29 Aug Sakawa Boys: The song above all else
It’s early evening. The Sakawa Boys are sitting on concrete bleachers taking a break from their busy schedule, and they start talking about making out with girls. “It’s like learning how to kiss a girl you start dating. Like, when you first start to date a girl and make out with them. Sometimes, they’re like (makes a slurpy kiss sound) woah, okay, easy. They have a way of doing things, and you slowly become used to each other’s bodies,” explains frontman John Seth. Everyone bursts our laughing.
This is the anecdote employed to describe what making music has been like for Skye MacInnes, Peter Scott, Keenan Nathan Oakes and John over the past two years. Listening to their witty banter is like being back at high school or uni and feeling as though you belong to a gang of close-knit friends who’ve got your back through the general angst that comes with finding your place in the world. They constantly taunt each other with sarcastic remarks and in jokes, but there’s no hard feelings, just the playful camaraderie that comes with years of friendship.
If Cape Town were a campus, Sakawa Boys would be the understated cool kids. At a party or local hangout they’ll probably know most of the people, but aren’t the kind to exploit social media or resort to crazy marketing ploys to draw attention to themselves. Case in point: When we initially met at Yours Truly in Kloof Street, they bumped into a about a dozen people they knew. At some point during the interview, once we’d moved locations, a stranger from the other side of the green chain link fence shouted “Hello!”. Turns out, Rouleaux from Permanent Record, who is pressing their vinyl, was coincidentally walking past.
Attending their new album launch at Hectic on Hope was like going to a house party and not wanting to leave with the secret hope they’d play another set. On stage Peter plays drums with intense focus, Keenan plays bass while jamming enthusiastically with John, who provides vocals and along with Skye, plays guitar.
The band emerged on the scene in 2014 playing their first gig at Alexander Upstairs. “I remember my reverb pedal inexplicably not working that night and it’s an essential part of our sound but luckily, I made a plan with my loop pedal. We played well,” recalls Skye between constant cajoling. “I feel like you described a situation very specific to you,” retorts John and again, they all chuckle. “No, we played, we had a great show,” Skye says once the laughter subsides.
The story goes that Skye and Peter had been friends for a while and enjoyed jamming together. Skye then met John, who used to be in the indie band New Loud Rockets, and there was a mutual desire to play music together. Then Keenan came on board. After inviting him to one of their practises, they asked if he wanted to play bass and the Sakawa Boys were born. We start chatting about their sound and within a 6 line exchange the band’s dynamics are revealed:
Me: How would you describe your sound?
Peter: Post-rock with elements of shoegaze.
John: (Quizzically) Post-rock? Post-rock? We’re not hectic enough to be post-rock.
Skye: I guess we can say we’re influenced by certain bands, and I suppose certain genres.
Keenan: That’s where the originality comes from.
Skye: We’re fans of different things. Post-punk, Joy Division, The Cure…
John: Shoegaze as in ambience, more like texture. Also, pop. We focus a lot more on melody.
John possesses a fierce candour and is extremely analytical. Skye is conversational, insightful and has a friendly disposition that would enable him to befriend anyone. Keenan appears the quietest but listens astutely interjecting where necessary – Peter describes him as a positive and industrious guy. And Peter is described by John as intense and kind. They’re all smart musicians with an infectious sense of humour and laid-back charm, which often disguises an inward intensity.
It’s telling that when asked to describe each other they all use the word “intense”, which sheds light on their new album, 2014 Anxiety. “It’s when we started the band. During that period in our lives, we were all going through a transformative phase where everyone was learning about ourselves (finally) and our relationships and friendships. All the lyrics are very personal and somewhat relatable,” says Peter.
“It sounds trite but it’s a coming of age. It’s about guys in their mid to late 20s trying to figure themselves out. And, it’s that part in your life when your world starts getting that much smaller and you start having to make decisions for yourself, but then you’re also in this tight-knit group where decisions feel collective,” John adds.
On average the band spends 13 hours a week practising – that equates to 2 or 3 hours on a weekday and anything up to 5 hours on the weekend. “…but it’s not always practising. Sometimes it’s walking to the shop or making coffee,” Skye chips in. The benefit of being good friends is that they most likely would have spent that amount of time hanging out anyway. “Do you ever decide you’re not going to talk about something personal because you’re in band practice?” I ask. A unified “Noooo” echoes across the tarmac, followed by more laughter. “So, it’s kinda like therapy slash band practise sometimes,” says Skye. “And it’s not as if at any stage we’re like, let’s not spend time not being in the band. We’re always in the band, even when we’re out having a drink,” utters John.
2014 Anxiety has been in the making for 2 years, 9 months of which were spent recording. The Sakawa Boys say the process taught them how manage their time better and hone the craft of writing music. John continues by saying, “You look at the behaviour of each of us in a group and we’re extremely close. We know everything about each other’s lives…I think there’s a strong streak of childishness that runs between us as friends, but the whole process of creating and writing these songs was extraordinarily intense. We’re extremely hard on each other and how we approach music. We can be flippant and ridiculous, but when it comes to playing music, we’re fucking serious”.
As a band they’ve built a synergy based on mutual friendship and trust and for the most part, unless something sounds “barbaric” (as John likes to put it), they give each other the freedom to make it their own. “We get that the song must be the best it can be. We can’t let ego get in the way. We’re dedicated to the song,” says Skye. It’s dark now, break time is done and we need to start shooting. There’s a moment of silence before Keenan, who’s been the quietest throughout, chips in: “The song above all of us”.