Formed in London, but now based in Berlin, Livingston might be a new name to UK rock fans, but are stars in their adopted homeland Germany. Ahead of the release of their third album, frontman Beukes Willemse and guitarist/keyboardist Chris Van Niekerk spoke to TeamRock to tell us the story so far.
Multi-national quartet seeking to export their sound worldwide
Q. Livingston originally came together in London: what were the factors that drew you together, and what was your original vision for the band?
Chris: Beukes and I left South Africa to move to London to meet like-minded musicians and, well, live the dream – to get signed and pursue dreams that bring so many creative people to London. We worked our asses off writing music, going to as many shows and networking as much as possible. One night, Beukes went to a show at West One Four in West Kensington and saw Jakob, our other guitarist, performing. His playing style blew Beukes away, so straight after the show he talked to him and convinced him to join us. Beukes is a great salesman, so Jakob had no chance in hell to say no! Not long after, we started auditioning bassists and along came Phil. I guess the conversation alone before the audition already clinched his place in the band. His personality fit like a glove.
Beukes: I would say what brought us all together was a mutual love of live rock music. From the beginning the vision was always to become the best live band we could.
Q. Your band relocated to Germany after a period on the London gig circuit: at the time, what did Germany offer that London did not?
Chris: We were initially given the opportunity to play some big support tours in Germany, which really kicked off everything. It was quite a shock for us after the first show, as people knew who we were, chanting our name before shows and calling for encores. The shows were very successful for us and we started to attract a lot of industry attention, and we eventually got an agent in Germany. Our management suggested that we move to Berlin and capitalise on the momentum that was building. We continued to play more support shows with the same reaction until we started to get offers from major labels. We eventually signed with Universal and did our first sold out headline tour – it was quite overwhelming! The highlight at this time was hearing an entire crowd singing our choruses, we just stopped paying and let them sing. The record wasn’t even out yet!
Q. Your new single Chemicals comes out in the UK on October 13: what can you tell us about the song?
Chris: We’d been staying in a little cottage in the woods to write [new album] Animal, and experiment musically etc. It was a great environment for creativity, almost no outside distractions, and just the four of us being creative day and night, living together, eating together and reconnecting to what makes Livingston tick. It was an exciting time as some interesting ideas were just starting to take shape, and Chemicals just jumped out. Jakob had given the rough musical concept to Beukes to jam on and well, then the magic happened.
Beukes: I remember very clearly being upstairs at our little house, when the chorus suddenly came to me. I literally ran downstairs and outside to Jakob where he was collecting firewood for that night's bonfire to sing him the chorus.
Chris: Beukes’ lyrical style is quite open to interpretation to the outside which I really like. It really allows for someone to draw from their own feelings and experiences when they listen to our music. For me Chemicals is actually quite a sexual song. The morning after when you can smell another person on your bed sheets. I better stop there… We picked Chemicals for our single in the UK because it just felt right.
Q. Chemicals comes from your new album Animal, the band's third. What should listeners expect from the new record?
Chris: The album happened very organically. The songs that made it onto Animal were literally the ones that naturally grew together. One day we were sitting on the porch and just realised that THIS IS THE ALBUM. And then about a 10 minute conversation later we had the song order. It just felt right. We then mixed the album and played the finished work to our management who had literally not heard a single note until then.
Beukes: Although this is by no means an electronic album, we incorporated some electronic influences into the tracks. Chris and Phil, who engineered, produced, mixed and mastered Animal, both write and produce electronic music as well so that was just a natural ingredient in the proverbial pot. We had each done a lot of personal musical exploring prior to writing Animal, so everyone brought in their own musical pallet. There are raw guitar rock moments but also quiet orchestral ones. The songs are melodic and energetic, sometimes reflective, sometimes loud and primal.
Chris: We feel an album is one flowing entity. It’s not just a collection of your best songs, but more like a movie or book that you experience from start to finish. Chemicals is one chapter. Animal is the book.
Q. Describe your current mind-set in five words
Beukes: Fear and loathing in Berlin.
Livingston's new single, Chemicals, is released on October 13. Their album, Animals, follows on October 27. The quartet will play London's Hoxton Bar and Kitchen on November 7.