Greg Carlin is nothing short of a genius. He is the singer and songwriter for South African rock band Zebra & Giraffe, and he’s also a photographer for 2 blogs – Photos by Hoodlum and Gold Creatures.
Over the course of Z&G’s 8-year career, they have been nominated for 8 SAMAs and won 2. They’ve won the MTV Africa Music Award for Best Alternative and they’ve supported The Killers, Oasis, Prodigy, Snow Patrol and Panic! At The Disco. The band has released 4 albums and are about to release a new EP this summer. We caught up with this Threaded Man and rock star to talk music and style.
Tell us about your journey into music and how Zebra & Giraffe was formed?
I started playing drums at the age of 12. I can’t even remember why I chose the drums, but it probably had something to do with my love of then Nirvana drummer, Dave Grohl. I played in numerous bands throughout high school and varsity, along the way learning how to play bass, guitar and keys. In about 2003 I decided I needed to be a frontman and I took to singing. I really sucked at first. I had this weird American accent from listening to too much Pop Punk and I got so nervous on stage that I cursed every second word. At this stage my band was called White Lie and our biggest achievement was getting playlisted on Tuks FM and doing a ‘tour’ to Bloemfontein. When that all crashed and burned I got a job as a consultant for a bank and put playing in bands on the back-burner. It was during this 2-year period that I wrote Zebra & Giraffe’s first album Collected Memories. I would come home after work and sit in the studio writing all night. I saved up enough money to approach a producer (Darryl Torr) and he loved the tracks. We went into studio in 2007 and I recorded the first album on my own. Soon after I met Alan Shenton (Z&G guitarist and manager) we formed a proper band and called it Zebra & Giraffe.
How people consume music has changed and progresses every year, how do you adapt to this rapid change?
When I started Z&G, CDs were still a big thing; hell when I was a kid I remember getting my first cassette tape (The Simpsons’ album!) so I’ve definitely seen a lot of change in the music industry and in the way we consume music. To be honest, it’s been tough, especially as a musician trying to make a living. Knowing people are getting your music for free, illegally, when you’ve spent hundreds of thousands of rands making it, is a hard pill to swallow. But times change and you have to keep up. Services like the Apple Store, Spotify, Deezer and YouTube have filled in a small portion of the income lost, but they’ll never replace it entirely. As a musician you need to look at new models of financing yourself. Most musos in SA still do jobs on the side to help pay the bills. Yes, there’s money to be made playing live but it’s very hard to sustain in an industry as small as SA’s. The hardest part for me, and for record companies I guess, is trying to create a professional sounding product, that’s of the highest quality, when you know a large portion of your audience is going to get it for free. That’s why so many people have moved to home studio setups that are more affordable.
What is your view on the South African music scene and what do many acts get wrong?
I’ve been in this industry of almost 15 years now and what I’ve come to realise is that the SA scene’s biggest ‘problem’ is that it’s just really, really small. It’s small and for a long time we were isolated from the rest of the world. I think technology has allowed us to catch up quite a bit and we now have a few acts that are on par with acts from the UK and US, but we’re still a tiny industry. With that comes a lot of problems that newcomers don’t necessarily see. The biggest thing is lack of competition – and I mean this in the professional sense. It’s fairly easy to rise to the top in the SA scene. Compare that to the US or the UK, where you have to be insanely good + lucky + hardworking to even get to the middle there. That’s why so many big SA bands fail to crack it overseas. Selling thousands of albums in SA, and headlining festivals here, means nothing over there. Unless you’ve got a massive hit song, you start at the bottom again, and the guys at the bottom are good, and hungry for it.
Now onto fashion, what does being a Threaded Man mean to you?
Being a Threaded Man to me means taking pride in what you wear and how you present yourself. Look, not everyone is into fashion. Some people just don’t give a shit about what they wear and that’s cool. I, on the other hand, love fashion and think it’s a great way to express yourself and to have fun.
What are your top 5 must-have items when travelling?
I take a LOT of T-shirts when I go travelling. I hate doing washing when I travel, so I’ll literally take a clean shirt (and an extra 2!) and underwear for every day I’m away. (I think I took 20 shirts to the US – haha!) I also pack lots of gadgets / reading material to keep me busy – Kindle, books, iPad, beats, diaries etc. Comfy clothes for the plane – I know everyone likes to look hella-cool walking down the aisle but I’d rather be comfy in a tracksuit and sneakers, than sit in skinny jeans and an oversized jacket for 27 hours. A travel neck pillow is also a must – especially when you’re attempting to sleep (which never really happens). Lastly – I buy a SIM card at the destination if I’m travelling overseas. We once got so lost because we had screen-grabbed a Google Maps route instead of just getting a SIM card with data.
When it comes to style, what element do most men get wrong?
South African men tend to be very practical and ‘safe’ when it comes to fashion. I think it’s definitely more prevalent in my generation – all my friends from high school wear ‘sensible clothes’ – usually it looks like stuff they got for Christmas from their Mom. I think guys also rely too heavily on what the big retailers are force feeding us. Yeah I still buy shirts from Cotton On and a pair of jeans from Topman, but I also try buying certain things online – like saving up for jacket from a smaller brand in LA that no one has here. Go to the markets, the smaller shops, the vintage stores and find stuff that’s unique and different to the prescribed outfit of the season everyone else seems to be wearing.
What’s your favourite item of clothing?
Right now I have a green bomber jacket from a label called Stampd (out of LA). I bought it in the States and I haven’t stopped wearing it since. I’m sad winter is coming to an end because it’s way too warm to wear in the Jozi summer!
You’re also a very talented photographer, can you tell us about that passion?
I studied Fine Art and I’ve always loved photography and drawing. About 6 years ago I decided to buy a DSLR and ever since then I’ve really gotten back into taking photos. I dated a model for about 3 years and she really helped me get into shooting fashion and editorial stuff. My fiancé Keagan Kingsley Green studied fashion and has her own blog called Gold Creatures. I shoot a lot for her and I love it.
Final question, what advice do you have for young musicians who would like to follow in your footsteps?
Well I wouldn’t say follow exactly in our footsteps, as we’ve made many mistakes over the years, but that’s how you learn I guess! My advice is always about the songs. At the core of all great music is great songs. Take away the scene, the image, the expensive gear, music videos, the style of music, etc. and what you’re left with is songs. And good songs always take you the furthest, they carry the weight.
You can keep with Greg Here :
Zebra & Giraffe (www.zebraandgiraffe.com)
Photos by Hoodlum (www.photosbyhoodlum.co.za)
Gold Creatures (www.goldcreatures.com)