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?
From a young age I was exposed to a lot of diverse sounds. My dad would always have musicals and operas playing and my mom would blast Johnny Clegg, Frank Sinatra and Paul Simon. However, there was one band that started it all for me! When I was 11 my stepfather introduced me to Counting Crows and I began to listen almost obsessively to their lyrics. Songs like Anna Begins and Round Here inspired me to write and to begin learning chords on the guitar. Adam Duritz also strongly influenced my style of singing and the type of vocals that I appreciate.
Has that changed over the years? If so, how and why, and what are you currently exploring?
Over the years I continued to enjoy a large variety of music (although Counting Crows to this day remains my go-to playlist!). From the age of 13, I started to take a lot more notice of up-and-coming South African artists. I was constantly looking for interesting new musicians and that’s how I ended up listening to Al Bairre, Matthew Mole, Majozi and Jeremy Loops during high school. I always keep tabs on Lorde and I have a lot of respect for Taylor Swift. Currently, one of my favourite artists is alternative rock singer-songwriter Alex Lahey, who is based in Australia.
Name one song you wish you’d written. What makes that song so important?
I Don’t Get Invited To Parties Anymore by Alex Lahey feels like the story of my life and I can’t believe I never thought to write a track like it. The song is about how being a touring musician affects your friendships. The first line, “I’m sorry that I haven’t been around much lately; I promise I’ll try twice as hard to make sure that I’m home on your birthday,” is something that I have literally said! Especially in your early twenties (I’m 22) it feels impossible to balance being a musician and being a good friend. When your friends are going out you are at band practice or playing gigs and it always seems that important dates fall on the same night as shows that are pivotal stepping stones in your career. More than offering a musician’s point of view, this song feels as if it encapsulates the growing pains of leaving school and becoming an adult.
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?
My first love, before music, is words. While I write songs very quickly, my priority is always on the lyrics and the imagery and emotion related to them. It’s actually a clear characteristic of Frances Clare’s music – it focuses on the words, and there is never a shortage of them!
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.
The music industry in South Africa is a complete DIY zone! Let’s be honest – the artists and their music are the products, but most of the time they are not the ones reaping the full rewards. To truly have control of your brand is to learn every step of the booking, marketing and distribution process. Thankfully, this shift is being supported by amazing things like Spotify and Apple for artists. I use Distrokid for my distribution and recently have started doing all of my plugging and promoting myself. There is a massive business element to having your own band that I had no idea existed when I entered the industry, but it can be so rewarding and empowering to realise that you are actually an entrepreneur. My advice to anyone trying to reach potential listeners is to take full advantage of social media and online streaming and to never underestimate the power of making friends and contacts. You also have to be prepared to truly put yourself out there. Don’t play for exposure unless it truly is exposure – the back of a restaurant will never help you, but opening for a sold-out local artists’ shows might – and always aim for a listening audience. Lastly, make sure that you have CDs or merch to give people a way to remember you and your music.
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?
I feel that the biggest gap in the local industry is to do with information. There are a few people doing well who have access to help and information and the rest of the industry is figuring it all out in the dark. In other industries there are unions, training academies, and support systems. The music industry in South Africa is not like that and while this is exciting, it can also be a big challenge!
What is the story behind Go – the genesis of the song, the people involved, the muse behind its creation?
It is a song that my band and I are really proud of. As with most of my songs, it started off with me playing my guitar. I had been listening to a lot of pop and decided to try out a different feel. I first played it to our guitarist, Devon De Swardt, as a voicenote while we were on our way to perform with Desmond and the Tutus. The first edition of the song was actually called Limbo, and in that car ride Devon said it should be called Go. The next step was to take it to the band [Tricia on violin, Steven on bass and Emil on drums] and then into studio. We worked with DJ Cosher and recorded the track in record time, using first takes of almost everything. All of the instruments in the song are live and we spent a few nights in the studio workshopping and recording parts. The end result is a song unlike any of our others. Until now we had only released live recordings and acoustic singles, so we are excited to be releasing a produced radio single. DJ Cosher calls Go “a feel good pop song with the authenticity of a band track.” At its heart it is a song about having a dream and leaving behind people who don’t support you.