What happens when you take a 3 great South African musicians and give them carte blanche in music? Seems like they form a band, establish a new genre no other band has been able to mimic and then break up and get back together more than Ross and Rachel. Richard was fortunate enough to interview the legendary BOO!’s Chris Chameleon ahead of their performance at Park Acoustics on 28 August. They talk about climbing towers, remaining relevant in SA music, distractions and the options for musicians wanting to skip South Africa. Also did you know that Ampie Omo is a qualified accountant? Just one of the nuggets of knowledge available from the interview.
Richard Chemaly (RC): Do people still get a fright when the stage announcer welcomes you to stage by yelling “BOO!”
Chris Chameleon (CC): Actually, yes. Not because they’re afraid, but because they’re polite. I often get people coming up to me afterwards apologising for the people who booed us, saying we shouldn’t let it get to us, we’re great. Others figure it out eventually and then tell me how shocked they were at first, but then realised that it was the intention. It’s pretty sweet, when you think about it.
RC: You all do separate things outside of BOO!. Ampie rocks out with Fuzigish, pioneers of South African Ska. You push the boundaries of contemporary music. Riaan slams skins and symbols for anybody who can afford him. What do you make of the fact that nearly 2 decades later, nobody other than you has tried to do a Monkipunk song, a genre you’ve developed. Obviously it’s way too complex for any amateurs but surely there’s a part of you that wants another band to give it a shot?
CC: The initial hiatus that started in 2005 was unavoidable. We had become so travel weary from all the international tours that each one of us was flirting with a burnout in his own way. Then Leon emigrated to Berlin, Ampie was qualified as an accountant (if you think it’s unusual for a musician to become and accountant, it’s even more unusual for a musician to have any money to count at all!) and I was coerced by circumstance into an Afrikaans music career with a success unlike any I had ever experienced before.
So Boo! has become a grand distraction, a project that allows for passion without the often horrible pressures of making a living. This has liberated the work a lot, put a lot of fun into it. As for the lack of emulation of monki punk…it proves that there is a lot less skillful foolishness in the world than one might think.
RC: You busted out in a time of Seether, Cutting Jade, the Nudies, Plush, Watershed, Tweak and Just Ginger. Most kids would give anything to be in the scene during those latter 90s years. Since then a couple of artists have fallen off the radar. How real is the struggle to remain in the scene in the modern era and how have you gone about staying in it despite not releasing a new album in nearly 6 years? Did you just get “lucki”?
CC: If you produce tomatoes for a living, you deal in a product that stays the same through the ages. Just do it like you did last year and there’ll be a market for it. You need to figure out ways to make more with less etc, the usual business stuff, but your business is the timeless tomato and that’s what people want yesterday today and tomorrow. Music, conversely, naturally wants something new every year, or month. People want to hear what the latest, youngest artist has to say and that’s the nature of the game. So music chews you and spits you out.
A few artists get to be legends like, say, the Rolling Stones. That means there’s still work for them, but theirs are stadiums filled with older folks and they don’t get hits on the mainstream charts any longer. There simply isn’t room for all the artists of all time. So most musos will fall off the radar and others will continue as a little nostalgic bleep. Boo! has a bit of a legend status; Hardly massive, but tangible. It helps that there’s never been anything like it before or since. Luck? I can only know whether I conform to someone’s definition of luck if i know what that definition is but I do know what being difficult is and how to be that.
RC: A new trend is bands who have broken up, get back together. You’ve done the same thing…twice. Isn’t that psychologically considered to be a dysfunctional relationship? That’s what girls keep telling me.
CC: Ha ha! The girls are right!
RC: Having formed in Brixton…I must ask…how many times have you broken into and climbed the Brixton Tower? Why have you never shot any videos from up there?
CC: We’ve never had reason to break into brixton tower. We simply lit up at street level and floated to the top.
RC: Many South Africans aim to reach the position where they have the means to pack up and leave. You, on the other hand, are still here, despite your international acclaim. What’s your message about staying in South Africa?
CC: I’ve done about 3000 gigs in 30 countries to date. The world is small. You can fly almost anywhere in as much time as it takes to drive from Johannesburg to the Cape. Packing up is a huge risk and nine times out of ten the guys come back with empty pockets and broken dreams. We don’t hear about those stories because you become so inconsequential that no one even reports on your misery. For some, it works out. I have made a bit of an impact abroad, and perhaps I could have done more, gone further, conquered the world. But i have never been that hungry. ‘Success’ is not a devouring obsession for me, it’s a sweet reward for being able to do what I like and what, so I’m told, I’m good at.