By BRUCE DENNILL
Durban born and raised singer-songwriter Riaan Pretorius has had a long and varied music career. Recently, he released an Afrikaans ballad – Obsessie – written in 2019 after a conversation with old classmates. Riaan and his friends reminded each other how difficult it was to talk to girls who they were hopelessly in love with, especially those who had no idea of their feelings at all. “In the days before social media, I had to be confident enough to look into my wife’s eyes [my girlfriend at the time] and tell her exactly how I feel. There was no hiding behind the façade of profile pictures and fake accounts. The storyline of Obsessie is one of vulnerability, mixed feelings and a total obsession with somebody who has no clue of how you feel,” says Riaan.
The song was written and produced by Riaan in two different recording facilities, one in Durban and the other in Nashville. It was then mastered by Grammy Award-winning engineer James Auwarter in London.
“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’ve been a musician so long and been influenced by so many people that this is a difficult question to answer. Up to a certain point, I was quite one-dimensional in the music I listened to. During the Nineties, I was highly influenced by American R&B and gospel and the bands that were famous in those genres.
Has this changed over the years? If so, how and why, and what are you currently exploring?
The artist that signified a change in my musical sensibilities was Brooke Fraser, a singer-songwriter from New Zealand, who released an album called What To Do With Daylight around the mid-to-late 2000ss. Since then I’ve been listening to Jason Mraz, Colbie Caillat, Lady Antebellum, Shane & Shane and my current favourite Johnnyswim – all of whom have similar styles to my own.
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?
Take The World by Johnnyswim – it’s possibly the most romantic song ever written.
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 try to prioritise the melody of the song over anything else although, because I am a musician more than a singer, it’s difficult to make sure that the lyrics match the melody in terms of sophistication.
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.
Streaming has totally revolutionised the music industry. The jury is still out on whether it’s been a good thing but its’ benefitted music listeners, no doubt. I took to online distribution quite early on in my career and I have been using digital outlets like iTunes and Rhapsody – in the early days – and now Apple Music and Spotify. I also released my early albums on CD, but since 2018 I have only used digital distribution. The reason is that I still have a garage full of CDs from one of my albums and they’re difficult to sell since no one uses CDs anymore. Currently, I promote my music using an email list instead of social media. It helps me keep in contact with my fans in a way that keeps some of my privacy. I have moved away from social media due to its negative effects in terms of privacy.
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 guess the biggest gap has been with live shows. I’ve found that most of the live events in South Africa are geared towards dance music with DJs occupying the events space. That being said, the intimate “House Show” event has grown substantially and is becoming the new market for singer-songwriters such as myself.
What is the story behind Obsessie – the genesis of the song, the people involved, the muse behind its creation?
My latest release is a song called Obsessie – my first Afrikaans release. The song lyrics stemmed from a conversation I had with my schoolmates. We were talking about how difficult it was to approach a girl you liked. This was during the Nineties, way before social media, when you had to pluck up the courage to tell someone how you feel. There would always be that one person you were “obsessed” by and it would be that you were probably too terrified to talk to them and tell them how you feel. Nowadays it’s very easy to hide behind the façade of social media or instant messages where you don’t get to be rejected face to face.