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Coming to America

Johannesburg-based Parlotones ready to headline their first U.S. tour

The Parlotones is not just a worldly rock band, it’s an otherworldly rock band.

Based out of Johannesburg, the group is the biggest-selling band in South Africa, outselling Coldplay, The Killers and Oasis combined.

The four-piece completed a sold-out, 300-date world tour over the course of 18 months and played to a viewing audience of more than 1 billion people at the 2010 FIFA World Cup Kick Off Concert.

The Parlotones didn’t reach this level of success overnight. But once the fire was lit, it spread exponentially fast.

It took the band’s 2005 debut album, “Radiocontrolledrobot,” two years to reach gold status – right around the release of the follow-up, “A World Next Door To Yours,” which went gold in a couple of months and was certified platinum three months later.

And now The Parlotones plays its first headlining tour of North America, one of the band’s most daunting tasks to date, according to guitarist Paul Hodgson.

“We put off coming to America for quite a while. It’s so big. It’s daunting,” Hodgson said during a telephone interview. “You can tour the whole UK in two weeks, but when you come to America you need at least five weeks.”

Thanks to their touring experience, band members are able to see as much commonality as difference in the countries they visit.

“Once you travel outside of the country you realize how big the world is and how individual experiences shape these moments in life that we can all relate to, personally,” Hodgson said.

“Playing onstage to an audience is the same everywhere in the world. It’s the one normal thing that you do when you’re touring. You go to different cultures, you see different cities, different weather, but when you’re playing it’s almost always the same.

“And that’s the cool thing for us – when we get big in one country, we move to a new country and start at the bottom. America is the final challenge, to reach that same level of success we’ve had in other countries and in Africa would be a huge goal accomplished.”

The theme of global connectivity is also played out in The Parlotones’ latest album, “Stardust Galaxies,” released in 2009.

“The title track was written toward the end of the recording process,” Hodgson said. “It was written as a duet and we worked with Zolani Mahola from the band Freshlyground. She came in and put down her part and it worked immediately.

“It’s that sense in this huge universe two souls can connect and that’s quite something when you think about the enormity of the universe and how it all fits together.”

Often seen wearing all black, save for red neckties, band members are well-known for their penchant for performance theatrics and inventive PR blitzes.

The group even has its own wine – two, in fact: a red, “Giant Mistake,” named after the single from the first album, and a white, “Push Me to the Floor,” after the single from “Stardust Galaxies.” For now, they’re only available in South Africa.

“It’s almost like it’s a hobby related to music, but separate from it, and it’s another marketing tool for the band,” Hodgson said.

He said Parlotones members are working on a rock opera of sorts for a week of shows this summer that will be broadcast live from South Africa, complete with narrators, actors, stage props and a post-apocalyptic love story written specifically to accompany the music.

“We like to get on stage and play with all he passion we’ve got,” Hodgson said.

“You can tell when a band is going through the motions. We try to never let it get to the point where it feels like a chore. That’s when you know it’s time to take a break.”

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