We hooked up with Cameron Bruce, who is busy recording his single ‘I didn’t mean to come around’ at Darkstar Productions, where we also got the chance to chat to Darkstar owner – and all-round talented muso – Kevin Leicher.
Kevin, the name of your studio is awesome how did you come up with it?
To register the company name had to write a list of three options…and the first two were actually taken, so Darkstar was like an afterthought just to fill in the third option…and that was what I ended up with. It was by default.
What kind of atmosphere do you aim at setting in your studio?
I wanted it to be a super chilled studio. I think that if any artist is relaxed that’s when you get the best work out of them. So some sort of corporate environment where you’re feeling tense and watching the clock doesn’t really add to the right atmosphere to creating.
Cameron did you enjoy recording at Darkstar?
Ja , without a doubt. I’ve recorded at a lot of places and I mean we only met 2 weeks ago and as soon as we started recording we just had the same sort of image what we wanted the song to be and like Kevin says he wants it to be a relaxed sort of place…and it is. I felt very creative in here.
If you could name one thing that Darkstar does differently to other studios what would that be?
For me it’s just the quality that you get out of it. At other places that I’ve recorded I’ve really liked the song and the ideas that were in it but the quality of the sound was just not there … and I mean I’ve been listening to this rough mix – just the rough mix – all week and the quality is superb and that’s what music is about, you want that quality.
And during the recording did your material change from what you planned to record and what you’ve come in here and done?
Well actually I recorded this song that we did now about a month ago at another studio…and I didn’t play it for Kevin cos I didn’t want it to be tainted. When I write, the songs are pure acoustic and vocals and I’ve kinda got an image of what the band should do and when something is going to come in etc, so it was hard coming here having recorded the song a month ago and not been tainted by it. But somehow this is completely different to what I did in the other studio…and a lot of it is due to Kevin, cos we kinda just clicked on what we wanted it to be.
How did you break into the business?
I don’t know if I’m in the business yet… (laughs). But I suppose my biggest claim to fame if you can call it that is that I was on Idols (Season 5, 2009) and I came top six there…so that was pretty much the start of my career – if you can say that. Whether I’m in the business or not I don’t know…we’ll see after this song.
Kevin, what market or target audience do you feel Cameron will break into with the music you have recorded here at Darkstar?
Its funny we didn’t expect I, we didn’t even aim for it, but now that we’ve actually done the track… when we played the rough mix to Warren from Plug, the first thing he said was ‘Wow, it’s a bit like John Legend’ . So I think there is actually quite a big crossover appeal . It will be great if we do actually nail the crossover on this track, which means a much wider market straightaway in South Africa than just your niche, be it indie, white rock, whatever. South Africa is a tough market, and I think unintentionally we have managed to get a bit of a diverse sound that should hopefully appeal to a wider audience.
I had a huge meeting with a big record label and they basically said we’re not going to use any of your songs. And that’s never what I intended. That for me was the nail in the coffin for the record label
What’s the best thing about your job?
My job 🙂
To play instruments, I think I would get very frustrated if I was just engineering. I’m a musician before I’m a sound engineer and I always get to play something on some of the tracks, or do some programming…being creative with the arrangements. And that’s the part that I love the most – actually getting to create.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received regarding handling yourself in the music industry?
I read somewhere once (probably in a guitar magazine, I used to read a lot them as a teenager). It said that you can always chase what is current, and try and be current and trendy, but you will always be chasing something. The best thing to do is cocoon yourself and do what you think is cool and wait for the trend to meet you.
Cameron have you released any material in the past?
I haven’t released anything. Nothing of mine has ever been on radio and I wanted it to be like that. After Idols I got so many offers to sign up with labels and stuff, but there was always a catch. Three of the labels wanted me to do at least three Afrikaans songs, and I have nothing against Afrikaans music, it’s just that I don’t voluntarily listen to it, and I don’t speak the language, so I don’t know why I would do it. Also, I was 18 at the time of Idols, so releasing something then would have been immature and it I wouldn’t have had the ability to make it what I wanted it to be. So I think now that I’ve waited a while, I’ve also separated myself from that brand which is what I wanted to do. I’ve now gained a bit of the ability and experience to put out there what I want to put out there.
Do you think if you’d carried on straight after Idols you would have been pigeon-holed as an Idols contestant, and that’s where you would have stayed?
Ja I was, I mean I didn’t release anything, but I did tons of gigs all over the country and all those people just wanted me because of Idols. So the publicity was huge (and publicity makes a career), it’s a nice platform to work off of – but it’s definitely not what I am. I mean I’m not an Elvis Blue or anything (no offence), I want to make music that I want to make.
Just out of interest, if you make the top six in Idols like you did, are you contractually obliged to them for a certain amount of time after that to do live gigs or recordings?
Ja, we were signed to an outside agency that actually worked with the whole crew at Idols and they helped us with our song choices and stuff like that and we were contracted to them for three months after the show. After that a lot of the contestants were let go from the agency cos there weren’t enough gigs or whatever. But me and my friend Grahame stayed with them for another 6 months or so. You know there is a big conflict of interest – they represent the top ten in idols, , so they get more commission and they get paid a lot more for the top person you know. So in the end you’re getting gigs that were meant for you but the agency has punted the other person…so we had a lot of that. But I was still so young I was just happy to be doing gigs.
Why did you choose to record just one track?
In the past when recording I’ve committed to a certain amount of songs and then not been happy with the first one but had to just carry on, so I think – Kevin actually suggested it as well – that we do one track, see how it goes and go from there. I don’t want to commit to something anymore that I’m not happy with from the start. So now that I am extremely happy with what been done, we’ll definitely carry on.
cocoon yourself and do what you think is cool and wait for the trend to meet you
We know that Kevin Leicher is an amazing musician and often plays instruments on the albums he records for other artists. Did you play on Cameron’s song at all?
I did. Currently it’s me playing drums, keyboards and bass. But we’re actually going to get Cameron’s bass player here to play bass, so that he can be part of the production.m not happy with from the start. So now that I am extremely happy with what been done, we’ll definitely carry on.
Cameron could we expect a full length album in the future, have you got enough material?
Ja, I’ve been writing since I was twelve. I wouldn’t record the stuff I wrote when I was twelve…(laughs), but we definitely have got enough songs for a full length album. I would imagine we would have all of the tracks done by the end of the year, if we wanted to.
Have you got a promotional company that you are currently working with?
We are working together with Warren at Plug Music.
How did the recording process go – Kev did you use guide tracks to start off the process?
It’s always the same, I kind of have my method and what I normally do is, if I’m working with a singer/songwriter not a band…then I get he or she to give me a guide to click track off the acoustic (or whatever guide instrument) and voice. So I just went in and started playing the drums and came up with some ideas and then we just started layering on top of that, but what I enjoy about getting a separate guided voice is that if he leaves I can still maybe just mess around and add things, layer a lot of ideas and then if he comes in the next day I can play them for him, and he can go yeah that’s cool, that sucks, maybe change this.
Because you play on so may albums Kev and I know you play guitar on a lot of the guys you record, how do approach the issue of not having the same guitar sound . I’m assuming you use the same guitar and rigs, the same effects – how do you approach not getting the same guitar sound across the different albums you record?
You know it’s funny cos you can actually use the exact same guitar through the same setting, and have it sound totally different in a different song just because of everything that’s around it. Also the technology today is ridiculously flexible, so before if I was actually physically stuck to one guitar, one amp and one stomp box, then I would have the same sound, but with the digital world you can feed in one thing and get out ten different creations.
Cameron do you have a full band together?
I do. We’ve done gigs all over the place. We play a lot of corporate gigs and we play a lot at Tanz Cafe. At the moment it’s a trio thing, more of a bluesy sort of thing. It’s a bassist, a drummer and I. I play lead guitar and sing. It’s just a bunch of friends at the moment, I’d like to make it a lot more serious.
When you play the corporate gigs, do you throw in covers or is it all originals?
No, corporate gigs are all covers. I’m not well known enough yet to get to do my own songs. So hopefully one day. I think that’s when I’ll know I’m in the business is when I can play my own songs at corporate gigs and people will dig it.
And when you play Tanz?
That’s mainly originals. We kind of advertise it as Cameron Bruce from Idols or whatever, and that brings a decent crowd and then I just use it as a platform to play my own stuff and usually people dig it so. We throw in like two or three covers.
When can the people out there expect to hear the single on radio?
I don’t know if we can say yet exactly. It still needs to be mixed and mastered, and re-do the bass. So at least two weeks till it is ready. Then once the single is 100 percent ready we still have to meet with radio and then who knows, maybe they won’t even play it, radio is another portal.
Now your experience with radio, which both of you probably have. It’s not the easiest thing – to get play listed is it?
Kevin: I can honestly say after years of submitting tracks, that I cannot judge. They have accepted stuff that I thought they would never take and then rejected songs that I was convinced – and still am convinced – are great tracks. I don’t know who’s choosing or what their criteria is. And then every station is different, I find Highveld is a lot more accommodating, 5fm are very picky. With this track we can try Metro and stuff like that as well.
Listening to this track is sounds very radio friendly, its a got a great hook, the melody’s nice, the timing of the song’s spot on for radio (just over 3 minutes), so we wish you guys luck with this track, hopefully it does get the airplay
Now what is the next step if this track takes off big time, but you’ve only recorded one track. Is it a rush to get in the studio?
Kevin: No, I don’t think it works like it used to, because people are not physically going out and buying CD’s like they used to. So if we can have this track on the internet, , as a single, maybe as a cellphone download. It’s actually back to the old days when people used to buy singles. You can sell singles and you can just sell one every month.
Cameron: I’ve actually discussed that with Warren, I don’t go out and buy CD’s anymore, and I don’t know anyone who does, its all iTunes based. I was pretty much thinking a lot of the artists today release albums and they have maybe two or three singles on the radio, possibly even one and they disappear from the public eye for a year or two years. What I was thinking is maybe just single, single, single – and stay in the public eye. That way if we release this and it does become a decent hit in SA, we could have the next single ready in two weeks really. So I don’t think we’ll ever be short of stuff to play.
Kevin: Hopefully a decent single will have airplay of over a month, which gives you a month to do the next one. Once you’ve done ten, then you can package it and sell it as an album.
Cameron: My thing is I want to have all my tracks done by the end of the year. Whether I release an album is another story. I think this little single route is a much more viable route. If at the end of the year you have a decent album of ten, eleven songs that are done already, you can release that after everything else has been done. I don’t think it’s necessary to have a hard copy.
And it’s quite good doing it this way that you’re not contractually bound to a five album release and it needs to be finished on certain dates. And the music actually deteriorates because you’re trying to push out albums.
Well that’s it, I’m not a hard person to work with, but I’ve never wanted to be told what I must do with my music. So I think it’s a much better way to go.
Music is a very personal thing and getting the best out of it takes time
Ja after Idols I had a huge meeting with a big record label and they basically said we’re not going to use any of your songs. And that’s never what I intended. That for me was the nail in the coffin for the record label.
If people want to see what Cameron is up to where can they find information?
I do a lot of updates on twitter: @CamBruce, and we’ve got a Facebook fan page.
There is also my personal Facebook page, as well as Linkedin and Reverbnation
I am sure if you just type in Cameron Bruce you will find me, I am always the guy holding the guitar in the profile pictures.
What was the one thing you will take with you from this experience?
I don’t know if you can only take one thing…a song, a killer song 🙂
Every time I do something like this I learn a heck of a lot
Kevin: As do I
Cameron: And I learned so much from Kevin, so its the final song that is something great to take away.
Kev, if people want to get hold of Darkstar?
I’ve got a cellphone.
Also by email firstname.lastname@example.org
My website will be up soon, its been done by an awesome company called smudge. I’ve been kind of postponing it, once I get the website then I’ll get on twitter.
Thanks guys, thanks for your time AND thanks for being our FIRSTinterview for the website!
Cameron: YEEEEESS! (airpunch)