Meet Iain Thomas, the 36-year-old South African poet who is famous all over the world except in SA

Trevor Noah has pulled out at the last minute from hosting the MAMAs 2016, due to 'a severe upper respiratory infection'

Invisible Playlist: Cofield Mundi

2009-01-16 13:55
Cofield Mundi's Blindfold Test

Nina Simone "The House of the Rising Sun"
(Listening) It reminds me of Eva Cassidy….(Nina sings: "There is a house...") Ha-ha-ha! You have done your research. This is the first song that I could sing…and I didn't know that it was about a whorehouse. I've never heard this version, it's lovely.
What was the first version you heard?
I think it was The Animals.
On your parents’ record player?
No. Older brother, he was eight years older than me. I should have actually gone off music – I don’t know how I survived because basically he used to make me sit down and he would play me music. I wasn’t allowed out. I had to sit on the floor and he would play me everything from Led Zep across the board; which I didn’t really want to do. But he was my music educator.
It's Nina Simone, by the way…
Oh is it? What a lovely deep voice.
What is it about "The House of the Rising Sun" that struck a chord with you?
(Giggles) It's so funny. I just thought about something: this is like a psychological exercise.
Maybe you should stop thinking so much…
I can't – I just think from the minute I wake up to the moment I go to sleep. I was thinking about the chords. It's got almost every basic chord in it: A minor, C, G, D, F. And my songwriting is exceptionally simple. It's made more intricate from production, but I have a formula for how I write and my chord structure is very basic. I love simplicity in music. Never mad about jazz and stuff like that....I like simple melody. What about the idea that it's a narrative? In your songs you also try and tell a story, or have a conversation don't you?
Yes, usually with myself! (Laughs) And in fact, [my] song "I'm Gonna Fly" is me talking to myself. It's the two aspects of myself: the one side saying 'I can do this'; and the other side saying 'listen, you’re going to fall flat on your face if you try this.' So ja, there is a narrative. You've got my mind spinning here; you've taken me so far back in time, that's why I'm sounding a little tentative.

Eva Cassidy "Time After Time" (Cyndi Lauper cover)
This might be a dead giveaway…
(Listens) Ah, it's beautiful. (Listens really intently) It's a Cyndi Lauper song. Do you want me to tell you what it is? "True Colours"…isn't it? I know this song…"Time After Time".
Was Cyndi Lauper an influence?
Why not? What freaked you about her?
(Laughs) It was her hair! (Chuckles) I loved that one song, "True Colours". But no she wasn't. It's funny… there weren't that many female artists who were an influence. I've always had this thing of being drawn to male artists. Joan Baez was one of the only ones I related to.
What is it about women musicians you can't relate to?
Well, this sort of music I's just that I'm not that influenced by them. It's more of the male bands. Have you heard of a band called Dashboard Confessional? I absolutely love them. It's their writing as well. I've actually analysed it and I can't find what the solution is. But I like them. I love Orson.
Is it maybe that both those bands are bipolar? They have a manic side and a depressive side? Was it a conscious decision to include breezy songs and quite 'claustrophobic' - no, let's say 'intimate' songs on The Big Question?
Ah, the 'darker stuff'…don't you think that all songwriting's intimate until it's produced? I think that all songs are actually very acoustic. It doesn't matter whether it’s Mick Jagger or whether it's…Orson, when they sit down and write a song the music and how it transforms is in the production. I've always said the people who make the music in the studio and the producer are essential to how the music's going to get out there.
Indeed, so any idea who this is?
It's not Eva Cassidy, hey? Oh it is! I've never heard that before. Geesh! I could hear the intonations in her voice, but I wasn't sure.
That's twice you’ve mentioned Eva, are you a fan?
No. When I was performing in London about seven years ago I performed at this place called the Twelve Bar in Soho. And in the audience was this guy called Joe Masser who was a really interesting character. And I came off the stage and he had this American accent, and he said, "Oh I want to sign you." And I thought, "oh yeah, right". And I said "oh great, here's my number, give me a call." And three weeks later, I'd been out 'til three in the morning and there was a message saying you have to be at Abbey Road Studios at 8 o'clock. And I went there, and I was petrified. And in fact I was in the original John and Yoko Ono's studio – studio 2 - with the piano and everything. And the sound engineer kept on hearing this tapping noise, "what is it?" And it was my sandal on the floor that was doing it, I was so nervous. But anyway, one of the reasons he wanted to record me – and he offered me a deal which I turned down – was because he said I reminded him so much of Eva Cassidy when he saw me live. And I didn’t know who she was. And then I went and did some research….

On the subject of Eva, she died tragically young at 23…younger than 27 year old rock 'n roll suicides like Jimi, Janis and Jim, didn't she?
Yeah, tragic life. But it's interesting in astrology because that's Saturn Returned. Do you know about that? I call it 'Satan Returned'. It’s your first real growing up time or transit [that] starts at 27 and kind of ends around 31. Some people start a bit later. You'll find that a lot of people get married at that age. If you ask a lot of people when they got married, they'll say 27, 28…. But Saturn is actually the father in your chart. So he comes back to visit you. I can understand why artists …kill themselves and become drug addicts because…it's probably the most precarious of professions. Because you create something and you put it out there. But I mean, it’s the same as any job in that respect, you know let’s say you’re a 9 to 5 IT person, you’ve got to present your job and if the bosses don’t like it, it’s the same kind of thing. But, the ego is so hugely involved which is what becomes the difficult part: keeping your ego in the box. And dealing with your fears and not resorting to alcohol or whatever.
How did you navigate 'Satan's Return'?
I still am. I've never done drugs. I can't do them. If I smoke a joint or whatever, I become so transcendental nobody wants to hang out with me. I just know that I don’t have a constitution for it. It’s something that I’ve just had a healthy respect for 'cos I probably would have been completely wild had I taken it.

Duffy "Warwick Avenue" (off Rockferry) 
Gee, you're making me so emotional, listening to this music. (Listens to opening line, then immediately) Duffy. It's good. She's good. I don't really like her album, it's something to do with the hook, but her voice is very beautiful. It just makes me feel…calm. It does something; it makes you feel, but it's not necessarily pain.
So it's a pastiche of pain, an emotional sedative?
No, I think it is real. If she wrote her own songs… it's got to be real. You can't be hardcore all the time. You need some light relief. We’ve got to have serious art and we’ve got to have filler. That's what I think. I've realized something…the whole of life is about coming to terms with one's own contradictions. That’s everything you do, is to come to terms with the fact that one side of Cofield is reclusive, and the other side of her is completely socialite. You know, one side of me is not materialistic and the other side of me is? And that’s all it is, it’s about creating a balance of all those parts.

Sharleen Spiteri "Don't Keep Me Waiting" (off Melody)
Is this also a pastiche? It does sound like it. I don't know the song...(listens) but I like it…it's such a stunning song.
What about this makes you go this isn't vintage?
Not the arrangement, it's the style of singing. (Listens). No I don't know. Who is it?
It’s Sharleen Spiteri, from Texas
I actually thought that. But I’m so amazed that's her. What a nice Sharleen Spiteri song. (Sighs) Their last few albums have been so crap. Their very first album was beautiful. And then they kind of...people become so exceptionally lazy in their work....
Perhaps they simply became comfortable with their radio pop rock recipe? Do you ever want to bend the acoustic envelope?
I'd like to do something different next time. I didn't think about it so much on this album because I was still growing, so I'm taking what I had and growing a little bit more. But I think next album I've got to do something different. I love dance - I mean I don't like dance - but, house, some of it, I think my music would be quite suited to that lyrically, and my vocals, and I want to do something like that.

Cat Power "Rambling Woman" (off Jukebox)
Who is this? I know her... I don't who this is. I've heard it, but I don’t who it is. Give me a clue. I couldn't go on Weakest Link, I’d fail.
She's the indie 'IT' girl, also infamous for breaking down on stage weeping
Crying! (Laughs) I think she's quite great in that way – at least she can show her emotions, like Lesley Rae Dowling. Remember that? I remember as a child reading about that. That must've been her thing.
Do you like it?
I do like it. I wouldn't buy it. I suppose that when I listen to music it's got to move me. I wouldn't buy it, but if I had it I'd play it if I had a whole lot of friends round or something. It's nice for sitting in a restaurant or a bar, but it doesn't make me think.
Does it make you feel?
Feel like I’m a bit stoned! (Laughs) Who is it?
It’s Cat Power. She’s covering Hank Williams’ "Rambling Man".
Wow. Shows how you can annihilate music! (Chuckles) But "Cat Power”, what a nice name.
Have you ever thought of doing a cover to get into the Billboard charts?
The thought has crossed my mind. But being such a puritan (giggles) I haven’t found what I wanted to do. I thought of doing "I’m Looking Through You" by The Beatles because I ab-solutely love that song. But I wouldn’t know how to sing it though, that's why I can't…I mean I can sing it, but I’m still looking at how to sing it in order to make it worthwhile destroying the song. (Chuckles mischievously) I just hate destroying other people's songs. It's not that I’m going to destroy them, but if I do it, I've got to do it justice. So we'll wait and see. At some point I've got to do some covers.

Karen Zoid "Welcome" (off Media
It’s South African. (Almost immediately). It’s Karen Zoid. I don’t really know her stuff…I went to watch a bit of her set because her booking agent books me. It’s very, um…. (Listens) It reminds me of - I used to sing with this the band called The Aeroplanes when I was fifteen or whatever, and all the bands that we used to play in, there was Ella Mental, they were all quite a bit older than I was at that point. But it reminds me so much of that time. There’s a strong South African flavour in that. It’s not a garage band. It’s edgy….
It’s a song about meeting yourself at 30…when was your moment?
I think I’ve always known myself, from when I was quite young. I’m actually quite a conservative, steady kind of person. I love excitement obviously. I mean I’m the first person who will go off and do something wild. Like I would drive through Africa or I’ll go and live in a different country, or… I’ve moved 37 times in my life. And I love it. It’s like I built the house and I didn’t like the substation so we moved here, you know? So I like variety and change – but within that I’m quite steady and I’m quite conservative and I think things through, and I try to do things for the right reason. I’m definitely here for a spiritual life. I mean, I’m not here for a kind of wild, rock star life, I think.

Paul E. Flynn and Louise Carver "Changed" (off Fields)
(Immediately) I love this! I love this! And I actually quite liked her voice in this, for the first time. (Listens) He's a sexy little beast, Paul is.... (chuckles)
Have you ever thought about doing a huge 'his 'n hers' duet?
Um…no. Craig from Watershed and I have always had a connection. I like their music. I don't love it, but I like it…. I'd just come into the music industry and I was nominated for that pop album award and he was there. And I went up to people and said 'hi', and they were very, you know, 'too cool to move'? But I went up to congratulate him 'cos he won the award for our section, and he just picked me up and kissed me and swung me around. "Cofield", he said, "I love your music! I’ve got it in my car, I haven't taken it off the CD player for two weeks" or something. So we formed a friendship....We did discuss doing something together because I think our voices will work quite nicely. I haven't chosen anyone edgy, but I think we're well-suited. Brendon (Jury) and I are also thinking of doing a house album together.

Hold that thought....
Gang of Instrumentals "Home" remix feat. Louise Carver
Is this Brendon? Has he produced this? (Listens) No. I don't like it. I was enjoying his voice until she came along. (Chuckles) I don't mean it in a horrible way. I like the hook of this song. I actually thought of doing something with a black musician. You can hear it on "Help Me Out" – that was the cleaner. It was such an amazing moment, we called him in and said 'sing something in Xhosa'. And he said 'give me something to say'. And I said, "shine man, shine". And he sung it…and then he heard it on radio. And he was absolutely in his element…. I'd like to work with a black artist that'll add something different. But I don't want to do something that's just cliché. Something that's more melodic. Like a Mattafix. More a narrative, story. But not a girl-boy thing, you know. Not kind of call and answer…do you like call and answer? Boys love that, that’s quite interesting….

Lesley Rae Dowling "The Critic" (off Unravished Brides)
(Immediately) Lesley Rae Dowling. How funny. How is that voice? I mean, where in the world are you going to get a voice like that? …I really hate her music.
Too theatrical perhaps?
No, um, maybe. It’s like a musical. Do you watch musicals? I can't watch a musical. It’s like if you’re watching a TV program and they all start singing I'll turn it off. Like High School Musical. I'm amazed how kids love high school musical. It's all about the singing every five minutes. A person’s talking then suddenly they’re singing again.
Right, clearly Lesley’s not an influence on you at all, but do you know what’s she singing about? Critics. Do you care about criticism?
I only ever had one negative review and I was so upset. It wasn't even a negative review. They said my voice sounded sweet and I was so upset about it. But it was a very, very good process for me, ‘cos it went back to why I think like that….
Clearly you don’t see yourself as sweet?
(Chuckles) No, I had to work through why it was such a thing. They could have said, she’s got big toes or whatever, and I would have taken offence to it. What was interesting was that I read a review by Riaan Wolmarans, who used to be like, 'the critic' and I was petrified. Anyway, I read it and it was the most amazing insight into myself. It was a really positive review. He just said, "darker side of love", and he made me see something and I cried when I read it. Because it was really a beautiful review, but I suddenly saw something in myself that someone else had seen that I hadn't seen myself. And I wrote to him and I thanked him and said that he'd moved me…. But it was good because it did actually show me stuff. So it’s always interesting to see how people perceive you. At the end of the day it’s all just surmising, isn't it?

Imagine Sarah McLachlan inviting Sharleen Spiteri and Natalie Merchant round for a girls night in of Pongracz-popping and listening to Eva Cassidy covers and you'll know exactly where this 30-something songstress is on the singer songwriter map. Then again, maybe not. As we found out when we played the Sama-nominated singer songwriter a few smash hits which soon got her waxing and waning on about the 'return of Satan' and so much more.
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