By: Mariam Elhamy
After Coldplay mentioned them in a tweet and encouraged people to go listen to them play, Strawberry Swing has continued to play legendary Coldplay tunes enthusiastically for fans in Egypt. We caught up with band members Abdelrhman Sherief, aka Boudy (Keyboard, Acoustic Guitar, and Lead Vocal), Mohamed Tarek Alkhaleel, aka Mishmish (Lead Guitar, Keyboard, and Back Vocal), Patrick Khalil (Drums and Back Vocal) and Ammar Raad Aly (Bass Guitar) at The Tap Maadi right before their gig to find out the roots, inspirations and what the future holds for this passionate group.
How did the band get together and what’s the inspiration behind the Name “Strawberry Swing”?
Boudy: The idea came to me first and I called my nephew Mishmish and he got really excited about it, then he called Patrick and Ammar, and they got on board too. As for Strawberry Swing, it’s actually a Coldplay song which is considered one of the most relaxing songs ever. So I just thought this should definitely be our band’s name!
Ammar: We had respectively played before in different metal bands, plus some of us are related and some of us are best friends, so it came together easily.
What was your first reaction when Coldplay reached out to you through Twitter?
Mishmish: We were actually jamming at the time, getting ready for our very first gig at a place in Zamalek called 3elbet Alwan. Patrick was casually checking his phone then he was like “Guys, Coldplay just mentioned us in a tweet!” so we were in disbelief for like 10 minutes, until we saw the tweet ourselves. We just ran out in the street singing, dancing and we went nuts, it was unbelievable!
Aside from Coldplay, do you play covers for anyone else? Is there another music genre that you like to play?
Patrick: We play a lot of genres, I play rock, progressive rock, jazz, jazz fusion, metal, most kinds of metal, and Mishmish plays black metal, death metal and many kinds of metal, Woody as well. We all come from a rock/metal background.
Which songs do you perform most frequently? Which get the biggest fan reaction?
Boudy: There’s a list of 5 to 4 songs that we always play every single gig; Fix You, Yellow, Viva La Vida, Hymn for the Weekend and A Sky Full of Stars.
Do you have a set playlist or do you play whatever the audience asks for?
Ammar: We usually have a set playlist, but in smaller gigs, we just have fun with the songs and take requests because it’s easier to interact with the crowd.
Patrick: In bigger concerts though, time management is important so naturally we have a rehearsed playlist to make sure that the performance goes well.
What are your favorite Coldplay songs to play?
Meshmesh: For me, I agree with Patrick, it’s definitely Major Minus. I would like to add Up & Up.
Patrick: I think High Speed, Adventure of a Lifetime and I really like playing Major Minus, it’s fun and it gives me a lot of room to improvise.
Ammar: Tracks that have a rock/ish background, like God Put a Smile on Your Face and definitely Major Minus.
Boudy: For me, it’s Every Tear Drop is a Waterfall, Lost, and Up & Up.
Individually, who are your musical idol/inspiration?
Mishmish: As a guitarist, I mostly go for solo guitars, there are a lot of people that I always try to learn from and look up to, like David Gilmour from Pink Floyd, Jonny Buckland from Coldplay. I learned a lot from the way they play and I actually learned a lot from my performances with Strawberry Swing. Also, Joe Satriani and Steve Vai … I mostly go for solo guitarists.
Boudy: I think Myles Kennedy, he’s the best singer alive.
Patrick: I’ve been playing for 14 years and when it comes to drumming, there’s a lot of people, but I would say Dave Weckl, Mike Portnoy, and Danny Carey are my main influences as a drummer. As a musician in general, Chris Cornell from Soundgarden and Matthew Bellamy from Muse.
Ammar: My idols are the two bands that I like the most, that’s Led Zeppelin and Anathema.
What has been your biggest challenge as a band and have you been able to overcome it?
Ammar: Money … Like every other artist in the universe.
Mishmish: I think our greatest challenge is putting all of our different backgrounds as individual musicians in one band. In order for us to achieve this kind of chemistry, it takes a lot of energy and time to adjust and to see the whole picture.
Ammar: Yeah definitely, finding that middle ground and putting together something that people would like is the toughest challenge, because as you can see, each one of us is very different.
Patrick: Communication between the band members. When you spend a few years together and start getting to know each other not simply as fellow musicians but as individuals, the relationship becomes more intimate and it shows in the music itself.
Mishmish: I think that after passing a certain point where there are no personal issues between the members they just become one family.What’s your ultimate goal for your band? Are you seeking fame and fortune?
All in one voice: Yeah, definitely!
Patrick: Fortune, but not fame… I don’t want to be famous, it’s awful.
Mishmish: As Strawberry Swing, I don’t think that this is our target because our vision is to spread Coldplay’s music here in Egypt and the Middle East. Since we’re playing other people’s music, we cannot really achieve fame and fortune from that, but as individual musicians or as a band, our aim is just to be heard and for people to listen to our music.
Do you plan on performing outside Egypt or going on tour?
Patrick: We would love to, of course! But we don’t have any plans for that yet regrettably.
What advice do you have for people who want to form their own tribute band?
Boudy: People who come for a tribute band, want to listen to the real sound of the songs that the original band plays, and they don’t want to hear it differently. My advice is to learn how to pull off what people come for.
Ammar: I disagree with Woody; I think it’s impossible to get the exact sound of the original band because each musician and each band is different. You have to feel the music, like what Chris Martin said, “it’s about the feeling, not the meaning”.
Mishmish: Not a lot of musicians can do that; it’s actually hard to prevent your own spirit from overpowering the original sound of the song. My advice for anyone trying to form a tribute band is just be committed to your band, put a lot of hard work into it and give attention to the small details.
Working in a band, have there ever been conflicts among the members? How do you overcome those?
Patrick: All the time! I’m the tenacious one, so I’m the one who keeps pushing everyone just to get them to move. We have problems with taste because, as Mishmishsaid, we have different tastes. We have bad days sometimes but everything comes down to just talking it out and communicating.
Mishmish: As a band, we don’t act like coworkers, we are more like a family. We’ve spent a lot of time together and we all share the same goals and dreams. So yes, we have clashes all the time because of our different personalities, but we fix it because we’re always keen on the big picture: that we are all in this together.
What are your favorite and least favorite shows so far?
Patrick: Soma Bay was the most awesome gig we played. We shared the stage with Gipsy Kings and it was an amazing experience.
Mishmish: Our gig at El Sawy Culturewheel last week. The audience was amazing, we usually evaluate gigs through the audience, and the more interactive they are the happier we are.
Boudy: Yeah, last week’s gig was the best. The worst though was a small gig we did when we first started, it was at some unknown nightclub and no one actually showed up, there was like 4 or 5 people in total.
What’s up next on the agenda?
Boudy: An acoustic night called “Old is Cold” – we’re going to play the oldest songs and albums like Parachutes and A Rush of Blood to the Head. It’s really special and I hope everyone comes.
Mishmish: It’s going to be at Bedayat in Heliopolis and Room Art Space & Café in Garden City, so be there!