The Bucket Playlist’s interview with The Cudas

I really like those songs where the lyrics and song can be simple but there’s a tiny little trail of crumbs to make you come back’

by Seddon at The Bucket Playlist

The Cudas, the power pop outlet of Cape Town-born songwriter Reinhard van Biljon, released their debut EP on Spotify, ‘Alien Vacation’, earlier this month, mixing pop hooks with fuzzy power chords and new wave synths to create some summery magic.

His band name is taken from one of his favourite cars, the Plymouth Barracuda, a two door car made by Plymouth in the 60’s and early 70’s. ‘It’s an old muscle car, I’ve only ever seen one in the States,’ he said.

The album title was inspired by a trip to visit his brother in Florida and their subsequent visit to the Space Coast there. ‘I had some of the songs in my head a while ago. After that trip, I liked that mix of ‘space’ and ‘surf’. I wanted that sunny sound with the Cars-ey synth, like the Beach Boys but dropped on the head, a dumbed down Beach Boys!’

The opening track, ‘Autorama’, is a drum driven, synthed up, riffed up powerhouse of a song, which sets the tone for the three tracks that follow, with strong Beach Boys vibes. ‘It’s very much by design,’ van Biljon said. ‘Brian Wilson is my favourite songwriter, there’s a little Brian in there. I think my music is about something through something else, it’s 90’s pop with sunny Beach Boys and I’m a fan of surfy music, of surf guitars. I mostly play surf instrumental stuff.’

‘It sounds a lot like a Farfisa organ, sort of 60’s garage rock’

Van Biljon describes ‘Autorama’ as ‘what the Beach Boys would sound like if they took steroids and plugged their amps in really loud’. I ask him what the instrumentation is at around the 1.45 minute mark because I haven’t been able to completely figure it out: ‘It’s a synthesiser with two guitars layered around it, playing a little harmony,’ he said. ‘The synth has this weird chorus. At first, I had a guitar solo for it but I thought it wasted time, so I stripped it out and made the synth the main thing, putting the guitars on top. It sounds a lot like a Farfisa organ, sort of 60’s garage rock.’

The vibe of the song makes you think of drive in movies in the US and waitresses on roller skates serving people in their cars, something which is reflected in the lyrics: ‘Pinball blasting roller girl, spinning around a candy swirl and you could have it all at the Autorama.’

‘I think I read the word Autorama on a used car lot’s sign around here somewhere and just thought it sounded quite funny,’ he said. ‘I noted it down as a possible song title. When I got to writing it, I imagined like a beach-side hangout spot or something called that but it doesn’t actually exist. I did recently see there’s a band from Spain, I think, called Autoramas. Haha. Don’t know what to make of that!’

‘My Summer Song’ is the epitome of summer, it’s poppy with a hooky riff and lyrics that will make you want to head to the nearest beach: ‘Float into the coolest water, sink into the warmest sand, waves drown out the sound of my summer song.’ It turns out that it was inspired by listening to the Ramones’ album, Rocket to Russia (1977): ‘They’re like Beach Boys songs but not as intricate and wholesome,’ he said. ‘I had them in my head when I was writing this. I was listening to The Beach Boys’ ‘Little Honda’ song as well. I’ve been listening to their first three albums a lot.’ (Surfin’ Safari, Surfin’ USA and Surfer Girl.)

He describes ‘My Summer Song’ as ‘actually really simple’: ‘It uses a three-chord progression that’s on so many surfy songs especially, but each section of the song is in a different key, giving it a bit of movement up and down,’ he said. ‘I also added that rolling bass line to it that you hear on a lot of surf music. The verses and choruses use essentially the exact same chords, but if you listen carefully before each chorus, there’s a slightly weird, tense sounding moment – “hear my little Honda play my summer..song”-where the key shifts up before the chorus.’

‘I was pretty much obsessed with The Offspring, they were my first love’

In addition, he plays in local band ‘The Shakers’, a cover band playing, in his words, ‘a lot of dad rock’. He attributes his love of power chords to the Californian rock band, The Offspring: ‘As a kid, me and my brother played music forever, we had piano and guitar lessons. We started out on punk and heavy metal. I was pretty much obsessed with The Offspring, they were my first love. My love of power chords is basically from there.’

Another track on the EP, ‘I Don’t Want To Go Out’, taps into his love of Brian Wilson’s songwriting and the polarity between an upbeat melody and more sorrowful lyrics: ‘I like that in a song, it’s one of my oldest songs,’ he said. ‘It’s basically about being a bit of a recluse and not wanting to go outside. I just wanted to stay in and play with my toys!’

As the song goes: ‘Can you see now what I need now is time. I just thought that what you brought meant the world.’

‘There’s always something in their songs that hints at more, maybe an odd key change that shouldn’t work but it does’

His love of The Beach Boys runs deep and provides the backbone to all of his songs to date: ‘They’re an incredible band to me,’ he said. ‘They can sound extremely simple if you don’t listen too hard but there’s always something in their songs that hints at more, maybe an odd key change that shouldn’t work but it does. They know what they’re doing, it just works.’ Van Biljon’s favourite Beach Boys song is ‘I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times’ from their Pet Sounds album (1966). ‘For me, it’s the peak of that sort of thing,’ he said. ‘There’s a sweet sound to it but underneath there’s fear and insecurity. I really like those songs where the lyrics and song can be simple but there’s a tiny little trail of crumbs to make you come back. It’s a fun game to play.’

His earworms this week have been courtesy of Jeff Lynne’s 1990 album, Armchair Theatre. Lynne was the co-founder of English rock band, ELO. ‘It’s like early ELO but with a classic early 90’s sound. It’s eerie, crystal clear and precise – it’s the opposite of what I do,’ he laughed. ‘My favorite song on there is ‘What Would It Take’, it’s amazing, I listen to it all the time. I have to sit down and figure it out on my guitar, there are multiple chord changes!’

In 2020, van Biljon’s song ‘Kids Want Hits’ appeared as the opening track to the annual Ice Cream Man Power Pop and More compilation titled “Ice Creams & Daydreams.” Also in 2020, the single ‘Cheap Trick’ was included on Spanish power pop label Rock Indiana’s Pop Parade Vol. 11 compilation album.

‘I have a big love for late 70’s music and early 90’s’

Locally, he’s a fan of what he describes as ‘instrumental, messy, punky, surf rock’ band, The Moths. Despite his love of synths, it turns out that he’s not a huge fan of 80’s music: ‘I have a big love for late 70’s music and early 90’s. The only big 80’s band on my favourites list is The Cars but maybe the 80’s synthy influences are bleeding over!’

In addition to The Offspring, he grew up listening to American punk rock band, Blink-182. ‘I was a skateboard kid,’ he laughed. ‘Me and my brother used to listen to 80’s heavy metal, it was really disgusting! So bands like Whitesnake – why did so many bands then have ‘white’ in their name?!’ He’s also a big fan of Weezer: ‘When I was real small, maybe 8 or 9, we had a computer room at school. When we put the CD-ROM in, Weezer’s ‘Buddy Holly’ video was on there. I had the song in my head for years but I couldn’t remember what it was! Then one day – 12 or 13 years later – a friend said ‘Oh, you’ll like this song’ and it was that one! It was soooo great!’

Van Biljon has written a couple more songs that he’s hoping to record this year. ‘I’d like to do a whole album-worth of songs, to have a whole project,’ he said. Given that he plays all the instruments on his songs, he has an impressive collection of kit: ‘My favourite guitar is a 50’s reissue Fender Stratocaster but you don’t hear it on any of my songs, it doesn’t pack enough of a punch! I’ve also got a Les Paul Junior copy, it’s TV yellow, a kind of cartoonish guitar. Almost everything is recorded with that. It’s the one that adds the bulk of the noise!’ If he could buy any guitar, he picks a Stratocaster. ‘Or a Rickenbacker – a 12 string one.’

His dream line up would be one hell of a party: ‘I would say Weezer, I will put in Redd Kross (a Californian alt-rock band). I would put The Beach Boys in there and I’ll throw in The Cars and 100% Jellyfish (an American rock band from the late 80’s).’ I say I’m not sure if I know Jellyfish. ‘Oh, prepare to have your mind blown! Listen to their second album, Spilt Milk, it’s mindblowing stuff, like if you you take the best parts of The Beach Boys, mixed it with Supertramp and 10cc.’

If he could hear one of his songs on a TV show, he tries to decide between a comedy and a police drama: ‘Maybe That 70’s Show or maybe Nash Bridges or Pacific Bridges (American cop shows from the 90’s). Pacific Blue was about bike cops on Venice Beach (in California). Actually, I was thinking about it the other day. I think my love of surf music might have come from that show. The surfy guitar bits they had on there, they imprinted on me a lot.’ I listen to it after our interview and message him to say how much I like it and that I totally hear it in his songs: ‘That song rules!,’ he replied. ‘I remember getting really annoyed when they ran the ad breaks long and cut the theme song out of the show. I waited all week to hear it!’

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