Legacy reputations have drawn artists to record albums at studios in Muscle Shoals, Rockfield Wales, or the Caribbean island of Montserrat.
But South Africa?
“We wanted to work with [South African producer/musician] Theo Crous,” explains Latex Grenade singer/guitarist Geoff Davis. “We were going to fly him over here and record it in either L.A. or San Diego. We figured out that, after we blocked out a studio for a week at $700 or $800 a day, it was actually cheaper for the band to fly over there and record it there.” He says because the Rand is so weak compared to the Dollar, it only cost the band about $1000 each for round trip tickets. “If [Crous] had’ve bought the same ticket from down there, it would have been $2000.”
Davis learned a valuable economics lesson: “The exchange rate for the Rand is like 15 to 1. It’s almost like the Peso. Everything down there was so cheap because of the exchange rates. When you factored in everything, we saved $3000 with us flying down there instead of having him come here.”
The product of that April trip to South Africa was The Cage, the fifth Latex Grenade album, released last month. Their first full-length album, Going Green, was straight metal. Now, Latex Grenade straddles metal and punk. Davis says The Cage has a lot of progressive rock flourishes, thanks to Crous’ production. “We let Theo take the reins a lot. He crushed it on the way he mixed the drums. We’ve been getting comments that this album takes us to a completely different level.”
They also got a mini-tour of South Africa out of the deal. “Theo is the guitarist of the band Springbok Nude Girls. They’ve been around since the ’90s. We opened for eight shows for them in Capetown, Johannesburg, and Port Elizabeth, other cities.”
Latex Grenade didn’t bring their own equipment on the LAX-to-Amsterdam-to-Capetown flight. He says using strange equipment wasn’t a problem in the studio. But on the road…”It was brutal playing on these amps that we thought were meant more for blues than metal.”
Davis says Capetwon is actually similar to San Diego. “The beaches look like the beaches you’d see in La Jolla or North County. And the people are laid back.”
But he notes that South Africa, only some 25 years removed from Apartheid, is still steeped in racism. “No doubt there is still serious segregation. The country is 80 to 85 per cent black but the people at our shows were mostly white. Back in the 90s Theo’s band was all about equality and ending apartheid. His generation was all about creating change. It’s a shame to see racism picking up again.”
Coincidentally, the lyrics on “The Cage” have a conscious tone, an unusual tact for an American metal leaning band. ”Stoke the fire/ We are ‘patriots’/ But we’re really only hypocrites/ Claiming all this freedom/ When other people are ignored”
“The Cage [title song] is a protest to American exceptionalism,” explains Davis. “To say we are the greatest country on earth makes us closed minded. It’s funny that over there people would actually ask what the lyrics were about. You simply don’t get that in Southern California. I would love to tell you why I wrote something I wrote, but you just don’t hear those questions here in the States.”
And South Africans, says Davis, love the rock.
“Fans are significantly more ride-or-die there. Our country is significantly more prosperous than they are, but we would sell five times more merch there than we would at a show here. People in Johannesburg are a hundred times more interested in rock than they are out here.”
Davis admits Latex Grenade is swimming against a tide. “This guy from Metal Blade [metal record label] told me this year that there really is no band out there that’s dangerous and willing to stand up for something like Rage Against the Machine. Anymore, everyone is so safe and careful to not offend.”
But to be clear, not everything Latex Grenade does is serious. “‘Burger Murder’ is about striking out with girls, murdering a late night burger, and going home single,” says Davis about a song on FDR Part II, their previous album. FDR, by the way, can stand for either our 32nd president or fk, drink, and ride. “He was the most powerful man in the world and yet he was confined to a wheel chair, symbolizing you can achieve anything in life. Or it can mean the other thing.”