Connell Cruise: "I’m still discovering the kind of artist I’d like to be"

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Singer-songwriter Connell Cruise has recently taken the big step of moving from his hometown of Johannesburg to New York, USA. He answers some questions about the move, his music and life.

Good day, Connell. How are things?

Hi! Things are well thanks, I hope everything is going well with you?

connell1web
Photo by Meredith Truax

Yep, all good. Congrats on the recent release of your new EP, Into the wild. According to a press release you purposefully wanted to make it more upbeat than your debut offering. And indeed it does sound as if there’s a stronger focus on building rhythms and big hooks now. What brought this evolution about, and how did you plan it? How did the writing and recording experience differ from the process on your first album?

Thanks so much! Writing and recording this album has felt a little like growing up as a songwriter, as a musician too. I had the chance to work with some epic artists and writers from around the world in preparation for it and every part of the process took me deeper into the intentionality of the art. I suppose I used to believe that great music happened by accident. I’d hear other artists produce these out-of-this-world records and wonder where they came from. What I’ve learned in the last year or so is that while inspiration is uncontrollable, crafting a song (and an album) is a deliberate, purposeful expression of what an artist is thinking, feeling, believing and loving at that very moment. It was as fresh as the first day of high school, a whole new world of creating music.

You’ve recently undertaken a permanent move from Johannesburg to New York. That’s quite the massive step! I’m sure it wasn’t an easy decision to make – what did you have to consider and weigh up to make this move? What was the hardest thing about it?

It’s a huge step. I have a headstrong nature, ruled by the mindset of being completely committed to something to see it through. My career is no different. Signing with Island Records is an opportunity to take my music to the world stage and in many ways New York is the heartbeat epicentre of that stage. This is where I have to be to make the most of this opportunity; I have to give it all I’ve got.

Back to the question of writing – you’re known as a talented songwriter, and according to the album info for Into the wild you had a bit of support in this regard, from John Ryan, Teddy Geiger and James Shelley, among others. A whole new team of producers and mixers also joined the setup. What’s it like moving from a situation where it’s mostly you doing the writing and making the decisions to where hit-makers are involved and you’re more a contributing party to the end product? What’s difficult about this, and what’s more of a relief, or how would you describe the setup? How has it influenced your writing and how you think about your own writing?

I haven’t found it to be that much of a shift, to be honest. I like collaborative writing; I’ve always liked it. I think music is collaborative by nature, and I love how the writing process takes that into consideration. The men and women that I’ve been writing with have been incredible in the way they manage to enhance the lyrics and melodies without sacrificing any of the authenticity; that’s the secret ingredient, I think.

Your first album was highly acclaimed – among other accolades, you were rewarded with three SAMA nominations. The saying goes that the sophomore release is the true test – did the highly positive response to the first album put any pressure on you regarding the creation of the follow-up? What was it like to do so well with the debut – is there a sense of confirmation that “I can do this” or “I should do this” involved, or are the nominations and awards more of a side note in terms of what you want to do and be as an artist?

In many ways I’m still discovering the kind of artist I’d like to be. I try not to think about “following up” albums with new albums; the creativity has to flow naturally, and above all it must be real. I am very grateful for the accolades and reception my music has received so far in South Africa; it’s a great feeling to know that what you’ve created has impacted in a positive way.

We’ve spoken about your move from the South African scene to the USA scene … Many South African musicians and bands feel that there’s a bit of a “ceiling” in South Africa, considering the reach of the market, the relatively few good venues, etc. What’s your feeling about this, and what’s stood out for you thus far in terms of the differences between the South African scene and the USA scene, in terms of crowds, venues and the like? I’m sure both have their pros and cons, to an extent?

I think the only ceiling is the one you create for yourself. Creativity should always be unbounded. I’m not saying that there are no challenges, I’m just saying that there are always ways of overcoming obstacles. The US crowd has a lot in common with the South African crowd, the main difference being the size and diversity. It’s a massive place and it takes a lot of dedication to see it through. 

Even though your career is relatively young you appear to have had some insane experiences thus far, especially considering the shows in the USA. Any particular highlights thus far? Any odd behind-the-scenes stories you’d care to share? Any experiences – at home or abroad – performing or touring that you’d rather not remember?

Haha, it’s all very chilled backstage. I like to keep it easy and stress-free. I have a few backstage rituals that I like to follow through with and they usually take up most of the time before the performance. 

What does the near and far future hold for Connell Cruise, as far as you can control it?

I’m going to take over the music world.

What is the meaning of life?

Love and contentment.

connell2web

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