Th’ Damned Crows are made up of Liam McDevitt (vocals, double bass), Sven Duncker (guitar), Ronnie Belcher (drums) and Zoltan Tibor Szabo-Taylor (harmonica). Being devilish as well as dexterous by nature, they manage to combine buoyant blues with riotous rock ‘n’ roll. They released their first single ‘Blue Eyed Devil’ on Friday 11th, 2013. Click here to download it via SoundCloud. Wanna get to know them a lil’ better first? We did….
So you formed at the foot of Devil’s Peak, was that a romantic moment?
Liam McDevitt: Every moment in Th’ Damned Crows is a romantic moment. I live in Vredehoek and Ronnie lives in Gardens so we thought that it sets the tone a little bit. There are lots of myths based around Devil’s Peak which makes it interesting.
Ronnie Belcher: We were standing on that balcony (of their practice room) and you can see Devil’s Peak from there and we were thinking of band names and Devil’s Peak was sort of a landmark to us when we started.
Zoltan Tibor Szabo-Taylor: It’s also very South African. So it gives us a sort of local South African tint.
Liam: We were having a smoking competition with the devil on the balcony.
Ronnie: It’s South African and Capetonian and as Liam said it’s got a lot of myths.
Zoltan: And we’ve got songs like ‘Blue Eyed Devil’ and ‘The Devil in Me’. So it’s very devil-ish.
We nearly called ourselves The Devil Peak’s Somethings, but we couldn’t find anything that alliterated with devil that didn’t sound cheesy.
So how did it come about that you became a psychobilly-ish band?
Ronnie: Well, with psychobilly there’s a lot of blues, rockabilly and old school rock ‘n’ roll. Me and Zoltan chatted about bringing Zoltan out of retirement about a year and a half ago. I wanted to start a project again and we just talked about it and it never went anywhere because we couldn’t find the right people and then a friend of ours — K.C. Royal from The Ratrod Cats (click here for our interview with them) — said he’s got a mate — Liam — who has moved down from Manchester and who wants to start a band similar to what we want to start. We wanted to do something rockabilly-ish. And then Liam and I connected on Facebook and met. Zoltan, Liam and I in a practice room just worked. Liam had a bunch of songs that he wrote and we went through auditioning guitarists and eventually Sven showed interest. I knew Sven previously, so then it all just came together. Zoltan’s been my friend forever, Sven was my friend and Liam is a new friend so it all worked out perfectly. We didn’t have to think too hard to make it happen.
Liam: We kinda’ hit the ground with the wheels going.
Zoltan: We actually wanted to get a girl on the guitar. But then we saw Sven and he was good looking…(laughs) And he could play so we ditched that idea.
Liam: You do like ‘em tall and skinny.
Zoltan: Oh definitely.
Do you get people ‘wrecking’ at gigs?
Liam: You don’t get people wrecking over here to be fair. I’ve been disappointed about that. Gigs in the UK are so fucking violent. I’ve chipped a tooth and I’ve known people who’ve broken their hands, ribs and lost teeth. You don’t really get that violence at gigs over here.
Ronnie: Not anymore at least.
Sven Duncker: What I found in Europe — just from going to shows there — is that the psychobilly scene is part of the club. Nobody’s included if you don’t dress like the uniform with the fucking mohawk. You have to look psychobilly just to be accepted at the shows.
Liam: I think in central Europe that’s very true.
Sven: I’m speaking more about in Berlin mostly.
Liam: Yeah. Berlin’s notorious for that bullshit.
Sven: So if you’re not specifically a psychobilly band and you broaden it a bit, you’re welcoming a whole lot more fans.
Zoltan: Don’t label us a psychobilly band, we’re not really a psychobilly band.
You’re not going to spit chicken blood on stage?
Ronnie: No… no!
Liam: I think when you limit yourself to being one genre you put yourself in a box and on a pedestal — and you can’t break out of that. With my old bands I could never have done a song like ‘End of Days’ for example. It’s got that swampy blues sound. When you start breaking out of those strict guidelines of genre people go: ‘oh well ya not really psychobilly are ya?’ There are such strict genre rules. Whereas we step up deliberately to not limit ourselves by that.
Ronnie: Especially in this country and especially in this town.
So you do fit into the broader sort of rockabilly scene?
Liam: Absolutely yeah.
Zoltan: Slightly alternative as well.
Ronnie: There’s a lot of billy.
Liam: In terms of song writing, my influences are very much bands that straddle that genre, like Th’ Legendary Shackshakers, Hot Boogie Chillun, The Mojo Kings — those are bands that don’t limit themselves. They’ve very much got an influence on the style of writing I do.
Zoltan: You can up with a name for a genre for us.
Are you positive about Th’ Damned Crows’ future?
Ronnie: Absolutely. I mean we only started in May this year.
Zoltan: I’m saving for my pension.
Liam: We’re all pulling in the same direction. Obviously we have the same quarrels that other bands have in terms of creative output but we all know where we want to be. We all know that this is the main purpose of what we’re doing. Sven, Ronnie and I play in other bands but this is the main focus.
Ronnie: Also we’ve all been around the block so many times. We know how to make it work. We went in consciously saying we’re not going to box ourselves but it will have these influences and this is probably what it’s going to sound like. And we have a great marketing campaign. We’ve got all of it covered because we’ve got the right people working with us that are helping us — from photographers, to graphic designers, to recording studios, to filmmakers. There are a lot of people helping us achieve what we want to.
Liam: Which we’re very fucking grateful for. We’re lucky to have a good circle of people around us that are willing to put their necks out and help us for free. They will put their creative inputs in.
Sven: Because they believe in what we’re doing and they see potential in it.
Zoltan: And we’re good friends, we get on really well. That’s probably the most important thing — no jealousy.
Ronnie: No ego.
Zoltan: We hang out together, we enjoy each other. It’s actually one of the reasons I vowed never to play again is because being in a band can be like a marriage. But I’m thoroughly enjoying myself —
I’ll get married to Th’ Damned Crows.
Liam: It’s important that you’re in a band in which you’re all singing from the same page. Although conflict can be very creative it can ultimately also be very destructive. It’s like being married to three people but we all know what we’re supposed to be doing. Everyone knows their place in the band. Although I’m the singer I’d never think of myself as the front man because it’s not my band — it’s our fucking band. Everyone puts a 110 percent in and fucking bleeds and sweats into it. It’s important because across any genre in Cape Town, you see a lot of people who are in a band just because they want to be in a band. And I think a lot of that’s because musicians are pretty thin on the ground here. I’ve been in that situation myself where I’ve sessioned for a band — and they were a great band and great people but not my sort of music. And you see a lot of that. A lot of people are just in it for the music, but it’s not necessarily what they want to be doing — but we all want to be doing this.
To help Th’ Damned Crows fund their debut album click here.
Interview by Christine Hogg
Images by Leon Visser, Christine Hogg