Ahead of his Australian return in May, South African songwriter Jeremy Loops takes us through his latest album, Critical As Water. A striking new release from the award winning musician and performer, Critical As Water sees Loops embracing a new chapter of songwriting and the messages behind the album are just as notable.
As he explains, these tracks are statements of intent, they are songs crafted to hit you in many different ways. Hit play on the album below and find out more…
The start of an album has to be a statement of intent. When you hear those drums crash in when “Gold” starts, and the huge choral wailing that follows it, you know this is serious. Haha. Making and leading with “Gold” was important because it reassured my day one Jeremy Loops fans that what they know and love about the music hasn’t changed – this is still folk-inspired guitar music – but it’s evolved and progressed in really significant ways too.
I deliberately wrote the chorus as a call-and-response as a reminder to our community that we’re in this together. This music is ours to share and embrace and enjoy. In hindsight, it was the perfect choice as an opener.
Rather Have Me Dead
I wrote this song in the basement of a friend’s apartment in Berlin shortly after having had a fight with my girlfriend. There’s this look one’s partner gets sometimes when they’re enraged – you can tell for a split second they actually contemplate killing you. The song has a hopeful resolution and weaves between a playful and deadly-serious tone, so it isn’t as gloomy as the title suggests but I do think that ‘look’ is pretty universal.
“Vultures” is that rare song that comes together in entirety very quickly because the ideas and emotional intent behind it just flow when you try to capture it all in song format. 95% of that song was done in a day. It harks to a dark space and to dark times – ‘When the vultures come to meet you, they’ll be smiling very sweetly, as they pick your bones’ – but it’s been great seeing how varied people’s interpretation of what it means has been.
Freak is the most literal song on the album. I call it my anti-rap rap song, because I’m so tired of the materialistic and vapid bling bling crap pushed by mainstream rap and pop music. It’s so engrained in pop culture that those of us who stand in opposition to that ethos are “Freaks”. The record is built on this 100 ton bass line, and is accented by these beautiful horn lines. It’s smooth!
“Thieves” is my power song. Writing this album was the most trying thing I’ve ever done, and I was almost paralysed by the pressure of trying to top my previous album, Trading Change. Thieves opens with the lyric, ‘Walk in your own shoes, make all your luck alone, so you can look in the mirror and say, “Oh how you’ve grown”’, which serves as my manifesto to trust myself in everything I do, but to also protect myself from joy thieves who may derail my path.
I wrote “Waves” in a few hours one evening after coming home from a fantastic surf. I picked up my guitar and just began tinkling on it, and that lead line came to me right away, as did the lyric, ‘…and the waves they wash over me.’ The ocean was such a key part in the inspiration for the album and in facilitating writing it that for me, “Waves” represents a key turning point in making the album.
“Underwater Blues” sits right in the middle of the album, and in my mind it’s the album centrepiece.
It came to me after a dream in which I was drowning and had this surreal ending where I could breathe underwater and these whales in the deep blue sang to me. I woke from that dream and wrote that song at 4am. That dream to me symbolised shedding all the pressure I put under myself to make a good album, and to instead embrace the feeling of drowning and swimming and working through it. Sonically, it’s lush and warm and while large parts of the song are quite gentle, the way the chorus builds into this anthemic, word-less celebration, is really what brings the song home for me.
There’s a part in “Flash Floods’” bridge where I scream, ‘A wise man once told his son, “Be all you can, be all you can be! It’s as critical as water.”’ I was immediately proud of that lyric because the concept ‘critical as water’ paints such a vivid picture, but it just continued to grow on me, so much so that I named my album that. I’ve also been fortunate enough to have a few mentors in my life who really helped me realise the value in this idea. We all have to be the best version of ourselves. Its literally the only thing we can control.
A lot of the way I process complex emotions or thoughts or challenges is in my dreams. I think the subconscious mind is powerful, and if we’re receptive to listening, it has something to tell us. And where Underwater Blues was born of a very specific dream, “Dreaming Again” is about a series of dreams on where I’d like to see the world go, and the responsibility I feel for helping make that happen. Musically, its built on this infectious guitar riff that wears its African influences proudly. I’ve always been a sponge for the music around me, and I guess I’m lucky in the sense that I’ve had incredibly varied music played around me all my life.
The Shore (ft. Motheo Moleko)
Like “Dreaming” again just before it, “The Shore” is also built on this guitar line that’s heavily inspired by how traditional South African music sounds. We’d been playing it live for nearly a year by the time I recorded it, and I think the song benefits a lot from that. In the sense that a live show for me is the purest form for how music should be engaged with, and every night we played, subconscious or otherwise, we’d just learn the little tweaks which would allow our playing to better engage with the crowd. It’s certainly the most overtly political song on the album, but I’m never didactic in songwriting. You don’t have to engage with the politics.
Runaway Kids (ft. Motheo Moleko)
The youth are powerful! I think between the ages of 12 and 24, people are at their most dangerous because they have a will and a sense of community and collective stamina that if it were properly harnessed, they could up end and change the world. And so “Runaway Kids” is my rallying call to these young people who haven’t been hardened by or resigned to the realities of the world, and still live in a paradigm and a head space where they rightfully believe they themselves can change how the world is and how the world works.
Let it Burn
“Let it Burn” is one of those songs you could accidentally leave on repeat and only notice on the 10th play through that it’s been going on and on. It’s got this laid back groove that sits in this perfect pocket and perfect where one actually wants it to drone on. It’s appropriate in that the song is about burning the midnight oil, and doing what you need and working as hard as you need to work to achieve whatever it is your heart seeks.
Hues of the Fall
There’s a beauty in drilling music down to its essence – the lead instrument playing the melody, and the vocal. That ‘nakedness’ exposes people’s music for its true essence, and in many ways, it’s true meaning. “Hues of the Fall” is the most poetic and most ‘quiet’ song on the album, and I think stuffing it with too much instrumentation wouldn’t let the prose and the beauty of the song speak for itself. Where Gold is intended as a powerful, forceful opener, Hues of the Fall is self-assured, and that’s been the beauty of this album process for me.
Critical As Water is out now. Jeremy Loops is on the road through Australia and New Zealand in May. Find out more at www.jeremyloops.com.
JEREMY LOOPS TOUR DATES
May 22nd | Capitol, PERTH
May 23rd | Fowler’s Live, ADELAIDE
May 24th | The Corner Hotel, MELBOURNE
May 26th | The Zoo, BRISBANE
May 27th | The Factory, SYDNEY
May 30th | Neck of the Woods, AUCKLAND
May 31st | San Fran, WELLINGTON
Photo: Taahir Matthews.