It has always been about a man and a woman; so different, yet so complimentary they end up being One: a harmonious coexistence of the opposite breathing life into stories of creative passion. The band in question couldn’t be any exception: a man and a woman; so different yet so complimenatry they end up being One…Courtly Love! Interestingly enough, not in love with each other but with…a tremolo; that distinct surf rock sound that oozes California sun (for British readers: please check sun). I met with Johnny (guitar, vocals) and Layla (vocals) of the London based quintet Courtly Love, on a cold Sunday afternoon, somewhere around the busy Broadway Market in London Fields and in between tea and wine we started talking…
The Eargazm: “Courtly love” was secret and between members of the nobility. It was also generally not practiced between husband and wife”, according to my Wiki friend. This has gotta be one of the kinkiest band names!
Johnny: It’s a medieval form of chivalry.
Layla: And it also plays with the Courtney Love-thing.
Johnny: Yeah, like a pun word…like Com Truise. We are a fan of Courtly Love as well, but we picked it for its explicit meaning.
The Eargazm: So, you’re not royalties? (laughing)
Johnny: I think it’s part of the image we’re trying to portray: sexy, classy! We’re generally like that; I mean Layla has a sort of appeal on stage and me, you won’t find me cracking jokes on the microphone. I’m sort of consrvative in how much I give away. I think our music is kind of similar to that as well. If you listen to “Voodoo Girl”, it has this yearning of what’s going on, it has this sort of calling and I think the name is just a good label for what we do really, it paints a good picture.
The Eargazm: When I first listened to your songs, I would have never guessed that you’re based in London! So how did you come up with your sound?
Johnny: It has a California ring to it. If I’m completely honest I’m a Velvet Underground fan and I’m a big Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra fan and they had a Caliornia thing going for them. I think as soon somebody hits a tremolo on the guitar, then they go California and not too many bands are using that effect. Everyone is using delays and reverbs but tremolo is the flavor of what we do. One day I was playing the guitar and I put it on and it was kind of a cool ring to it and after Mirage we decided to keep that effect in most of our songs, so this is where the California feel comes from.
The Eargazm: It has always been fascinating how people link sounds to places? How do you explain that?
Johnny: I’ll tell you why, Dick Dale, all those instrumental bands, the surf rock, they originated in California and surf rock has that tremolo sound.
Layla: Kind of nostalgic.
The Eargazm: So do the places you grew up actually shape your sound?
Layla: It’s all about influences and being inspired.
Johnny: London is so multicultural anyway. I’ve been inspired by English and American bands my entire life and I don’t think that living in London influenced my output at all. We live in a global society. I think maybe it is a bit of a sad thing, although I don’t see it like that myself: localism is gonna lose its touch. English bands are not gonna sound as english bands. Back in the day the Stones, the Beatles, the british invasion that was a product of localism. Now we live in a global society, so you’re gonna have american bands sound like english bands and vice versa.
The Eargazm: How has this whole thing started?
Layla: We met at the Boogaloo bar! We were both performing but with diffferent bands.
Johnny: Layla was in an acapella group and she supported my band that was doing an acoustic thing. I remember standing in the aundience watching this girl group and I remember thinking Layla has something about her that was different from the others, she just stood out.
Layla: So then he contacted me and decided to hang out.
Johnny: We had some mutual friends but we never discussed music. We both appreciated what we did. I was thinking going solo and do my music and I remember I couldn’t get Layla out of my head for maybe two months thinking “ I wonder what she would sound like singing some of those songs that I’ve written” and that’s when I approached her, thinking she’s gonna say no.
Layla: …but I said yes!
The Eargazm: Was she easy to persuade?
Johnny: She said yes straight away.
Layla: I was keen to get involved with that band.
The Eargazm: But wasn’t one voice enough?
Johnny: It wasn’t about one voice being not enough, it was just that I couldn’t get Layla out of my head; she had this tone in her voice that I thought it would be good for the music. Our voices are quite different, we compliment each other. A lot of people said this works cause we both stick out and have very distinctive, different sounding voices and it’s refreshing. We harmonise every now and again but for the most part we sing our own parts. It’s just a whole new flavor to the music and to be quite honest we are still experimenting, figuring out how to harmonise, but the good thing about us is that I have quite of a mid-range voice, Layla sounds best in the low range, so it kind of meets in the middle.
The Eargazm: What are you most jealous of a woman’s voice? (laughing)
Johnny: I’m not jealous of anything, I think we both do our individual thing very well and I have a respect for Layla and she adds more of what I could add on my own.
The Eargazm: So you go into the studio the first day and you start singing and then Johnny starts singing as well. Did you go “what the hell is going on in here? I’m supposed to be the singer”?
Layla: Ha ha nooo, I was a bit nervous in the beginning but the boys were realy good with me and it flowed well.
Johnny: She came to my stuido one day- I kind of live in the studio actually- and we set up a mic and I say” do you wanna do an interpretation of my music?” and everything she did I loved and I said “ok that was easy, let’s do another song!”.
Layla: So we did that for quite a while…
Johnny: …before we actually decided to make a band out of this. For me there’s no point taking it on stage when you don’t have sounds. Let’s get the songs sounding amazing and then let’s try do the same thing on stage, so we’ve gone a bit backwards. Lots of bands start playing live; that’s fine but if you don’t have songs, you don’t have a band. People are not gonna listen to you if you don’t have songs, that’s the most important thing. Before we even had our first rehearsal, we had 4 or 5 good songs!
The Eargazm: Does she ever make you angry?
Johnny: That’s the psychiatrist speaking there…hmmm, she doesn’t make me angry, but I think she keeps me on my toes!
The Eargazm: women do that all the time (laughing)
Johnny: The dynamic of having a woman in a band is very different, but it’s a good thing.
The Eargazm: In what sense?
Johnny: In the sense that, I guess if I was in an all-guys group sometimes they can sort of get under your skin.
Layla: There’s an ego thing going.
Johnny: A girl contains all the men I guess; keeps all the men calm. Layla is a bit of a pacifier in the band I should say!
The Eargazm: Five men drinking and playing music; inevitably at some point things will get wild, but with a woman there, how does it all change?
Johnny: (laughing) She’s not tomboyish at all, but she will let us do whatever we wanna do. We can talk about girls, she’s fine woith that!
Layla: Yeah I enjoy it: listening to their stories; they’re really nice guys, it’s great being surrounded by men! There’s no one else to compare me with, so I just do my thing!
The Eargazm: Looking back, it’s interesting to see that the majority of female artists chose either a solo carreer or the role of a lead singer in a band. It’s really rare, for example, to find a band of many women and one man…
Johnny: When i was talking to Layla, I was reading Fleetwodd Mac’s bio and it’s all about the relationship of the people in the band, cause everybody was dating each other; the dynamic of having a woman in the band is really interesting. To be honest, I wasn’t seeing another singer with me. It took someone like Layla to get me on. I couldn’t see myself working with any other woman, I just couldn’t. One thing I don’t like in music is too much girliness, I like that she is feminine but also has that edge!
The Eargazm: Can a woman play the guitar equally well as a man?
Layla: I think they don’t try too hard, I think it’s perfectly possible though. I never had the desire to push it further- maybe I should- but I’m quite happy strumming along at the moment.
Johnny: It’s a macho thing, sometimes your guitar is an extension of you know…your manhood. I started playing guitar when I was 16 to get girls!
The Eargazm: is it something about the rock world being tough?
Layla: Nah, it’s just about being lazy (laughing)
Johnny: I think Layla is just trying to be the best vocalist she can be.
Layla: Yeah I like to sing, I’m very passionate about singing. It is emotionally satisfying, more so than playing the guitar.
Johnny: Words mean a lot more to women than men as well; women hang on to words, men are like: “if the melody is cool I’m happy”.
The Eargazm: What’s the most difficult thing to maintain in a band of five?
Johnny: We’re all adults and have our lives outside of the band and it’s quite difficut to manage that. When I was 21 nothing would stop me from going to a rehearsal- no responsibilities. We all wanna be full time musicians but we all have jobs. We all have the passion, but the realities of life sometimes get in the way of progress and that’s something we have to figure out…finding a balance I guess.
Layla: Coordinating everyone, the practicalities of it.
Johnny: …but once we come together it’s magic.
The Eargazm: So, Courtly Love is a multicultural affair: a South African, an American, two British, an Australia! Any cultural clash there?
Layla: They’re all quite laidback and easy going…especially the Australian!
Johnny: In terms of music there is no difference, cause we all like the same music to an extent. We auditioned and we based our decision on personality, as well!
Layla: It’s important to have the right people!
Johnny: If we all had the same accents, you wouldn’t know we’re not from England. Music is the common thing between us. I would love to think that our cultural backgrounds have added to our music but it hasn’t, we all live in London. There is noting South-African in our music whatsoever.
The Eargazm: You go into a club, it’s packed with people and everybody’s having a blast and all of a sudden the dj drops your track! First thoughts?
Layla: Really happy!
Johnny: Really proud, I’d prob be looking around to see how people react.
Layla: Are they enjoying it, dancing?
The Eargazm: Do you feel the urge to say: “this is mine!”
Layla: “Hey everyone…”(laughing)
The Eargazm: Then you approach the dj and you realise he’s been playing music he has never paid for, yet he gets £300 per night!
Layla: I’m totally cool with that!
Johnny: It’s just the world we live in really and actually for unsigned bands that’s a good thing; exposure is everything. Leave business out of it, until you have a following, until there are revenue streams. In the long term, if people in the underground scene buy our record and I can live by that I’m happy. We’re never gonna be (BBC) Radio 1 playlist band, it’s not what we’re looking for, really.
Layla: If you’re gonna listen to it, download it by all means. The only issue I have is when money is important and when sales mean that you get to continue doing what you do, then I’m like it would be nice if people didn’t download our music but to begin with, if those people come to our shows from having a free download, they’re basically paid us for that song. I’m not gonna fight that; this is the age we live in. Hopefully the music is good enough to make money in the long run.
The Eargazm: I’m a doctor; if you tell me you’re not satisfied with my services then most of the times I can fix this; I can study more, try harder etc For an artist though, things get more personal; what you do is an expression of who you are, so if somebody says I don’t like what you’re doing, it hits a different “string”.
Johnny: We know what we do is of a good level and there will be tastemakers in the industry that will like it, otherwise I wouldn’t have started it. I’m not a person that does things half-heartedly, I have to know for sure that it’s at a point that’s worth all this time and effort. If 10 people don’t like it, but 1 tastemaker does then we achieved our goal!
Layla: You’re not gonna please everyone…
Johnny: There’a part of me that says I don’t even care if the general public doesn’t like it. We were playing this show the other night and one of Layla’s friends, she admitted she doesn’t listen to this kind of music and she didn’t really like it and I didn’t really feel anything. If it was somebody from Heavenly records saying “I don’t like your music”, then I’d be upset about it!
The Eargazm: So, you release your record, it goes shit and you’re like we have to try something different. You decide to take part in “The Voice” where you have Wil.i.am., Kylie Minogue, Tom Jones and Ricky Wilson from the Kaiser Chiefs. Who do you choose and why?
Layla: Oh God…(laughing)
Johnny: So how does this work?
The Eargazm: …explaining bla bla bla…
Layla: I feel realy uncomfortable…
Johnny: Who are the people again? Hmmm, I would go for the indie-guy…hmmm…well, Wil.i.am I wanna say! He’s an entrpreneur; it’s the type of guy that I might say ”I don’t reallly get what you’re doing but we all like it”, so…maybe him! It’s tough!
Layla: I can’t even imagine it!
Johnny: Definitely not Tom Jones; I don’t think he understands the younger market and not Kylie because she’s sort of a one man show. Ricky maybe but then I wouldn’t wanna be associated with the Kaiser Chiefs, their guitar part is sickening! Ok, Wil.i.am I guess!
Layla: Yeah, a bit more edgy.
Johnny: He seems the type of guy that will let you do what you wanna do.
The Eargazm: Can you give me an example of how important is music for you?
Johnny: I can give you one that sort of impacted my life. I was in a steady relationship and I chose music. If I wasn’t into music I might have been married and with a child, which I wanna do one day.
The Eargazm: so what happened?
Johnny: I chose music; it got in the way of our relationship, so…
The Eargazm: Have you regretted this?
The Eargazm: Is there a wrong reason to do music?
Layla: If you do it only for money then yeah it’s the wrong reason, the wrong motivation. It has to come from the soul; it’s what comes from my heart that drives me!
Johnny: Fame is also a wrong reason as well. When I was a kid in South Africa that’s all I dreamt about. Now it doesn’t matter, it’s more about affirmation. If my name is never known I won’t have any issue with that. I’d rather have my music confirmed.
Layla: If you’re making art, if you can connect with people through that medium then that makes it really successful. Making people feel something that relates to what you do, that’s really satisfying.
The Eargazm: What if a record label executive asked you to rap to attract more sales?
Layla: I can rap! (laughing) It will be fun…within a context though, just to try something different; maybe not in a traditional rapping format, but maybe more something like spoken word, poetry. I like Azealia Banks, I think she’s a cool rapper, so yeah I’d try it!
Johnny: Debbie Harry did a rap song!
The Eargazm: Then what’s a definite “no” for your music?
Johnny: Well, rap is a def “no”. Hip-hop has the wrong sentiment; it’s all about “look at me, my money and my girls and my cocaine”. Music should be about music, not about lifestyle. I listen to Diggable Planets, The Roots but they make music!
Layla: It’s the same thing on repeat…
Johnny: It’s saturated, I guess. Gimme something musical and I’ll put my ears up. The hip hop medium is so troden it’s just done. Gimme something fresh or revisit the past and do a Diggable Planets with a jazz band or something like that.
The Eargazm: What I find really interesting is that there is no way a pop act will have the same energy as a rock band!
Johnny: That’s just the human touch I think; in a rock band everyting you do, you do with emotion. Five people come together and they just pour emotion into music; pop music is about one person: the singer, so they look into other ways to add a bit of a show, they add dancers, they get other people to sort of enhance what they’re doing; they can’t do it on their own.
The Eargazm: What’s your favourite piece of equipment?
Johnny: My guitar: Gibson ES335. All the jazz boys , the black jazz musicians played that guitar and I always wanted one. It’s one of the defining elements of this band as well; the sound of it is very blues-y.
Layla: I like the tremolo, it’s really fun to play with…I like the tambourine as well, which is fun!
The Eargazm: One record, one book, one movie!
Johnny: Martin Scorsese: “Mean Streets”, Keith Richards: “Life”, Lee Hazlewood & Nancy Sinatra: “Vol.1”.
Layla: Pink Floyd: “Dark Side of The Moon”, Margaret Atwood: “The Handmaid’s Tale”, I really like her writing; kind of dystopian outlook, David Lynch: “Blue Velvet”.
The Eargazm: Make the world better by eliminating three musicians!
Layla:(laughing) Miley Cyrus…really unneccessary!
Johnny: Miley Cyrus, although I have never heard of her music and most indie pop bands to be honest!
Layla: James Blunt…
The Eargazm: What should we expect from you?
Johnny: We’re in touch with record labels; we want to release a record we’re prouf of and people will like. We wanna play some festivals, do more shows and connect with people that appreciate music worldwide!
Layla: Quit our day jobs and focus on music!