Card on Spokes has touched down in Jozi to launch his latest EP Sunwalker. In lieu of this, I asked Shane Cooper some questions as we discussed the EP, his relationship with jazz, and growing his musical vocabulary through collaboration.
So I suppose firstly I’d like to ask, when did Shane Cooper become Card on Spokes? At what point were you like, let’s make some music!
In 2009 I started working on the project that was to become Card On Spokes. My first EP release as CoS was in 2011 with In You Go.
How has your sound developed over the past few years? And where have you drawn the most influence?
I’ve started to collaborate more with vocalists in my new work. Before Sunwalker I would write lyrics and vocal melodies when working with singers, but on this release I worked collaboratively with vocalists. I’ve also been listening to a lot of artists who have more pop structures to their song arrangements, but aren’t necessarily ‘pop’ artists. That influenced my writing process on this EP, and it’s been fun because my core influences are more left field in nature, so I’ve been enjoying painting with both brushes so to speak.
My first exposure to you was the “Disguises” video which you released in 2012. I’d like to say that the video was flawless, and perhaps epitomises the aesthetic and esoteric direction many alternative South African artists are pursuing in their music videos. Can you elaborate a bit on that video?
Thanks I’m glad you liked it! The video was made by my friend Ari Kruger who is an incredible director and animator. He had this idea to re-edit clips from an old film that was shot in Cape Town decades ago. His editing worked really well with the mood of the track and the resulting plot ends up being really funny. We wanted to try get it on MK but they stopped their programming soon after we launched the video.
Tell us more about the Sunwalker EP. How has your sound changed and matured since “Disguises”? Where did you record and what was the creative process of recording and composing the EP like?
The 3 vocal songs on Sunwalker were made in collaborative song writing processes with the vocalists, which I hadn’t done before on previous releases. So this EP wouldn’t sound the way it does without the amazing talents of Okmalumkoolkat, Nonku Phiri, and Bonj Mpanza. I wanted to have an EP that came out of collective inspiration. It pushed me to try things differently. “On The Low” happened when Okmalumkoolkat wrote his verses over an old unreleased track of mine and then we got Nonku to write a chorus. I took the track home and felt the instrumental was too busy underneath so I wrote a new instrumental to suit the lyrics and hook. I wanted something simple and sexy, with lots of space. Then I wrote “Shine Through” and “Sunwalker” with Bonj Mpanza who is an incredible singer from the band TheCITY. We worked at my home studio for several weeks trying things on different instrumentals of mine, and writing sketches from scratch. She would work on lyrics while I sat at the rhodes and tried out chord sequences. Just doing this for hours at each session. We eventually wrote 3 tracks, the third one is gonna come out on a later release. It was very fulfilling working with such great artists who are also solid human beings. Then there are 2 instrumentals. “Braamfontein” was inspired by parties there and I wrote it specifically to play there. “Comet Song” was inspired by the Rosetta comet landing in 2014…
You are highly acclaimed within the jazz community with a SAMA Award and the Standard Bank Young Jazz Artist Award under your belt. How does your experience and academic background in jazz affect the way in which you make electronic music or do you like to keep the two separate?
I think the influence of jazz in my electronic music has been very subtle. There are certain chords that I love that I learnt from jazz, but those are also found in soul music and RnB and more. I play the bass, so sometimes it’s the way I choose my bass notes or the rhythm of the bassline. Maybe it’s the way I place some percussion to make it a bit more off-grid. I’m planning on recording some more horns in upcoming work as well. I want to get Buddy Wells, who is one of the greatest tenor saxophonists in South Africa. He plays in a unique way that I haven’t heard anyone else do and is able to take you on long dream-like journeys with his improvisations. I would love to capture that and place it in a deep melted-lava beat. I grew up listening to hip hop producers who sampled a lot of jazz records, so that’s always influenced me – whether playing jazz or electronic music. I’m a huge fan of the Brainfeeder label in LA – the stuff that Flylo, Thundercat and the late Austin Peralta have done. I think they’re very forward thinking, it’s the only label I know of that has released real instrumental jazz and real electronic music under one roof. Their work is in the lineage of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew. I find that super inspiring.
A lot of your work has been quite collaborative – with you working with the likes of Fever Trails, Okmalumkoolkat, Nonku Phiri, Bonj Mpanza and Sibot, amongst others. In what ways has the collaborative approach added to your own solo work? And what do you enjoy best about working in collaboration with other artists?
I learn from everyone I work with. That leaves me with new musical vocab I didn’t have before.
You recently worked with Young Fathers on their recent trip to SA and you also recorded with an impromptu band on your recent trip to Switzerland. What is to happen of this material and are there any other international you have dreamt of working with?
I got to record bass on a track with Young Fathers, but I’m yet to get details of the next step in terms of release etc. The Swiss recording was with a collab group of Swiss/SA artists and we’ll release and tour the album in SA and Europe in 2016.
I’d really love to work with Nai Palm from Hiatus Kaiyote, Yasiin Bey, Taylor McFerrin, Ibeyi, Andreya Triana, Yukimi Nagano. Lots more too.
You’re about to join us in Joburg again for your launch of your new EP Sunwalker, which includes the very well received single On the Low featuring Okmalumkoolkat and Nonku Phiri. Considering how great the response to On the Low was, are you hoping the release of this EP will follow suit?
I hope people wanna dance to the EP and wanna bump it in their lounges too. I love releasing music, and it always feels amazing when people enjoy the stuff I’ve been making.
You’ve recently been signed with naas – a self-proclaimed ‘music agency’ with a great reputation in representing a quite diverse, and alternative range of musicians. What does it feel like to be represented by this collective and how is it different to how you used to work? Are they the first ‘record label’ (I know naas doesn’t like to be considered a record label as such) you have been signed to?
It’s the first time I’ve had someone representing me in terms of management and the music release and it’s great to have the support and a team of inspired people. It allows me more time to write music which is what I want.
Your vibe in 8 words or less.
Purple and teal
What are you most excited about for your gig in Jozi on Thursday.
Kitcheners is my favourite crowd and club in Jozi, I’m excited to see people dance.
What’s the likelihood of a surprise performance of “On The Low” with Okmalumkoolkat (DJ Zharp Zharp) live on the mic?
There is a very strong likelihood of this
We’re giving away two tickets to the Sunwalkers EP launch at Kitcheners tonight. Tell us what inspired “Comet Song” on the Sunwalker EP to stand a chance to win. #SunwalkersEP