By BRUCE DENNILL
Jeremy Loops’ new album Critical As Water has attracted local and international audiences to his shows, and continues its impressive momentum with the release of new single Freaks.
The response to Critical As Water so far is spectacular – streams, chart success, physical sales, ticket sales for shows… To say it was unexpected would be to ignore your proven ambition and self-belief, but each new spike likely changes an aspect of what would have been long-term plans. How are you adjusting, personally and professionally?
My approach has always been to have fixed long-term goals, and then to re-adjust on those big picture goals every three months or so. However, we’ve always got mini-goals we’re constantly trying to achieve daily or weekly, so really, my eye is always on the ball with where our trajectory is. Obviously, certain achievements are inflection points where what’s truly possible for us becomes bolder and grander, but a lot of what we’ve achieved with this album is in line with our expectations. It would be a lie to say I’ve had to adjust personally or professionally since the album’s come out. Things have been in flux for me for five straight years now, and it just comes with the territory, so really, no adjustments made on my side.
Interacting with your fanbase outside of South Africa as you tour: how does it differ to playing at home? There is the long-standing industry angst about glass ceilings locally, or having audiences take you for granted in your hometown. What is fresh and new in that regard in London, or wherever else you’re connecting with people who don’t have a long history with you?
My attitude has always been to treat international audiences no differently from South African audiences. Yes, domestically there is a glass ceiling, but that’s basic market economics. There’s only so much disposable income South Africans have for concerts, so breaking international markets becomes important if music is to be a career. One misconception with me is that we’re new at playing globally. Yes, consistently playing our own headline shows to rooms of 2000 or 3000 all around Western Europe has only now become a common thing, but we’ve been touring Europe since 2012, so we’re six years into it. South Africa is my home. It will always be my base. The South African audience are largely responsible for who we are. But our global audience fuels our bigger ambitions. So to me they are equally important, and really, they respond to the music with equal levels of passion.
Releasing Freak in the way that you have – in the album pre-order period and now as a single: what was/is the thinking in terms of understanding (or trying to, at least) the way that listeners and music buyers think? Digital versus physical versus live and all the other options of delivering music to people is a headache for all artists – are you finding that encouraging familiarity (pre-release listening, then releasing later, when the song is already known by fans) is working better than other techniques, like offering exclusivity, targeting influencers or similar?
Great question. The reality with music or consumption of any media is people need to have their attention focused in a specific place. That’s why the old model of releasing a single before releasing an album came into play. It’s this attitude of “Hey, listen to this! This is what we deem commercially important or critically important.” Failing to do that and instead just dropping the album, you have people love a bunch of different songs all at the same time and, as a result, you get no traction with any one song. With due respect to radio and TV and even streaming services, those mediums want you the artist to do the work of telling them what to focus on. They have enough on their plates already before doing that work for you. It’s a mistake to assume that strategy necessarily foregoes targeting influencers, for example, because both can work together and compliment each other.
So to the point of Freak specifically. I loved that song, and everyone we played the album to before release had an immediate response to it. The connection is instant, whereas some of the other tracks on my album are slow burners that once they get under your skin, never leave. I just wanted to flex the sonic range we were working towards with this album and Freak helped me do that.
The video for Freak is excellent – simple yet creative, and appealing to a wide range of viewers rather than having a high concept that you might have fun with but which confuses fans. Why that choice (after all, the lyrical content lends itself to all sorts of other strong imagery)?
Freak has always been about the comical levels of commercialisation in pop culture. It’s absurd beyond belief. And I felt like an animated video really captured that – no one will ever mistake a cut-out stop-motion video for being real life, just like we need to stop treating this bling bling pop bottled stuff like real life. The way the video came together was especially awesome. About a year ago, I put out a call on my social media to our audience asking for all illustrators, animators, videographers, and designers to link to their work. I knew we’d need tons of great content for this album and my attitude has always been to support those who support us. We had about 400 responses, and as a team we slowly parsed through them all over several weeks during our lunch breaks, highlighting the ones we liked. The animators we hired to do the video for Freak came from that pool of people, which I’m really stoked about.
Lyrically, Freak lampoons the materialism of high-flyers (presumably celebrities and the like) – which may be the image some fans or viewers may have of you as a world-touring musician. Is it a one-off observation or a marker for a philosophy built around trying to stay grounded? And if the latter, how do you keep matters in hand, particularly when your profile and success is spiking as much as it is at the moment?
It’s both a one-off observation and a general marker for staying grounded. I’m not blind to the fact that we’re doing things few South African bands have ever done. And I know a lot of it looks glamorous, sure. But it’s a mistake to confuse performing around the world with spending obscene amounts of money on ultimately worthless material things, and using those things to validate who you are as a person. I think the thing that pisses me off the most about it is these folks use their materialism and their wealth to put down those who don’t have the same wealth, and what trips me up more is in doing that they put down the very fans that put them there!
You’re not your money or your things, and kids today are being taught to believe that you, in fact, are.