Seven Songs: Jeremy Loops

South African troubadour Jeremy Loops tells us what’s on his playlist – from Toots and the Maytals and Cat Stevens to Andrew Bird

Jeremy Loops because he can. But also because he has to. Born Jeremy Hewitt, “Loops” was born when he discovered the power of the pedal and started crafting sunny folk pop around polyphonic overdubs in his native South Africa. Hip-hop, funk, electronica and African roots music soon started working its way into his sound – as did Loops’ strong environmental message. 

Three albums and 200,000 newly planted trees later, Jeremy Loops is one of the biggest names in South Africa – now headlining a major European tour following the release of June’s Heard You Got Love, featuring a collaboration with long-time fan (and fellow looper), Ed Sheeran. 

As Loops gets ready to bring his tour to London’s Eventim Apollo on 6 October, we caught up with him to ask for the seven songs that have made him who he is. 

The song that makes me happy 

I finished high school a little bit young at 17 and I really wanted to travel. I didn’t have enough money for an expensive plane ticket, but I knew I wanted to see the world and move around. So the money I did have I spent doing a sailing course. I remember I wrote a little flyer, it was very quaint, and I stuck it up at the yacht club saying I was willing to work as a deckhand for 50 Rand a day (which is about three pounds) and that I was literally willing to go anywhere. 

After about a month, some Skipper phoned me and offered me a two month trip on a little 44 foot catamaran that was headed to the Caribbean for two months. My parents nearly had a heart attack when I told them. But anyways, I set off on this voyage with just this captain and one other crew member, and all I really took with me was a Walkman and a handful of CDs. There was a Mos Def CD. A Mobb Deep CD. Some reggae. Graceland, by Paul Simon, which I nicked from my folks. And then Toots and the Maytals. ‘Pressure Drop’ just became part of my life, at a time when I needed it the most. 

I became a lifelong fan of that band and I went to go and see them multiple times. Many years later, when I started touring, I ended up playing with them on a festival slot at Secret Garden Party. I got to tell them this story then too, so that was a really special moment for me. ‘Pressure Drop’ just brings it all back. 

The song that makes me cry

I could have picked ‘Gumboots’ from Graceland as the song that makes me happy, but the flip side of that is from the same album – the same CD I had on my first trip at sea – and that’s ‘Homeless’, by Paul Simon and Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Ladysmith Black Mambazo are like national icons in South Africa. We would hear them at the rugby stadium before a game, and everyone would see them every year when they came to Cape Town. But they were also very much a revolutionary band during the apartheid era. They were big struggle icons. So their music filled our house when I was growing up, and it was always that song, ‘Homeless’, that got me.

It’s not that it’s upsetting, it’s that it’s so beautiful. Especially the live version on YouTube – it’s just gorgeous. When you grow up in a country where the divide between the haves and have nots is so high you become a lot more aware of social ills. You can’t live in a bubble in South Africa. You’re reminded every day, quite starkly, of the struggles that a lot of people face. And it can be quite a powerless feeling. Growing up, that was something that I really struggled with. Homelessness is a real thing in South Africa, and it always really affected me deeply. That song always strikes a chord with me. 

The song that reminds me of my childhood

I actually once put out a cover of this song, because it was absolutely unequivocally the song that made me realise music was my biggest love. And that’s a song by Cat Stevens called ‘Moonshadow’.

I was precisely 11 years old. And I thought I didn’t like music before that. Music was almost just a background in my understanding of the world. I grew up in a little surf town, and we were surfing from the age of seven. So we were listening to Offspring and being little punk kids. We were skateboarding and drinking booze way too young. We were smoking weed a long time before we should, just because all the older surfers were doing it down at the beach. So I was kind of oblivious to what music meant to me.

And then I remember we went to a friend’s house for a family holiday up in Johannesburg, and they had this new hifi at the time. This guy’s dad, Chris, was playing a whole bunch of songs and then I heard ‘Moonshadow’.  I asked him if I could hear it again, and he quickly got annoyed by how many times I kept asking, so he gave me a pair of headphones. While the whole family and all the kids were playing and having a holiday out by the pool, I remember consecutive days where I would listen to that song like six to eight times in a row with the headphones on. There was just something about it. It hooked me, and I just fell deeply in love. 

That was the beginning for me. I started being much more aware of music and I started hearing melodies and thinking of my own, even though this was still a long time before I ever picked up a guitar. 

The song that reminds me of being in love

I suppose it’s my song, ‘Higher Stakes’. That was a heartbreak song that I wrote when one of my long term relationships came to an end. It’s sort of become a crowd favourite now so I still perform that song most nights on tour, all these years later. 

It used to be tough. But it’s a different feeling now. It’s almost empowering I think, because other people have taken that song and made it their own. I’ve had beautiful stories written to me about it. So nowadays when I sing it I’m not feeling nostalgic for that love or that heartbreak, it’s more like an emotional release. I just watch people in the audience and connect with the energies around it. I’ve sometimes spotted people in the crowd who seem to be really feeling it. They might likely be heartbroken right now, and I sympathise. It’s almost like a healing medicine.

The song I wish I’d written

One of my favourite artists in the world is a guy called Andrew Bird. He’s a very clever songwriter, and he’s a violin loop artist. I’ve been following him for a long time, and I used to watch his loop videos and try to learn some of that wisdom. But in the process I just fell in love with his folky, acoustic, incredibly complicated songwriting. He wrote a song called ‘Sisyphus’, and when I heard that for the first time and I was like “Damn, I wish I could write a song like that”. Or even that I wish songs like that could become mainstream. 

The last song you listened to

I can tell you that without cheating [opens his phone]… It’s a bit of an old one, but it’s an interesting one. ‘Furr’, by Blitzen Trapper. It’s actually a lovely song. I used to be a big fan about a decade ago. I’m rediscovering songs again at the moment because I used to have a hard drive full of music that got left behind when stuff like Spotify came along. I found that song the other day and it’s just great. 

The one song I could listen to forever 

That’s tough, because whatever it was you’d probably end up hating the song by the time you were done with it. I guess it would have to be a Phosphorescent track called ‘Song For Zula’. I’ve listened to that many a time, and in a bunch of different ways and moods. And I always find it hauntingly beautiful. I can’t commit that I’d happily feel that way forever, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be coming back to that one for many, many years. 

Jeremy Loops is playing one night at London’s Eventim Apollo on 6 October 2022. Find tickets here.