Feature Interview

In the midst of a music revolution, Shane Cooper drops an album and talks self-isolation, launching a Patreon account, and how his do-or-die attitude has him hustling harder than ever

It’s been just over a week since the South African entertainment industry took a double-fisted KO blow straight to the gut. 

The perpetrator — coronavirus aka COVID-19. 

We panicked, we cried, we joked, we had rants, we took to our socials, we checked our bank balances… we cried some more. We looked around and found ourselves in the same boat, floating in an ocean of tears that we formed our damned selves. But we formed it together. 

We’ve been holding virtual hands and offering more cyber support than I think I’ve ever seen, all in the name of survival. 

Shane Cooper, a name to send shivers down spines in the musical know, seems to have his survival shit together. In the old world, he is a jazz muso, an award-winning bassist, composer, and producer up in Joburg, performing under projects Shane Cooper, Card on Spokes, MABUTA and, most recently, Skyjack. 

In our present corona-infected world, he is experiencing Day 8 of his self-quarantine, and he’s just dropped his latest album, Small Songs for Big Times exclusive to BandCamp, who allowed artists to sell music on their platform, commission-free, on the 20th of March. 

Both he and I are sitting in our respective homes, him in Joburg, myself in Cape Town, both of us living pretty comfy quarantine lives. He tells me about his, “I’m living with my girlfriend and my dog, in a suburb — It’s a very quiet area. There’re trees, birds, nature… like I would really find it a lot more difficult to be in an apartment in the CBD.” 

Two weeks ago, Cooper returned from Jazzwerkstatt Bern, a festival in Switzerland that he was playing at. He tells me how he left just as Switzerland was declared a high risk area. 

Upon his return to South Africa, Cooper fell straight into a week-long performance at Woordfees in Stellenbosch, ending just before Ramaphosa’s address sent him into self-isolation. He shares his bizarre coronavirus testing experience — complete with HAZMAT suits — for which he tested negative, “I fully thought I was in a movie, I was waiting for Denzel Washington to pull up,” he laughs. 

He’d basically been hurricaning his way from one commitment to the next, until he was forced to come to a halt, along with the rest of the world. 

The cancellations, Cooper tells me, were particularly rough, “It just started happening every day, and then after a few days it started happening every few hours — so I lost pretty much six months’ work within five days.” 

He’s realistic as he explains how an already hard hustle has become significantly more difficult, “When things were normal, like before all of this, it was basically a constant struggle to maintain life as an original creative artist. So when a blow like this happens, my natural overview of it is: It’s done, like my career is over. I can’t recover from this if I just chill and wait for it to settle. At the end of the day, the only way I can make it out on the other side is if I lean in [to work] harder than I ever have before.” 

Cooper tells me about his first act of combat, his latest solo release that he wrote, recorded, mixed and released in 18 hours, “When I set out to do it, I intended to make every song from scratch. But then I realized that there were a bunch of demos that were never gonna see the light of day that I could revisit and sculpt into what I considered a finished product.” 

The album is a 12-track compilation of songs, some just over a minute, some three, a calming but also forward-moving electronic and groove-soaked soundtrack he can’t believe has been so well-received, “I mean it’s the best support I’ve ever had on any album I’ve done before, in one day, compared to albums I’ve spent years writing. It’s amazing to see. It really just helped a lot to dent some of the damage, you know?” he says with a reassuring confidence.  

We talk about the move towards live-streaming gigs, and it’s definitely something Cooper plans on pursuing, “It’s gonna be reflective of the Small Songs for Big Times album. There’s a bit of Card on Spokes in it, a bit of jazz, a bit of electronica… I’ll pick up the double-bass and I’ll just do a bit of improv with a looper, you know, warts and all. I just want to go live and be honest with people.” 

Cooper isn’t about playing the victim, and his social feed can attest to this. He’s just dropped the first of his Quarantine Collabs, accompanying remote dancers’ isolation-inspired routines with his own compositions, aiming to have nine more complete by the end of the week.

I cannot help but grow more excited by his do-or-die-and-do-it-now attitude as he concludes, “All the content I have been building is part of my drive to launch a Patreon account. I need examples of the kinds of things I want to offer on the platform so that I can actually get people to become patrons. That’s part of why I was rushing to do all of this so quickly.” 

Cooper is keeping the music alive, one burning release at a time. If you can and want to help, subscribe to his YouTube channel. Follow him on Facebook. Buy his latest album on Bandcamp. And check back to find out when you can become a Patreon patron. 

There is a lot we can do before we give up. Spread the truth, not the virus. 

Images courtesy of Lesedi Rudolph.