TeenZone were super lucky this last week to meet with Jimmy Nevis, as he travelled up to Jo’burg to perform tracks from his new album, Chimera. For those of you haven’t heard the new album yet, it is in absolute must listen. If you have loved Nevis’ work previously, you will love the progression that this current album shows, and if you are new to his music, there is something for everyone amongst the 17 tracks. It has been a long time since Nevis made public any new work, and it’s easy to hear that his sound has matured and developed since those early albums.
We chatted to Nevis about the new album. He told us “I’m proud of it. I know it’s different and more mature than my previous records. I didn’t even need people to tell me that the sound had grown. I have grown so much in music in the last few years that I knew it would sound different”. He explains that the songs on the album each have a personal story for him. One song “Feel” is about his friend who was moving overseas to be with his girlfriend. This was one of Nevis’ best friends from school, yet he felt that as his friend left he barely knew him anymore. Nevis made the song in celebration of the friendship, but also to acknowledge his sadness at the realisation that the pair are unlikely to ever be as close as they were again.
With regards to the title of the album Chimera, Nevis explained that it is a reference to the mythological creature, the chimera, that was made of different animals. He talks about this album being a hybrid of the different aspects of his personality and the different stories of his life, making the Chimera title very appropriate. He sees the album as being “inter-cultural”. Nevis described how his previous album “The masses” followed a narrative, starting with the song Sunrise and ending with Yin Yang. This album is different he says “it’s multifaceted. There’s no narrative. I wrote over 40 tracks for this album and selected the ones I wanted to use. Some were written over a year ago. This album tells a story but not in a beginning to end way.”
Mentioning the songs from a year before Nevis describes how he was planning an album to release last year called Quarter life crisis. In the end he decided not to go ahead with the album because “Something didn’t feel quite right about it. It wasn’t the full story. Some of the songs on the new album are from the original planned album because they were true to where I was at the time, but this album has come together perfectly with all the new tracks.”
Nevis told TZ: “I feel this album was meant to be. There were several events involved in the making of this album that just showed me that it was meant to happen.” Nevis goes on to explain how on his way to LA in the airport in Dubai “I lost my laptop. I ran back to the terminal but there was nothing I could do. In the end I had 15 minutes to catch my next flight so just went and got on to the plane. The scary thing about losing the laptop was that all of the album was on there. It wasn’t backed up. I had the studio tracks saved on there and nowhere else and now it was gone. Still, I had to decide when I got on the plane, that there was nothing I could do, so there was no point in stressing. I arrived in LA and asked again about the laptop but there was still no sign. I basically decided it was lost.” Whilst Nevis was devastated, he tells us “I trusted in God and felt that if this was meant to be, it was meant to be.” Over a week later, Nevis was at a 70s party in LA when he got a call. His laptop had been found. “I just couldn’t believe it” said Nevis. “Losing a laptop and getting it back a week later was just so unbelievable. And to make the whole situation even more surreal, it was a 70s party in Cape Town that had inspired me to make this album and I got the call at a 70s party in LA!”
Many fans will remember that a year ago Nevis had said that he was ‘giving up’ his career as a musician. When asked about it today he says “Yes, I’d lost my inspiration, and to make good music you have to be inspired. It’s easy to produce a hit according to a formula, but I didn’t want to do that. What really turned it around for me was going to a 70s party in Cape Town. It was there that I learnt about 70s music, and that was what gave me the inspiration to continue. I listened to lots of Chic, Sister Sledge and Nile Rodgers…and realized that I had a lot more music in me”. On top of this Nevis explains “I spent a lot of time in 2017 going to festivals and listening to other acts perform. It provided another major breakthrough for me. It was such a beautiful and spiritual experience. It made me remember why I love music.” We are very relieved!
Nevis is the son of a pastor, and we discussed with him the conflict that this album must create for him with his background. He explained “God has been very much with me with this album, yet it felt right and necessary to swear and talk about more complex themes on this album”. He explained that even though he knew it was a necessary jump to allow him to express himself, he still made a separate version of the album for his parents “so that they wouldn’t have to hear him swear.” He told us “I’m sure they’ve seen the normal version online or on TV by now, but still I just couldn’t play it to them with those words in. I just kept skipping the Garden Interlude so in the end decided I’d just make them a different version”.
He explained that his parents don’t drink any alcohol, and that it was only a recent decision to discuss his own consumption of alcohol with them. He explained “I don’t drink much, but sometimes it’s nice to have a drink on the weekend with your friends, so I sat down with my parents and explained to them that this was something I did now. They were chilled about it, but it is still weird to drink in front of them. In fact, in my community, due to the enormous respect for my parents, people will rarely drink alcohol in front of them, even if they are regular drinkers themselves. It’s just a respect thing, and I never want to be disrespectful towards my family. We are a close and wholesome unit and I respect that.”
We asked Nevis if he had any advice for teens who are struggling to be themselves around their parents for fear of disappointing them. He told us “as long as peer pressure isn’t what is making you want to do something or try something, and it is purely something you do for self-expression and because YOU want to, then have an open discussion with your parents. As long as they are comfortable that you are making choices for the right reasons, and that you are not placing yourself at risk, it is unlikely that anyone will have a problem with what you are doing.” He does advise that teens “have the conversation, though. Don’t think that by avoiding the topic you are doing your parents a favour. Be honest with them about what you are experiencing, and you can grow in your family relationships too. At the end of the day family are the most important.”
On the topic of peer pressure Nevis explained that he was never really vulnerable to peer pressure once he got into his final years at high school, because he had a group of friends who behaved similarly to him. He was also set in those last few years in knowing what he wanted out of life, so because people knew his “vibe” they were able to relax around him. He didn’t succumb to pressures that affect most teens in their later years of school. For instance, he didn’t even taste alcohol until he was in his matric year, and even then certainly didn’t start to drink regularly. He was happy with who he was and was having a great time at school. He didn’t feel that acting as others acted was necessary to ‘fit in’.
However, Nevis told TZ that the end of his school career was very different to the beginning. Initially, when Nevis was at primary school he was bullied. He said that when he first got to high school, he was therefore defensive and stayed out of the way for fear of the bullying starting again. Nobody knew he could sing, and his life outside school where he was performing was totally separate to his life in school.
Thankfully, in Grade 9 he was asked to audition for an elite group of musicians in his school. Initially he didn’t want to take part and hoped to keep hiding away, as he was reluctant to draw any attention to himself. However, after much consideration and encouragement, he went and took part in the audition. He explains how he “left the audition devastated. I was convinced I’d made a massive mistake.” He described his mum turning up that day with a gift to say ‘well done’ for trying, and he was so upset to feel he had disappointed her.
Nevis, with his magnificent voice, had of course been selected for the squad but couldn’t believe it when he heard he had been chosen. He describes that this was a moment that “saved [his] life”. Prior to this acceptance, he had been hidden away and had failed to follow any of his passions for fear of ridicule. However, upon being accepted and entering into the squad, he realized how important his passions and talents were, and he started to join everything that he could at school. He advises students today to “make the most of school. Join up to everything that’s available. Discover your talents and play around with the things that interest you.” He says that subsequent to this selection, he realized that you “only get out what you put in”, and as a consequence of his efforts his last few years at school were a very happy time for him. He explained that getting involved gave him perspective on bullying. He realized that everyone was different, that everyone had a place and that everyone was significant in their own way. He encourages young people to “stand up for each other, and stick together”.
Nevis studied Sociology at Varsity and is passionate about what his degree taught him. He is therefore part of a foundation called the Blue Collar Foundation which is responsible for sending students from underprivileged backgrounds to university. So far three students have been sent through tertiary education by the foundation, and Nevis has plans to send at least 100 students to university with the assistance of corporate funding, in the next few years. Nevis appreciates how fortunate he was to have a quality education and believes that education is a vital part of life for young people. He also describes coming from a very “giving family” and therefore finds it important to continue that legacy.
As most fans will know, Nevis is far from just a man of music. He is super creative in other ways too, and also has a deep love of nature. He hikes every afternoon, as he lives close to the mountain in Cape Town. He has just partnered up with Cape Nature to help them to preserve natural environments in the Cape. “Walking gives me time to think” said Nevis. “It helps me to think and I just feel at peace and close to God when I walk”. Nevis explains that he places huge importance on spending time to just ‘be’. “As contradictory as it sounds, I believe that reflection is a huge part of living in the moment” he says. “When walking or when drinking coffee on my balcony in the morning, I sit and think about my life. I think about the things I’m proud of and the things I’m less proud of. I believe we have to reflect in order to grow, and also to relive those amazing experiences.” Nevis says “I’ve been lucky to have amazing experiences in my life, and it would be such a waste to never think back on them, to never think about where I’ve come and what I’ve lived.”
Nevis also runs 21km races (half-marathons) on a regular basis and goes to gym when he can. In terms of watching sport, he’s pretty engaged with the World Cup, but his main focus at the moment is on rugby. “My friend is performing the National Anthem at the final Springbok/England test on Saturday, and I’m going to be there to watch. I’ve performed the National Anthem there before, and it is such a phenomenal experience. I’m really excited to be down on the field, watching my friend perform, and then of course watching the Springboks win!”
Nevis in his spare time also enjoys visits to the Planetarium in Cape Town. He describes the experience there as “spectacular” and tells us that “we must watch the mini-films they have on in there. They are fascinating!” On top of this Nevis also has a passion for going out dancing to 70s music. He describes, “I’m quite happy to go alone and just party. If there’s a 70s show on, I’m there like a bear.”
Creatively, he has also put his energy into forming the fashion brand York Yard, which has had pop-up stores all over Cape Town. He had the help of several big South African designers, but his creative input has definitely given the brand his own distinctive feel. He’s proud of his work on the project but does acknowledge “I’m not out here to be a designer, but I enjoy the creative process.”
Nevis certainly seems to be a creative guy and describes evenings with friends having a glass of wine, listening to music and taking photographs. He also edits his own images and videos, and for the album launch in Cape Town produced a montage video showing his journey to date. Finally, he tells us that he has recently discovered a passion for cooking: “I just love to make a mean curry, while listening to a playlist on Spotify. I listen to certain playlists that get updated all the time, but that I know I trust for the quality of their music. Every so often I’ll hear something on one of them and have to stop cooking to go and see what it is.”
***It is important to mention here that Jimmy Nevis does admit that he only saw The Lion King for the first time 3 years ago DESPITE having a passion for animated films. TZ asked him how he had coped for so long without The Lion Kind in his life, and he replied “I don’t know. I really don’t know”. At least he admits his mistake… ***
Nevis’ final message for TZ was, “Be true to your heart. If you like to sing, play basketball, play soccer or if you are a guy who likes guys, just go out there and follow your heart. Those things are the things that make you great, because if you pursue them you will inherently become who you are supposed to become. Society prioritises certain kinds of success, but you have a right to choose what success means for you. Don’t run away from who you are supposed to be. And on top of that, remember that everybody has problems. Pain is universal. You are never alone, and your pain is not wasted if you can use it to help others find courage.”
Speaking to Jimmy Nevis it is clear that he is a great guy: his music is superb, yet he is more than modest about it; his family and friends are central to his life; and he is always looking for ways to improve the lives of those around him, especially here in South Africa. If you haven’t listened to the record Chimera yet, you need to. It’s a more mature and challenging offering than his previous three albums, but for this reason may just be the best yet!