HardTalk with TOUGHGUY
TOUGHGUY is the latest garage-infused project to emerge out of the Cape Town DIY scene. As I type this from the comfort of a tired couch fronted by a knobbly old coffee table, we’re just about on the eve of their debut single release ‘Sugar’.
The four-piece have been hitting the live circuit hard over the last few months and this single marks their official debut into the murky waters of online streaming. We caught up with bassist (and vocalist on this track) Sihle Mkhize to get him to answer a few questions about ‘Sugar’. The maestro also goes on to explain why he has beef with a dead pro wrestler.
Now Now Just Now: You’re a few days out from the launch of your debut single. How are you feeling about the project?
Sihle Mkhize: Well, our first show was about six months ago. We’d started rehearsing during lockdown, and we were so excited about playing that recording became an afterthought. But now we’re getting really excited about sharing these songs with the world.
People at our gigs have been asking us when the first release was coming out. So we recorded 8 songs a few months ago and the plan is now to release them one at a time as singles, with as short a gap between releases as possible. The next single is already in the final mixing stages so we’re hoping to have that out next month.
Overall we’re super excited about releasing this single as it’s going to make booking shows and gigs a lot easier. Right now we’re operating on people’s faith in us and shitty cellphone recordings.
"Right now we’re operating on people’s faith in us and shitty cellphone recordings"
N: I’ve heard nothing but positive reviews of your live shows, so it doesn’t surprise me that people have been frothing for a release. Usually when people get excited it’s because there’s something new in the air, what do you think it is that makes TOUGHGUY different to your other projects. Is it different?
S: I like to think it is. It doesn't sound like our older projects. For years we’ve been saying we want to play together and there is definitely enough in this music to make us stand out amongst the sea of bands in Cape Town. Especially in our live performance. We’re at our strongest when we have people in front of us and we can show them what we’re all about.
When we recorded we wanted to get as close as possible to the live performance and specifically asked our recording engineer to make that happen. So we deliberately took off some of the polish usually associated with a recording. Some of the tracks we even turned the click off as we couldn’t get the right feeling with it on. Obviously Ryan (the drummer) had to keep his click on but the rest of the band just grooved around him.
It’s funny, when you first go into the studio you bend to the will of others, but when you’ve had a bit of experience you’re more likely to stick to your guns. When I first started I was really malleable and didn’t know how to ask for, or that I wanted, a particular approach or tone.
N: This more confident, shall matured approach, does it come through in the lyrics for TOUGHGUY?
S: I think there’s more clarity and substance in these songs compared to things I’ve done in the past. In terms of the band, everyone is all in on this and wants to push it as far it can go. So I’m feeding off of that as well. Everyone’s on the same page in the band. It’s like a hum in the background, we’re all fully committed to see how far we can push this.
"It’s like a bunch of best friends sitting around with each other trying to make each other better"
N: Does that raise the stakes? Do you feel like there is something more on the line?
S: Look, we try as much as possible to keep things fun and if someone is not enjoying themselves in the rehearsal or in the practice room we try sort that out and take a step back. Us being happy is what makes us create better music. We’re less worried about fucking it up, and more about having a good time.
I think what’s at stake though is our musical ambitions. What we want as musicians. We’re all very particular about the sounds we’re after and we’re all trying to push ourselves to not fall back into old habits; like not writing the types of songs we would’ve written five years ago. To get out of our comfort zones. That doesn’t mean we’re trying to write harder parts, but rather thinking about how we can take a different route to get to a point we wanna make.
Like in [guitarist] Cobra’s instance, it’s the first time he’s singing in a band after years of people nagging him to. So in a bunch of different ways we’re all just trying to push each other. It’s like a bunch of best friends sitting around with each other trying to make each other better.
N: Do you think the lyrics in this project are part of, or even a result of that process of trying to better each other?
S: This time around the music has dictated my lyrics. Previously, I’d do it the other way round. I also used to write a lot more about external things, what was happening in the world around me. This material is a more honest look at my own thoughts and struggles and stuff like that. This type of writing used to scare me more than talking about race relations. So yeah this project has been challenging for me as I try get to the bottom of why I’m so full of shit [laughs]. It’s a lot easier to look at the world and say it’s full of shit [lights a new ciggarette].
"This is the bait"
N: Why did you choose ‘Sugar’ as the first single?
S: It was one of our first songs we wrote and it’s really fun to play. From the start we were super proud of it, structurally, the riff, everything. As soon as we’d written it we were like ‘This one's going in the safe’. We’ve played it so much already, but it’s never lost its sparkle for us and we love playing it every time, so it just made sense that this would be the first single. As a song it also gives people something to viscerally connect to, it’s a fun song to jump around to and get pumped on, it’s sort of like bait.
S: Yeah we’re trying to reel the people in. This is the bait. We hit people with this track as our debut, connect with them on a visceral level and then hit them with the harder heady stuff later. We’re actually an emo country band, but by the time anyone figures that out it’ll be too late.
N: OK let’s get personal. The deep juicy deep goz. When your family asks you how the music is going, what's your answer to them?
S: In the beginning when I started this band life it was kind of an unknown, both for me and my family. It was always something I wanted to do in my 20’s. They were quietly concerned at first, but they see how happy it makes me and so they’re supportive. My mother was more like ‘as long as you can put bread on the table you can go play as many shitty clubs as you want’.
It’s been 8 years of playing in bands now, and they’ve chosen to support me so that’s good. A lot of the time, actually, they go above and beyond, buying tickets for shows, adding our music to their social accounts, they’re all in. Like when I played Rocking the Daisies with Runaway Nuns: the tickets for the festival sold out super quickly and my sisters told me they were unable to get tickets. Then on the day of the show they arrived backstage just before we went onstage and surprised me. They could’ve just sent me a good luck message or something, but they went above and beyond.
Having your family as a supportive base makes it so much easier to do this. Without that I would have really struggled. This support has definitely played a part in my ridiculous optimism when it comes to the South African music industry.
"...he’s done out here. He’s cancelled"
N: Finally, we gotta get to this… Randy Savage refused to be on your artwork for ‘Sugar’? Tough break.
S: Dude, I used to be such a massive fan, but now he’s done out here. He’s cancelled. #cancelthesav.
N: Aren’t you worried about blowback on trying to get him cancelled?
S: He’ll come for us bro, he’s got people everywhere, he’s got eyes everywhere. I’m not sure I wanna take that kinda risk, have you seen him? He’s savage.
N: Wait, is he even alive still?
S: If he’s dead, we probably shouldn’t be talking shit about him.
N: I just Googled it, he dead.
S: Shit. Rest in peace Randy.
'Sugar' by TOUGHGUY will be on all major streaming platforms on 20 May.