Rebranding Rory

2007-02-01 00:00

Rory Eliot shakes my hand and we find a free table at a local pub in Pietermaritzburg to sit down and talk about his career in music and his involvement with South Africans Against Drunk Driving (Sadd). The 26-year-old singer and songwriter looks relaxed as we sit down to chat.

As we converse about music, friendships and God, I start to get the feeling the two of us could be here for hours. He's a confident and eloquent speaker, and I'm not surprised that his music and his profile are gaining momentum. But we start with the ubiquitous item on the agenda - life after Plush.

“We played at Crowded House [last night] to launch this new buddy bus system,” says Eliot. It's been over 18 months since his former Plush band mate Chas Smit was killed outside the same Crowded House in a high-profile tragedy that shocked the music industry in South Africa. “It's this big bus that picks up kids before the party and drops them off after the party to reduce drinking and driving, and death on the roads. Obviously I'm a big supporter of Sadd and that system, or any system that's put in place to help us overcome this issue.

“We like to call it ‘installing positive peer pressure',” he continues. “We're showing kids that that we're young and hip people, who are doing well for ourselves and we're also sensible.”

It's no secret that Eliot is rebranding himself. Six months after Smit's death, a new Elliot emerged on the music scene. He decided it was time to carry on, perhaps in part because music was a part of the healing process and coming to terms with losing his best friend.

“Every time I got on stage and I would share, it was a release for me,” he says. He also cites his wife as a source of inspiration and support. “But the fundamental thing that helped me [cope with Chas's death] is my belief in God and my faith in Christ. Because whether you believe or not, the Bible is laced with wisdom that will help anybody, whatever their situation.”

Eliot became a Christian in the beginning of 2005, a few months before Smit's death. “It was almost a God thing,” he says. “I was at a stage when my faith in God was fresh and new and exciting.”

I ask him whether he struggled with his faith after Smit's death.

“I didn't struggle with my belief, but I struggle with my lifestyle,” he says. We talk about touring and the music industry, and how he finds it difficult to marry faith and the secular music industry. “I'm on tour all the time and when you're not spending a lot of time with God, it becomes more and more difficult to communicate, and that's what's hard. So you start reading less, praying less … it's like any relationship in life - it goes through good times and bad times.”

Much like a career in the music industry, I suggest.

“Yes, but you know, if you want to be your own boss and you want to do things your own way,” says Elliot, “and if you want to accomplish your goals - and you don't want to end up somewhere that you really don't want to be just because of money - then you have to invest in it initially and it's going to be hard.

“But eventually, as time goes by, you get the hang of it and now, 10 years down the line, I know so much more and it's so much easier to make a living. And that's all I do - all I do is play music. I'm very lucky that way.

“When I'm busy I'm busy, but when I choose to have time off, it's time off. That's what I've always wanted, and that's what I'm going to always have. I know if I make investments long enough it's going to reap dividends.”

I take my hat off to Elliot. It's obvious that he's a hard worker and determined to get a message of hope out to his audiences.

Eliot initially teamed up with drummer Ben Peters, a former contributor to Plush, and the two later partnered with bass player Louis Roux. The trio has subsequently become Rory Eliot and The Reason. With an album in production and a UK excursion looming, it seems that the future looks bright for a band with good songs and a sound work ethic.

• Rory Eliot and The Reason will perform at Hilton College at 7 pm on July 20. Tickets are R40 for students and R50 for adults.

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