EXCLUSIVE: Desmond John talks new single ‘I Mean That’

South African music artist Desmond John has just embarked on his first ever solo tour, and he’s chosen the UK as the place to debut his new music. However, less than a week in he’s already been forced to postpone 6 shows due to illness. The British weather has taken its toll. Despite being confined to his West London hotel room, Desmond still makes the effort to call us for an interview, talking musical inspirations, his favourite Netflix shows, and announcing his upcoming single ‘I Mean That’.


Hi Desmond, how are you? You’ve been ill recently?

Yeah I’m good I have the flu, so I’m recovering. Hopefully I should be good in a day or two.

You’ve been touring the UK for the past week. How are you liking it so far?

I’ve actually been enjoying the UK a lot. Most of my time has been spent driving because all the gigs are quite widely spread out so I’ve been in the car most of the time. The weather was a slight adjustment ‘cos its summer in South Africa right now so coming to the freezing cold is probably also contributing to the cold.

You’re staying in London at the minute. Do you have any favourite places?

To be honest I haven’t actually experienced that much of London yet. I was going to do my first two London shows yesterday but we’ve had to postpone those because of illness. I’ve been staying in Shepherd’s Bush and then the last time I was here in October James [his manager] gave me a tour, like a touristy tour of London. I saw Buckingham Palace and a few other places. I think I might actually be spending some more time in London this year anyway, maybe for a few months, so I’ll definitely get a chance to look around.

You’ve got new music coming out on Friday. Tell us about the new single.

The song is called ‘I Mean That’ and it is self-written and self-produced. I started off the song with pretty much four chords on a guitar loop and I just wrote the melody in my bedroom. Then when I had the melody I took it to the studio and worked on it with a friend called Ben who’s a producer down in Cape Town, and we worked on it for like a day or two. I really enjoyed working with him because he’s a friend so he’s knows me better than anybody and we have a really good rapport.

Sound-wise, I would describe it as R&B-infused pop because the chords are quite R&B but then the melody is quite a bit more pop.

I can’t wait to hear it. You said you wrote the melody in your bedroom; less than a year ago you were recording YouTube covers in your bedroom and now you have thousands of views. How has it been this past year?

Wow, it’s probably been the best year of my life – it’s been a lot of fun. I’ve gotten to a good place creatively. I’ve got a really great team around me that I’m very fond of on a personal level too, and that’s made a big difference.

I’ve been recording a lot for the EP that will also be coming out some time this year, but I’m not gonna say too much about that yet. Also, having my first tour has been amazing. This has been my first time performing so it’s the first time that I’ve gotten to take the music out to the public and perform for people and just gage reactions. So it’s been a very positive year.

What have you got in store for 2018?

I’ve been put forward for a few festivals which I’ll obviously be hoping to get because that will be an amazing experience. And then I’ll be releasing music throughout the year. That’s one of our main aims: to keep a constant supply of content going out. And yeah, just performing, building the profile, trying to become a better musician.

With the new single ‘I Mean That’ have you got any plans for a music video?

I’ll be shooting the music video when I go back to South Africa, which will be after the tour. I’ll be going back and finding somebody to shoot the video with in Cape Town, and then probably aim for the video to come out in March sometime – probably end of March.

Growing up in South Africa, what kind of artists did you listen to?

I grew up in the era of internet which obviously made the whole world a more globalized community. So I guess any music that was big in America was also big in South Africa. There hasn’t been a big South African music scene or real big South African artists when I was growing up that we listened to. So we had more of an international music scene. But now, as the South African music scene’s growing, people like AKA or Cassper Nyovest … those are the kind of people that we listen to now.

As a kid, I wasn’t listening to South African artists. The first bands I listened to were The Beatles and Queen; those were my two favourite bands. And as I got older I started listening to people like Outkast, Michael Jackson.

My influences… I go through phases when I’ll be liking a certain genre more than another. Certain artists in that genre I’ll pick to study. I’ll watch videos of their performances or listen to their albums, and try to get in their headspace for a little while and feed off stuff that they’ve done.

Is there anybody that you’ve met and been really starstruck?

There was a producer that I worked with in The States at one point and his name is Kuk Harrell. He’s worked with really big artists in the industry and won Grammys. That was obviously an amazing experience, but I haven’t met any real big celebrities. If I could, I’d love to meet Drake or Bruno Mars. I think if I met Drake I’d definitely be starstruck. I’d probably stutter for a second and not know what to say.

You’ve said before that you’d want to collaborate with Drake or Bruno Mars…

Yeah, wow collaborating with either of those artists would be incredible.

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We’ve recently seen you dressed as rainbow emoji on Instagram. What’s your favourite emoji?

That actually currently is one of my favourite emojis. When I posted that photo, obviously the rainbow emoji was added to my recent emojis. So now when I don’t know what emoji to use I’ll always put the rainbow. That’s kind of like the most useful. It’s happy.

As you probably saw from watching the music video [for ‘You Don’t Have to Worry’], I didn’t actually wear that jacket in the music video. My manager was quite … [inaudible] that I didn’t wear it in the video, but I thought it would look cool.

You should get it out on stage.

I know, I know, that’s what I was saying! That’s what I said to him. I was like: no, it’s 2018, no worries.

Is there anything you’re binge watching on Netflix at the minute? What would you recommend?

I’ve finished three seasons of Narcos; I would recommend that to anybody. I’ve actually also just finished Breaking Bad. I’d never watched Breaking Bad before so that was obviously a great series. What else have I watched? I watched another one called The End of the F***ing World. I really liked that, I thought it was cool. I can definitely recommend those three.

What about Black Mirror, have you watched any of that? Everyone’s talking about it at the minute.

I haven’t, but I’ve seen it advertised. So that’s something you can recommend?

Yeah, definitely! When you’re on the road you spend a lot of time in hotel rooms, you need something to watch.

Yeah, I do. Like literally I’ve been spending so much time in hotel rooms, especially because I’ve been sick. I’ve just been lying in bed, feeling like a bit of a slob, watching Netflix.

Hopefully you can get back out on stage then.

I’ve been drinking a whole bunch of lemon and ginger tea so that’s helping me out.

What have you got planned for the shows? Any surprises?

My last two songs of the set are unreleased songs, and one of them is ‘I Mean That’. So if you are one of the people at the shows then you get a sneak preview of the music before it comes out – that’s the surprise. There’s no stripping or anything like that unfortunately! That’s the only surprise: that I’m playing unreleased music.

So people need to get down there to hear it.

They do! You guys from CelebMix need to come down to the shows as well. Obviously you guys will get the VIP treatment, you’re our favourite outlet by far.

Really? Thank you!

Yeah, of course.

Let’s talk about high school. Did you graduate last year?

I have two more exams to finish and I’ve finished the rest of my exams. The last two exams are maths and science so I’m kind of procrastinating about those two.

How is it juggling high school and exams and music?

The cool thing is that I’m doing my American schooling – I’m doing it all online. I get the course material and then I can do it in my own time. So, for example towards the end of last year I wasn’t doing shows or anything so I had time to study. That’s why I did my first initial exams in November.

Then when I started practising for tour I started travelling; I didn’t have as much time, so that’s why I still have these last few more to finish. That’s also what I’m gonna have to get done when I go back to South Africa.

It’s impressive to be able to be on the road and release music at the same time as studying.

Thanks. I’m not gonna lie, I would rather just leave it all together, but it must be done.

I hope the rest of the tour goes well. I hope you can get back out there.

Thank you, I hope so too.

Are you heading up to the north of England as well?

Yeah, apparently it’s freezing up there! I have been up there before because some of my dad’s family stays in Liverpool.

Well we hope you enjoy it. Good luck with the rest of the tour!

Thank you very much. I hope you enjoy the new single.


Desmond John’s new single ‘I Mean That’ is released this Friday 9 February. He has re-scheduled his cancelled UK tour dates:

Are you seeing Desmond John on any of his UK tour dates? Let us know with a tweet over at @CelebMix

Written by Emily Gulla

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