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Immigrant Songs 

Originally from South Africa, Civil Twilight has found freedom in their new sound and country

click to enlarge Civil Twilight enjoys touring around their adopted country, especially stopping at bodies of water to think deeply.
  • Civil Twilight enjoys touring around their adopted country, especially stopping at bodies of water to think deeply.

It's 100 degrees in Arizona last week, and Civil Twilight is sweating through their load-in for an upcoming show. Drummer Richard Wouters comes to the phone. He's tired; you can hear it in his voice. But he's not going to complain, because this band is everything to him.

For nearly two decades, music has bonded these guys together. As young teens in beachside Cape Town, South Africa, Civil Twilight started jamming and writing, emulating the rock music coming out of the United States and Europe. Frontman Steven McKellar, his guitarist brother Andrew and Wouters dreamt of coming to the U.S. to play music for a living. Ten years ago, they made the leap, landing in Los Angeles and later Nashville. None of it was easy. But then came the big breakthrough in 2010 when their single "Letters from the Sky," a piano-dense, droning soundscape, caught the ears of many indie rock fans.

"Let's be honest, bands are kind of weird things," says Wouters, 34, in a light South African accent. "You're kind of stuck together, you're a family [including Kevin Dailey on keys and guitar; the group's lone American has been with them for three years]. We've been through all kinds of things; we've done badly and well. Communication — as with any relationship, it's the most important thing."

Recording their recent album Story of an Immigrant was trying. There were arguments. But what came out was their best work yet. This is the album that conveys their real voice; they're no longer another generic indie rock band trying to sound like someone else. It incorporates South African rhythms and jazz and tells the band's immigrant story, albeit in a broad way. They're not trying to make political statements with their songs, just give a different point of view.

"We grew up surrounded by this sound, but we'd never really embraced it," Wouters says. "I don't know if it's like that for everyone, but we felt where we were from wasn't good enough. We wanted to be like other bands, and then on this record we decided that wasn't true for us."

Heading toward Spokane next week, Wouters says he enjoys meeting people all over this diverse country, that he hasn't found the idea of the stereotypical ugly American to be true.

"There's a sense that you can make something of yourself here, even in an area like music," he says. "In South Africa, the most common response to wanting to be a musician is 'That's not a real job.' Here, there's more openness to adventure and dreaming." ♦

Civil Twilight with Dreamers • Thu, Oct. 15, at 8 pm • $12/$15 day of • All-ages • The Bartlett • 228 W. Sprague • • 747-2174

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