INTERVIEW: Jeremy Loops

Jeremy Loops is an artist that has been making South Africa proud since he started his musical career. He is going to be performing at Parklife Cape Town on 28 March and he decided to take out of his busy schedule to talk to us about touring with Twenty One Pilots, the South African music industry, how international crowds are similar and gives some brilliant advice for upcoming artists. Loops shall also be performing at Lush Festival on 24 March and at Parklife Johannesburg on 16 April. You can get tickets via Nutickets.

You’ve probably been faced with numerous interviews over the past six years especially since you’ve begun becoming incredibly popular overseas. They can often be incredibly tiring ordeals especially if writers put very little effort into the questions. Are there any questions that you are tired of being asked?

I’m happy for writers to ask whatever they want to ask. At the end of the day, they’re building their own careers. If you run generic, “answers you can easily google” type questions, that affects the writer’s career ultimately.

You’ve come a long way since you disembarked for your yacht-travels in early 2008 (correct me if I’m wrong) and entered into the music industry. When you started performing as Jeremy Loops – did you ever expect to get to the point where you would be touring all over the world and performing at festivals like Firefly and The Great Escape?

When I started performing, I never had expectations like “oh, one day I want to have a platinum album or play at Glastonbury” or anything like that. That’s not me. I just had two simple goals, really: one, write the absolute best songs I could and, two, put on badass live shows. Playing to 50 people in a tiny venue turned into 100 here, then 300 there, then 1000, then this small festival and then that bigger festival, and then this country and then that country. Everything cascaded because we were focused on small attainable victories and used those to open new doors and new opportunities, and we continue to do so. So to be at the level we’re at now, while it’s cool, I don’t look at it all starry-eyed. It’s not scary to me, but I don’t feel entitled to it either. We are where we’re meant to be right now. We’re still in the trenches, trying to write better songs, and trying to put together even more badass live shows. As long as we do that, hopefully, that opens more doors and more opportunities.

You’re quite popular in places like the UK and the USA – which is a big deal for any artist. How did the initial international tour come about and what made you keep going back?

I made a decision at the end of 2011 that my commitment to making a career in music work meant I had to have no artificial glass ceilings. So we saved and reinvested 90% of the money we earned and I looked at how we could leverage the internet and build relationships that would make touring outside of South Africa possible. And so we took that risk with our savings for our initial USA and UK Tour, and realised my instincts weren’t wrong. We just kept going back and the crowds kept getting bigger and bigger.

You were recently on tour with Twenty One Pilots in Europe. How did you come about being able to tour with them and what was that tour like?

My agent and their European agent work at the same booking agency. So through that, we got wind they were putting together the European tour in support of their album, Blurryface. I had actually gotten into a couple of songs off Blurryface around that time and I told my agent I liked their stuff. He said we should send our stuff through and see if they’ll consider us to open for them. It made sense at every level, really. So he submitted music, as did a bunch of other acts, I imagine, and Tyler and Josh of TØP came back saying they liked our stuff a lot. That was a huge upshot, but it still wasn’t enough to land the tour itself. At that level, just being liked by a band counts for pretty little, actually – you also have to have the right profile for it to make business sense. But we had tons of momentum in Europe back then already and were the perfect fit and Twenty One Pilots liked the music, so we landed the tour.

Since you’ve had the privilege of touring overseas and in South Africa – how do the overseas crowds differ to South African crowds and are there things that the two crowds can learn from one another?

Jeremy Loops audiences worldwide all seem to have the same worldview and all have the same attitude to shows. Our shows are intense energy wise, but no one comes there with negativity. We’re all there to have a really good time.
Perhaps the only fundamental difference is shows happen earlier in Europe and most venues tend to have 11pm curfews, which is kinda nice. You get to go watch a band you love without a major commitment of having to be out all night. Our concert culture, at least in the bar and club level, isn’t quite like that. This is neither good nor bad, it’s just a notable difference.

With regards to your yacht travels, is there anything that you learnt from those travels that you feel like you’ve incorporated into your music?

I learned that agency is everything. Nobody babies you out on the yachts. What you do with your time – whether it’s dick about watching series and YouTube, doing rails of cocaine, working out, or practicing your craft as a musician – is up to you. I decided early on music is what I wanted to spend my spare time refining, and just committed to it, even if there was no one else to motivate me to do it. I’m still like that to this day. Nobody opened doors for me and my team. We all self-motivate and continue to do so.

I recall reading somewhere that a few people on the yacht, especially the captain, used to mock you for practising with loop pedals and for possessing a dream of becoming a musician. Is there any truth to this and how much of an impact did it have on you at the time?

There’s a degree of truth to it. Mocking may be the wrong word, but how many people really support your dreams if they are outside the realms of what most people believe is possible? Life beats people up into being realistic, and in their love for you, they try protect you from life beating you up too. In a yachting industry which many get into as a stopgap with intentions to leave but never really do, becoming a musician who can pay his bills, let alone one who is somewhat successful, just doesn’t seem realistic.

You started your career at a time when MK was at its height. I remember being exposed to your music when your music video for “Howling (Mission to the Sun” began playing on Hoordosis just after I got home from school, and I instantly fell in-love with that song. Do you think that MK played a big role in your music becoming quite popular and how do you things would have played out if a platform like MK didn’t exist?

MK played a huge role in getting my music to people who otherwise wouldn’t have heard it, for sure, and the way they backed Mission to the Sun is still something I appreciate to this day. Irrespective of that, different platforms at different levels will always exist for propelling acts to higher levels. If it isn’t MK, it’ll be something else. In time that becomes radio, then TV, then magazine covers, and so on.

A lot of people are of the opinion that the end of MK is one of the major reasons why the South African music industry has gone into such a slump with regards to gig attendance and support for local artists. Do you think there is any truth to this statement?

When you say ‘South African music industry’, I assume you’re talking specifically about ‘the band scene’, right? Because hip hop has never been bigger in SA. As in ever! But it too once had its slump. My point? It’s important to not look at our subset of the industry’s challenges as a sign of the times for the whole industry.

Also, look, gig attendance is ultimately the responsibility of bands and, to a lesser extent, promoters and venues. When we want to blame other people like MK’s absence for folks not coming to our shows, we absolve ourselves of responsibility and I can’t accept that. Maybe you’re thinking ‘oh, that’s rich coming from you Jeremy, because you’re at this level ‘ or whatever, but we fucking sweat gig attendance! We respect our promoters’ hustles, and we respect our audience’s time, and so we’ll work hard to never book something we cannot sell out, and if sales are struggling, then we’ll come up with strategies to boost them.

When bands – big and small – go ‘oh, no one comes to gigs anymore’ but really, it’s just because you’re booking venues too big for your current profile, who is to blame? And yes, I get it, maybe it’s a macro problem for the whole industry, but the solution is bands taking it upon themselves to write music people give a damn about and to put on shows people really want to see.

There is a lot of talk about the state of the South African music industry. Some are of the opinion that it is a deplorable state. Others are of the opinion that the industry is still growing and going places. What are your thoughts on where the scene currently stands and where it is going?

Our industry has a long way to go before it can compete with the major markets around the world, but this is a good thing! It’s so exciting to know what’s possible and where we can take things to. What’s also rad is we have some decent promoters, decent production companies, decent media people, and decent bands too. But getting an entire industry growing takes building infrastructure we just don’t currently have. We can get there, though, but it’ll take a lot of time.

Look, I don’t have rose tinted glasses – things could be way better – but knowing where things can get to is hugely encouraging for me.

One thing that people do agree upon is that the industry is a tough one into which to break. What is your advice for young artists trying to make it in the local industry?

Write the absolute best songs you can. Design a killer live show. Respect and serve the audience you’re lucky enough to build. Look for opportunities wherever they present themselves and follow your instincts. And, finally, always handle your professional relationships with the utmost integrity. Doing all of those things doesn’t guarantee success – anyone who claims to know the full proof recipe to success in music is a liar – but they will put you on the right track for sure.

One final thing, you have been sitting on Trading Change for close to two years. I remember because it was one of the first albums I reviewed when I started out as a music journalist back in 2014. Can we expect a new album from you anytime soon?

No new album soon, because we’ve just dropped Trading Change in Europe and Australia. However, I’ve got some songs I’m amped about and looking at dropping this year as we gear up for some big things in 2017. So sit tight with the Deluxe version of Trading Change – I may drop one or two more singles and videos from it – but stuff is coming. Big tings!

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