By BRUCE DENNILL
Singer-songwriter Cito (WONDERboom, Absinthè, El Cantante) recently released – as BLVD HVNNY, his latest project – the video for new single Nocturnes, featuring direction by Brad Devine, cinematography by Gavin Pincus, a performance from Bianca Blanc and an iconic location in Johannesburg’s Ponte building. The song is a timeless, tragic love story of a man obsessively searching for his one and only love. Built on memories and dreams, the search is never-ending. He sells his soul so that he can transcend time and, supernaturally, live forever. Miraculously, he eventually finds his muse and briefly reunites with her, only to discover that she has been luring him all this time, to conquer and devour his spirit. Now, he is stuck in this maddening web of frustration and torture – for all eternity…
“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?
This is the best “influence” question ever asked. Because you are right: influence can be very complex. The band that turned me onto becoming a musician, at the age of 15, was U2 – the window-drug band to secular music and the beginning of my rock and roll journey. The music, message and courage really resonated with me. Especially from Under A Blood Red Sky right through to Pop; all those releases.
Has that changed over the years? If so, how and why, and what are you currently exploring?
Those early albums still work for me, but so many others have taken over the ‘influence’ roles. Radiohead, Massive Attack, Depeche Mode, Portishead, FKA Twigs, Grimes…
Name one song you wish you’d written or one you’d like to be known as the definitive interpreter of. What makes that song so important?
Billie Eilish’s I Love You is a pretty amazing song. I love its minimal, vulnerable beginnings, then musically building, without the need to add any other instrumentation. And that lyric is just so beautiful. I’ve learned a lot from Billie lately. Especially with regards to production.
In production and arrangement terms, what are facets of your music and the music you love most by others that you feel are crucially important in terms of creating the mood you’re after or supporting the message of your song?
Creating “scenes” with audio is a big thing for me. It’s almost like composing a music score for an unmade movie. The interplay of dynamics and using retro instrumentation also turns me on. And although my music is far from avant garde, I am on a quest for something different, musically and production-wise. Each song requires its own treatment to purely capture its essence and message.
Detailed album sleeves and beautiful gig posters aren’t as much a part of the industry as they used to be, but what a listener sees – from a music video to some artwork on a streaming platform, might draw their attention to a song, or help them remember it. How important are visuals in terms of the music you release?
Visuals are extremely important to me. If I could, I would make a music video, work of art or short film for every song I write, even if they’re not “single” releases. A lot of ideas visually come to me for songs. I am blessed to have the relationships with such amazingly talented directors and directors of photography such as Brad Devine. At the end of the day, it is all art for me. I’ve been appreciating choreography a lot lately too. Thom Yorke has really been exploring that with his recent solo videos. And FKA Twigs is a master.
What’s your favourite piece of gear?
My favourite piece of gear, which I’ve totally taken for granted, is my True Systems Microphone Preamplifier, which I use for all of my recordings. From vocals to guitars and keys, it really gives me the purest and most dynamic signal to work with. The vocals for Nocturnes were done on a TUL – South African made – handheld microphone, as a first-take demo vocal, and ended up staying on the recording. I was so lucky to purchase it, getting a great deal, from my friend and early Blvd Hvnny contributor, Andre Van Rensburg, when he emigrated to Japan.
What is the story behind Nocturne – the genesis of the song, the people involved, the muse behind its creation?
There’s a piano line at the end of the second verse, that I had been playing around with for a while. Then, one Saturday afternoon, after cancelling a family lunch at my place, I sat behind the piano, thinking of the love that my wife and I have for the dancefloor and our mutual taste in dark music; and it just came to me. The music, the words. In two hours or so, the song was done. I sent a rough mix to my producer friend Craigie Dodds, and he responded straight away; told me to leave the instrumentation as is, including the vocals. There was bit of an arrangement tweak, and then it was down to the mix, which he assisted me on. My wife has really been my muse since we’ve hooked up. I run demos past her often and try not to play the songs too much, in case I kill them for her, which has happened before. I visualise her dancing – to most of what I create – on some dingy, dark, alternative dancefloor somewhere.