Posted On 08 Sep 2014
Tag: All Access, All Access Music, All Access Music Group, Andrew Bird, Cape Town, Down South, environmental impact, Folk Music, grassroots, Greenpop, Jeremy Loops, Jimmi Hendrix, Joni Mi, Kirstenbosch, looper pedal, Lorde Horun, MUSExpo, Music, Shakey Graves, South African, South African singer, Trading Change, tree planting, volunteers, Woody Guthrie, Worldwide Radio Summit
Jeremy Loops, a South African born modern folk artist will bring his music stateside with a U.S. tour this fall and the January 2015 U.S. release of his debut album, Trading Change. With the help of his signature looper pedal, which allows him to layer multiple instruments and melodies in real time as he performs, Jeremy becomes a “one man folk band,” blending urban inspired rhythms with lilting folk.
Trading Change is inspired by Jeremy’s experience of growing up in a small town in South Africa, and the universal desire to break free from society’s limitations to forge your own path. After graduating from business school, Jeremy decided to forgo a career in finance and travel the world, where he began writing songs with his guitar, harmonica, and looper pedal. Originally a stand-in for his bandmates during his time spent on a boat, the looper pedal gave Jeremy the freedom to break rules with his music, mixing and matching rhythms to create his own unique sound. Jeremy’s decision to travel, make music, and give back to those in need inspired the album’s title, Trading Change.
“The word ‘change’ can refer to money, but it also refers to making a positive difference in the world. I choose to live life with the latter as my currency.”
In keeping with this ambition, Jeremy co-founded Greenpop, an organization that educates students in southern Africa about their environmental impact and facilitates tree plantings in small communities throughout the region. Greenpop was hatched as a small effort to educate underprivileged schoolchildren about the importance of protecting the planet, and rapidly exploded into a movement backed by hundreds of volunteers. Learn more about Jeremy, his music and other passions in his Q&A with All Access Music writer Nicole DeRosa below.
Hi Jeremy! So where does this interview find you today? What’s on the agenda today besides this interview?
I’m sitting on a couch, on the top floor of an old manor house in Tuscany. It’s been a slow day after we kicked up a soiree last night with our hosts. I’m on a family holiday you see, and we’re staying with some friends I made on my travels through Italy a few years back. Once I’m done with this interview and a few more emails, I’m planning a swim in the ocean, and another evening of eating and drinking the night away. It’s crazy, because this is my first break in five years, and I suspect it might be my last for another five years.
You have a beautiful way of juxtaposing booming city rhythms and folk in your music. You seem to be able to perfectly capture South African life. How has growing up in Cape Town, South Africa inspired your music and style?
Growing up in SA is a huge part of the musician I am. Cape Town specifically, out of all my years of traveling around the world, it is still such a magnificent place. The mixture of European modernity and trendiness contrasted with abject poverty and is intense. Add to that arguably the most natural beauty you can find anywhere in the world, and growing up in a small seaside village where all we had was skating and surfing really shaped who I am. There’s so much influence to draw from that it comes naturally because I’ve grown up in it all.
I was lucky enough to see you perform at our Worldwide Radio Summit, two years ago. Everyone was “gobsmacked” by you and your infamous looping. How did all that come about, who or what inspired you to create and want to perform your own music?
I love finding loopholes. So much so that my nickname at University was “Loopholes”. Looping was a loophole in itself to me, and the transition into using it was primarily born out of necessity. I studied a degree in business at the University of Cape Town, and in the process of working towards an end that I didn’t really connect with or enjoy; I started really focusing on my music. I used to come home after a full day of financial maths or property law, and just have so much creative energy that wasn’t been utilized. As much as I worked on my guitar, I never really sang much, and because I had no traditional training, I really just taught myself how to play what I could using the internet. YouTube and I were great friends.
The use of a loop pedal came about because I wanted to create my own music, but didn’t want to focus on any one instrument entirely. I didn’t feel confident enough to start a band, and I enjoyed having full control over what I created. Looping allowed me to start beat boxing to create my own drum beats, play harmonica and lead guitar for soloing, layer my own vocals for harmonies and just generally have control over the process.
When I finished studying, I knew I couldn’t commit to a corporate job just yet. I was becoming obsessed with music and the thought of settling into a 9-5 scared me. Instead I went travelling and found myself working on a private yacht for 2 years. It was during this time, much of which was spent in relative isolation, that I really started to craft what I do. When I arrived back in South Africa, I found myself a lucky spot on an opening bill. I took a chance to put out what I had been working on and I suppose the rest is history. That was nearly 4 years ago. It’s been crazy.
In a whirlwind 2014, you debuted at #1 on iTunes in South Africa, headlined major festivals, and maintained #1 on the three most prominent radio stations in Southern Africa with “Down South”, your breakout single from your debut album, Trading Change. Can you tell me a bit about the song, “Down South”? What was the inspiration?
‘Down South’ is about growing out of your small-town roots and spreading your wings into the big wide world. It’s about the feeling your old friends have when you start to make it and follow your dreams – they think you’re leaving them behind. You have to leave your comfort zone to fight for a dream, and you make it or you don’t. I grew up in a small fishing village where, unless you get out and push hard, you’re not going to be able to make your dreams come true. You still have to recognize that where you came from is where your heart and your home is.
How was the process creating your debut album, Trading Change? Is there an overall theme or vibe that you knew you already wanted to capture with this album?
It took me almost 2 full years to complete this album and a lot of time and energy went into getting it all the way. I suppose more than anything, I wanted to feel completely happy with the final product and know that each song had seen the attention it deserved.
I also put a lot of pressure on myself when it comes to the live performance side of what I do, and our live shows have always been the cornerstone of what people enjoy about the act. I needed to feel that the album would capture everything the community that supported us had come to expect through the live shows. This was probably the biggest pressure for me.
Extremes aren’t new to you, Jeremy. I understand in addition to writing and performing music, by day, you travel to the furthest corners of Africa to battle deforestation through your organization, Greenpop, and by night resumes as raconteur for raucous fans around the world.
Can you tell me more about Greenpop? How did it all come about and why is it important to you?
When I arrived back from my yachting travels, I found myself in a really dark space. I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life, and I had just turned 26. I’ve always aspired to lead a simple life, albeit with exceptionally bold ambitions, and while I had traveled a lot and achieved an honors degree in a pretty highly regarded field. I just felt like I needed so much more from and for myself. Seeing the damage and waste left behind in pursuit of bigger and better things, something I had experienced first hand working on a billionaire’s private yacht, I knew I had to move towards a less destructive end, something intrinsically good at its core. Greenpop was.
How was filming the latest video? Do you have a favorite video you’ve made so far? Any memorable stories to share from the set?
Shooting this video was an entirely new experience for me. For the first time in my life, I had to ‘act’ on camera as part of the more narrative based video treatment. It was a bit unnerving, but also a lot of fun.
As far as a favorite video, I’d say the latest one we’ve put out – Kirstenbosch 2014. It follows the morning of and build up to our show at a sold out venue of 6000 people. Selling out this prestigious venue was a career highlight, and to have made a great video for it, really cements it. The video ends with the crowd singing along to the set’s closing song. They sang so loudly I was worried the sound recording would be distorted. It didn’t. It was great. That was a good day.
If you had the opportunity to work with any act/artist from the past, present or future, who would it be and why? If you could spend the day with them, where would you go…and what would you do?
I’d love to write a song with Woody Guthrie. He was a troubadour in the best sense of the word, and a social activist too. So many of his recordings are of a very poor quality, given he was recording in the 40’s and like me, he learnt to play by ear and was traditionally untrained. I like that about him. I’d love to take him to one of the really impoverished communities in South Africa, and show him the scale of some of the problems we’re facing, and some of the solutions we’re working towards. Then we’d go to a rustic, but super modern beach studio where we’d record all sorts of things with all sorts of beautifully modern equipment. That’d be a good day for me.
Also, indulge me: Jimmi Hendrix and Joni Mitchell had a child. She’s a girl with a perfect mix of her parents singing abilities, and naturally absolutely kills it on guitar. We hang out, fall in love and make music ever after.
What is your approach to songwriting? How do you capture the inspiration when it comes?
It changes all the time but I am obsessed with trying to capture ideas as they hit. My smart phone helps with this a lot. A common situation would be that I start with my guitar or harps, come up with a groove, rhythm or melody and normally some basic lyrics or ‘hooks’. I then record that idea onto my phone. From here i might record the rhythm onto my loop pedal and start filling the idea in. Playing with beats, basslines and harmonica riffs, I normally start with lyrics at around this stage. From here on its a back and forth process of refining the song and trying to reveal what’s underneath it all.
Who are some of the new artists who inspire you? Who is in your current playlist?
Andrew Bird’s newer material is on most of my playlists, as is Lorde Huron. I’m also enjoying a fella by the name of Shakey Graves right now.
Can you share with our readers the most memorable tour story for you thus far?
We were booked to play a two shows in India and that was really crazy for us. I mean, seriously, no one in India knew who we were and the folks who booked us did so after seeing us play at Musexpo. And so we went and the crowds were so responsive. The country is also like South Africa on juice when you look at the social situation. You’ve got the most abject poverty right next to intense wealth, and it really moved something in us. But the history of the place is so rich, and parts of it are so beautiful, it’s without doubt a major highlight for me.
What’s on tap next for you, Jeremy?
Well I have a big year of shows ahead, and as of January next year, I intend on really being around in the US and seeing what we can achieve on your side of the world. I just want to get out there and play songs around the world.
Listen to a three song teaser from ‘Trading Change’ here
To stay up to the latest with Jeremy Loops, visit his website here