Taking a moment from his rock ‘n roll lifestyle, South Africa’s Jesse Clegg has a sit-down with fellow South African Nicole Mendes from The Other Side Reviews to answer some questions. This is what he had to say.
OSR: Hi Jesse. Thanks for ‘chatting’ with me today, it’s very much appreciated. First of all, could you tell our readers a bit about yourself?
JC: I’m a singer-songwriter from South Africa. I’m 27 years old, I play guitar and piano and I come from a musical family. My father is also a well known musician. I have released two albums and I released my third album in May. I have just wrapped up a long North American tour which comprised of 36 shows in 34 states, including Canada. Now I’m back in SA getting ready to do the album launch tour.
OSR: Let’s hit that very obvious part of your identity and get it out of the way. You are the son of the infamous Johnny Clegg. Did you ever feel yourself being compared to your dad? Do you feel that happening nowadays?
JC: Initially it was an obvious connection for the media to make and it presented some challenges for me because people came to my music with certain preconceptions. Now I’ve been doing it long enough that I’m considered a separate entity; also my music is very different to my fathers. He is a world music artist and I’m a pop/rock/singer-songwriter, and I think that distinction in our sound has allowed me to define my own path. I never wanted to use his name to propel myself forward, but at the same time I am very proud of the association and we have a very close relationship.
OSR: You spent the first few years of your life on tour with your dad. Do you think this has unconsciously influenced you in any way?
JC: Absolutely. On the one hand I got to witness the incredible power of music to connect and move people. It was very inspiring for me and I carry those memories with me as I go through my own career. On the other hand I saw the challenging side and the discipline it takes to be a career musician. It’s not all just glamour, there’s a lot of hard work and it’s a difficult lifestyle. It wasn’t an easy decision for me to become a musician myself because I knew what I was getting into. I came to it eventually when I started writing my own music and really fell in love with music as a form of personal expression.
OSR: A bit of a cheeky question: do you enjoy your father’s music and has it influenced your style in any way?
JC: I love his music, I grew up on it and it has shaped me as a songwriter. His melodic choices and observational lyrics are fascinating to me and very unique. Although maybe my opinion is not totally objective, I consider him to be one of the finest songwriters of the 20th century.
OSR: Moving away from family matters, let’s focus on your life outside of Africa. In 2010/2011 you moved to Canada – a rather large life change. How would you describe that experience?
JC: It was a fantastic experience, I had a great time in Toronto and got to watch a lot of my favourite bands. I was there working with David Bottrill, he is a Grammy-winning producer who has worked with Muse, Tool, Placebo and a couple of other bands that inspired me growing up. He produced and recorded my second album. It was very intense and I learnt a lot from him. I think it matured at me as an artist.
OSR: To date, you have released two full-length albums: When I Wake Up and Life On Mars. How do you feel they differ, if they do in any way?
JC: My first album was basically a collection of songs that I had written as an experiment without the intention of actually releasing them. I was trying to write enough songs to play a full live set. A record company got hold of some of the demos and I suddenly got a record deal, which was a surprise to me. I ended up recording those songs and that became my first album. So, it was totally unplanned.
For my second album I had quite a clear vision of what I wanted to do and how I want to expand my sound. I think that that was the biggest difference between the two. The first album was more of a singer-songwriter acoustic album with basic production and just a presentation of the songs as they were written. The second album was me trying to expand on that and experiment with more rock sound and a more alternative production.
OSR: Over the years there have been many breakthrough South African entertainers ranging from Charlize Theron to Crash Car Burn and even Trevor Noah. Do you, as a breakthrough artist yourself, think it is becoming easier for SA artists to make it in the US?
JC: I think that South Africa is becoming more relevant on the global scene. The more SA artists that breakout, the more people outside of SA become intrigued by the South African experience. We are a small industry in a far away part of the world, but we have a lot to say and can offer a lot of value in the arts. I’ve definitely seen a progression in the entertainment industry whereby more and more artists are coming to South Africa to perform and local artists are able to take their work to an international market. It’s still very difficult to do and takes a lot of hard work and stamina, but hopefully we will be seeing more and more of it in the future.
OSR: You’re currently touring North America, how are you enjoying the experience? Have you had any particularly exciting performances?
JC: It’s been a fantastic experience. People have been incredibly welcoming and the shows were well received. Especially the performance at BB Kings in New York and the one in Malibu. It’s always a little stressful to take your art to a foreign place and hope people connect to it, and there is always an element of unpredictability, but I was very pleasantly surprised to see how much people enjoyed my stuff and the new album. I think I got a better response than I did on the previous US tour, the new songs really resonated with the US crow
OSR: If you could have chosen any other career, what would it be?
JC: Well, I have a degree in law and an honours degree in English literature. So, I would probably be doing one of those two things – either a lawyer or an academic in literature. I really enjoyed my time at university but I’m happy that I’ve been able to make a career of my music. It’s definitely my first love.
JC: Just to relax and enjoy the journey. Music is a process and so much of it is experiential. You have to grow into your own sound and voice and that takes time. I think I was very stressed when I had less experience, but now I know how to prioritise and where to focus my efforts. What people don’t realise is that the arts like any other career takes time to build and you have to have endurance. There is no such thing as an overnight success.
OSR: What does 2016 hold for Jesse Clegg?
JC: It’s a very busy year. I am about to release my new album in South Africa and go on an album launch tour. We are also about to release a new single and are shooting a music video for it. I’m putting together a new live set to perform the new album and have a string of festival dates coming up. So, it’s going to be pretty intense for the next few months. I’m hoping to come back to the states later this year or maybe next year, just depending on how it all turns out. I really love performing and writing music in the states, so hopefully I’ll be able to come back soon.
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