Jeremy Loops has been in lockdown longer than most. At the start of this year, fresh from a tour that took in Brixton Academy and his biggest ever venues throughout Europe, he hid himself away in his Cape Town studio to complete his eagerly-awaited third album. Just two days after the final song was written, South Africa shut down.
“I haven’t been at home this long in a decade,” says Jeremy from his beachside studio, where producers including Carey Willetts (Dermot Kennedy, Freya Ridings) and Edd Holloway (Lewis Capaldi, Tom Walker) came to collaborate on the upcoming album.
As well as co-producing some of the new songs remotely with Simone Felice (The Lumineers, Bat For Lashes) and Cam Blackwood (George Ezra, Bastille), readying the release of stunning new single ‘Mortal Man’ and streaming acoustic gigs for his global army of fans, the long-time activist founded The Big Food Drive, a crowd-funded campaign to send food to some of the poorest communities in South Africa. Within two hours of it launching in late April, it had surpassed its target of R100,000. Within two weeks, it had raised more than 7 times that amount and was sending out the first of 70 trucks full of food.
“SA’s strict lockdown is causing a humanitarian crisis ,” says Jeremy. “ There is a desperate need for produce in our poor communities, on a scale that the first world wouldn’t understand. We have huge populations now close to starving, all living in close quarters. As soon as lockdown was announced, we knew we had to help our own. To see the target smashed again and again has been beyond my wildest expectations.”
A decade ago, just before his career exploded here at home, Jeremy co-founded Greenpop, an on-going initiative that to date has planted 150,000 trees in 400 locations including schools and orphanages in previously green-free communities. As his music took off around the world, trees sold at his merch stands as keyrings have offset his carbon emissions from touring. Although he has become known for crafting high-energy, feel-good tunes, social responsibility has always been part of Jeremy’s package, no more so than on his new songs.
“Every song speaks to something I really care about. On my debut, I was happy-go-lucky with the lyrics – if it rhymed it was fine. My second album had more of a message tying it together and this one goes much further. It’s still packed with my usual love for up-tempo goodness, but I have so much more to say.”
‘Mortal Man’ is a good example. It was one of the first songs written for the album, partly inspired by a friend who struggles with addiction. ‘I’m always available for him, whenever he needs me, and he knows that. We’ve accepted that’s how our relationship is’.
‘Acceptance is a recurring theme on the album. Accepting what it means to be human; not beating yourself up because of mistakes that you’ve made but facing up to them and moving on. Life is tough. Sometimes you have to be humble to recognise that.’
The self-produced ‘Mortal Man’ strips Jeremy down to acoustic guitar and loop pedal, his seductive voice littering a breezy melody with sunshine-soaked hooks.
‘The melodies were my focus,’ says Jeremy. ‘Previously I’ve relied more on rhythm and energy, but I became obsessed with making the melodies as strong as possible. There’s nowhere to hide on these songs. In lockdown I’ve been playing them on ukulele. Take away the production and the songs must still stand up. It’s me going back to the music I grew up with – Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Rodriguez, Woody Guthrie. They were freedom fighters who used music to make a statement. Because of how things are here at home, that’s always resonated with me.’
Brought up in Kommetjie, a surfing village on the outskirts of Cape Town, by his South African dad and Swiss-born mum, Jeremy came to music late. He’d always loved folk but didn’t imagine becoming a musician even when he picked up a guitar while studying finance and property development at university.
“I enjoyed singing but I never thought I had a great voice,” he says. “At uni I took on a tough business degree and really struggled with it. I skipped classes often and was given the nickname Loopholes. I’d still pass the exams but took pride in doing as little studying as possible. The frustration born from this period is essentially what led me to music.”
Instead he spent his time watching YouTube tutorials to teach himself guitar and practising by playing Bob Dylan songs. He took up harmonica and, on leaving university, travelled the world for two years working as a deckhand on superyachts. By night he wrote songs, accompanying himself by using the loop pedal he took everywhere in a backpack.
He was still a closet musician who had never played in public when he returned home. With the waste he saw at sea driving his energy, Jeremy co-founded Greenpop during this time. Organising a fundraising gig in a Cape Town club with some big local bands, he put himself on the bill as the opening act.
“I thought if I don’t do it now, I never will,” says Jeremy. “I had a panic attack before I went on stage, but as soon as I started playing, I didn’t want to stop. I had finally outed myself as a musician.”
From there, things moved fast. A residency at a local Cape Town bar proved so popular that after six weeks, the police shut it down because so many people were spilling into the street. Live agents and festivals came calling. Festivals like Rocking The Daisies and Oppikoppi in their prime were the prelude to selling out the 5000-seater Kirstenbosch Gardens in Cape Town and 7000-seater Durban Botanical Gardens. The fan fervour and demand moved radio stations to start playing his songs.
“The first few years, I still didn’t see myself as a serious musician,” says Jeremy. “It was chaos. I didn’t want to be a solo artist, so I invited anyone who wanted to get on stage with me – rappers, saxophonists, dancers. I was the ridiculous ringleader who didn’t really know what he was doing.”
Named ‘Best Live Act’ by MK, in 2014, Jeremy independently released his debut album ‘Trading Change’, which spawned the huge hit single ‘Down South’. By then, his live show had taken off abroad and after touring the States and Europe, he was handpicked by Twenty One Pilots to support them on their Blurryface tour.
This experience served as his formal introduction to European audiences, where he now routinely sells out 3000+ capacity rooms across the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, and Czech Republic for his headline shows, with that number swelling to 5000 in the United Kingdom. Marquee festivals like Lollapalooza Paris, Hurricane, Southside, Oceaga, Boardmasters and many others took note, booking Jeremy in increasingly prominent slots.
In 2018 came ‘Critical As Water’, a second album which featured co-writes with Will Hicks (Ed Sheeran) and Jake Gosling (Lady Gaga, James Bay). The singles ‘Waves’, ‘Freak’ and ‘Gold’ took off at radio in South Africa and around the world, with the latter being playlisted on BBC Radio 2. An MTV Africa Award for Best Alternative Album crowned his achievement with Critical As Water. Last year, Jeremy was invited to a private after party when Ed Sheeran played his first stadium shows here in South Africa. The pair hit it off straight away.
‘He said I was a better loop artist than he is’ laughs Jeremy. ‘Very kind, but not true! But we are very similar artists, in many aspects of our jobs. We spent the night drinking and talking shop, and he suggested we write together. I thought he was joking, but six months later I was in his studio in his hometown and we wrote two absolute bangers, at least one of which will be on my next album.’
After a decade being an independent artist, turning down label offers on a daily basis, earlier this year Jeremy signed a licensing deal with Universal Music South Africa.
‘ I’m excited to partner with Universal Music in South Africa. We’ve struck a deal where I retain ownership and ultimate control, but they bring in their years of experience, resources, and incredible team to help me take my music further. It’s the dream situation for an independent spirit like me where a major label joins a team and shares our vision.’
In Europe, Jeremy has partnered with Decca in the United Kingdom and Polydor in Germany, both of which are Universal Music Group imprints.