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Q&A with The Parlotones’ Kahn Morbee

South Africa rockers The Parlotones

Q&A with The Parlotones’ Kahn Morbee

In their native Johannesburg, South Africa, The Parlotones are bona fide rockstars, headlining arena-sized venues with their anthemic rock. May 2012’s studio album Journey Through the Shadows is yet another soaring and epic effort by this decade-old quartet, and one that the Parlotones hope catches on stateside. 

“America dictates trends around the world,” explains singer Kahn Morbee says. “If you’re big there, the rest of the world listens. It has a ripple effect.”

As such, the band traversed the United States three times in 2011 and is currently well into a 27-city U.S. headlining tour.

And slowly but surely, the buzz is growing with massive radio support of single “Honey,” and a summer European tour invite from U.K. heavy hitters Snow Patrol.

Fender News recently caught up with lead singer Kahn Morbee to discuss the new 12-track studio album, recorded in Johannesburg and Cape Town in late 2011.

Morbee rocks the crowd.

FN: We know you guys are looking to find some mainstream success in the United States, and so could you describe your band for those who don’t know what you are all about?

KM: I would probably say that it’s anthem rock music with pop sensibilities. As much as there are certainly elements of pop, we still def consider ourselves as a guitar-driven band. It’s melodic but we are aware of the pop element. Not as in Beyonce, but as far as being accessible music.

FN: Can you share the theme behind Journey Through the Shadows?

KM: It is kind of analogy/metaphor for life. We are not born with some sort of compass and rulebook that tells us “follow these steps and everything will be rosy and dandy.” We know that you can maybe see a little bit in front of you and you can plan but there are no definites. You are going to experience highs and lows, and you don’t really know what is around the next corner. It’s also a metaphor for civilization. Countries and civilizations evolve, and not really with some map or rulebook. It happens organically along the way. Huge mistakes are made but also huge achievements, and that’s because there’s really no rulebook. I’m sure religious people would beg to differ that there is one but even if you subscribe to that, there are no guarantees or definites.

FN: You guys tour pretty heavily. Did you take a break to work on it or did you write the album while out on the road?

KM: Songs have been written everywhere – on a tour bus or on a tour van or backstage. We are constantly writing.

FN: Can you share the meaning behind single “Save Your Best Bits?”

KM: Through all of our songs and albums, we certainly do touch on the more melancholic side of the human experience, but there is always an element of hope. I think what we are trying to say really is that the experience of life, despite its hardships, is actually a wonderful experience.  That it is so unpredictable is really what makes it wonderful. So “Save Your Best Bits” is about letting go of the baggage that you may have accumulated over the past and sending the message not to be a victim of your past if it was not so rosy or pleasant.

FN: It’s always a bit of an unfair question, but do you have a favorite song from the album?

KM: That’s the funny thing about an album. Sometimes there are songs you like more than possibly the songs you put forward as far as singles. The songs you put forward you might do so because you feel like they will have a wider appeal and that doesn’t necessarily mean they are your own personal favorites. I would say my two personal favorites – and everyone in the band would probably say something different – are “Sweet as a Stolen Kiss” and a song called “Honey.”

FN: And why?

Journey Through the Shadows

KM: “Sweet as a Stolen Kiss” starts very chilled. It’s just a voice and a guitar and a lot of falsetto and then it goes probably into the heaviest song we’ve ever written – real hard rock, drop tuning – which is very unlike us.  I think that’s what I like about it. Really the path we went down with this album was to pay homage to all the music that has inspired us, whether it be very mellow to quite aggressive. I think that song is quite interesting because it starts off in this very sweet space and then gets very heavy and then drops down into that same place, so it’s quite cool.

“Honey” is just a quirky song, lots of brass, Lou Reed do-do-doot type thing. It’s cool. As far as lyrics, I’ve always liked author Oscar Wilde and in particular the way he describes nature. It’s very poetic so when writing the song I sort of said to myself, “If Oscar Wilde had to describe this situation, how would he do it?” So for me, “Honey” has some of my favorite lyrics.

FN: You mentioned wanting to pay homage to all of the music that has inspired you all as a band. Who are some of your shared influences?

KM: Our collective influences as a band and what really made the four of us want to start a band are bands like the Cure, the Smiths, Radiohead. Radiohead was a massive influence. REM as well.  So then basically we looked at the bands that influenced them, too. I could talk for hours talking about the amount of influences – there are loads. Before we were musicians, we were fans and we are still fans. We like being onstage as much as we like being in the audience enjoying a band that we like. We are forever discovering new bands. The more we spend time in America, the more we discover bands that may have been around for a long time, but are only coming across our radar right now because there music hasn’t really translated globally. For instance, a band like the National we really only discovered last year but they’ve been around for ages. So I think the repertoire of influences will naturally always increase.

FN: With the Smiths being an early influence, are you a big fan of Johnny Marr?

KM: Oh yeah, he’s a big time influence. He’s always been a very tasteful guitarist. He hasn’t been this sort of guitar wanker where you show off your shredding skills. Everything he did on those albums, and they were all guitar-driven albums, but everything he did complemented the song as opposed to standing out as this feature on its own. At the time, with the limited technology you had in that area, he did some very interesting things with his guitar.

Watch The Parlotones perform two songs fro Fender Vision here 

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