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Zebra & Giraffe is the name of a new force pressing itself into the hearts and minds of music fans – and even on first listen it’s clear that Z&G’s debut longplayer, ‘Collected Memories’, is every bit as unique as the animals that its named after.
In fact, at this stage (autumn 2008), the cleverly named act is actually the 12-lettered pseudonym of Johannesburg music wunderkind, Greg Carlin. Until he (very shortly) assembles a cracking hot live band to assist in showcasing his original songs, Carlin is Zebra & Giraffe and the 10-songs on ‘Collected Memories’ are an announcement of his own special take on making music to all who hear it.
That Carlin was able to make his debut album virtually unassisted (bar a session drummer) stems from his multiple music talents that see him playing everything from bass, to keyboards, guitar and more. But in crafting ‘Collected Memories’ he wisely called on the production talent of the sublimely talented Darryl Torr who many music fans in the country may know as the foil to Harris Tweed’s Cherilyn MacNeil.
“It was just easier to play everything myself,” Johannesburg-based Carlin says, “But Darryl made the difference when it came to shaping the songs into what you hear on the album.”
You might be forgiven for thinking that moving from piano to guitar to drums to keyboards and bass may hamper the album’s flow, giving it a sameness that renders it impossible to listen to. Not in the case of Zebra & Giraffe. Perhaps it’s because of being able to adopt a different name that ‘Collected Memories’ is a journey of variety; a sonic outing that is, in fact, brilliantly listenable.
The album starts with a song that should not waste time in securing radio time – and indeed has already had a welcoming reception across the board.
‘The Knife’ takes its cue from the dark side of electronic rock pioneered by the likes of New Order & Joy Division. There are also strains of the latter’s ability to turn punk-influenced stylings into atmospheric masterpieces on ‘Collected Memories’ – specifically the likes of ‘Black Crow’ with its fiercely played guitar and bass lines and lyrics of abandonment and last chance love.
Discerning these influences when listening to ‘Collected Memories’ is all the more astonishing because, until recently, Carlin had not heard many of the bands from the era that his music sits closest too. “The first thing I remember listening to is Nirvana and U2, back when I was in primary school, and then it was onto modern rock” he says.
There are strains of other bands that formed part of the soundtrack to someone born in the 80s on the album (The Edge’s melodic guitar work can be heard in ‘Arm Yourself’) but mostly ‘Collected Memories’ is the sound of an artist pushing ahead with his own sonic exploration in the most beguiling way. As an example listen to “Running Faster” where the keyboard melody runs like the Pied Piper though the song, making sure that your attention never strays for a second from what is certainly another hit for Zebra & Giraffe.
Carlin admits that his own liking is for the harder edge of rock (A Perfect Circle, early Marilyn Manson, NIN, Tool are among his favourites) and although much of ‘Collected Memories’ is melodic, thrashing guitars do make themselves felt on ‘Fight! Fight! Fight!’.
But just as you’re certain that you’ve got the record’s sonic ground pinned out comes ‘Leaving Again’, a tune that throws a rope around rock as much as pop and electronica (that at-the-fore keyboard), the result being one of the album’s standouts, a near perfect combination of melodic heft and lyrical prowess. It’s the same with ‘A Long Way Down’, a track defined by an unsettling drum beat and delicate acoustic guitar work that is just about as compelling a song as you’ll hear all year. Carlin’s tale about losing someone is elegantly supported by the backing vocal of Harris Tweed’s MacNeil.
But don’t mistake the darkness for a proclivity on Carlin’s part for living in emotion’s murkier corners. The fact is that Zebra & Giraffe is not against having some fun: “Pariahs’ is driven by a swirling keyboard that perfectly supports the song’s dreamlike, at times tongue-in-cheek lyrics (“I like the pretty girls/the ones with curls/they make me crazy/they say baby oh you rock my world”) and there are other uplifting moments.
Carlin admits that lyrics are the one aspect of songwriting that he’s sometimes less at ease with. “A lot of the songs are about relationships and the rest are about feelings that I get and then I put that into words. It may come out as a specific event or experience but its inspiration comes from a feeling.” He readily admits that the album’s titled stems from a recent move from the comfort of his childhood home – a place where his own collected memories reside.
It was here that Carlin originally learnt to play drums while at High School, playing rock with a band that went by the name of (yes, it’s true) MSG. Carlin studied Fine Art at Tuks and joined his first real band – first as a bassist and then as a singer. White Lie was its name and the band went so far as recording a handful of tracks with Darryl Torr – establishing a relationship between Carlin and the producer that has been lasting and creative. White Lie earned a campus hit with the song “Runaway” and had something of a following but at the end of 2005 several members left to study and Carlin was left to his own devices.
It’s just as well because Carlin soon began experimenting in his home studio – exploring sounds and beats, many of which have influenced the sound of ‘Collected Memories’.
In a stroke of luck for Carlin, he met Just Music’s Karl Anderson through Harris Tweed (a Just Music signing) and struck up a relationship with the label through working on its digital business. Now Zebra & Giraffe have a label deal with the highly regarded independent and Carlin is ready to begin his assault on the charts, live circuit and more.
Diane Coetzer - May 2008