interviewed by Ashley Allard
Some hungover and tired, the five members of Almost Alive are instantly recognisable on the streets of Stellenbosch. Smoking cigarettes and wearing dark sunglasses at four p.m., even the lady behind me at the wine bar immediately knew that they were the band I had told her I had come to interview. To my disgrace, Timothy Hurn, the keyboard player, orders a bottle of white wine, but by the end of the interview, our glasses are empty, and we are unable to stop laughing at Timothy’s blueberry jam.
Almost Alive, a Cape-Town-based “skinny jean rock band”, has been in a constant state of regeneration and reinvention. However, now, the band’s frontman, Barry, says he is convinced that he has now found the right members to complete the vision he had in high school.
Q1. Can you all introduce yourself and your position in the band?
Passing my phone around the table like a microphone, Timothy Hurn goes first. The band’s newest member and keyboard player is affectionately and involuntarily known among the band mates and fans as ‘Bambi’. (This is because of a t-shirt he received with his face caricatured upon it. It also has a QR-code to Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up video). Timothy Fortes, who has only been in the band for around a year, plays the drums. Hanju Potgieter, refusing to give his real name, plays electric guitar and sometimes sings background vocals. On guitar and vocals is Matthew Marais, who also occasionally aids in lyric-writing and has taught the frontman everything he knows. Last but not least is Henko ‘Barry’ Uys, who plays bass, sings, writes lyrics and manages the band.
Q2. What is Almost Alive’s origin story?
Barry started the band in grade nine and named it Almost Alive in grade ten. He managed to rope some of his friends into it, and Hanju then joined a year later. The band managed to progress in Barry’s later years of school, however, they are only releasing the songs Barry wrote in 2018 and 2019 in the 2020s. “I waited for the right members”, Barry insists, smiling.
Q3. Is there a particular anecdote behind the name of the band?
Hanju: No comment.
And we move on swiftly.
Q4. How would you describe Almost Alive’s music genre?
“I wouldn’t be able to put us into a genre,” Matthew explains. He believes that Almost Alive embodies the “essence of rock”, a nostalgic feeling of “the good stuff from back in the day”, and a fusion of the new. Almost Alive expresses a certain “freshness” that, Matthew says, you would not typically hear in the rock sphere.
Q5. Are there any music genres you would like to tackle in the future?
At their previous gig at the Daisy Jones Bar at OMG!, Almost Alive released their newest single, Cigarette Sex. Apart from the five members, the band added a few brass players to their set, introducing new and different sounds to covers and their originals. Fortes explains that he believes Barry, who composed the brass parts, has seen “the vision” of adding more layers and textures to their music. Barry agrees, saying he has definitely considered adding such textures to future singles. However, brass players are notoriously unreliable, according to Barry. “It’s a genetic trait,” adds Hurn.
Q6. Timothy H., how old were you when you started playing the piano?
Hurn started playing in grade two, however, he insists that “it is important to note that I did not care [about piano] up until like grade eleven”. Only when he started performing regularly in grade ten and was introduced to jazz music did his passion for piano ignite. In proper jazz-ist fashion, Hurn decided to study jazz at UCT on a whim. It has now been three years, and he is “obsessed” with jazz.
Q7. Barry, as the primary lyricist behind Almost Alive, can you talk me through your creative process?
Barry says that his song-writing changes from song to song. However, it usually centres itself around an isolated concept that he begins to romanticise, like a true artist. Barry usually plays around with a verse or a chorus, leaves it to sit for a while and later returns to it. He is particularly proud of the name Cigarette Sex.
Q8. Who is Olivia?
Almost Alive’s first single, entitled Olivia, made quite the rounds, and there was an air of mystery surrounding the song’s subject. However, the secret is now revealed: Olivia is one of Barry’s close friends. The first verse seems quite complementary. However, the second verse takes quite a turn. Barry admits that he and Olivia got into a fight and did not speak to one another for two years. However, they have since made up, and one can find Olivia at the front row of each show, probably not buying Barry a “coke as a symbolic gesture”.
Q9. What are the plans, dreams, and future projects of Almost Alive?
“To keep going,” Fortes says. He is content with going to the studio, recording and performing. They are all quite excited to perform at their first festival later this year (the name of which must be kept secret for the time being).
Q10. What has been your most memorable or favourite performance?
Without hesitation, Hanju says, “Our Daisy gigs are always memorable”. As a sound engineering student, he approves of the top-quality venue and first-class equipment, especially the smoke machine, saying that the band sounds the best at the Daisy Jones bar. They also love performing at Evol and the Armchair in Cape Town; however, their heart rests with Daisy.
Q11. At your single release, Josh Swanepoel said that Barry is in multiple bands. Not to advertise, but which other bands are you in, and why is Almost Alive your favourite?
“Almost Alive is my baby” and is a “big part of me and my ambition”, Barry answers. He also forms part of Aflos, Swanepoel’s band. But, these are the only two bands he is invested in. Even then, Almost Alive, he admits, takes preference. He was a part of a band named Palindrome with Hanju, which has since disintegrated. When asked about Palindrome’s disbandment, Hanju says, “No comment”.
Q12. Timothy Fortes, why did you choose to play the drums?
Fortes has always had a knack for rhythm. After watching him “burst into dance” every time he listened to music, Timothy’s father bought him a drum kit when he was 13. Fortes is now 24 years old and has stuck with it since. He incorporates drums into the other band he participates in, Sounds and Words, which explores poetry with an afro-beat fusion.
Q13. Matthew, if you could open up for any act in history, who would you choose?
Refusing to narrow his selection down to a single act, we negotiate his top three:
1. Jimi Hendrix
2. Arctic Monkeys
3. Kendrick Lamar
Q14. A question for the whole table: Why do you make music?
“It is just fun,” Timothy Fortes says, “I started playing at 13 and I am still playing and it is still fun.”
Timothy Hurn finds playing beautiful music to be incredibly rewarding, whether it is for profession or for individual purpose. When you start studying jazz, he explains, they tell you to discover your own voice and yourself in the music, and everyone calls bullshit. However, to his surprise, Timothy has found it to be true: Music has allowed him to get to know and understand himself more as an individual since.
Matthew keeps it short and sweet: “I like music (…). It is the best answer I can give”. He adds that, as a shy person, music becomes a language with which he can express himself. “I put my soul into it and I can express myself more freely,” he elucidates.