It’s not often that we get to interview a rock band – especially SA’s biggest selling group. In fact, the rock genre is not usually seen as one favoured by the homo-fraternity at all (wrongly or rightly). So we were surprised to be asked by Prime Circle’s record company if we wanted to meet the boys. Seeing as the band were set to perform at the OUT benefit concert, in essence showing their support for the gay community, we thought, “well, why the hell not?”
Prime Circle has humble beginnings, formed in December 2000 in Witbank; but those small town roots didn’t last long. Their first CD, 2002’s Hello Crazy World, remains the highest selling rock album in South Africa. They went on to cement their position as the nation’s leading rockers with another two studio CDs, live DVDs and even a box set. On the live front Prime Circle have played alongside bands such as Live, Metallica and Seether and recently even performed in India.
The band’s just released its fifth album, the 12 track Jekyll & Hyde, which offers a collection of world class rock tunes produced by local and international luminaries. The first single, Breathing, has already topped the charts.
We spoke to the very down to earth band – frontman Ross Learmonth, hottie Dale Schnettler, Dirk Bisschoff, Marco Gomes and Neil Breytenbach – just days ahead of their gig at the Pretoria benefit concert hosted by LGBT health-services organisation, OUT.
You guys have been together for 10 years…
Ross: Nine and half actually. We might do something big for our anniversary; maybe a private show.
How do you guys stay excited and keep the momentum going?
Ross: A new album, writing consistently. It’s nice to have new blood: Dale has been with the band for two years, Neil has been with the band for four years. Plus new campaigns, doing charity things like this [the OUT concert] – where something is bigger than you.
Neil: We always challenge ourselves to write better songs…
Ross: And challenge each other.
You’re playing for OUT on Saturday. How do you feel about it being a gay and lesbian organisation?
Dale: It doesn’t bother us at all. I have a lot of friends that are gay and I’ll go out with them. I’m speaking for myself here but I think the band will also feel the same.
Neil: We don’t judge people. We obviously support everyone and their own decisions, so we are not going to come in and judge people.
How do you feel about OUT providing health services for gay and lesbian people. It’s specifically targeting gays and lesbians?
Ross: I don’t have a problem with it. It makes sense. Gays and lesbians have decided to group together as a community – there is nothing wrong with having communities. Even with the SHOUT [anti-crime] campaign that’s what we’ve strived to do: bring back communities.
Rock music has been seen as homophobic, yet there have been quite a few gay or bi artists over the years; Freddy Mercury, Joan Jet, Michael Stipe and even Judas Priest’s Rob Halford… Do you think the rock scene is anti-gay?
Ross: No. I look at Judas Priest when he eventually came out, he’s in a metal hardcore band. And a lot of dudes go to their shows and they are still an icon. If someone doesn’t appreciate the gay community in Rock and Roll then they don’t get the point. Rock and Roll is about individuality and being whatever your core being is…
Neil: If you are a musician you are very open minded towards it. It’s probably more acceptable in the music industry, do you disagree?
Well you get artists like Eminem with homophobic lyrics and people that are anti-Adam Lambert because he kissed a man on stage. The world came crashing down, people went berserk because he did that.
Neil: But bear in mind that with Eminem his market is to “diss” people. He dissed Fred Durst, Christina Aguilera… That’s how he sells albums.
Ross: I think it should be taken lightly
Neil: No matter who you are or what you are if he finds material to diss someone he does.
Dale: But with Adam Lambert, I think it was a great marketing strategy because people spoke about it: “Who’s this oke? Go on the internet, hear his music, this guy can sing. Let’s buy his album – so what if he’s gay”. Look at Queen – the biggest band in the world!
What would you say when it comes to local stars being openly gay? Do you think it’s more difficult in South Africa?
Ross: I think they should do it [come out]! I think that local stars sometimes weigh themselves much more than what they really are. And I think that they should be who they are, that’s the whole point. There seems to be a trend in this country, sort of not moving on and developing in some ways, not letting go of the past…
What would you say to your homophobic fans that disagree with you playing on Saturday?
Ross: They must deal with it!
What makes Jekyll & Hyde different from your previous work?
Ross: The pre-production and song writing is better. It definitely keeps an even flow, it’s definitely based on real stuff that we have gone through in the last two years. It’s not just a collection of songs – it’s an album. We’ve been asked a few times “what’s the best song on the album?” And we’ve said that they all are. It’s been awesome to work on it and we are so excited to start touring properly with it.
How important was it for you to work with international producers?
Ross: Very important. it’s a gradual progression; we needed someone to bring out the sound that we were chasing.
How are you guys going to go about releasing the new album internationally?
Ross: We’ve sampled EMI globally. We’re waiting on that, so hopefully we will get responses soon. We will be touring Europe next year, going back to India, Dubai, Germany. So there are a lot of things on the cards. If people see us perform live internationally… if they are not fans they will become fans.
Dale: We have enough material now to do different sets. We write songs that we like, we want to go on stage and play what we love, what we feel passionate about.
Ross: And stay real to ourselves…
Who would you say is the sex symbol in the band?
Ross: I don’t think we are like that. We’re not that kind of band… But if anyone, I would say Dale because he’s the youngest, and the most vibrant behind the drums. And quite a good looking guy. But it’s like the last things we think of ourselves. We’re a rock band!
Dale, how do you feel being the “the sex symbol”?
Dale: It doesn’t faze me. But like Ross said, we’re not that kind of band. It’s about the music. I don’t go onto stage and perform my heart out to impress someone. I go on and do it because it’s my passion.
What can people expect from your performance on Saturday?
Ross: Energy and soul…
Jekyll & Hyde is in stores now. Prime Circle are the headline act at the OUT 15th Anniversary Benefit Concert at Harlequins Sports Club, Pretoria, on Saturday 18 September from 10am to 5pm. Other acts include HHP, Reburn, Voodoo Child, Jacques Terreblanche, Evolver and Kinky Robot. Book your tickets – only R80 – at