South Africa’s sludge-rockers, Ruff Majik, are moving to Germany. Yeah, you heard that right. The trio is signed to a new label, have released a new album (read our review of Tårn here), and are currently touring through the Netherlands on their way to Germany, where they will settle indefinitely. In July last year, we were congratulating them for being the first South African band to get support from the Wacken Foundation and they were just returning from their first tour ever. Not even a year later, South Africa is giving them their send off to a new continent. The pace of their forward trajectory as a group is not only impressive, but leaving us all a little winded. They had a dream, and they’re on their way to living it, or at least testing its viability.
We know what you’re thinking, that bands move countries all the time, but this is not so for South Africans. Ruff Majik are not the first act to do so, they won’t be the last, but they’ve got a lot to teach us and an honesty about them that is refreshing. But moving continents is not an easy thing and we thought that a quick catch up with Johni Holiday was in order. We wanted to hear from him about this new journey, and maybe inspire others on their own.
So, guys, you’re deep into this new chapter now; signed with a new label and off to a new life in Europe. Has this changed the way you’re approaching your music?
Johni Holiday: Not too much, honestly. Still the same scruffy dudes from the garage, we’re just playing on bigger stages now, (laughs).
Is there more freedom or more anxiety right now?
Holiday: I think a little more anxiety. A lot of people pulled strings and put in a lot of effort to make this happen, so we want to impress them and prove ourselves worthy I guess. But there’s a great sense of excitement for the future.
Watch the colourful music video for “Schizophrenic,” the latest to come from the new record Tårn.
I am sure this was a big decision to make, to leave behind friends and family, jobs and an old way of life. But you once mentioned that Europe was a dream since the band started. Tell us a bit more about the decisions that got you here.
Holiday: Well, it was simple really. We decided from the get-go that we’re not a South African band. Our plan was never to just play the big South African festivals and then call it a day. We wanted more from the very start. And it boiled down to sending emails and making phone calls to bookers and festivals over here (absolute fuck tons of emails) until some of them finally answered and decided to book us. It’s an adjustment, but it’s well worth it.
What and who has been important in making this move easier for all of you?
Holiday: Well, the biggest part of it was finding a new manager and booking agent in Europe. We got someone who’s been working with bands for many years and has a fantastic, proven track record, and he was keen to help us out. Still a lot of hard work ahead, but we have a fantastic team behind us now so we’re very optimistic.
You’ll be living a very different life, one that we can all conjure up in our imaginations, but very few will experience, of touring and festivals. What do you think will be the biggest challenges going forward?
Holiday: Pacing ourselves. We’re a hard-partying band, always have been and there are lots of ways you can absolutely wreck yourself on tour. So we need to be careful with that. But there’s a lot at stake, so we know that we should behave.
So, besides beer, which we know you guys are big fans of, what else is there that you’re looking forward to in Germany?
Holiday: KEBABS. The absolute best food that was ever fathomed by a human being. Technically Turkish, but also basically a German tradition. Other than that, it’s just great to meet new people and see amazing ancient castles and buildings.
Check out the artwork for Tårn, released May 3rd, via Lay Bare Recordings.
Just before leaving South Africa, you released Tårn, which one of PureGrainAudio’s local reviewers so charmingly described as, “..a different beast to its predecessor. Whereas Seasons was the sound of a band finding its feet through experimentation and interplay between the musicians, this record is a declaration of that same band now battle-ready, red-eyed, pumped with testosterone, and eager to whip your ass.” This raises a lot of questions for me. One is, do you think you’re battle-ready?
Holiday: I think so. We’re in the right headspace right now. The music has taken a certain direction, and we feel more focused and ready than ever before. We came all this way, so we’ll fight for our place under the sun.
The second is whether you may have subconsciously (or maybe consciously) produced an album that has a different level of readiness about it, as if you’re finding your authentic music. Do you think this may be the case, or are you still experimenting at the moment?
Holiday: I’m not sure really. I think there has been a subconscious change, and it’s made a big difference, but we’re always experimenting. If we want to play black metal, we’ll do it! If we feel a song needs some funk slap bass, we’ll get it in there! We’ve never liked the idea of being easily defined.
Tell us a bit about your process of creating your music and do you think there is a common denominator in all your tracks?
Holiday: I think we have a very specific fuzz sound that carries through all our songs but that’s about it. When we create new music, we get together in a room and jam it out. Sometimes it’s super heavy, sometimes it’s bluesy or melancholic, and sometimes it’s groovy. Whatever sticks turns into a song eventually. It’s all a very natural process.
Tårn was produced under your new label, Lay Bare Recordings. What has it been like with the label so far?
Holiday: Amazing. Great people, a great roster of artists, and a lot of enthusiasm about our music and our career forward. Honestly, we couldn’t have asked for anything better than we have right now.
“Gloom & Tomb” is the latest, ripping single and music video to come from Tårn.
I bumped into you at the Ruff Majik send-off show in Cape Town and you mentioned that you’ll be maintaining ties to South Africa, which I’m glad about. Besides the personal, what did South Africa give you on a professional level which has been important for the growth of your music and your band more generally?
Holiday: I think it’s kept us down to earth in some sense. It’s (common) over here (in Germany) for bands to be out of touch with what’s happening as far as organizing and planning go. We’re very hands-on and always in direct contact with everyone making things happen, ‘cause that’s what we’re used to. It’s been very well received and respected over here. Also, South Africa parties hard so we can hold our own (laughs).
Talking of maintaining ties, I assume that when some South African bands decide to tour a bit in Germany, you’ll be showing them the ropes and maybe even getting them to play some shows with you (wink wink).
Holiday: That’s entirely the plan. Once we’re more settled in somewhere in next year, we want to start work on helping South African bands book some festival slots and shows, and give them a helping hand when it comes to touring over here. It’ll be a lot of work, but I’m sure we’ll be able to do some cool stuff!
Guys, we are truly proud of how hard you have worked and the courage you’ve shown in doing what you do as a band. I know it’s not the end of the road, or even half-way through this journey, but you’ve had a lot of experiences already and I’m sure you have some advice to share with bands that are starting out….
Holiday: Yeah, sure, although it should be said that a lot of our success also had to do with some great luck (right time, right place kind of vibes). But my advice would be to stop fearing rejection, and stop waiting for the next big thing to happen; you have to make it happen yourself. Many South African bands that I have spoken to are in awe of our tours and always ask “but how did they find you?” It’s easy, they didn’t.
We got the numbers and emails of the big festivals we wanted to play and we got in contact. Sent our EPKs, links to music videos and live shows, links to our (daily updated) social media accounts, etc… Hundreds didn’t respond, but a few did, and that’s how we got here. Sitting around hoping someone’s going to notice won’t do you any favours. Make as much music as you can, and then get it out there!
Let’s take you back to Ruff Majik’s previous album Seasons for a visualizer video for “Last of The Witches.”