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Vintage Words: Visiting with Nibs

Interview blog for heat magazine, May 2010.

Nibs in action.
Nibs in action.

Visiting with Nibs…

I’ve learnt three things from Nibs van der Spuy:
• How to open those pesky plastic CD packets in less than two seconds using only your thumbnail
• That guys who connect closely with guitar strings often need reinforcements in the form of fake nails to get them through a gig
• That he’s a better interviewer than me: I hadn’t known him for five minutes, and he already knew where I came from, that I have a cat and actually speak Afrikaans.

Nibs is such a laid-back, comfortable guy that you find yourself spilling details on your own life instead of digging for his deep, dark secrets. Not that he’s closely guarded – not at all. His particular brand of beautiful acoustic-guitar driven melodies asks that he put his emotions and experiences out there for all to hear. Such is the case with A House Across The River, his latest album, just released. As good a time as any to corner him for some lunchtime red wine and questions…

A colleague of mine gets very sentimental about your music; he calls it “snog songs”… Do you get that a lot?
Nibs: All across the world! I put my heart on the line when I write, and hopefully what I’m going through emotionally at the time helps people to connect with the music. The essence of songwriting is honesty – you have to be honest, even when you’re putting your experiences into a fictional context. That’s why I love musicians such as Tom Petty… And Bruce Springsteen. He paints vivid pictures. I’m thinking of Nebraska, The Ghost of Tom Joad, Devils & Dust… I sang The River just last night!

The storytellers… Would you say you’re a storyteller too?
Nibs: Yes! A House Across The River is basically about reliving the lost dreams you once had in your heart, perhaps as a child… When you believed you could do anything. People should go back to the basics. What you drive, what you wear doesn’t mean anything. There’s no love and happiness in it. You need to go back to the simple things. It’s much like Tom and Bruce’s songs – they give you a story, but it’s up to you to determine how it turns out for you, what you do with it.
It’s a metaphor for life… The mansion the boy’s driving past in A House Across The River is symbolic. The risk factor is crossing the river to get to it, to the girl inside. The girl’s not gonna come to you, you have to go and get her!

So in your case, did you go and get the metaphorical girl?
Nibs: I’m living my long-time dream… I’ve been playing music for many years, but for a while I also lectured at varsity, for 14 years. But before the release of Beautiful Feet, I never really DID it. I took a risk with the release of Beautiful Feet: to resign from my job when the CD got international recognition. That was the sign. Being on the road… I love it, I love playing with others, and I love playing solo and independent.

And you also got the actual girl!
Nibs: She’s French and lives in France. We’ve been together for three years… I met her on MySpace! She commented that she liked my music, I posted her an album, we chatted, and I flew over to meet her… It’s not always easy, but we’re both independent, which helps with the distance thing!

Has living your dream changed you?
Nibs: I’ve come out of my shell, I’m less introspective… When you put music out there, you’re putting your soul on the line. I’m not scared anymore. I can tell the whole world what I feel.

Do you structure your gigs as well, to tell a story?
Nibs: I never work with a setlist. I just feel the vibrations from the audience, and it helps me decide what to play. My audience dictates, I think a setlist is rigid, it confines you.

You worked with Farryl Purkiss and Guy Buttery on this album again… Any other local acts you like?
Nibs: I’m a huge Valiant Swart fan, from his Dorpstraat Revisited days… That’s a powerful album. And bass-guitarist Schalk Joubert. Dan Patlansky, Albert Frost – I’ve known him since the age of 17! And I love 340ml!

You also worked with Piers Facini on this album…
Nibs: I discovered Pierce when I went to watch a gig of Ben Harper years ago… He was touring with Ben, did a duet with him. Pierce is my favourite singer/songwriter. But I guess my biggest musical inspiration would be Tim Buckley – Geoff Buckley’s dad… He died at the age of 28, but put nine albums out before then! Geoff never knew his dad. Cripples Cry on my album is a cover of a Tim Buckley song.

Nieu Bethesda’s quite an interesting song, also with Farryl on vocals…
Nibs: Nieu Bethesda is quite a disturbing town; it doesn’t have the greatest energy… I didn’t really paint a pretty picture in the song; it’s more a song of redemption… Get your faith together! Nieu Bethesda is very grey… a bad acid trip.

What’s your process when recording an album?
Nibs: I’m a fan of albums. If I think of guys from the ’70s, ’80s, they were bringing out an album a year – sometimes even twice a year! Why wait years? Every day is inspirational – if you wait too long, the inspiration fades. I do albums very organically. Once I have a theme, I work within the parameters of what’s in my heart and dreams. While ideas are fresh, lay them down! Don’t wait!
A House Across The River was recorded and mixed in five days. You get three dudes together, living the music… Things get really organic. We decided we were going to keep the music real; nothing was recorded in more than three takes. Some takes felt good immediately, but we’d do another for just in case… Obviously you have to rehearse, but the song still needs to be a bit foreign to you when you play it. It must not sound too rehearsed, because that just kills the soul.

Do you ever find the process of bringing out an album, of being so honest, painful?
Nibs: It is painful… Life stories can be painful!

What would you ultimately like your music to do?
Nibs: When I leave, I’d like to know that I’ve left snapshots of my life behind. I want my albums to be timeless, to sound timeless. Not overly produced!

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