite happy with how we’re going in this little city. If we suddenly moved to America, this would be a completely different ball game. Well, we’ll play that game if we ever end up there.
Brandon: I really enjoy being a Durban band. I love being the underdog fighting against all odds!

Do you have any opinions on the overall state of the South African underground music scene at the moment?

Matt: Hmm, the cliche nowadays seems to be negative. Something along the lines of “there’s no support”, “no bands”, “no venues”. But I think these things come and go in waves. Music and entertainment trends change every other month.
Brandon: I’ve been playing music since 1991. I’ve never seen Durban in such a bad state before. There either is no underground, or support is very fickle. The people and bands are out there somewhere but we’re just not all connecting at the same places. One reason would be venues but there really is a huge shortage of active rock bands.

What other bands in similar genres, local and international, would you suggest people listen to?

Matt: Explosions In The Sky, Braeg Naofa, Circa Survive, Coals Of Juniper (SA), Yes Sir! Mister Machine (SA).
Brandon: Rosetta, Jesu, Sunn O))), General Lee, Rodha, Pelican, Cult of Luna, and local bands I haven’t seen live yet but sound good: WildnernessKing, Eyes Like Mirrors, Dead Alphabet, Savage Lucy.

Anything else to say?

Matt: Download our album, it’s for free! And see you you at our next show…
Brandon: www.strage.co.za. When last did you download a noisy South African band’s music? Thanks for interview!

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