“Genre always just feels like a nonsense thing. I don’t think anyone really wants to be labelled so it’s just best to make up your own thing; I like the sound of Ghost Folk. I think genres are bad for music especially in this country, all the shows are always a rock show or hip hop show where it’s so genre specific and it’s just boring.”
INTERVIEW: RUAN SCOTT
PHOTOGRAPHY: MATTHEW KAY
Can you give us a brief timeline of your life so far and where are you based now?
I didn’t realise I needed glasses until I was about 18 and that mixed in with my hyperactive personality meant everything before that was a kind of a blur of frustration, miscommunication and a lot of anger attacks which meant school was shit and I loathed it completely. I went to a lot of different ones sometimes because we moved and sometimes because I just couldn’t stand it anymore. We moved around a lot because my dad, Dave Redpath, was a poultry farmer and he moved around for work. Skateboarding was something I found I could channel my energy into and I did that for a long time. After school I lived in London and then Oxford for a bit then I came back to South Africa. I was going to study Music but I was told by a professor at the music department of the Durban University that I shouldn’t so I went to study film and TV at the Tech and I lived in Durban till I finished doing that then I moved to Johannesburg where I am now
Where would you say your interest in music comes from?
My interest in it is innate, I think that’s why everyone is interested in music, it’s primal or something I guess. My mom, Gill Redpath, loves music and she has great taste and my dad and me spent a lot of time together driving around listening to music and talking, he would get super excited if one of his favourite jams came on and the pair of them would dance around and play records, their love and energy for it was infectious. I always liked the sound of an acoustic guitar and trying to figure out what the words were saying, I liked the mystery and the magic of it.
Your brother, Nathan Redpath, is well known on the local music producer. Would you say you are influenced by him and do you think there will be a collaboration in the future?
Yes I was influenced by all my siblings and the different sounds and scenes they were into. Nathan mostly though because he has the broadest (and most knowledgeable in that broadness) taste in music of any person I’ve ever met. He is getting into Radio now (King B Come Alive on Jozi Maboneng Radio) and DJ-ing a lot and always making music. We will do something together some day no doubt, it hasn’t happened yet because when I go to his house we just end up playing Fifa on the Xbox.
Your new album ‘maiden light’ is an acoustic guitar guided folk album with with guy buttery and cellist Clare Vandeleur. How did this collaboration come about and why do you associate with these particular musicians?
It’s funny I had a write up in the Mail & Guardian recently and even though it was a really well written piece and I was well chuffed with it there was no mention of Chris Letcher and here again he has been left out haha. Maiden Light was made over a period of about 3 years, my parts were recorded in 3 days, and the rest of that time was spent finding just the right people to give the songs weight sonically that I felt like the lyrics already had. I always felt Shipwrecks, the EP I put out, was a strong finished project but what I was most proud of about the whole thing was who was involved and it’s the same with Maiden Light. The collaborations came about in different ways but I associate with these musicians because I consider them to be the best in the world at what they do, and it’s an amazing thing for me to be able to say that there is no one in the world I would have rather worked with on this project than who I did work with, Not just with the music but with the photography (Matt Kay) and design (Richard Hart) as well. Clare I met just by asking on Facebook if anyone knew of a cellist and me and her have been playing shows and working together on different projects a lot since we met; she is an incredibly talented person and she is unwaveringly patient. Guy is one of my best friends and he was a huge part of the album, he produced it with me, everybody thinks he is a genius at guitar but that’s only one part of his talent, he is on another level when it comes to understanding sound and he doesn’t let his technical understanding get in the way of the music. I would love to talk about all the people involved but I know this isn’t really the place for that.
The song “Ballad of a good man” is a song about your father. What was your relationship like with him?
He was from a certain time from a certain generation… a gentleman, hard as nails, completely gentle-natured, morally unshakable, absolutely dependable but a great sense of fun and adventure. it was all those cowboy movies he grew up watching I suppose. I probably came across as a difficult person when I was young, I guess I was a difficult person but he was always on my side. I couldn’t find the words to write anything for him for a long time and that song started out as a song for my friend Gabrielle de Gersigny when her dad died.
Recent memory recalls you as a young kid Durban spots on your skateboard. This is in stark contrast to your reserved and somewhat shy persona today. You are even making a point of it to be known as Julian rather than J.P. Why this change in character?
That’s an interesting way to see it, I still feel like I am the same person, I don’t know, as an art form skateboarding requires a person to express a forcefulness you know, even the act of an ollie is physical and forceful, skating is like that, it’s a kind of vicious thing, I mean your fighting gravity. What I’m trying to say is that different vehicles of expression require you to tap into different sides of yourself and that energy is magnified in the viewer’s perspective like a skate video part is sometimes years of work all distilled down to a few minutes’ worth of these bursts of intense energy. The name change thing, that’s something else I just never liked that name, it’s not even my name it’s two letters, I just didn’t ever use that name till the first day of school and the teachers just need something that’s easy to remember.
Your music is delicate and soft with a very mysterious and eerie undertone. Again, juxtaposed with your prior life as a skateboarder, how did you arrive at and settle on this sound?
The first Skate video I ever saw was “Welcome to Hell” and the earliest music I can remember is James Taylor, Bob Dylan and Paul Simon. So maybe that sums it up haha. Like I said though it’s different forms of expression, you can’t compare them like that. Maybe I just need to get better at guitar though so I can shred… I do spend a lot of time watching Derek Trucks and Blake Mills guitar solos… haha.
Talking about being on stage it appears you don’t gig a lot, with only a handful of shows played during 2013/14 and your album release earlier this year. Would you rather not play shows and just record and release music or is there a reason for your limited live performances?
Well in my defence I don’t always feel like there are that many shows to play. I guess I was spending a lot of time focusing on my album but now that it’s done I’m super keen to play as many shows as I can. I’m actually about to go on a tour around the country to celebrate the release of Maiden Light – it’s called very imaginatively “The Maiden Light Tour’. I got funding through Concerts SA and the Samro foundation with this amazing initiative called the Music Mobility Fund. I’m really excited to have Clare Vandeleur joining me on the whole tour and at some shows I’m playing with Chris Letcher and Guy Buttery, we did it for the launch of the album in March in Johannesburg and it was really great. It’s a huge honour to play with Chris and Guy.
on your Soundcloud page your music is labelled as folk and ghost folk. where do you personally feel your music fits in?
Genre always just feels like a nonsense thing. I don’t think anyone really wants to be labelled so it’s just best to make up your own thing; I like the sound of Ghost Folk. I think genres are bad for music especially in this country, all the shows are always a rock show or hip hop show where it’s so genre specific and it’s just boring. I did a couple of shows with Prism Tats a few years ago and it was such a great mix of styles. I want to go to Kitcheners and see Givan Lottz, Moonchild, Saanie Fox, Guy Buttery and Okmalumkoolkat all on the same bill. People will love that and the artists would love it too.
Tell us about Richard Turner and the song you sing about him?
Richard Turner (1942, Stellenbosch – 8 January 1978, Durban), known as Rick Turner, was a South African philosopher who was very probably assassinated by the apartheid state in 1978. Nelson Mandela described Turner “as a source of inspiration”. – Wikipedia I had vaguely heard about him but then I went to this Andries Botha exhibition in Durban called (Dis)Appearance(s) and there was a sketch of the window of Rick Turners house in Durban with a little text description at the bottom. He was sitting at his desk I think when he was shot through the window in front of his daughter. I just wrote the song while I was looking at the picture. That song meant a lot to me and I put it on the Shipwrecks EP but always planned to put it on the album too I wanted the opportunity to give more to it. I had never met Chris Letcher but I just took a chance and emailed him out of the blue and what he sent back was just perfect, it was exactly what I wanted. Everything on the song apart from the singing and guitar obviously, is Chris’s work.
The use of strong imagery is evident in your lyrics. Do you draw these images and inspiration from anywhere in particular such as fairy tales and religion?
It’s generally form my own experience. I don’t know, maybe only being able to see clearly later on in life has made imagery mean a lot to me haha. We are all connected through the mystical powers of the great earth mother.
‘Shipwrecks – EP’
‘Fox Hill Lane’
Half 4 Howie
‘After the Gold Rush’