“I found it to be just breasts and beheadings,” Jesse Clegg exclaims as he shakes his head. “Those are two of my favourite things so I enjoyed it but I couldn’t watch more than the first season.”
Winter has come and the singer-songwriter and I are sitting outside an eatery catching the few sun rays that penetrate the density of the mall. We’re talking about Game of Thrones and he admits that the hugely popular series was a little too dark for him.
I tease him that he, too, presents a dark, more melancholy side to himself on his third album, Things Unseen. Due for physical copy release next month, the 10-track album is available for pre-order on iTunes.
Chasing after shadows/It’s only in my mind/racing through the darkness/Be careful what you find, Clegg and Durban’s finest vocalist, Shekinah, sing on his latest single, Breathing.
“I wrote the song before I started working with Shekinah,” he tells me.
“As I was writing, I got the sense that it should be a collab. I like that the lyrics talk about being in the light and being in the dark and reality versus fantasy, so I liked that there could be two voices singing those parts.
“It’s about two people trying to find themselves out of a dark situation and they have to stick together. Sometimes you need someone to say look at the bigger picture, it’s not so bad.”
With singles like Use Me, which encourages a lover to “waste me, darling”, and Souvenir on which he sings about giving someone his life only to have it replaced, Clegg is poetic, contemporary and honest. Deeper cuts, like Wake Me Up, are about “hindsight and how regret works”.
“I don’t know why I was writing about that at the time,” he laughs. “Writing is an inward process and you have to get introspective and I guess that’s one of the things I wanted to say at the time.”
Following his first two albums, When I Wake Up and Life on Mars, Clegg’s growth is most evident in his acquiescing to “let go” and let Denholm Harding (of Just Jinjer) and Ewald van Rensburg (of Monark) contribute to the production and engineering, respectively, of Things Unseen.
“I have to credit my producer, Denholm,” Clegg confesses, “We had a long conversation about what music we like, what music is important right now and where we can take it. I’m a singer-songwriter and I write most of my songs on acoustic guitar or piano.
“So I start off with these demos that are just guitar and voice, or piano and voice, and I can take it in any direction. It all boils down to what excites you – you’re going to be living with this album for the next two years or so. Let’s make something you’re excited about and want to present to people.”
He continues: “On my first two albums, I did everything on the albums. I wasn’t able to let go. I was quite stringent with my songs and safeguarded them. For this one, I really wanted to break the mould.
“I’ve gained a lot of confidence in who I am and what I do well. As an artist, you have to play to your strength. I love hip hop, but I’m not going to go be a rapper now.”
This album, which is Clegg’s first foray into releasing independently after having been signed to David Gresham Records, is “really about the truth behind things. What’s really beyond the obvious, beyond the superficial. Digging below the surface to find some kind of truth or meaning or connection”.
“It’s an open-ended title, but the songs are about trying to find a revelatory moment, to find a connection that’s real.”
His music has been able to speak so eloquently for himself that it’s not all that necessary to name-drop his father and music veteran, Johnny Clegg. This Clegg’s Things Unseen doesn’t promise scorching hot singles like a Targaryen and her fire-breathing dragons, but it does dig deeply to strike the balance between chart-climbing pop and meaningful messaging.
Pre-order Things Unseen on iTunes.