Matt Saville
5 minute read
2 Oct 2008

Burning Fuzigish

Matt Saville

MATT SAVILLE gets a first-hand dose of the kind of easy-going philosophy that has seen Fuzigish survive for a decade in the unforgiving South African music industry.

“I trust 2007 will be good for you. So far I have only been involved in one armed robbery, but I like the pretty sunsets and good cheap wine, so I will hang out for some more abuse”, reads a comment from Fuzigish frontman Jay Bones on the band website. This is the sort of attitude that has inspired the title for the band’s fourth album, Roll with the Punches and has seen Fuzigish survive for 10 years in South Africa’s tricky music industry. “We’ve had ups and downs. There’s the good and the bad in this country. I love it and I hate it,” says Bones. “The new album title is about having a fighting spirit.”

Since 1997 when the band started, members have come and gone and Fuzigish has toured Europe and Australia. Their first full length album, Skanker’s Union was released in 2000. The second, Southern Ska Stomper saw the light of day in 2002, with the third, Exploited and Distorted released in 2004.

Fuzigish also started up Red Ambulance Records in the meantime to take further control and release their own albums and those of other up-and-coming bands.

By touring South Africa endlessly, Fuzigish has also developed the reputation of being a party band of mammoth proportions. Live shows include an unpredictable mix of beer funnels, stage visits from the audience, things being broken and the odd on-stage haircut. Ampie Omo, formerly of South African band Boo!, has also added his “carnie punk” influence to the mix, playing an array of instruments and making the odd balloon animal. He also breathes fire, or so they say.

Fuzigish are staunchly DIY and although they still don’t get as much radio play as bands like Prime Circle and Mean Mr Mustard they have enough fans to not worry too much about this. This is borne out by their recent album launch show at the Roxy in Johannesburg where people had to be turned away early as there were too many people in the club.

So what has changed for Fuzigish over the decade of their existence?

“We’ve become a tighter band. There have been a lot of lineup changes, but the band still has the same essence. When we started there wasn’t much of a scene. We had to scope around for bands to play with,” says frontman, Jay Bones.

“It’s always been important to keep our roots and remember where we’re from, though. We’ve had to be tenacious. The Internet and things like myspace has really helped us to do it ourselves,” he continues.

Speaking about going it alone without the support of an established record label, Bones says: “We’ve had to change the perception that DIY is bad quality. We’ve developed this great relationship with JP from B# recording studio in Boksburg. We’ve recorded all our albums there. B# has also got a bit more equipment over the years and has made the conversion from analog to digital.

“But if you’re aiming to be like Axl Rose in the South African music industry, you’re not going to go anywhere,” says Bones with a chuckle.

Chest Rockwell, bassist and backing vocalist for the band, is in agreement. He has been with the band almost from its inception.

“Unfortunately, we all still have day jobs. I work in advertising; yes I sold my soul to Satan. We did quit our jobs a while back for a year and half to tour the world, but it puts a lot of strain on the finances,” he says.

“We’ve kind of been doing what we’ve wanted all along. We’re not dictated to by what we think other people might want. If one person digs us, that’s cool, if a million do, that’s also cool.”

Sounding a little hoarse, Rockwell admits that he got a bit caught up in the moment at the Johannesburg album launch show a week ago. This has not helped his recovery from a recent operation where he had to have throat polyps removed. “We had 1 031 kids through the door at the Roxy. You tend to lose yourself a bit on stage,” he says with a laugh.

“When we started out Jay got shocked on stage a lot and we didn’t play with monitors. The only difference now is that we have some sponsorships and we have our own sound guy. In the beginning we did what we thought was right at the time,” said Rockwell as he explains that there weren’t many people to show them what to do. It was a learning process for the band and he says they have figured out how to handle the business side of things better.

“We enjoy doing projects ourselves, though,” he says “We’ve always been DIY. That’s why we started our own record label, Red Ambulance. It’s the most important thing in the world to us to develop the scene. We’re busy recording a band at the moment actually … On Saturday at the launch show I could see how far things have come and we don’t want to see this disappear, so we want to capture it so it doesn’t get lost,” he says as he explains the motivation behind the record label and as we discuss Fuzigish’s contribution to the alternative music scene.

It has been a decade of ups and downs for Fuzigish, but it has also seen the band build a loyal fan base, which is in evidence on their website and myspace account, where there is glowing enthusiam for Roll with the Punches. Jay Bones explains that the new album is a return to the happy, bouncy Fuzigish of their first album “although there are some surprises … there’s some country, some slow jams, some rockabilly …”

“With this new album and with our current lineup, I’m feeling a new energy. I can see where we came from. Our first shows had a cover charge of five bucks. You got a shooter at the door and I wouldn’t have been surprised if we’d had a jumping castle in there too,” says Rockwell. Things have changed in this respect but, insists the band, they’ve also stayed the same.

•Fuzigish are playing in Durban at Burn Nightclub tonight. Cover charge is R40 and they will be supported by the Living Alarm and Sheepdown. Bands start at 9 pm.