I was really torn between transcribing this interview with South African singer/songwriter Jeremy Loops and letting the audio stream straight to the internet before it’s play on WTBU radio. Ultimately, the deciding factor was the intensity of my personal reaction to Jeremy’s will to perform, despite hospitalization, hours before his Boston gig at Brighton Music Hall. I just felt like his words deserved to be written down and shared to a global audience in a more tangible manner. I’ll let his music act as all the audio you’ll need and let his inspiring focus on building a life enriched by song, rather than a career in the charts, show just how much a leap of faith, passion and will has propelled him towards the journey that he’s on now. Loops is a musician I’m proud to be a fan of, a man with an incredibly infectious, nomadic soul and a human being with an engaging, empathetic heart. He really has, and pardon the pun, created a band of brothers who travel, take chances and make beautiful mistakes in the hope of spreading their message of community, understanding and compassion to as many people in as many places as physically possible. A few months ago, I likened Loops to Eddie Vedder; a comparison not based on skill or sound (each is very different in his own right), but on something even more powerful. He’s becoming a musician of the people and that’s a very, very difficult thing to do. I often wonder if someone does become that beacon of light or if they’re just kind of destined for it. I think Jeremy would tell you he’s worked really fucking hard to be that guy – and I’d argue it’s really just a mixture of heart, insanity and hell of a lot of passion.
I think what’s great about you is that you have this kind of grass roots appeal (a la Pearl Jam and Grateful Dead) that’s spread very much so, through word of mouth and friends spreading stories about your live shows. Was that a conscious decision?
I’ve definitely been quite ambitious about my independence, I suppose probably because I did a business degree and I understand some of the basics of finance and the basics of business and I don’t like the way that the music business is structured. It’s fuckery. A lot of bands get really big or super famous and have very little to show for it. I’m amped to be an independent artist as much as I can. I’m aware that you have to take advantage of certain business models that exist – record labels are going through a tough time but they’re certainly not irrelevant; they’re just changing. As an independent artist, you can’t put an album out on your own, you need distributors and people and it’s just about understanding the deals and making sure you’re not getting taken advantage of.
I suppose that with that ambition, to be as independent as I can be and have as much control over my destiny as I can, the undertone of that is a very grassroots approach. People support it from the bottom up and I think, even if we had some massive label behind us pumping millions of dollars into our PR campaigns, I wouldn’t be surprised if through our shows, we still turned people into grassroots supporters. I’d like to think that the honesty that comes through in our shows, the way we approach our music and the way I approach dealing with people in general, perpetuates a certain feeling of comradery; that people might feel like spreading our message without me necessarily having to ask them.
What helped you decide to make that jump from finance? My dad’s an accountant and the one thing he always told me was to never, ever be one. I guess he was really just trying to tell me not to settle for a comfortable existence and give up the ability to live a really passion-drive life like your own.
It was music that did, I suppose. I started playing after business. I studied a property development and finance degree and it was so tough for me because I was a creative kid by nature, so I’d go home and just started playing guitar in my first year of university and I’d just play guitar into the night because I felt like I needed some way to get this creative energy out of me. My studies were driving me crazy, already in the first year, but I’m also quite a committed person in general so when I decide to do something I’m going to do it; I wasn’t going to pull out of my degree, so I just picked up music as something to keep my mind in the creative space, as well. By the time I finished I ended up doing my Honors by my fourth year and that Honors year was literally the most difficult time of my life because I was writing a thesis on things that weren’t out of my league, I could do them, but I felt like a whole part of my life was going in the wrong direction, which I suppose is how a lot of young people feel a lot of the time. When I finished that, I told my folks, “I need to go travel” after half-heartedly looking for a corporate job, because that’s the way to get out of everything. “I need to go travel again and find myself…”
Get lost a little bit?
Yeah. That’s when I bought the loop pedal, bought all my harmonicas for the first time when I was 24 and I just set off and went and found a job on that yacht in Italy working for that Russian billionaire but I had lots of time to make music because he was never around. I spent two years traveling the world on that boat and when I got back, I was angry at him and the world and this broader concept of waste and environment degradation that comes at the expense of wealth and the pursuit of money and things.
So, I got involved in a tree-planting company which was just a fun thing that my friends and I wanted to do, which turned into much more than just a fun thing – it just sort of spit-balled into something much bigger. I’d make music to get everyone to the different events we would throw and people would be like, “Oh that looping thing you do is really cool” and before I knew it I found myself on stage and the rest is kind of history. I didn’t really have the opportunity to look back.
What’s your ultimate message through your work with Greenpop (est 2010)?
I worked for a really terrible Russian billionaire when I worked in the super-yachting industry and saw a lot of – I suppose the epitomy of what I was referring to earlier, just like first-world waste. He was just such a ruthless, hardened monstrosity of a human and anyone who was in his space was similar and I’d never seen that. In South Africa, we have a lot of inequality but you don’t that level of super-wealth that you see in the superyachting industry when you’re in Monaco with Abromavich and all these people. So I saw a level of waste that I had never seen before and I just used to think about all my people back home and get really upset about the fact that I was working for a man that lived in the world where had no idea. Greenpop was started on the back of my distaste towards that and wanting to give back locally.
Empathy. If everyone could fucking understand what’s happening to everyone else in the world and that we’re all just the same – the problem with American kids, European kids that I’ve met, and the problem with rich South African kids and affluent people in the world is that they’ve never spent time in townships or poverty stricken areas and I mean proper time, like gone and actually been in those areas with people who have nothing. We all hear about it, “Oh you know the average African child lives on less than $1 a day”, but do you know what that means? Have you ever tried to do that. I’ve done that. I’ve spent a lot of time in the townships; the first four years of Greenpop was us spending time in the townships.
By the age of 25, I had the biggest culture shock myself, because I’d lived an affluent life until then and then I had all this empathy like, “Oh my God, I’ve lived my whole life in a bubble and all these people are on my doorstep starving and dying and having the most difficult lives and I just get to live in affluence.” I think when I learned that true feeling of empathy, it became immediately obvious to me that I had to figure out a way to increase my voice and to increase my opportunity to perpetuate empathy and it’s importance. I think that’s where I’ll eventually go, when I have a big enough voice; probably not now, because I think it pushes people away when you get too aggressive too soon; but when I’m big from my music maybe I can rope kids in and be like “Come to Africa and live in a township” and they’ll go home and just tell all their people, “We need to think about this, there’s stuff happening out there and we all need to be involved.”
What about the people you meet on the road? Do they shape a big part of your experience? I feel like that human connection is pivotal to your performances.
Yeah, definitely. We meet people after the shows for a reason, you know? It’s a big part of keeping me motivated and it keeps me feeling in touch with what I’m doing. I used to hate going to shows when I was younger where the artist would just play their songs and leave or just played their songs and didn’t talk in between, which really still annoys me. Now that I’m touring on the road, I can get it a little more. It’s probably their 200th show of the year and they just don’t have the emotional capacity to reach out to new audiences each time and make it special, but I’m not really sure.
The crowds are everything. Chase [tour manager] is a great example. Have you met Chase? He reached out over Facebook after our last tour here and he said “I will quit all my jobs to be a roadie for you if you ever come back to the States” and he just put himself out there and I had the option of hiring a tour manager and risking the chance that he might be a…
Yes. The company that I work with in New York gave me a bunch of tour manager options of guys who were supposed to be able to do all these different things and they all came back saying, “Well, we like this…but to do it, we’ll need more money” or “I can do it for this price” but five days before the tour started…
Chase: Literally five days – he was in Singapore and it was like 4 a.m. my time.
I was like fuck it, I’ll just phone him and see how he feels on the phone and I phoned him and he was totally sussed out and smart and cool and bad-ass…
Chase: Thank you.
And I was like “Dude, you got the job, fuck it.” I’m a people person, I believe in people and the result is that he’s been open to learn, willing and amped to do everything, and we’ve had a really great time. We’ve learned a lot from each other.
Chase: Yes sir.
And I think that we made the right call. I think that if we got some fucking tour manager, he’d have been snooty about what his roles were and not wanting to do certain parts and bits and bobs. We just needed someone to pull everything together and he’s been fucking owning it – tour manager extraordinaire.
To answer your question, the mindset and the way that we interact with a crowd, kind of filters over into the way that I want to raise my band. It feels like I’m raising a family.
It feels like that when you’re watching. I’ve met people at your shows who I’m still friends with and your community fosters individual ones within the subset of that second family.
That’s the difference between music that breaks through the radio and music that breaks through the people. It becomes music of the people.
That’s an incredible thing.
Yeah, because the radio is so heavily influenced and controlled by corporations. I hope to God we do one day have a radio track and it’ll do great things for our career, but it’s by no means the way we’re building and a lot of bands never build – a lot of bands just write a hit song in the studio, some record label loves the song and puts a few million dollars behind the campaign, gives it to all their radio friends, they all rub shoulders, the song’s on the radio, the whole country knows the song and all their shows are sold out. But, as soon as they don’t write another hit within the year, that band will fall off the live touring scene entirely and they just become the one-hit wonder. You might hear their song again and think they’re relevant, but you’ve not seen them live and never been to a show of theirs – you don’t know who they are, really.
Whereas, I think, it doesn’t matter what the fuck happens to us we could gig until we’re like 80 years old probably and we’ll still have all the same people coming back with all their people every time and just supporting us because they love the vibe.
They feel like friends.
Yeah and I’m way more about that. I’m trying to build a life, not a music empire, you know?
Has social media helped a lot?
Yeah, ridiculously. I’m a big believer in collaborations. Ben [Brown] has been amazing and we’re good friends anyway, so it helps. I’m very interested in the modern world of communications because essentially, I’m trying to be a communicator. I’m trying to reach people and so wherever the people are, I want to figure out how to be there; whatever the youth are consuming. Part of me worries about where the world’s going in terms of technology, I think we all do, but at the same time I don’t want to be a bystander and let the wrong corporate machines run what we all consume, I’d rather build myself a platform so that I can be a part of the voice and hopefully perpetuate the right things on the right channels.
It’s a bit scary, but also nice. Nowadays, you can rally a bunch of people who have big profiles online to slam a company for unethical practices and shame a company like you never could before. I want to be able to do that one day – phone up my ten biggest online celebrity friends and be like “Let’s go after McDonald’s today” and tell our 450 million combined followers that we’re never eating McDonald’s again until they’re more ethical in their practices of attaining meat….it becomes so viral that McDonald’s have to answer it publicly and enact some sort of change. I always dream about those kind of things. I think that’s awesome.
It is pretty awesome. Last question – You’re headlining the Lotus Play Beats festival – can you name five other bands you’d want in the lineup to set the vibe or send a message to that community?
I’ve seen a lot of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes performances online and I like their wild spirit. It’s hard because I’m tossing at the difference between vibe and message. I don’t think a lot of bands spend too much time worrying about what their message is necessarily, but that doesn’t always have to be the focus it, you know? It’s about how music makes people feel and that can be the message in and of itself. Some of the happiest songs that you put on for yourself can actually have very dire words and you don’t care because the feeling is happy. I’m so guilty of that. A lot of my sadder songs have a really upbeat feel. Mumford & Sons apparently have amazing live shows; I’ve never seen it. I watched The Lumineers last year and was pretty impressed with them. I liked watching Milky Chance in Texas a little while ago. I really like a guy called Shakey Graves. I feel like we’d get on quite well.
It’s a wavelength thing.
Yeah, it’s a wavelength thing.
You can buy tickets to Jeremy’s upcoming UK shows & festivals here including his upcoming Fall 2015 Tour with Twenty One Pilots. You can find the most up to date festival and show details on Jeremy’s personal site linked here.
Keep up to date with the ongoing #LoopsTour on Instagram.
Social Media Links to Greenpop (SA)