By Deva Lee and Stuart Thomas
This is a band that seems to be popping up in everyone’s vision lately. They were nominated for a SAMA and their single “Superfly” has been getting airplay on 5fm along with video play on MTV and VH1. They opened for Jose Gonzales and Fall Out Boy on their SA tours, and have been touring the country themselves. They paid Grahamstown a visit in June.
Harris Tweed is Cherilyn Macneil and Darryl Torr. Their sound is the result of a combination of Macneil’s song writing talents and Torr’s producing. He has been working in the industry for fifteen years, and owns his own production company. Macneil plays the guitar, piano and leads the vocals, while Torr plays the bass guitar. With the help of Darren Leader on drums and Alan Shenton on lead guitar, Harris Tweed produces a show filled with expressive vocals, precise melodies and strong tempos. Their sound is most definitely more powerful live and those who miss a performance have not truly met Harris Tweed.
Their sound is best described as indie pop, with strong folk elements. They don’t see pop as a bad thing, as it means their sound is accessible and believe that music can be popular without being bad music. They appear on stage as big kids up for a party, until they start playing that is. A well rehearsed, intricate sound greets the audience as their set begins. They present Harris Tweed as modest and humorous individuals, and then let the music speak for itself.
What lies beneath Macneil’s quirky and playful disposition is a true professional. She describes her songwriting process as “cathartic”, and is “not trying to tell anyone anything”. She continued, “I don’t wanna ruin it for other people, [they] have their own interpretations, and it is so interesting to hear [them]”.
Macneil says that both she and Torr are perfectionists, hoping to push the music further each time and refining it as they do.
They describe their first album The Younger (released in 2006) as very much that. Macneil writes all the lyrics. The mood the tracks convey can be light-hearted, but they are also a product of Macneil’s very active mind. Self described as a deep thinker, the songs are often a product of her meditations on life. The art is made without anyone else in mind. “When I write, it’s for me,” she says.
Despite the various setbacks which face many South African bands, foremost of which are the small genre specific audiences, Harris Tweed remain determined to stay involved in South African music. “Perhaps there is a future where people will listen to many different genres” says Macneil. Realistically though, they realise that the only way to make a long term living as a musician is to do so overseas. They feel that such a venture would not greatly compromise their commitment to stay involved in the country. However, they’ve got many more adventures lined up before they go.
Amongst the new conceptual ventures the band is taking on, is a series of theatre shows. The shows will explore the more dramatic sides of the band’s music and will include set designs, costume changes, an orchestra and various collaborations. The venture aims to build on the already incredible live experience of a Harris Tweed show. The shows were due to start in July and will conclude in September, hopefully with a Grahamstown stop off. All the logistics and much of the conceptual design were being done by Macneil and Torr.
The band is eager to release their next album, as they believe they have progressed vastly musically and have experimented a lot more with their sound. “We’re just on a musical journey, and we hope that people can come along with us,” says Torr.