Interview: The Graeme Watkins Project

The Graeme Watkins Project are making a comeback this year with the release of their new single “Love In Abundance”. We caught up with their lead singer, Graeme Watkins, to discuss their comeback, what they have been doing, the South African music industry and their plans for the future.

Firstly, it has been a few years since you’ve released any new music. What made you decide that 2016 was the year that you wanted to make a bit of a comeback and release new music?

2016 was when our song was ready! 2015 we started actively jamming more, and writing, and committed to “Love In Abundance” being our new follow-up single. We were all in a good place and head space, and it just so happened it all came together.

Off that note, what made you decide to fly under the radar for a bit? You haven’t been that active in the South African music scene since about 2013 or 2014 – was there anything in particular that made you guys turn away from creating music for a bit?

We all continued making music together but had various projects on the side that kept us busy. We were fulfilling passion projects, and expanding our creative horizons. We actively took some time to regroup and get back to our roots on a creative level. We were still active in the industry and allowing ourselves not to limit ourselves to one style of music only, to allow our compositions to remain fresh and energetic.

What have you guys been doing in the time between the release of your last album and your latest single “Love In Abundance”?

Personally, we were all getting married and having kids and figuring that change of lifestyle out. Then on a musical level, we were doing all sorts of things. I started a Swing Band and focussed on writing in the dance realm, Ryno was focussing on producing, and working with a bunch of artists and TV shows, Matt is a mad music video and EPK creator, and his business took off, as did Rudo as he started working on various project in SA and the middle east.

I noticed that “Love In Abundance” takes on a much more commercial alternative rock meets pop kind of sound compared to your previous songs which all seemed to have an electro-pop meets pop-rock feel to them. Going into the studio, was there a deliberate intention to kind of reinvent yourself and try something new while still appealing to the same group of fans as before?

We are always keen to grow. We write music that influences us at the time of our creative process. We all have very different tastes musically, yet we write a very similar kind of music when together. We decided not to write music just to get it onto radio or for a commercial purpose, but more to write music we loved and got us going. We are very aware how easy it is to only start making music to try fit a certain style and popularity. What we found over the years is the music that we love, our supporters love too. So we weren’t focussed on the commercial aspect, but more of the “feeling” aspect.

You were part of Idols back in 2009, but were eliminated in the semi-final yet you’ve experienced more success than that year’s winner. This seems to a true statement for most people that were runner-ups to the winning position. Why do you think that most idols winners (barring perhaps Jimmy Nevis) tend to have their musical careers fade into nothing yet the runner-up’s go on to experience a lot of success? Is Idols South Africa cursed?

The Idols experience was a great platform for me and I appreciate all it gave me. What a lot of people don’t realise it is merely a platform to a mountain ahead. Whether you win it or not, the rest of your career is up to you. I exited the competition with no label or contracts in place, which allowed me to focus on my own direction and vision for my future. It was super hard coming out of the competition, nd was boxed in the “Idols” box, where everyone assumed that I thought I was a superstar and didn’t have to work for anything. It took me a year to find the guys, and get on it creatively and find my direction. When we did break through, it was a super proud moment for me, as that first year of being out of the competition, had me trying my best to be taken seriously as a musician and creator. Everyone had an idea of where i should go after the competition, and it was hard to stick to my guns and follow my heart.

You were quite vocal about issues surrounding the kind of music being played on commercial radio a few months back with David Scott posted a video complaining about American-sounding local music being play listed on 5FM. Shortly after, SABC changed their quota system to being 90% local. What are your thoughts on this – was it a good move on their part?

Its a tricky subject as that post got me a lot of love and a lot of hate. Radio is a super important medium for artists, making music is not cheap, and many rely on it to build a fan base. We are very lucky that we were and often are playlisted on local radio stations, where there are such hot bands out there who don’t, because more international was being played than local. I was REALLY surprised at the drastic rate of which it changed, and wasn’t expecting that, but I won’t lie, I’m glad it happened. From a consumer point of view, I am being exposed to SO many new artists daily, whose work and standard sit perfectly in a radio realm.  where the previous quota was 35% local, now we are hearing so many underground cats coming through, which makes me happy. At the time I would have been happy with a 50/50 or 60/40 in favour of local, but the 90/10 is proving to be great. Everyone thought the standard would drop, and there are a few that perhaps aren’t radio ready as yet, but its encouraging young artist to keep trying, and by growing their fan base, and booking bigger shows, they can have access to the funds to get their music to the right level.

Alright. Here is the question that I think everyone hates to answer. What are your thoughts on the current state of the South African music scene?

It is exciting. With the new focus on local, these new kids are coming out the woodwork, and they come with their excitement and energy, and reignite audiences. I am happy the live scene is picking up, I hope we do a 360 and awesome venues start picking up too. We have a handful of cool new ones already. I’m excited.

It would be ignorant to assume that our scene is perfect – is there anything you would change about the South African music industry. If so, how would you go about doing it?

I would abolish piracy, figure out a way that wifi and purchasing options for online music were more accessible. I would love more government funding to be accessible to artists for tour support and recording costs. I would love more venues to open to cater for the wealth of talent we have in this country, and I would love South Africans to be more proud of what their people are creating, and support more! I would love to see local artists fill up 2 nights at FNB stadium like 1Direction did. Maybe I’m just being hopeful… but I would love the SA scene to grow as big as the Australian and Nigerian Music scenes have, in terms of their local support.

You guys are veterans in the music scene and were lucky enough to experience a lot of success in South Africa. Do you have any tips for up-and-coming bands and musicians?

Remain true to your sound. at the end of the day, make sure YOU are happy with your product, if it fails or if it flies, you will have yourself to credit. if you alter your sound for others, that will always be at the back of your mind.
What are your plans for the rest of the year? Can we see a new album being released before the end of the year?

Maybe, Maybe not. We just want to focus on making music we are proud of, at our own pace. No more time pressure, we are just keen to make music that resonates full stop.

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