James Copeland is an important figure in the South African music scene bringing several formidable projects including Broken Toy, Super Evil, Nesono and most recently Sad Paradise. We had a chat to discuss his new project, and the potential of a third Broken Toy album.
Hey James! Can we expect a new Broken Toy album soon?
Since the beginning, I always figured I’d do a trilogy of albums before it was time to move on, so I’ve kind of been avoiding the issue to be honest!
Also, I’ve been struggling to place where Broken Toy should be in the Psy scene over the past few years. I’ve lived through the rise and demise of Full On but didn’t want to end up latching onto a new trend until the time was right.
Now it seems that proper psychedelic music is coming back in fashion so it was worth the wait as I’m dead keen to write a really strange and special album without worrying too much about how it’s received. I’ve got millions of sketches and a handful of tracks that I know will go on it, but no idea when I’ll be done.
Hopefully this year still.
It sounds like you’re considering putting Broken Toy on the shelf after another album?
No – the idea with the trilogy of albums was never to shelve Broken Toy afterwards, but rather that it would be some kind of conclusion to an era and a new one could begin afterwards. If you take the past two albums thematically, they are expanding outwards.
The first one was ‘In a Dark House’ , the second was ‘Down on the Farm’ and the 3rd album title is ‘On the Devil`s highway’, so in a way, you can almost see an endless horizon after this, and hardly something considered an ending.
When is it time to retire a real dance floor banger?
South Africa has one of the hugest influx of new psy fans every year that I can think of. That’s what is creating the massive boom in popularity we’ve seen in the last few years, and it certainly helps keep the scene healthy and growing.
It’s for this reason that I’ll always end up with folks upset if I don’t play a certain hit track at a party – they’re new to the scene and have been dying to hear these tracks or they’re real die hard fans that can’t get enough. Either way – I’ll aim to please these people who are really passionate about hearing these songs rather than pander to a bunch of chin-stroking haters at the back of the dance floor with their arms folded.
There’s also your Sad Paradise project.
In the past prog has been a bit like ambient music with a 4/4 beat and I can’t say that interested me at all. I always knew prog and the slower tempo had the potential to be really fat, but it’s only now that I’ve heard people responding to a more rude and punky sound and that really appeals to me.
I’ve delved into slower stuff over the past 5 years with Nesono and my James Copeland projects, so I feel pretty confident making the jump and having fun exploring new territory.
You’ve released a couple of remixes so far.
I’m far too impatient to wait to get noticed the traditional route, so I’ve been using the friends and contacts I’ve made over the years to get this project up and running immediately. Looks like it paid off seeing as I just had my first international gig less than 2 months after my first track was released. It’s been a tactical move for sure, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been doing originals too.
My first original solo track will be out in a few months on Iono Music actually! Fancy that. I have a whole live set of which most are originals, so the best place to hear them for now is in the sets. As with Broken Toy, the style of the originals is all over the place – some melodic and spacious, others more punchy and in your face.
How does remixing a track compare to writing an original?
Something that I believe very strongly is that limitation is necessary for art to flourish. It took the Dark Ages for the Renaissance to happen. We have endless scope of cross genre mixing and too many easy ways to make music, so it gets hard to focus on what you want sometimes. I thrive under the restrictions of making a remix whereas starting with the infinite blank canvas of a new track can be daunting to the point where it’s impossible to do something.
So it’s fun to work within the framework of reinterpreting and reinventing existing elements – to put an unexpected spin on a track or hook that people know. I`ll always try and go in the opposite direction from what the original did whilst still having the restrictions of not pushing it too far.
Writing a track from scratch can seem like throwing every kind of bait available into the water waiting for a fish to bite and then it might not even be a dance floor killer fish that you catch! Ain’t nobody got time for that!
Will Sad Paradise become your primary project for outdoors?
I’m hoping that Sad Paradise will become a contender for the late to last sets of the parties for some good ol’ mashed up fun. Lets wait and see.
Late to last sets of the party, but that’s typically where Broken Toy has been fitted in?
Yeah, my favourite sets with Broken Toy over the years have been midday slots or anywhere that the dance floor thinks it’s heard it all. Then you have a bit more freedom to get slightly more twisted and people react to it better.
In the last few years though I did notice that the Broken Toy sets have been pushed earlier and earlier in the morning to make space for the new style progressive dominating the afternoon, and that makes sense.
You’re still well equipped for the night time though.
I have so much material to draw from it’s hardly a problem for me to play at night. I do treat it more like a club gig though, where everything needs to get straight to the point rather than a day set where I’ll meander around and play much more groovy and varied.
Day time is definitely my preference so I can show off more of my versatility.
What’s happening on the Super Evil front?
Arno is having fantastic success forging a proper metal scene in South Africa with his bands Zombies Ate my Girlfriend and Infanteria (who are just about to go play at the biggest metal festival in Europe I might add!), so we haven’t been able to finish up the heap of half written tracks we’ve been sitting on for a while now.
What we have been able to do though, is start a collaboration with my old friend Deon from Damage to start a bit of Damage VS Super Evil thing, which is completely brutal and over the top. He took the dark and brooding parts of Super Evil and just turned it into a total frenzy. Crazy shit – watch out in case it sneaks up on you.
Tell me a bit about how you allocate (writing) time for each project.
In case nobody noticed, I’m a bit scatter-brained with my musical output, and in the early days I suffered writer’s block because I was trying to force myself to just work in one style .
Now I have so many outlets for my creativity that I can’t really get bogged down. I just work on what I feel like that day. More often than not, I’ll start a day with something completely new and hammer at it until I lose interest.
Then I’ll go through all my other sketches making tiny changes here and there based on a “first impression” listen and work on stuff that grabs me at that moment – whatever project it is.
Quite a liberating way to work actually.
How long does it typically take to write a track?
Well, I have a scattered approach to writing where I’ll normally be working on about 5 different tracks at once, so it’s hard to say.
I start off a day on something new from scratch and push it as far as I can before i lose interest. Then i’ll just casually listen through all my other current sketches waiting for something that catches and I’ll dive into that for as long as i can. I do some scattered calculations and I think I put about 3 days of work into getting something done in the end.
That’s not to say I haven’t spent ages on tracks though – I think it took me over 3 years to write Necessary Roughness for example, whereas my Shiny Discoballs remix took me 5 hours. No real creative comparison between those two, but you get the idea.
How has becoming a father changed you? Does it influence your musical output at all?
It has been a huge lesson in time management and my musical output has somehow increased five-fold while my time to work on music has actually halved! The maths do not make sense!
As for how having this beautiful little impish creature running around eating all my equipment is going to truly affect my music remains to be seen.
I feel some huge shifts happening in my creativity, but so far it feels like it’s extending what I already do rather than sending me in new directions.
Thanks for the interview! Any last words before we finish off?
Thanks to those brave souls who chilled up on MIR for the sake of furthering our knowledge of space. Respect – that must have been well dodgy.