Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I get up at 05:40 every week morning, have breakfast with the family and get the kids ready for school. After that I usually jump straight into whatever admin I need to do. Sometimes I have to make lunch – usually one of the two things I can cook, pasta with cheese or potatoes with cheese.
I try to spend a lot of time with my family, it brings more worth to anything else I do and it’s the one thing that I don’t want to fail at. This does however mean that I have really late nights a lot of the time, but hey, sleep is overrated anyway, right!?
When it comes to work, I kind of save recording for mid-morning. Creative work I prefer to do between 22:00 and 03:00 in the morning. I think they do blend seamlessly but every 2 weeks or so I try to fit in an early night for balance.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
I did an open mic event in Zurich. It was anything but small and intimate, in fact one had to audition for it. It was actually sort of a show. I auditioned at the behest of my older sister. I had been working as a security guard at a hotel in England and was visiting her in Switzerland. Doing music was far from my mind, really. So, I made the audition and chose to perform a song that I had written before I left South Africa called “Lonely Me”. It was a bit of risky song choice, because it was about wanting to die, and all the other performers were sort of pumping up the crowd and performing with a full band. I went up with just my guitar in front of 500 people and I could hear a pin drop. I had never felt this mixture of absolute fear and freedom. From that day on I knew with 100% certainty that this was what I should be doing with my life.
The song I sang was inspired by an unhealthy-looking stray dog that I saw crossing a busy street in my neighbourhood. She almost got killed a few times. I would feed her from time to time. She came to visit me one night at the gate to our garden while I was playing a bit of guitar, she looked me right in the eye and the song came to break my heart a little bit more.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Each artist will have his or her very own path to the garden of creativity. Most, including me, can’t even explain how they get there. There definitely are strategies for getting into a focused state, but who is to say that all artworks need the focused kind of creativity. I cannot say that I have an exact ideal state of mind. I would just sit around and do nothing for as long as I can. Think thoughts, wonder about how I actually feel and when I am doing this, the future becomes my greatest distraction.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Yes! I definitely have had both these experiences and relationships with music. I heard an album by Portishead that was particularly healing for me. The sound of it just travelled through my body and the words resonated with me. I think it was the one named Portishead.
There is a song by “the Nottinghillbilles” that still hurts me, because of listening to it on repeat after my mother died when I was a boy. Now, whenever I feel that level of hurt, I listen to that song because it feels like it can help me carry the weight. I think that healing music is needed most for adolescents, people coming into their own consciousness and struggling to find their place in the world. Music can be so informative, especially on an emotional level. I feel that music has transformative qualities when presented in a loving way.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
I think that there are respectful and disrespectful ways for this to play out. If an artist creates a work that is rooted in homage to a group and has made something that becomes part of a conversation that uplifts or acknowledges that group in a positive way, then great. If, however, the artist has hijacked a sound, signature, symbol, culture to bolster an image of their own creative sovereignty and thus for financial gain, I can only see that as diluted and not very nutritious for its consumers.
The difficulty is that one of these is also a result of the other but the music never lies, you can hear if it is pure of heart or not, if you care about it enough.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
I have had experiences where it felt like music was caressing my skin. I think a profound experience for me was at an open-air opera. There was something about seeing a horizon behind the stage and feeling the wind on my skin, having a mixture of perfumes in my nose and hearing those virtuous voices in my ear. It was transcendent. Now, if I experience a combination of two or more of those things, it transports me back to that experience. It’s like time travel.
I have learned that our senses work collectively, which gives me the idea that there is still a lot to be learned about sensory perception.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I call myself an artist because it feels the least like a lie if I can’t describe myself as “human”. I believe that it is human to take on political and social roles, because in these spheres you are always aiming to protect and preserve the idea of humanity/humaneness, family brother/sisterhood – all these beautiful and warm things where the essence is togetherness.
So, in my art, I am searching to be human – being human is an art in itself nowadays. (laughs)
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
I am not yet confident enough in my findings to answer that question using mere words. I do however know that when you feel it, you’ll know.