By BRUCE DENNILL
“Influence” is a loaded, often misunderstood concept. An artist may sound similar to another but have no knowledge of them, or be a super-fan of someone whose output is completely different to their own. Who or what was the artist, album, song, era or scene that initially mapped out the road to you becoming a musician?
John Mayer changed the way I listened to music from a young age. The idea of someone singing simple songs with such tremendous skill and capacity but the ability to keep his musicality contained at a clever percentage to reach a wider audience was an eye opener. It can be seen as not letting the technical side of the music get in the way of the message of the songs – especially with his Continuum album.
Has that changed over the years? If so, how and why, and what are you currently exploring?
I believe people will always be drawn to elements of what makes us human. The amount of room for error mixed with the amount of practice to avoid making mistakes makes me tick. In my opinion, music should not be perfect – you need to keep a sense of humanity to relate with everybody. Pop music these days is making genre shifts on a daily basis. I believe that anything and everything that is given to my listeners should be 100% convincing to me first before I can expect anyone to believe that what I have to say carries any weight. I don’t believe in following a trend, People will always listen to music, and luckily there are a lot of listeners with different preferences.
Name one song you wish you’d written. What makes that song so important?
I wish I had written San Luis, a song by Gregory Alan Isakov. The song is such a chapter of his concept album Evening Machines. I really like the way the story fits together with the mood of the album.
Which aspects of your music do you prioritise? For you, would you rather have that your lyrics, your melodies, or your vocals or instrumental work are the are the most memorable parts of your songs?
I spend a lot of time writing songs and almost the same amount of time fiddling with recording gear. I really enjoy every process, from the raw song on paper to the finished product. I like to challenge the traditional methods of recording and, find alternative ways, like home recording. It’s 2020, after all.
The music industry is no longer a single-narrative operation. For you, what is the best way to get your music from your head to potential listeners? Please comment on digital means (from social media to full streaming and download distribution), playing live (how often; where; to whom), being a cottage industry (selling CDs from a box in your car or similar) and any other creative channels you’ve explored.
A good song should never be held back by mechanical or digital means. If the writer can see past all the technical red tape, I believe that focusing on the performance of a song should be their first priority. My advice would be to record some videos of performances of your songs. People looking and listening receive a closer connection with the music. Don’t stop at one video. Make live recordings before thinking of going into a recording studio. Your audience want to see you enjoy what you do. This is difficult to do when your music is only available on streaming services.
In terms of the above, is there a gap between what you envisioned and what you are experiencing now? Does it matter, and if so, how do you close that gap?
For sure! I imagined myself with a touring band at first and really loved the idea, but it was not realistic at the time because my love for music was not enough. Being business-minded and managing my time really helped improve my productivity. As beautiful as the creative space may be, I have and seen artists get lost in the creative process, not releasing any music. In short, work hard and don’t be precious about giving your art to the world. People need to hear it.
What is the story behind Sugar Cane – the genesis of the song, the people involved, the muse behind its creation?
It’s a song I wrote in 2013 when living in a small town called Robertson in the Western Cape. The song is about losing something sweet in life. The melody is actually quite cheerful – it can be seen as looking for the silver lining in an otherwise lonely or disappointing situation. I wrote about “sitting in an empty apartment” because at the time I had recently written some songs in the vacated house I grew up in in Polokwane. Leaving the place really gave some life to the song, now that I think about it.