Prime Circle: Interview with Neil Breytenbach

2011-05-21 00:00

“I LOVE Maritzburg,” says Neil Breytenbach. “It’s a great place for kids to grow up in. The people here are very cool. They’re not too worried about the whole entertainment industry as much as the rest of the country — they’re pretty chilled. It’s more of a sporty town with a bit of an arty scene.”

For Breytenbach, anywhere else in the country means an outing with his family­ is interrupted with photo and autograph requests. But here in the city, the Prime Circle keyboardist says he’s not plagued as much. “It’s a stylish place,” he quips. “People just don’t realise it.”

Dressed totally in black with a maroon beanie, the towering 1,8-metre musician, whose band has been nominated­ for six South African Music Awards (Samas) tonight, is in a relaxed mood. He’s obviously used to the travel, jetting in and out of the city in-between the band’s shows to spend time with his wife and eight-year-old son. On this particular day, how-ever, he’s stuck with me during lunch time, fielding questions about Prime Circle.

“So what’s it like being a rock star?” I ask.

“When we’re on tour, we usually wake up at around 10 am or 11 am,” he says. “But some days we’ll have 22-hour days, where you’re going from five in the morning until three the next morning. It just depends.”

Breytenbach went to school at Athlone, then Carter High, then moved down to Durban to study music. He played sport all the way through school and was destined to pursue a career in dentistry.

“On my way to registration I walked past the music department and thought, ‘That looks more interesting’. So I signed up and got my degree.”

Breytenbach’s entry into his current profession was over five years ago. His former band, Driverlane, toured together with Prime Circle under the same management label­. “They were looking for a keyboard player, and with me being on the road and part of the circus, they were sussing me out — although I didn’t know it at the time,” he recalls.

“They phoned me up two days before a north coast festival where there was a crowd of about 15 000 people, and said, ‘Would you mind doing a session for us on this gig?’. And I said, ‘Ya, for sure. Do you guys wanna rehearse or run through things?’ and they were like, ‘Nah, just learn the first two albums and from there just rock up at sound check and we’ll see what happens’.

“So I learnt the songs, drove to Richards Bay two days later­, and at soundcheck, Marco­ [bassist] said, ‘Okay, let’s try out some stuff,’ and Ross [vocalist] said, ‘No, if he’s gonna be a part of the band we need to throw him in the deep end.’. Fortunately I nailed every song.”

The band was so impressed, they invited him into the fold and he’s never looked back. Now, Prime Circle is one of the frontrunners in this year’s Samas, where a song Breytenbach wrote, Breathing, has been nominated for Record of the Year.

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“Breathing is a song which means quite a lot to me,” he says. “My mom died in December last year from cancer. That song is about the emotion of basically watching my mom dying. The music came from those emotions.

“I really do want it to win, because Record of the Year has never been won by a rock band before. It’s a new thing for this country to experience. We’re hoping to change history­.”

Whether or not they win, one of South Africa’s long-standing rock acts maintain a clear vision, which bodes well for the future.

“As Prime Circle, we feel that our music is the rock star,” says Breytenbach. “So it’s not so much about ‘Hey look at me, this is me, this is my fame and my profile’. We say, ‘No — there’s our songs, that’s what we do as a band. Our profile is our songs’.”

To vote for Prime Circle’s Breathing at the SAMAs, SMS the letter “B” to 083 123 7262.

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