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ROSS Learmonth, the frontman of Prime Circle, reminds me of Johnny Clegg. He comes across over the phone as someone who has done a more than a few interviews in the past 10 years. His answers are succinct and to the point, and he doesn’t ramble.
That’s when journalism is hard work, because there are few Freudian slips, few phrases to make a headline from. Clearly, Learmonth has been around the block a few times. He doesn’t “um” or “er”, he purely answers the question. That’s it.
These over-the-phone interviews have never suited my style much, but here we are at 2pm on Monday afternoon discussing the band and the new album, Jekyll & Hyde - which, by the way, sold 20000 units within nine days of its release.
Heck, whether you like the band or not, that’s something worth noting. White boys making rock music in the South African context - not exactly a goldmine of opportunity, surely?
“We’re very chuffed,” he admits. “This is the most time we’ve spent in pre-production for an album, and we’re glad people have responded so well to it.”
In the South African context, gold is 20000 units while platinum is 40000. In overseas markets, the band would still be reaching to sell 500000 units to attain gold status, or one million for platinum.
And so the one question I am most interested in is whether Learmonth and his Prime Circle bandmates consider themselves successful.
“Generally we live by the lyrics we write - the message of Live This Life,” he says, referring to the name of the band’s second album. “Success for us can be about one chord, or one moment in a song, one moment with an audience. It’s not always measured by numbers.”
Spoken like a true artist, but there’s a dissidence in his tone, and I have to wonder about some of the frustrations the band must have. “Staying relevant and fresh are challenges for us,” he says, adding that having that common voice which connects with their audiences is something the band always has in mind.
To this end, the new album was a collaborative process between all five band members. The thought of all these burly blokes in a small studio recording with the equally-burly producer Theo Crous is an interesting thought... don’t they irritate each other?
“We irritate each other probably about 90% of the time, but we tried to make it about the songs and put our own egos aside.
“Collaboration gets harder the longer you’re together,” he says.
And the challenges aren’t only confined to within the band. “It is also hard being away from family so much,” he says. “But we generally try to make it up to them when we’re back. You have to leave stuff at the office when you come back, and try not behave like a rock star at home.”
But one of South Africa’s top rock acts show no sign of slowing down. “We don’t know anything else, and to honest, we wouldn’t want to be doing anything else other than making and playing music.”
* Prime Circle will be performing at the Golden Horse Casino on Friday, October 29. Tickets cost R120 per person and are avilable at the Golden Horse Casino, Big Beat Retail (Shop 13, Parklane Centre), Red Tap (Howick) and Computicket. At the Big Beat shop are specials (buy five get one free; or buy 10 get three free). Children between the ages of eight and 12 cost R60 (at the door on the night only). Children under eight go in free.
ABOUT PRIME CIRCLE
Prime Circle is a rock band formed in December 2000 in Pretoria, South Africa. The band is currently based in Johannesburg, and consists of members Ross Learmonth (guitar and vocals), Dale Schnettler (keyboards), Dirk Bisschoff (guitars), Marco Gomes (bass) and Neil Breytenbach (drums).
Originally signed to The David Gresham Record Company, they have been signed to EMI Music South Africa since the early part of 2008.
Their first album, Hello Crazy World, released in July 2002 quickly reached platinum status and remains the highest selling rock album in South Africa. Their second album Live this Life (October 2005 release) reached gold in the first 12 months cementing their position as the biggest selling South African rock act of 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006.