By BRUCE DENNILL
Jimmy Nevis recently released his new single Hey Jimmy. Nevis’ last album was released in May 2018, so fans have been waiting two years for new solo material. He was secretly recording, creating and working with a small team towards the end of 2019. They were preparing to push out another song, and at the time, wherever Nevis went, people would ask him “Hey Jimmy, where’s the music? What’s happening?”. It happened so often that at one point he thought he felt he owed people an explanation. So, instead of talking about it, he took to the studio and wrote about it.
“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?
I have so many different spheres in which I can answer this. Songwriting: James Morrison (Undiscovered); Jason Mraz (all of his music), The Script and Natasha Bedingfield (her first album). I studied these artists growing up. I loved all the wordplay, the sincerity and the emotional depth in their lyrics. My music has a lot of wordplay and creative flow and I think it comes from these phenomenal artists.
Performing and stategy: Beyonce and Rihanna. Even though my music lends itself to a singer-songwriter feel, I’ve always wanted my brand to be big, bold and pop. I loved watching Rihanna rise as an artist, strategy-wise. Her pop songs have defined new trends in the pop world. Talk That Talk is my favourite Rihanna album – I thought it was a golden pop record. I’ve always loved Beyonce’s live shows – she pushes pop and R&B artists to think outside the norm. When I think of Beyonce, I think of longevity and strength – that’s something I’m striving for.
Musicality: Jamie Cullum and Alicia Keys. Jamie Cullum’s The Pursuit was the first album I ever cried over – and funny enough, it wasn’t because of his lyrics, it was because of his arrangements and chords. I was so moved by the sounds, the strings, the attention to detail. I would sit in my dad’s car and play the album. Alicia Keys was my sister’s idol growing up so, I also had a lot of influence from her style of piano playing, the hip-hop beats and the sensitive lyrics.
Has that changed over the years? If so, how and why, and what are you currently exploring?
I listen to everything but I have grown extremely fond of The Weeknd. I’ve seen him live too and he has shaped the pop world in his own clay. I think most of my influences are still the same – but generally I’m an open person. For me right now, it’s not so much about exploring artists as it is about exploring genres. I love listening to new genres and bringing them into my own sound.
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?
Diamonds by Rihanna. Every year, there are only five songs that really become classics. I feel like Diamonds will live forever. It was so simple and beautiful – it was a delicate hippie-pop beat with euphoric lyrics sung by a bad-ass pop star. I think the song crossed over and remains one of her best songs.
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?
Lyrics have been and will always be important – even in my ‘more-pop-like’ tracks. I’ve always written about my own experiences, so my songs are essentially a musical track record of my life – my milestones, my lovers, my insecurities. You’ll find out more about me in my music than in a conversation – I’m not that bold in real life.
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.
I love streaming services because of their accessibility, but I do feel like streaming has created a flash-in-the-pan music culture where everything lives for such a short period of time. With this being said, I do think that culture is transitional, and slowly we are starting to listen to full bodies of work again. Streaming services also allow me to put my music up quickly. I think right now, because of lockdown, streaming my shows to Facebook and Instagram has been lots of fun. I enjoy each platform for different reasons. Facebook is home to most of my fans and Instagram is great for communicating to a younger fanbase. I also enjoy testing out new music with my fans online – especially on live-streams, as they are temporary.
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?
There are many gaps but the industry changes so quickly so gaps are expected. I think my goal is to always stay on top of current trends in the digital music space.
What is the story behind Hey Jimmy – the genesis of the song, the people involved, the muse behind its creation?
It’s a celebration of my growth over the years. The verses are written from words my fans would say to me, while the pre-chorus and drop is about me recognising my worth and place in the South African music industry. I just wanted to make something that made me feel strong, powerful and respected.