By BRUCE DENNILL
Werner Bekker will appear as part of the Parklife Gourmet Food & Music Festival on 9 August at the Emmarentia Botanical Garden. Tickets are available now. His new EP, Parts Of A Broken Man, is out now.
Being a professional musician in South Africa is challenging at best. But you had a head-start in terms of the required mindset in that you had parents who modelled that lifestyle for you as performers and artists themselves. How much of a difference do you think that has made for you, relative to your peers trying just as hard to make it, but without the benefit of that background?
It was a big thing for me, growing up in that setting. My parents taught me about time – and its importance. One general view, for instance, is that you work all the time during the week and then you’re off on the weekends.
I learned differently; that as an artist, you might have a very full Wednesday but then nothing on a Thursday, and then a busy Saturday again. I know now that you need to work when you need to work, and then use the downtime to do what you love. Actually, someone I’m doing work for right now has a great view on that: he says, “Think about the things you want to do when you retire. Why wait? Do it now!”
So I might wake up, write a song, do some admin stuff and then go to the park for an hour, because I have a gap then. It’s good.
Your stated influences – Damien Rice, Jack Johnson, Jason Mraz and Ben Howard – are all artists who focus on lyrical storytelling at least as much as they do their playing and arrangements. How does that approach fit into your own sensibilities, and why is it important to you?
I’ve always had a vision of being good at what people have inspired me with – the lyrical content. It’s a balancing act. You need to be a good musician, but writing is at the core of everything; the message that the song is sending. Then you can use melody and harmony to contradict or enhance the lyrics.
It’s great to be able to measure progress and you’ve had some noticeable steps forward recently, including the release of what you’ve called your first “professional” [a reference to the more formal recording process] EP, Parts Of A Broken Man, and slots on major festival stages like Parklife 2019. What other opportunities do you hope to have in the next year or two?
There are two different pars of success. One is mental. That’s about becoming more confident, and starting to believe in yourself more. The other is commercial success. For that it’s important to have a good team – something I only realised last year. Now I have great producers and an excellent publicist, which means I have better content, which feels more successful.
For me personally, it’s more selfish, in a way. I feel like if I’ve genuinely reached one or two people, I’m happy.
A big goal for me is going overseas. I feel my genre or sound – as a singer-songwriter – might work well. I love Europe. I’ve been a few times, and I miss it. Just experiencing it again, even for five or six shows, would be great. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I don’t think I’ll necessarily be huge, but I’m okay with that. It’s part of investing in what you love.
In the longer term, there’s a sound I want to achieve and every step towards that is important.
In terms of your guitar playing, you sometimes employ a percussive style. Why did you choose that technique initially?
At first, it was for fun. I learned a couple of covers that included percussive guitar patterns, and I like to challenge myself as a player. And people enjoy listening to it. It’s something new for many listeners. It’s almost like having a band.
It is good to have a hook; a unique selling point. But at some point, it can start to feel like a gimmick. Has that ever been an issue?
I have been asked why I don’t play more percussive songs, but I think once you do one trick over and over again, it gets boring. Now I use those songs as accents in my shows. I don’t want to stop doing it, but I don’t want to overdo it.
And you also make guitars? Do you have any ideas that you’d like to incorporate in that process that would specifically complement your style?
I’ve finished one, and I’m working on a second. For the first one, I went for a parlour-sized guitar. I’d always wanted one of those. Now I’m working with [luthier] Murray Kuun, who had a design already. I want to get to a point where I can design an instrument for how I write and play. I use lots of dropped tunings, so I need to play with scale lengths and features like that.