BY TIAAN BOOYENS
Virtually interviewing Stellenbosch University (SU) fifth-year engineering student and self-made musician, Pierre Stemmett, feels like something from another world. Six months ago we exchanged voice notes talking about his then-newly released full-length album and his thoughts on music and the industry. Alas, the 10 track project, with influences ranging from rock to rap, tinted with an alternative lens, feels the same; something from another world. Taking time to listen to the most recent album of this self-taught singer, from intro song, “Hope”, through to the closing track, “Surface”, is a must.
Stemmett started producing music in high school. He made beats for friends who were dabbling in rap. Among them is a regular collaborator and the only feature on his ten-track project, Kearne Dragon. He soon realised that nothing was stopping him from exploring more genres. The more he wanted to make new music, the more he realised, “I wasn’t that interested in singing, but it got to the point where I realised that I needed a vocalist for my music, so I just taught myself how to sing”. Starting to vocalise the thoughts and emotions he felt important enough to share came as naturally as making music has from the start.
Shuffling this Simonsberg alumnus’s discography, and latest album proves his versatility. Alas ranges from trap to folk, alt-indie to techno, and piano ballads to rock, like his high energy track “Take”. With inspirations like David Gray, Chelsea Wolfe, and the Beatles it isn’t hard to see where his genre-defying sound took root. “But I think it all sounds coherent because I sprinkle my signature style into everything,” and with a laugh, he sums it up, “it’s indie-pop”.
The music making process is very personal to him. “I guess I’ve always wanted the songs to be fully my own, you know. I want it to sound a certain way. I want the lyrics to be certain words. I love writing lyrics. I love the whole process of producing and mixing and mastering. And it’s nice because then I can make the song sound exactly how I want it to sound,” he says. Same as one of his inspirations, Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, Stemmett is hands-on from start to finish with creating authentic music. “At the end of the day, I’ll know that those songs were me, it was my art and it wasn’t a product.”
Most of this album has the potential to rival the local mainstream, but the lyrics Stemmett penned is what makes it timeless. Stemmett’s process usually starts with a catchy melody, then he writes lyrics for said melody as soon as he knows what he wants to say. As he moves from the piano to the computer, the song starts to take shape. “Not too glamorous, but it is what it is,” he says modestly. When I asked Stemmett about the meaning behind his songs he put so much care into answering it. “None of the lyrics in any of my songs are meaningless,” he says, “A lot of them are about my life.” However, they always remain vague enough to distance reality from art. He draws from moments and memories, but it focusses more on the emotion within the events than the events themselves.
“I write lyrics about emotions that overcome me. That emotion that I pinpoint can be present in many different events in my life, and I will write about all those different events or I’ll draw metaphors to that emotion,” he says. He even alludes to this reluctantly inspired project with its title. He went through heartbreak and headaches to get where he ended up, but with Alas, he created some of his most raw and personal art yet. This unplanned closing chapter to last year is perfectly visualised by the album cover, taken without planning or overthinking it.
“One of the reasons why I like writing from emotion is that if someone feels a certain emotion, even if they haven’t gone through specifically what I’ve gone through, they’ll be able to relate and identify with it and there’s something in that that makes people feel not so alone. It’s like someone else has gone through this and it’s real and it can be expressed, and it can be re-felt and visited later and observed. I don’t necessarily want people to listen to my music and think what Pierre has gone through. I want them to listen to my music and relate it to their own lives and experiences.”
The global spotlight did not intrigue him in the past, because he wishes to have a family life one day. However, the future might see him starting his very own record label, signing artists and producing for others. Stemmett plans on pursuing music full-time after his studies, so if you haven’t tuned in to his music yet, be sure to look up this local essential.