When I first met Nathan Ro, he was a bright eyed rock star wearing nuclear goggles and aspiring to have a techno band with me…and everybody else in the room. Now, he’s gone Seth MacFarlane on us and added swing singing to his repertoire with Swing City; the trio which features himself, Graeme Watkins and Loyiso Bala. Swing City was nominated for a SAMA with their sophomore album Now Listen Properly. We spoke about that and a whole host of other things from provocative band names to awesome gigs!
Richard Chemaly (RC): Okes! Congrats on the nomination. What you’re doing is awesome. It’s about time South Africa recognised it’s own answer to the Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Rat Pack and Cherry Poppin Daddies! The swing band names get a bit explicit. Why did you land on the calmer side when naming yourselves?
Nathan Ro (NR): Well we were going to name the band Well Swung, but when Loyiso joined us we thought “Who are we kidding.” Seriously though, the humour that accompanies Swing City is tongue in cheek and is only a small part of what this classy act has to offer, so we didn’t want the name to limit us in any way.
RC: I’ve actually got photos with two of you and Graeme in the Mystic Boer in Bloem on separate occasions. Loyiso…you’re up! Why have you neglected the City of Roses?
NR: I’m sure if the usually paralytically drunk patrons of The Mystic are up for a bit of R&B Gospel he will definitely make a plan *winks*
RC: Your covers cover a vast array of the music out there. Ever thought of doing the Post Modern Jukebox thing? I know a great saxophonist who would be keen to help out with a song or two.
NR: To be honest we hadn’t heard of PMJ when we started Swing City but we love doing new songs in the swing/jazz style. The swing genre appeals to absolutely every age group and so it’s great to show people what today’s music would have sounded like before computers. We covered Taylor Swift and Pharrel Williams on our first album and on our latest album we cover some Locnville, Lira, Bob Marley, Mango Groove and more so we kind of are doing it already.
PS If this saxophonist is great we have probably used him/her as we use all the great horn players and other musos South Africa (and ex-England) has to offer.
RC: Of course, the question everybody will be asking is when will you cover a Satanic Dagga Orgy song…jokes. The real question on everybody’s minds is…do you do weddings? What is the coolest wedding you’ve done?
NR: We have done a few weddings actually. We had to hit the stage after a groom’s speech at one of them and what they didn’t tell us is that his speech was 2 and a half hours long… do you know how hard it is to resurrect an audience after that kind of disaster? Oh… you asked about the coolest? At the beginning of this year we got to play at a lesbian wedding where there were two brides which was really great. Also… no doom and groom speeches.
RC: I mean, you’ve got the swing look going and you’ve got it down! How did you manage that despite ditching the iconic zoot suits?
NR: I’m probably the worst person to answer this as I have had the weirdest hairstyles and beards in the group which aren’t very true to the era… but I guess we have to be true to ourselves and the truth is we have an indie rock singer, an electro rock singer and an R&B gospel singer, so aside from the suits, we are just adding ourselves to the mix which gives it a slightly different flavour.
RC: As swingers, you must have a taste for good Scotch. What is the poison you live by? Most importantly, neat or on the rocks?
NR: We do enjoy a good Scotch and I have to say it’s always on the rocks with a dash of water. I like a Bells as I come from Scottish descent and so does Graeme, although he is not afraid to go Irish. I’ve only ever seen Loy have a glass of wine…
RC: My radio show was recently nominated for an SA Radio Award and I know how awesome even a nomination feels. We lost it too in the end but still the nomination is a big deal! What does it mean to you?
NR: Congratulations! Being nominated is the greatest cos you know you’re in the top 5. Before you’re nominated you have no idea of your rank in the industry. I’m cool with top 5. Winning is hard cos then you have to deal with haters and responsibility and such.
RC: Will you be taking the band on the road this year? There are a bunch of awesome old theatres in South Africa that have largely gone out of the public eye? Anywhere you’re keen on playing? I’d be keen on seeing you in a Radium gig or even in a refurbished Al Hambra!
NR: One of the hardest things about touring Swing City is that we have 7 of the top musicians in SA that play with us and I don’t know about you but flying/driving 10 people around the country is quite pricey. We do try to do as many public shows as possible though and if you want us to come to your theatre then please rally your swinging partners (music that is) and send us messages on FB at Swing City Band. If there is enough demand… we will come.
RC: As individuals, you all have massive separate projects. How do you manage the schedule?
NR: We don’t always. Which is why we have some amazing stunt doubles like Lloyd Cele and RJ Benjamin that fill in for any absentees. Swing City has become an important project to all us though and where we can, we do prioritise it.
RC: Looking forward to swinging with you through 2018. Keep it up and we’ll keep an eye out for your shows!
NR: Thanks so much for talking to me. I need to come have a drink with you at Die Mystic Boer! Maybe we can listen to some R&B Gospel and get wasted on good Scotch.