Though tempting, it’s hard to call Academie a side-project or spin-off band. Yes, husband-and-wife duo Jean-Louise and Alex Parker have been seen in bands as diverse as Dear Reader, Fulka, and ISO in the past, but their new band has practically nothing in common with those acts. We talked with Academie in anticipation of their set at the new festival just outside of Pretoria, A Place In The Sun.
“Academie is pronounced ‘Academy’ (/ə’kædəmɪ/),” Jean-Louise explains, to a question I’m sure she’s been asked a few times before. “We really struggled to find a band name that we liked and that didn’t already exist. We really liked ‘Academy’, but decided to change the spelling slightly to ensure that we didn’t have to change our name later because of some famous metal band in India of the same name.”
I find their spousal relationship fascinating. Surely there are advantages to knowing your musical partner really well, but everyone knows that it could be a bad idea to mix business with pleasure.
“It’s definitely an advantage in our case,” says Alex. “We have come to understand one another’s tastes, ideas and methods. You can go deeper with someone you know really well, and that way you can create something truly unique. Obviously there are moments where we clash, but we get over those quickly and focus on the positives.”
Jean-Louise had spent a lot of time on tour in Europe with Dear Reader, “and I was definitely influenced and inspired by the freedom that the bands have there to experiment with different sound worlds, but I don’t think I could really draw a comparison between Dear Reader and Academie.”
“Certainly the experience that I’ve gained playing in ISO has come in handy in this project,” Alex adds. “But Academie is an entirely different outfit, conceived and inspired by music and art that are relevant to us and our relationship.”
Jean-Louise’s part in Academie is also much more free and creative. “My role in Dear Reader was always that of a session musician. I wrote some string parts and a bit of backing vocals on ‘Idealistic Animals’, but apart from that it was always very much Cherilyn’s project.”
Alex adds: “I think fans of ISO and Dear Reader would love Academie, but obviously not all. People look for different things in music and we try to stick to what we’re good at and let the rest take care of itself.”
I’ve seen a few live Academie sets, and they’re definitely different from any other South African band at the moment (that I’m aware of). Live viola, keys, and saxophone are combined with pre-recorded samples (triggered live on a sampler pad), loops, and tracks. “The tracks are actually quite sparse,” Jean-Louise clarifies. “I think people don’t always realise when we’ve looped stuff live, they just think it’s part of the track!”
This kind of setup – specifically the live looping – necessitates that the band plays to a set, steady ‘click track’ metronome. This might sound like something that’ll detract from the live dynamics of a regular on-stage situation, but Academie pulls it off well. “We have a lot of experience playing with click, so it doesn’t really affect how we play live. Some people prefer to play without click, but I’m too much of a control freak to do that! Our setup also doesn’t really allow for us playing without click because of all the looping.”
On the recording side of things, Academie has released an impressive 6-track EP – Volumes. Though this EP is barely out of the oven, Jean-Louise says they are still working on a steady stream of media being produced. “This year has been a bit of a whirlwind for us. We’ll be releasing a music video for ‘Suburban Dreams’ soon, as well as a live studio recording of ‘In The Clearing’ with a string section. We’ll start work on our first full album over December and January and we’ll hopefully be playing some shows in Europe in April 2017.”
A Place In The Sun music festival, happening at Nkwe Resort just outside of Pretoria on 17-20 November, will be hosting Academie for a set. Jean-Louise is thrilled about this.
“I think everybody in the fest’s team genuinely loves music and wants to help build the SA music industry. It’s great that it’s a one-stage festival, so that bands don’t have to fight for audiences. And I love small festivals. Nobody wants to queue to pee!”
Alex adds: “A first time thing is always a risk, but we need it in the industry. I’m very excited to see how it turns out.”
When they’re not playing or queuing, they’re excited to also see Femi Koya, Diamond Thug, Sol Gems and Hello Beautiful perform sets at the festival.
“I think it sounds like a great little festival! Each artist would get the full attention of the audience, there’s a beautiful setting and a great team of organisers.
WIN TICKETS: We’re giving away a ticket to A Place In The Sun to one lucky reader. To enter this giveaway, simply answer the following question using the comments section below: Name one of the other acts that Academie is looking forward to seeing at A Place In The Sun. Competition closes and winners will be selected/contacted on Friday 11 November – if you’ve entered, look out for an announcement around that day.
UPDATE: Unfortunately A Place In The Sun has been cancelled – see here for more info.