Kahn Morbee of the Parlotones on its hard won success at home in South Africa

Categories: Profiles


The Parlotones is not a household name in North America, but it is one of the best known bands out of South Africa. With hit singles in its native country, the Parlotones started to make waves outside South Africa with its second album, 2005's Radiocontrolledrobot. Hailing from Johanesburg, the Parlotones were kids when the institution of Apartheid was ended bringing about a necessary but no less unsettling period of uncertainty about the future of the country they called home.

Culturally isolated, the guys in the band were exposed to "The English Scene" through cousins who had travelled to England and brought home the music of bands like the Smiths, Radiohead, the Cure and James. And it is the influence of that music that you can hear in the Parlotones' own well-crafted pop songs.

In its early days, the band had to carve out its own niche and develop its own touring circuit in South Africa, much as Black Flag had to in the earliest days of the indie underground circuit in North America.

The music of The Parlotones is far more melodic and upbeat, but in its songs you can hear the sound of people who never felt like they could take anything for granted in making music and getting it out into the world. We spoke with the band's charming and intelligent frontman Kahn Morbee about the group's background, its signature wines and its hard won success back home.

Was there the equivalent of a local scene where you're from, and did your band play that circuit before going further afield?

Not really. It still is a very difficult place. There's really only one venue in Johanesburg and one in Cape Town, and they are a fifteen hour drive away from each other. There wasn't really a vibrant music scene. There was always an inferiority complex compared to America and England and a sense that everything was much bigger and better and much higher quality than anything South Africa could produce. There wasn't any support for something local.

So what we did for many years was touring across the country and travelling with our own P.A., go town to town every night of the week and set up in restaurants, dance clubs and sports bars and create our own shows. We'd get there, set up the P.A., sound check and, if we traveled with another band, in the early days, we did sound for each other.

At the end of the night, we'd pack up and move on to the next town. Which would only be about a four hour or eight hour drive. It was a lot of hard work. I'm glad we did it because any level of success we experience now is a bonus. That's all there is, and you had create your own thing. We built a fan base by playing these towns over and over. We were the only event coming to town every three months.

"Giant Mistake" is a great pop song, how did that become the name for a red wine, and how did the also suggestively-named "Push Me to the Floor" become the name for a white wine?

We sort of thought that wine is only associated with these fancy names that lend themselves to fancy dining served with certain dishes. We wanted to be almost be tongue-in-cheek, and it's almost a brave thing, to call something "Giant Mistake."

I think we were saying that it was a giant mistake not to drink it. The song has a lot of metaphors that lend themselves to that side of life having to do with temptation, lust and that sort of thing. I think red wine, for me, has that story behind it. Romance, passion. I think it was a good marriage between the song and the wine.

"Push Me to the Floor" is a softer song. It's also quite a brave name. The thing that endeared me to the wine is that it had substance. Beer is sort of for an occasion but wine is something you can use for celebration, for romancing, for reflecting on a sad moment. It has that richness to it.

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