INTERVIEW: South African powerhouse TUELO

Hi Tuelo, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Great, thanks!

Can you talk to us more about your track “Run”?

RUN is a punk-rock soul fantasy song with a taste of my culture. The root for the song is from my Tswana/Khoi culture, it’s the secret sauce! I wrote it on acoustic guitar and I danced in polyrhythm with my feet – then I dissected the layers of rhythms and presented it to my super talented cousins to play and make it what it is.  I knew it would be heavy on the synth, guitar and drums. It’s the story of the EP, about taking a journey.  By the way, the acoustic guitar version of the song is quite different, I’ll play it for you sometime!

Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

My mother Saint Margaret used to say tears make you run faster. I can’t quite remember if it was her mother who said it, but either way I wrote the song at a time when I started running (jogging) outside and figuratively running and singing for my life. Even in the uncertainty of my life and the actual tough times living very far away from any family and lacking everything except a sound mind, the words that my mother said to me that one time made me write repeatedly in my journal “RUN she run, she run, she run, she runs. He run, he run, he run, he runs”.  Everything else about the song was basically written in 15 minutes many months later when I was ready and the full song came to me.

Any plans to release a video for the single?

Video release coming very soon. We are almost there, we are just wanting more and more to make sure that what we put out fully describes who we are. 

The single comes off your new album Saint Margaret – what’s the story behind the title?

I have too many stories about mum, the one we call Saint Margaret, so many that I don’t know where to begin. She is a humble woman, who gets excited at the thought of seeing chickens roaming free in the yard of the farm I grew up on. She is prayerful, super sharp, and so happy in a childlike manner. I was born later in her life after she had raised seven of my fathers siblings and given birth to six children, and we always had about 10 kids in the house until one day they were all gone and I was left to know both my parents as human beings. She is kind to everybody, the highest dignitaries in politics/government and the very poor respect and love her. What I can say is that my mother never really questioned my pain but she coddled my resolve in life and helped me push past grief to conquer myself.  Anyone will tell you that there is this energy about her that is all knowing, loving, present and she doesn’t even know what she is doing when she being a saint. I want to make her so proud and buy her as many chickens as she can handle. The funny thing is that there is probably some child out there thinking the same thing about mum because she is a Saint. 

How was the recording and writing process?

Awesome! I wanted it to be more methodical and a new experience and Kirk Schoenherr our producer and music director for Chet Faker did it for me.  Even though the EP could not explain everything, it had to display an array of song that could give you a glimpse of future. Also my cousins played on the songs: Kevin Wenzel on keys, Daniel Dolgin on bass and Kushaiah Hooper the baddest drummer in New York! We started off recording in Studio G in Brooklyn for the skeleton of the songs and worked through them for almost a year. Its a lot of money, tears, learning, winning and fun to do things right in music, so we muscled through it. 

How has your upbringing influenced your writing?

I grew up in a traditional Tswana home. I grew up in a political home. I grew up a preacher’s child.  My upbringing influences everything about my music – firstly language and then the way I interpret sound. Setswana traditional folktales, song, and dance, is all about interpretation. We grew up being taught that our language is superior, layered, twisted, and intricate –  something you peel off, analyze, and savor. There is both immediate and delayed gratification in it. I used to hate the way I sing, but many times I sing the way I think and speak.

The Duality: I was also raised in all sorts of British sensibilities. I think its because my parents were force fed Britishness that some parts of our lives were mindbogglingly British elitism (or was it Tswana elitism)? I appreciate that even though we were middle class native South African they wanted us to get ahead in life. Hashtag Africanparents – ha!

My writing is this convergence of my strong African tradition with the western world, one doesn’t trump the other. 

What role does South Africa play in your music?

The Protest song of South Africa, The toi-toi (toyi-toyi), songs of pain and victory, is what has influenced most of my music. South Africa has to be one of the most amazing countries in the world, for its blinding beautiful diversity and in-your-face nonstop dialogue and history that changed the world. I write about pain and suffering but the victory about it all. Everyone sings in SA, even if you cant really sing you can manage a harmony in church or a beer-house. We didn’t grow up with instruments – groups of people can hold a tune and sing to the roof tops. In my remote town it was almost too weird to have a church choir sing during service because everyone sang in perfect harmony, which has always left me in awe. I never sang then, I just listened and took it all in. South Africans have a distinct musical way of protesting that is why I like to make sad songs dance and happy songs ones you can pace to during a jog/walk or sex. I sing like a South African woman; like my mother, my sister, my aunt I think, even when I want to take it easy it comes from the gut, heavy on my soul and I need to let it out.  

Where did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?

Well my music is American, in that even though it is a “thing” unto itself I started making, writing, finding myself, my voice and music in the US. So S.A is home and US is literally my bae (before anyone else) in music. Inspiration for many songs at the time was the whirlwind and constant song that is New York City. My memories, feeling of struggle, breaking news in the inquiry of my life (loved this man once, still do) and the world I am currently conquering. 

Most of the time the songs write themselves and I interpret them later and think.

Any plans to hit the road?

We have every plan to hit the road!   Plans need booking agents, preferably an agent who can come and see us perform and a management company wouldn’t hurt at all.

What else is happening next in TUELO‘s world?

Goal: Feed the multitudes! We want a booking agent in the US and Europe, management company, and a serious publishing deal for all the songs we don’t record!

Right now we are planning to record a live session of the EP for release in September with Mason Jar Music with an intimate group of fans and live media.

Then: Might move for a little bit to another part of the world to conquer and play music with the cousins and record a fully formed album that will blow your mind! Will keep you posted!

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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