Trunk Call -- the Elephant Sun interview

Stephen 'Sugar' Segerman


Sugar: So it seems you are determined to pursue your own rock vision and are not wholly

of Alive speaks to Elephant Sun's Criston Sloan and Christopher Smith.

Sugar: Elephant Sun will soon be releasing their debut CD.

aiming at radio-friendly hits. When people get into this album they will not only enjoy it but find they can't get enough of it - it's very dense and there's lots to absorb.

When is this happening?

ES: Hopefully at the end of October.

ES: That was our intention. However, 'Why' was specifically written for radio play

with its shallow, singalong-type hook.

Sugar: How are you doing this?

ES: We are not yet with a major company, so we are raising the money by taking advance orders and playing as many gigs as possible.

Sugar: Give me a brief history, please.

ES: We started writing and playing and singing together, all our own material. We then added a bass player and drummer.

Sugar: What is the origin of your band's name?

ES: We wanted to avoid the common South African angle of finding American names and sounding American. We are an African band and took the name from the lyrics of one of our songs on an earlier tape we produced called 'It's No Use'. Elephant Sun is a big, bright African name. Although we were advised to go for a more funky and weird name, we feel this best describes us and will appeal to overseas listeners who are looking for new African talent. We hope!

Sugar: You were both born only in the 70s yet your music has a definite 70s musical feel. Something like the Indigo Girls singing Renaissance.

ES: Well, we grew up with strong Elvis, Beatles and Dire Straits influences. However, we feel that the 70s period was a lot more 'musical' as far as songs were concerned. People began to experiment more after that and seemed to lose touch with the roots of creating music -- music that has 'soul' and which can really move you. The 80s and 90s were more disco- and techno-orientated, which was really dance music for those who wanted to go out and have a good time. We try to write music that you can sit and listen to and allow it to affect and influence you emotionally. We listened to the 50s vocal groups.
We also listened to a lot of Johhny Clegg. You can clearly hear his influence in our songs.

Sugar: When listening to your demo, I found it was not as immediately accessible as some current albums - but like the Just Jinger CD, it slowly started to 'grow in my ears'. This was common of many 70s 'prog-rock' albums by the likes of Genesis and Pink Floyd. I also found that the songs were all very different from each other. Was this intentional?

ES: Yes, we tried to write in different styles as much as possible, trying to improve our co-writing skills.
Sugar: How do you write together?

ES: Sometimes one of us will write a song and then we'll work to improve it together. Mostly one of us will write the entire lyric but we collaborate on different sections of the musical structure. All our songs are partnership songs ultimately.

Sugar: What topics do you generally like to cover? ES: Quite a wide variety, actually. 'Sail the Sun' is based on the Greek legend of Icarus. 'African Silence' was a comment on the old radio/media attitude of not playing South African music. 'Black Plague' is about the bubonic plague in medieval times. 'Shell House Incident' is self-explanatory.

Sugar: The obvious one worth mentioning is 'Owed to a Traffic Light', which turns into a rambling jam session and creates the impression of you guys sitting stoned at an intersection staring at the robots.

ES: We played this in Hermanus the other night and had a whole light show going. We did an even longer version than the 17-minute version that appears on the CD. When we got to the ambient section, they dimmed the lights and out came some jugglers. It was very trippy.
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Sugar: One of your best tracks is 'African Silence', which has a very strong African/Juluka feel.

ES: That was one of our earlier songs.

When we began writing together more we found that our songwriting skills seemed to fuse and all our influences merged, so there are not that many African-type songs on the album besides that one.

Sugar: When you play gigs, what has been the general audience response to your music?

ES: We've received a lot of positive reaction and compliments. It catches people by surprise a lot. We haven't had any negative feedback -- people appreciate that it is music designed to touch and evoke feelings and emotions. When we started our intention was to steer people away from the normal churned-out tunes that have limited shelf-lives. We try to write songs that will endure and make a positive impression on people. It seems that we are achieving that goal because people comment on the freshness of the songs and the harmonies. It's different to the grungy songs that they are used to.

Sugar: When you play with other bands do you find that while the audience can't really dance to your music they still enjoy it in context?

ES: We find our audiences sitting down when we play, absorbing and concentrating on what we are playing. We played with some heavy metal bands at a venue in Long Street once. On we came with our acoustic guitars and harmonies and they gave us a very positive reaction and a warm round of applause, which was very encouraging.

Sugar: What's your stage act like?

ES: Initially we were concentrating more on playing our music as perfectly as possible. Now we try and generate some energy on stage and include the audience in that. So our gigs now are very different from a year ago. We're more comfortable with our playing so we have a good time and move around and enjoy ourselves on stage as much as we can.
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