Maya the dog runs circles around us on Muizenberg beach and I can’t help thinking that it’s fitting imagery. I’m walking with Jeremy Loops, frontman for the band of the same name, before he’s due on set for the filming of ‘Gold’, the first track on their new album Critical As Water. The music video – which will be live by the time you’re reading this – is set on Scarborough Beach and features a cameo by Loops himself in a crowd of metal-detector-wielding beachcombers, metaphorically searching for what’s important to them. ‘The song is about what’s “gold” to me,’ explains the 34-year-old musician. ‘Digging through life’s tribulations, we can unearth what’s really valuable – be that love, creative energy or relationships.’
Born Jeremy Thomas Hewitt, Loops grew up in Kommetjie, 45 minutes outside Cape Town, with his parents and two younger sisters. He took music lessons in primary school, ‘but I found them quite boring,’ he confesses. He preferred to spend his days skating and surfing, enjoying an idyllic childhood and then a tumultuous teendom in the small town. His breakout into the big, wide world came in the form of a double gap year after matric, travelling and working in the Caribbean, US, Netherlands and UK.
Loops enjoyed art at school and toyed with a career in graphic design, but ultimately signed up for a degree in Finance and Property Development at the University of Cape Town. ‘I was a typical young person in SA, terrified I wouldn’t be able to make a living,’ he recalls, so he did ‘the sensible thing’. He has no regrets, though: ‘I did get a better understanding of business and the world around me,’ he admits. But his soul was never in his studies and he yearned for an outlet to express his artistic nature. Loops then turned to the second-hand Johnson guitar he’d picked up in a pawn shop in Miami, and used YouTube videos to teach himself to play. ‘By third year, I was legitimately obsessed,’ he chuckles.
After graduating in 2008, Loops needed to make some money, so he took a job on a yacht in the Mediterranean for two years. ‘I saved everything I earned, as I knew I’d need it to give music a real shot as a career,’ he explains. It was at sea that he developed his signature style, and – later – his stage name. He fulfilled his ship duties by day and spent evenings working on his music, using an electronic loop pedal to stand in for other instruments and musicians. ‘Looping is still the centre-piece of the way I work with the band,’ he maintains. ‘We all slot in around the looping and we do a lot of live looping on stage. It makes us different; it gives us a sound no other band has.’ It’s a sound his audiences have come to love.
Finding his purpose
In 2010, back in SA and ‘trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life’, Loops co-founded environmental NPO Greenpop (to date they’ve planted 100 000 trees in four Sub-Saharan countries). ‘It just felt right,’ he muses. ‘It was as much about environmentalism as social bridging – using trees to connect people.’ Wearing the twin hats of CFO and Fun Officer (and yes, that’s an official title), Loops handled both the financial governance of the organisation and starred musically in their promotional events.
Loops’s first stage performance was at a celebration marking the planting of Greenpop’s 1 000th tree. ‘I was freaking out in the alleyway behind the theatre,’ he reminisces. ‘I basically had a mini meltdown.’ But the gig was extremely well received. The following week, he began receiving booking requests. He took up a Thursday-night residency at Tamboerskloof institution Rafiki’s, which was axed by the police within weeks for drawing such large crowds that it presented a health- and safety hazard. Loops smiles: ‘It all happened really quickly from there.’
Music to our ears
Loops soon teamed up with rapper Motheo Moleko (‘He grabbed my mic and just started rapping and it was so good!’), and saxophonist James Faull, who ‘applied’ with a Facebook post: ‘Need sax?’. When Faull married and left the band, Hiram Koopman took over on sax. Loops has also picked up bassist Sean Ou Tim (Mr Sakitumi) and drummer Devin Jones.
In 2011, Loops released an eponymous debut EP whose popularity prompted a busy festival-circuit run, with more than 100 gigs in just two years. He’s jammed Rocking the Daisies, Oppikoppi, Splashy Fen, Bushfire, Up The Creek and more, but his fondest festival memory is of Sowing the Seeds, then a small event at The Cape Farmhouse down the Peninsula. ‘It was my first line-up and all my friends and family rocked up to support,’ he recalls. ‘That was really special.’
Going, Growing, Gold
Having earned the MK Male Solo Artist of the Year award in 2013, his career really began to fly. In 2014, Loops launched his first full-length album, Trading Change. The lead single, ‘Down South’, hit number one on radio stations across South Africa, including major stations 5FM, 94.7 and Jacaranda FM. 2015 saw the album’s US release and promo tour, as well as a European tour with Twenty One Pilots that was cut short by the terrorist attacks in Paris. The following January, Loops returned with a headline tour of Europe; his maiden tour of Australia followed that November.
This March, Loops released his second album, Critical As Water, ahead of a new national tour, ‘Home is Gold’. The album demonstrates his musical development over the years. ‘With Trading Change, I was so excited to be on the music scene. It’s a deeply empowering album with a real happy-go-lucky feel,’ he says. ‘Now I’ve travelled the world. I’ve seen so much, absorbed so much. I think Critical As Water is a bit more worldly, deeper, politically charged. It reflects where my head is at right now.’ The song ‘The Shore’ is a critique of the government, while he addresses the country’s water crisis in ‘Flash Floods’.
Staying Down South
For all his international success, Loops assures me that his heart is still definitely ‘Down South’. ‘I’ve been told numerous times that I “should” move to LA, London, Berlin. But I have no intention of leaving. I’ve become the biggest touring artist from SA without moving – so why would I?’ He gazes at the home he’s bought overlooking the beach. ‘I’m living the dream here. Besides, there’s work to be done in this country; I need to be part of that.’
Despite selling out venues like London’s Shepherd’s Bush, Amsterdam’s Paradiso and Zurich’s 1 600-seater Volkshaus, his biggest concert to date was at Durban’s Botanical Gardens with a massive 7 000 fans turning out to pay homage. His dream is to find funding to open a 1 000-seater venue in Cape Town – ‘watch this space,’ he grins.