Q&A: Jeremy Loops Talks About Bob Dylan, Performing vs. Recording, and Bowling

Posted on Tuesday June 14th in

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South African singer-songwriter Jeremy Loops is known for using an assortment of instruments — guitar, ukulele, harmonica — and loop pedals to make his own unique brand of pop-inflected modern folk. His American tour brings him to Brooklyn Bowl on Friday night, and ahead of his arrival, Jeremy Loops reached out to Knockdown Alley to discuss recording, performing live, and borrowing from songs that sound dope.
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Growing up in South Africa, who were some of the musicians who inspired you to get into folk music? I grew up on Woody Guthrie. He’s the godfather. And Bob Dylan was untouchable when I was young and learning about music. I think those two will be mainstays for a long time still.

And do you notice if your music is received differently in the States than at home in Cape Town? The primary difference between South Africa and the States is the size of the crowds, to be honest. Back home, for our own shows we’ll do 2,000 to 6,000 people, and here we’re still finding our feet and plugging away. I think our last time at your venue was the single biggest show we’ve done in the States for our own headline show, and that was about 600 people. I don’t worry too much about it — the United States is a massive country, and people respond equally well to the music. If anything, the primary difference is the United States today feels like South Africa felt for me four years, and that’s a beautiful thing to relive that time in a sense.

After school you worked on a yacht for a while. How did you make the transition from that to professional musician? It was a crazy time in my life. I had gotten a finance and property development degree at university, but I hated the idea of being a suit-crunching-numbers guy. It’s just not my thing. So in a way, I kind of “ran away” to find my feet. The working-on-the-yacht situation was always finite. I just wanted to earn and save some money and travel the world on someone else’s dime, so that I had some sort of a cash buffer to pay for whatever harebrained scheme or career I wanted to pursue. I just always loved making music, but it didn’t seem viable. South Africa isn’t like the United States where there are working bands and musicians at all levels actually eking out a living. There’s nothing that tells you, “Hey, your songs are kinda dope. You should test it on an audience.” Still, I loved making music more than anything else. It just kept calling me. And when I got home with all these songs, having learned how to use a loop pedal while away sailing since I had no band to work with, I figured I’d give it a shot. Five-plus years later, here we are!
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What’s the process behind recording something like your debut full-length, Trading Change? Did you go into the studio and then begin work? Or did you already have some of the songs fleshed out in advance? Trading Change had a very unusual gestation process. Because I started out as a loop-pedal artist, I was quite tied to that process of writing music on the pedal. That doesn’t translate so well to studio work and multitracking, so I had to rewire my brain and my approach to songwriting somewhat to suit a studio environment. So we made this EP to get me into studios, and over a period of three or so years, I managed to rewire my brain to studio recording. And over that time, I wrote almost all of the album, with half the tracks being written in the last six months of going in and out of studio. I was just in the zone, writing maybe two or three strong ideas a day and fleshing out the songs that really felt special. It’s unconventional, but I think a lot of people recording their debut albums who just grew up writing their songs and performing them without stressing about recording them get with that “Oh, wow, how do we do this?” The thing is I write songs all the time. I don’t have a switch that says, “Oh, you should write for an album now.” What I suspect will happen with this next album, kind of like a boxer training for a big fight, as we get closer and closer to D-Day, my songwriting will hit its stride and I’ll develop the really strong ideas into songs I love, and I’ll also write songs I love from start to finish quite rapidly.

While you’re known as a folk musician, your music sounds like it’s also got all sorts of other influences (in a good way). What other kinds of music do you listen to? Yeah, I think I’m known as a modern-folk musician because that was the term I conjured up to help people anchor on what my sound is. You can tell from my music I listen to everything, and I have elements of all of that creeping into my songs too. I grew up on early 2000s Rawkus Records–era hip-hop music — Black Star forever! — and I also listened to a fair share of ska and reggae in my formative years. My dad would play classic rock around our family home. We were crazy into punk rock when we were teens, too, and I think the energy of our performance comes from that place. Today’s pop stars are superchoreographed, and props to them for doing them, but punk has an edge to it. People move like crazy to it because they can’t help it, and that songwriting and performance style is an important component of my music. Mostly, though, I’ll borrow energy and ideas from any songs that sound dope, regardless of how far off center it is.
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Some bands love to record while others live to perform. If you could only be known for one, which would it be? I’m a live performer first and foremost. I tell people this all the time. That’s how we built our name, and it’s the purest presentation of music. It’s just you, the sound, and the audience’s reaction in real time. It’s so pure. So if it had to be one, it’d be that for sure.

As you’re aware, Brooklyn Bowl is also a bowling alley in addition to a music venue. Any plans to bowl while you’re here? Honestly, I just want to meet Brooklyn Bowl’s founders so I can corner them and ask, “Who was the genius who thought to put a bowling alley and a live music venue in one? Who?!” We’re superamped to bowl, and my band is highly competitive too. It’ll be the best way to round out the tour.
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For those who haven’t yet seen you perform, how would you describe your live show? And what can we expect on Friday? My live show is high-energy start to end. Our community who come see us know they’re not coming to be performed to, they’re going to get involved. And they’re not going to be sung at, we’re going to sing with them. We love what we do and we love being onstage, and that approach permeates through the room. You should come to that shit!
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