We’re taking a look “Through The Peephole” today at This Is A Robbery, the brand new album from Livingston. The talented multi-national group is pleased to be returning with this brand new, KROD Records-released collection of alternative rock songs which borrow from a number of other contemporary influences such as hip hop and other urban flavoured sounds. The album features the band’s best production yet, showing how much the band has improved musically since they first burst onto the scene in 2009 with their debut Sign Language.
What’s so integral to the musical creativity of Livingston is the varied backgrounds that each member comes from. Formed in London, England, the four talented musicians that form the band grew up in very different parts of the world, exposed to different sounds and styles. Frontman Beukes Willemse and guitarist/keyboardist Chris Van Niekerk both hail from South Africa, while drummer Jan Siekmann comes from Germany, and bassist Phil Magee from the United Kingdom. Germany was one of the first places where Livingston really began to discover an audience, one that has now spread across Europe to the point where their single “Human” charted at #4 on the European charts.
To get all the details on the writing and recording of This Is A Robbery, we recently spoke to Chris Van Niekerk for a special track-by-track rundown of the album in which he offers us the lowdown on each song.
1. “Evil Knievel”
“We actually started writing ‘Evil Knievel’ quite a while ago on the Island where Beukes is hiding out. Where exactly that is, I obviously can’t disclose. Every time we write an album, there is always that magical moment where one track just makes sense and ‘reveals’ itself to us before any other where we could already listen to it and see the music video in our heads. On this album, ‘Evil Knievel’ was that track. Unfortunately, we couldn’t shoot that music video yet for obvious reasons, but we damn well will at some point. Now I know you’re burning to ask what ‘Evil’ (as we call it) is about, or at least what it is about to us. Then I hate to disappoint you, but until we get to shoot the video which would perfectly explain it, you’re going to have to come up with your own meaning…(laughs).
**Reader closes magazine and throws it against the wall in disappointment**
Special shout out to Jimmy ‘The Fog’ Nebel for writing this one with us!”
2. “Control Reset”
“‘Control Reset’ was written and produced with David Bottrill for our second record Fire To Fire. It made it right to the last pool of tracks but then when we pieced together the final lineup, it just didn’t make the cut. In later years it became a crowd favourite when we played it live, and with this record we decided to include it since it’s also one of our old favourites, and well… No one put’s baby in the corner.”
3. “Through the Peephole”
“‘Through the Peephole,’ like its sibling, our previous single ‘Show Me the Money,’ is also a bit of a mutant that has come a long way before reaching maturity. It also started its life as a vocal idea that our singer Beukes had written on a kind of a hip hop beat. It was around about the same time as a few members in the band were really experimenting with other styles of music in our own time.
And when I mean ‘other’ styles, I mean different from what we as a band considered to be the Livingston style. Beukes would once in a while send me one of his ideas so I can mess around with it and see what comes out, and with this particular idea, same as ‘Show Me the Money,’ it immediately jumped out at me.
But as time went on neither me nor Beukes fully realized the song or brought it to its full potential. I had made one or two versions that I liked, but it wasn’t until one summer when my girlfriend, a couple of close friends and myself were driving to Eilat in southern Israel and we listened to one of those versions in the car, that I fully envisioned what I want to do with the music. The vocal line to me is very playful and kind of loopy-sounding, you know, loopy like circus or carnival music so I really wanted to create a sound scape that compliments this feeling.
I kept the idea in the back of my mind for quite a while after and finally when we had finished all the other tracks on the album, late at night on a whim, I put together all the music and surprised the guys with it a few days later when it was done. It is the last track that snuck in on the album and I think it’s a really unique gem. Now if you’re wondering what ‘Through the Peephole’ is about, then the best way to find out is to take a drive/walk/whatever… and listen to it loud.”
4. “Still Human”
“‘Still Human’ goes back a very long way. After we had toured our first record and just started to write our second, myself and Beukes went away for a writing weekend. I’d written a bunch of ideas and we spent the time experimenting with the ideas, with him improvising ideas on them. He sang the idea for ‘Still Human’ on one of the compositions and we were pretty sure that it would make it onto the second record. Something about the track always challenges us though and, in the end, it didn’t make it.
Come the third record and we did the same except this time the lyrics of ‘Still Human’ worked perfectly on a different musical composition which then became the track ‘Human’ on our third record. Fast forward a few years and new lyrics almost as a homage make it onto the old musical composition of ‘Still Human’ and voila… ‘Still Human’ is reborn. It is likely that you need a math degree to make sense of that, so don’t worry if none of that made sense. (smiles)”
“This track goes to show that sometimes you just need a little time to love something. When we originally wrote this track, to be honest, the camp was split about it. Some loved it and some hated it. But just like a good Bolognese, it just needed to be left alone for a while. This one needed a new instrumental refitting to give it the energy it has now.”
6. “Show Me the Money”
“Well this one is a bit of a mutant. It’s a track that has come quite a long way with us and started its life as two completely different songs. A few years ago, Phil and I had written an electro track called ‘Steam.’ At pretty much the same time that ‘Steam’ was written, Beukes had written another track which was kind of hip hop-esk which he called ‘Show Me the Money.’ But at that stage we saw no connection between the two. About a year later I was driving to a holiday destination and I listened to both tracks and thought they might be interesting to somehow mould together. So, when I arrived at my destination (to the delight of my girlfriend) I started to work on the mutant and then ‘Show Me the Money’ was born.
It took while longer before we started proper production on it, but we knew there was something special about it. As with all our songs, the meanings are kind of abstract. One of us might think it’s about one thing, and someone else thinks it’s about another. To me at least the song becomes some kind of a personification of money, as if it is a real person. It reminds me a bit about a documentary that I saw years ago called The Corporation. Similarly, there they psychoanalyzed corporations as if they were a person. But as is the case will all our songs, you make up your own mind what the song is about to you. Cheesy but true.”
7. “Rescue Me”
“‘Rescue Me’ we are totally sure would be a single on the second record. But somehow destiny had other ideas. This time around it snuck in there after we had reworked the musical arrangement and instrumentation. The track itself I think covers something that many people have gone through in their lives, when you reach a point and don’t recognize yourself anymore. When it looks really obvious in retrospect where you went wrong, but it seems impossible to fix it by yourself.”
8. “Coming On”
“Now, I’ll admit that in the creative process, there are times when things are really abstract. Actually, most of the time, even if we have a similar idea about what a song is about, the details are really personal in the end. In this case I offer a lifetime free concert ticket to the person who can tell me what the hell Beukes is singing about. Seriously I have no idea. Good luck world. (smiles)”
“It’s not really a habit of ours to discuss what a song is about since that is so subjective. But in this case, I guess ‘Sabotage’ can be seen to be about forbidden love, having to tear yourself away from it and the chaos that it causes in you. The lyrics are intentionally simple and unintellectual as this kind of inner dialogue normally is, like a mantra or a rehearsal in your head trying to convince yourself to break free from self-sabotaging actions that feel so good but that you know will ultimately end in extreme pain. For the music, we wanted to accompany the lyrics firstly with a heartbeat-like pulse then build around that. Then later it’s all about the bipolar contrast between sweet and minacious! Or the song is about a love affair with a life of crime and having to run away from the authorities. You can decide for yourself.”
“‘Alibi’ is a bit of a personal inner dialogue. Almost like a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. The one side is expressing how much you want someone, how much you adore and crave someone, while the other side is then pleadingly asking that other person to just let you go or set you free because they know the destruction and pain that is waiting ahead. The two sides battle each other until one side gives in.”
11. “Smile You’re on Camera”
“This is another track that we had written and produced with David Bottrill for the second record, but it didn’t fit the overall picture at the time. Again, like ‘Control Reset’ it ended up being a crowd favourite, and anthem and a band favourite when we performed it live, so we felt that we had to include it this time around. As with all our tracks, the meaning behind is really personal and in this case I feel that it’s really about the one side casting judgement and in the chorus the tables are turned around towards the ones casting the stones to see they are just as bad.”
“‘Soldier’ is one of my personal favourites and definitely strikes a deep chord with me. It’s about the duality of being someone that people look up to, to make a positive difference, or change, and the same things that people see in you to be positive, others see as something dark and destructive. ‘Soldier’ is about being a hero to some and a devil to others.”
13. “All My Life”
“This is another track that we wrote at our Beukes’ place in Spain. It’s about losing someone that you love deeply but that all the pain that you feel has to remain silent within you. That you will remain sad forever but for whatever reason, no one may know.”