Jarrod Aston on Cinema, the 80s, today and so much more!

To interview Jarrod Aston was a bucket list item for me. I’ve been a fan of Cinema (the band of which he was the lead singer from 1987 into the mid 90s) since 1987. I can recall (surreptitiously, probably) listening to David Gresham’s hit parade on a Thursday night on Radio Orion and the competition was between Cinema, Jason Donovan, Rick Astley and Belinda Carlisle. I idolized them, and their music is what helped make childhood great, and is still what helps make a stressful life easier to deal with today. For that I’m always grateful, and it’s my honour to give something back.

I recently discovered that you met the other members of Cinema at the iconic 702 Concert in the Park .

That was 1985 and I was with the band Face To Face playing drums, and Chris Frank and Ian Vine who were the original members of Cinema were playing with Pierre de Charmoy who I knew because we were with the same record label. We spoke backstage. The concert was amazing. I still remember it so vividly. There were 100,000 people there and it was black and white and coloured and Indian and young and old. It was absolutely amazing. The cops were dancing with people who were smoking joints. I was only 17 and I was oblivious to the whole political situation in a lot of ways. Looking back on that concert I realize what a ground breaking event it was, but now I do.

How did the name Cinema come about?

Singer and musician Trevor Rabin was part of a band called Rabbitt. When he left them he went to the States and became the guitarist for a band called Yes that had broken up previously and were reforming. They decided they couldn’t call themselves Yes, so they called themselves Cinema, and then at the last minute the lead vocalist decided to rejoin and they went back to calling themselves Yes, so we stole the name. I think they called one of their albums Cinema. It wasn’t named after us though.

You guys had a gig at Gold Reef City doing cover songs and then also wrote some originals.

I met up with Chris and Ian again about 8 months after Concert in the Park. They were having problems with their drummer, and asked would I be keen on drumming with them, so I said ‘cool, let me know, whenever you’re ready,’ and they phoned me to ask if I would like to come and play at their regular weekend gig at Gold Reef City, and I agreed. We were doing covers, the Eagles and Beatles, really nice stuff. We started writing songs and Chris had already written the basis of My Kind of Girl. It had a completely different vibe and I brought in a couple of rhythmic and other changes.

I started singing quite by default. It was one Sunday at the beer garden at Gold Reef City. I’d had a couple too many beers and Ian asked if I wanted to sing a song, so I sang John Lennon’s Imagine. Then Ian left the band soon after, and I became the lead vocalist with Cinema.

1987 – 1996 must have been a hectic time of life.

I don’t think we realized it. I look back at that part of my life and it seems like a different lifetime and think the clothes are funny.  I think at the time it was cool – we all looked cool. And we look at our parents and wonder what they were wearing. So I guess that’s right. We were very lucky to have the success that we did. I always believe that success is not because of writing good songs or being a good band. It’s by virtue of the fact that people like what you do. We owe all of that to them. We wrote good songs and were good live and toured, but if it wasn’t for the fans coming out to the concerts or to buy our albums it wouldn’t have worked so well although I think Cinema did write good songs. My Kind of Girl still gets played on radio today.

Describe international success

Strangers Again was very successful for us overseas. We got to number one in South East Asia. We still get royalties for that song even now. It’s still getting played in the Philippines and Malaysia. It was a good time. And it only happened in about 1996.

How did that happen?

I think somebody must have picked it up and started playing it on the radio. I found out when I got a couple of fan letters from the Philippines saying they loved it. So the record label investigated it and found out we were being played. We toured there for 6 months in 1997. We worked with the band Boyzone who were also touring there. And we came back and I left the band. Chris had left the band in 1991 or 92, and I’d got tired. I’d had enough of politics and travelling, and I had a family. When we were living in Malaysia, it was a completely new culture – we were staying in apartments there and were travelling and in those days email wasn’t as available. It was very expensive to make a call on a cellphone back to SA, R50 or R60 a minute and the networks weren’t that great. But leaving was my choice. I’d had 12 years with Cinema and 2 years with Face to Face, so 16 years of my life was dedicated to playing in a band, but now I’ve moved on from there.

How has social media changed the way bands work now?

I manage Watershed, and we were recently saying how we wished bands embraced social media more. I don’t think they utilize it as much as they could. A lot of them have paid for likes so then it becomes saturated and content doesn’t filter to the actual fans. With Watershed we’ve tried to get rid of all the older likes which are not relevant. It’s a nice way to keep in touch with actual fans and share content and communicate. I was watching the Steve Jobs movie which was interesting as it starts in 1984 off launching the Macintosh 2. It changed the world and now we sit with these things that we can message America with. We don’t need people’s telephone numbers anymore. I love technology. I’m an absolute technonut. I embrace technology and know all the apps.

Back in the 80s when you were doing videos for songs like Inside and Out, that years later people would be looking on the Internet and scrutinizing things.

The intention was to get it out there and have it played on a Friday night on Pop Shop and maybe as a filler between TV shows. Inside and Out was a lot of fun, because we made up the video as we went along.  We were on a beach and we just did what we felt like. Things like burying me in the sand and walking backwards into the sea, and falling down, and they reversed it so you saw us coming out of the water and walking up.

What sort of genre would you say you were?

I think Cinema was also kind of stuck between who we wanted to be. We didn’t really know if we wanted to be a pop band or a rock band, and so live our concerts were very energetic but the albums were more pop. We were more synth orientated on the albums and Mike, being a rock guitarist, would just absolutely blow it away live.

Have you played recently?

We played recently at the Rewind Concert in Johannesburg. It was great fun and I’m still in contact with some of the guys we worked with. But some of the stars are still living off their name in the 80s and unfortunately they’re not playing to 20,000 people any more, they’re playing to 800 or 1,000 and their egos get dented. Fans grow up and tend to mature. Even with Watershed and Parlotones -when they were at their height their fans were 15 or 16 and now they’re 25 or 26. They’ve moved on to liking bands like Mumford and Sons and not so much into Parlotones anymore.

We need a book to say how Cinema started. Did you ever think of that?

I’ve thought about writing a book about my experiences in the industry from the business side and also from the band side. I’m not sure that this side of my life would make for a great book but I do think at some stage to write the stuff down would be good. A lot of the stuff I’ve kind of forgotten as well. I still see Chris and Mike and Larry Rose often, and they’ll bring up things which I don’t remember, so I wish at the time I documented a lot more. Maybe to put something for kids to learn from would be good.

What would you say to people now going into the industry?

I think the big issue is that albums are not selling. It’s all gone digital. You’re now competing with millions of artists and you can get lost in that. I get asked for advice by new and current artists and I tell them you need good, well produced songs. If you don’t have good songs forget about it. Then it’s distribution, getting it out there, marketing it, get it on radio and TV, social media pages. The whole industry has changed, but it’s changed for the better. A lot of artists are saying it’s so difficult, but it’s not. If you look at Adele, her new album is good and it sold. She’s got great marketing, but it’s a great song. If you break that song down, it’s the perfect pop song. Lyrically it’s brilliant, melodically it’s brilliant, it starts off just with piano, and it builds to drums and it’s just such a great song. Well constructed with everything in it that takes it to the next level.  Same thing about Justin Bieber’s songs, getting played because they’re good songs. Unfortunately, SA artists are competing with international artists. So it’s very difficult for South African artists to get the airtime that international artists get.

Do South African artists get the support they deserve from South African radio?

Generally SA stations play what’s happening in Europe and America. We released Watershed’s single in September 2015 and it was still charting on Algoa FM the last couple of weeks. Adele’s song was released in late November, early December, it charted, got to No 1 and came down the charts in 6 – 7 weeks. They’re fast tracking the international stuff to get it on the high rotation list. And Watershed were at no 20 and the next week no 19, then no 16. Their research is telling them the international stuff is getting more listeners than local stuff and I disagree because I think there’s a lot of local stuff that’s fantastic. I’m loving Jeremy Loops, Gangs of Ballet, Monarch, and Watershed’s new album is great. I wouldn’t have worked with them if I thought their album was rubbish. We struggle, like with 94.7, they say we’ll support it but they don’t – they didn’t even play the new single. It got to top ten on Algoa, Jacaranda’s playing it a lot, Highveld – not interested, Hot 91 are very supportive of the local stuff and even play some of the newer stuff. There’s lots of South African music that’s world class.

The solution is to get out of this mindset that local is lekker. That stigma will always be there until a South African band becomes hugely successful anywhere else in the world. No SA band has had massive success overseas. Seether’s had a bit of success and Ladysmith Black Mambazo have won Grammies but it hasn’t turned into huge success in SA in terms of radio play. When a band has a hit internationally it might change. It happened in Australia. INXS, John Farnham, Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan and actors as well. We started to get there with Charlize and Sharlto Copley but it hasn’t happened with music and only when it does it will validate SA music.

It should have – you guys and Mango Groove and Little Sister should have all been up there with all of those guys.

I suppose we could have been if the political situation was different and if we had the opportunity to get out there, but we didn’t. There’s a lot of reasons for it, and I don’t know what the answer was really – there’s a lot of stuff. And also the only way to have success over there is to go there and live there.

Would the golden thread of humanity be something that is important to you? You made music in the 80s, but if someone hears My Kind of Girl now, they’re still going to feel something.  

I like the analogy of the golden thread, because I think that is very important. My Kind of Girl was a simple song with a simple message. That’s why it resonated. When people can’t express themselves they let music do it. Songwriters tend to write from their heart and when they can touch on a struggle, that’s when that golden thread starts finding its way through. The human race has come to a point where we think things need to be intricate and complicated for things to fix themselves, and it’s not that. Everything’s become too complicated. Go back to a simple message of I sit in front of you and I hear you and want to understand you and I’m going to listen to what you say. Many times in my life I’ve realised that most of my conflict has come from the fact that I don’t listen to whoever I’m in conflict with. I don’t hear what they’re having to say. Wars are all around that. Rather than saying I want what you have, let’s find a way to come to some kind of common ground.

Tell me about Fluid Media

We do promotion and have brought out many acts like Foreigner, and there are quite a few big shows that we’re going to be working on this year. We have a corporate division; we’re booking all the top acts from Mi Casa to Parlotones to Prime Circle. We’ve got a hospitality division so we do catering, we do décor, we’ve got a technical division with sound lighting and staging. Corporates can contact us with a brief and can tell us if they need lighting, sound, etc. And we’ll put together a concept for them. Fluid Media website is the best place to go for information.

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Related article: Interview with David Gresham – the Gruesome Gresh

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Writer, transcriber, proofreader, editor, lover of the arts.

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