If you’re looking for somewhere far out and experimental then you might want to check Shaka Ponk. The group is a five-piece French crossover band that incorporates rock, funk and hip hop into their sound. The band has been together now just over five years and in that time they’ve become quite a popular up and coming band in Europe. Shaka Ponk’s latest album, their second LP to date, is titled Bad Porn Movie Trax and came out in mid-2009. The group has only a few tour dates lined up in France for the end of the winter and beginning of spring, but look for them to be very active on the summer festival circuit in 2010, including some stops in North America. Just before the end of 2009 we had the opportunity to speak with one of Shaka Ponk’s leaders Frah and we asked him a few questions about the band, the new record, how they got started and where they’re going with their music. On a side note, since Frah’s first language is not English, some of his answers may be a little bit scattered in some places.
Shaka Ponk has been around now about five years. How did the band members meet and form the group?
Frah: We met in Paris in 2004, we were living in a big apartment in the centre of Paris, we were kind of a collective of artists, painters, musicians, everybody was sharing the apartment for the rent and we decided to move to Berlin, we wanted to travel. The first goal was not to make a rock band, it was just to have experiences and move somewhere else so we decided with all the members of Shaka now to pack our stuff and take the train and go to another apartment in Berlin, Germany. Then we started there a kind of new life and little by little we became a rock band, I don’t know exactly how [laughs], it was very weird.
You mentioned there that the group formed in Paris but then moved to Berlin. Why did you decide to pick up and move to Germany?
Frah: I don’t know, we were trying to do something… we are all big fans of video and sound and we were together in Paris doing some big parties in the apartment with some videos on the walls and some guys playing drums and it was very messy, there was no band. The goal was… I don’t know, to start from zero to meet new people, in fact we were too much in our own comfortable life in Paris because we had friends and family and our jobs, it was easy, it was not the best way I think for us to have inspiration. So we decided to jump into the unknown. Berlin is a fantastic city for meeting artists and crazy people so it was a very good choice and when we arrived there it was a new beginning and it was the beginning of the band. We had to earn money to survive because we had nothing, it was fun for two weeks and after we had the real problems of life coming from everywhere, we had to eat. So we decided to play in bars in Berlin and to start with a real concept with a guitar and some video on the screen. Little by little we met people like labels and we had to tour a lot to play a lot so little by little we decided… Ion took the drums, I took the microphone and we had first of all another bass player Mathias. We created the Shaka concept because we had to earn money and to have something to eat in fact.
You combine a lot of different elements in your sound including rock, hip-hop and funk. What artists or bands would you say influenced the sound of Shaka Ponk the most?
Frah: It’s hard to say because we listen to so many kinds of music. Now we are really five members in the band and we are all living together and always listening to new sounds and now with MySpace and the internet, you can have so many things coming from everywhere so it’s hard to know like in the old time of rock n’ roll when there were one or two people influencing artists. We love rock, I think Shaka is just rock music but now in 2009 rock music is not just the Rolling Stone way you know, just guitar and drums. But we think that we are just a rock band and I think that the influences are not coming from music but from the travelling and the experiences and meeting new people everywhere we go, that’s what’s influencing a lot Shaka Ponk. We listen to too much to know exactly what is the sound that we love the most.
For those of us who don’t know, could you briefly tell us what is the meaning or significance behind the name Shaka Ponk?
Frah: Yeah, in fact there is a simple concept, we have this monkey which is an ecological warrior describing the world of humans, this is the concept of Shaka and we are just musicians playing around this monkey. So on stage, you have this screen with the monkey singing and dancing and talking to the people and we are playing the songs around him, his name is Goz, he’s really the leader, the mastermind of Shaka and here in France he’s very popular now [laughs], he’s everywhere. And we decided to do this concept with this monkey saying to the humans that they should stop what they do and behave differently to change things because it’s near the end now, it’s talking about ecological… I don’t know human behaviour I think. This monkey is really a big star now. [laughs]
Your latest album Bad Porn Movie Trax came out a few months ago now. How do you feel about the record now that it’s been out a few months?
Frah: I don’t know because it’s a painful thing to release a CD for us because we are always working like a loop on the sounds, we are not like so many bands going in a studio and spending I don’t know, three weeks, two months composing and recording the sound. We always do sounds and video at the same time and sometimes you have labels or partners that tell you “ok we have to reuse a CD so we have to stop changing the sounds and we have to put these sounds on a CD and it’s going to be these songs forever.” So we are like, oh my god, it’s so hard to stop because every song on Bad Porn Movie Trax, we are changing them every day because we always want something new but we cannot do it, now it’s too late. So now when we listen to the CD, we’re like “oh my god, do you remember the song sounding like this?” Because we are playing it on stage and it is something else now. So it’s a very hard thing for us, the way we work, it’s so far away from the concept of the CD and that’s a discussion that we always have with the label, that we want them to stop making CDs, freezing songs on CDs. We’d like them to turn to some sort of internet way of selling things you know, so we can change them every day so someone can download the song and then two weeks later he’s got the same song with a new arrangement. So it’s very weird for us, this concept of putting twelve, I don’t know fifteen songs on a CD and that’s it.
The thing is about Bad Porn Movie Trax, it’s the first time we do a CD which has so much success in Europe for now. So that’s great, we are touring a lot right now and everywhere it’s sold out, yesterday we played in Paris and it was sold out, it’s the first time for us to see everybody singing these songs from the monkey.
How many songs did you write and how long did it take to record?
Frah: You know we have our own studio which is all the gear that we found in Berlin and all the gear we brought and the studio is moving with us so uh, I think that sometimes we just work on songs so we can make so many songs in one month but like I told you, we don’t have this planning of deciding to do a CD. We did the first CD in Berlin and then we started touring, the first tour we did in Germany after the first CD, we started to do new songs and new videos and after we had so many not songs but sounds and when we signed with the new label we had I don’t know, thirty-five new songs and we had to choose fifteen. Now the new album is released in France and we already have new songs… I’m sorry; it’s very hard to explain because we know that it’s not a classical way of working because we work as much on the website, on the animations on the website and this new website Monkey TV. We film everything we do from backstage and onstage we jump in the crowd with the camera and we go with the camera after the show and talk to people. Then two or three days after we put it on Monkey TV so it’s so much work of editing and filming and it’s all this crazy stuff… we just do it ourselves, the five members of Shaka Ponk. The creation of music is lost inside of this process and it’s hard to remember and analyze when we start to do a song and when we stop. It’s a big mess; I’m sorry. [laughs]
Bad Porn Movie Trax is of course the follow up to your debut Loco Con Da Frenchy Talkin which came out in 2006. What would you say is the main difference between your new album and your debut in terms of sound?
Frah: There is a big difference because with the first one when we were in Berlin, we did it with no production, we were rehearsing in a warehouse in Berlin… we were rehearsing with fourteen tracks and we recorded all the songs because we started to do songs in Berlin with lyrics and everything and during, I don’t know, eight months, we had no contacts there and partners so we were just doing what we could. After we finally signed with a huge independent label and the label said that “we love your songs but you have to go to a studio to record the songs with re-production.” So we did and we spent about ten days re-recording the songs and at the end it ends up that the songs were better, the sound was better but it was not at all what we did when we were recording ourselves alone in the warehouse.
We fought with the label to release not what we did in the studio but what we did before in the rehearsal place and that sound is so crappy and there’s no production at all, we had no experience at all in making songs so it’s very hard for a label to work with songs that sound like demos. But we fought with them because we did not want to release something that we did in ten days. So we released the first CD and it was all demos, just fifteen demos recorded on a crappy numerical track. It was hard for the label to sell it, there’s no production at all, no radio station could put this on the air but we wanted to do it this way. For the new CD, we had more experience and we bought a lot of gear to be able to do a real good CD ourselves without going to a studio or without getting a producer. So I think the main difference between the two is not the way of composing the songs but the way it’s produced.
What are your touring plans like for the new year? Where can fans expect to see the band?
Frah: I don’t know, we loved the concept of going somewhere first of all in Berlin and making our first CD then living in Berlin and going to Paris and making our second CD and we wanted to go to Barcelona to make the third one. Not to go just to record but like we did two times before, for the third time to pack up our stuff and find a place and just live there and start again from zero, meeting new people from other countries and from this, to create the third CD. It’s hard because we didn’t expect that kind of success that we’ve had with the second one in France so now the label has plans for us and one of these plans was to send us to New York, that’s what we did, we went to New York a few weeks ago. So the label said “ok if you want to do something like change your life again and meeting new people, let’s do it going to New York and not to Barcelona.” It was too huge for us, we were scared. I think what would be good and fun for us would be to be able to do a little tour in the United States because really I think everything that we listen to is coming from the United States. We don’t want to copy anything but we are very proud to go there and to play and to see an audience receiving the Shaka message. So I think that’s what the label is trying to do now, trying to focus on us doing something not big, but doing something in the States, it would be a big step for us.
What does Shaka Ponk have planned for the more distant future into the summer and fall of 2010?
Frah: It’s very difficult to know what we are going to be doing even next week. We have so many ideas for Shaka so we don’t really know. I think we’re going to have to do a little break for the new year and everyone can see the family and maybe celebrate a little bit too because we’ve spent so many years all together without our families so I think it would be a good thing to do a little break. But I don’t know if it’s possible now, we never can say what we are going to do next week or next month so talking about next summer, I really don’t know. Summers are always festivals for us, doing all these festivals but it’s so far away now. [ END ]