Martin Rocka and The Sick Shop
Behind Martin Rocka's mask
By Robert Laing
Martin Rocka jokes he wears a mask because he's so ugly. But the real reason is to keep his Sick Shop sideline distinct from his unmasked role as guitarist in one of Joburg's best known rock groups. Not good at keeping secrets, I let his true identity slip to a rival Joburg guitar maestro, who fortunately refused to believe me. "He can't be. The two play guitar completely differently."
The Sick Shop like getting booked to conclude comedy evenings, and Martin Rocka can hold his own against most improv comedians. Here's an edited exert of radio interview on 1485AM.
What is psychobilly?
Psychobilly is a form of raw, genuine fifties rock 'n roll taken through the British punk mill. It's Nashville via London. It's a little bit more trashy, and the lyrics are a little bit more dark, than standard rockabilly.
It's an amazing scene to be involved in. Psychobilly has grown into a worldwide phenomenon that never goes away. No matter what's hip and happening, psychobillies are always there with their quiffs and chains, smoking.
How many masked crusaders does Joburg have?
Apart from Mzekezeke who stole my mask — I kindly stole it back off him — not many. We're the only two masked superheros, or should I say freaks.
Your drummer told me not even he knows who you are.
I make sure I don't travel in the same car as my band. I don't sleep in the same hotels as them, and I don't sleep with the same women. I like to keep my identity under mask. You too would if you looked like this.
Is this guy on the cover of Through sick and sin perhaps you without your mask on?
No, I don't look as much of a supermodel as that chap on the front-cover, because he's gorgeous. But that's my witch he's with.
I've heard you have a Martin Rocka lair.
We live in the deep swamps of the West Rand with mozzies, flies and other blood sucking friends of ours. The sickness is thick in the West Rand.
Do you have a Martin Rocka-mobile?.
One hundred percent. It's what's commonly known to the punk world as a skateboard.
What does your unmasked alter-ego hear about you?
[Pompous voice] "Did you see that crap band on there. Lead singer in a bally mask shouting and swearing. Great guitarist though."
Being masked is quite amusing. It gives you a different feeling, like being a woman for a day, or a white guy with black disguise on. A mask gives a wonderful barrier to say or do what you like.
The Sick Shop are a trio with a standing drummer and an upright bass player. Is that a rockabilly thing?
If you have too many musicians, you take away from the purity of it.
Our drummer stands because we don't give him too many drums. I believe if you give drummers too many drums, then they don't have to think. Give them one or two drums, and they have to use their brains.
I like the leopard skin theme in the band.
It's my semi-colonialist vibe that no matter where in rock you come from, you still have to have African skins around some where.
I'm always impressed with your fifties dance routines.
I learned to dance like that watching my parents dancing drunk in the lounge when I was knee-high to Webster. That's where the fifties influence came from, and then it got sickened by punk.
How do you manage to bend your back so far?
The flexibility in my back comes purely from shagging millions of women.
Do you keep your mask on even for sex?
A true cowboy never takes off his boots, or his mask.
Through sick and sin, Martin Rocka and The Sick Shop's third album, was released last Halloween and the album has a horror movie theme in keeping with psychobilly tradition. A convention in all Rocka albums is there are two instrumental tracks on each album.
The first album, Product of Bad Breeding (2001) had Surf's Up parts one and two. "It was surf music for goths — if you know anything about goth kids, you know they never go near a beach or anywhere where they'll get exposed to sunlight."
The second, Trailer Rash (2003) had western music titled Los Gatos Grandes — Spanish for The Big Cats. "Hence the pussy connotation."
The most recent Through Sick and Sin is a tribute to The Sick Shop's original drummer Dave Clarke who took his own life a year ago — a tragedy which hit Martin and many other local musicians hard.
"Everyone knew Dave. Musicians like Karen Zoid came to me and asked to play on the album."
The album has a who's who of local drummers playing different tracks. Besides Sugardrive's Garth Mcleod who now performs in The Sick Shop's live performances, Wonderboom's Danny de Wet, former Diesel Whore Kevin Leicher, as well as sixties band the Rising Suns drummer Dave Campbell drum on the album.
Many of the guest artists have been given cryptic names. For instance, Amersham's Mark Bental has been transposed into Bark Mental, and Raphael Sinberguenza de Jesus is presumably Cito of Wonderboom who was the album's sound engineer.
The "non-sex-scene" part of Music for Movies has actually been used as a sound track, for an independent movie called Relatively Stoned. Martin Rocka said he agreed purely because he approved of the title.
Martin hopes to re-release his first two albums in one package later this year. The pace of Sick Shop releases has been a lot faster than the band his alter-ego plays in. "That's a democracy. Here I get to be a dictator — it makes things a lot quicker."
Another Libran and friend of the family of James Flames
Author: Paula Hume, 26 June 2009
Just heard your music,finally, great stuff quite a surprise send me an email reply to say hello,James and any info about the family. Lots of love from Israel. When are you coming for a visit here.We would be pleased to have you here. Get in touch, James. Love Paula xxx
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