Let’s Break the Ice, what are we drinking?
Callen: We drinking the Alt Ego Cocktail.
Callen: It is a combination of Gin, Aperol and Peach Liqueur with three different juices. It mixes sweet and sour with both dry and fresh ingredients, respectively. The story goes that all the flavours have been replicated to suit our individual personalities…now we are just trying to figure out who is sweet and who is sour!
It’s delicious, very sweet though!
For those that don’t know – you two are cousins; but how did Acoustic Element begin and subsequently Alt Ego. How did they come to being?
Jody: Firstly you are correct, we are cousins so we have known each other our whole lives but we weren’t too tight in the beginning. I guess it all began in 2010 when our parents bought us a violin and a guitar. We started jamming down the street on Christmas day. A neighbor gave us ZAR 50 (local currency) and we thought “hey, we could actually make money from this”. So Acoustic Element started in 2010. We both just clicked together and then started playing at shopping centers and markets.
Callen: All for the fun of it!
Jody: We were both studying during this time, and had jobs. We started playing at weddings and things started to get quite serious. Eventually we saw ourselves as professionals, and in 2013 we decided we were going to quit our jobs.
Callen: He says “decided” but Jody convinced me! At that point, I had been working for about two years, doing well in a corporate, as a fashion buyer, which I studied for. I think it was every day for about two years that I got a phone call from Jody saying “quit your job”.
Jody: I wasn’t going to quit and do it by myself.
Callen: It was hard because we were turning down so many day time gigs due to our full time jobs. So it was a big risk but we took it.
So how did the name Acoustic Element come about?
Jody: “Acoustic” meaning guitar, adding the violin was the extra “Element”.
And what about Alt Ego?
Callen: Alt Ego is the alternative ego to Acoustic Element. We tried to find a pseudonym to AE (Acoustic Element) to coincide with the brand.
You both went to university and studied degrees unrelated to music, do you feel like that was perhaps wasted time that you could have used to pursue your dream; or are there important life lessons that you took away from that period in your life?
Callen: Combined we hold 4 qualifications which all blend in perfectly with our music. Besides our qualifications, from primary school throughout high school we studied our musical instrument. It wasn’t like we just picked it up and learnt to play by ear. We did all our UNISA grades, we played in classical orchestras and jazz bands. I also studied finance and Jody Studied Media and then afterwards I studied fashion, whilst Jody did a Post Grad in Marketing.
Jody: The combination of all four clicks so well.
Callen: So the finance side taught us so much in terms of contacts, record labels, and in everyday business.Then Jody’s marketing strategies also assisted so much – we are where we are because of that. In terms of the fashion side of things, I take fashion very seriously and in the early years of AE, I needed a 6 year degree just to help Jody dress! I always say, I will never tell you what to wear but I will tell you what not to wear! Now he is flying solo, I am so proud!
Jody: No seriously, I was bad though! But he let me discover my own sense of fashion, which is nice. And then the other is media, and being in the industry – it helps. So all this combined with our music, just somehow worked out. I also think it’s important that we grew and learnt things outside the space of music. We worked in the corporate world and now we have something to compare to our current experiences.
So in essence, the corporate world prepared you for where you are now?
Callen: Definitely – much of this industry is glamourized, so if we had to enter it when we were 18 or 19 years old – it might have been too early. Maturity wise, we know that it is a job, yes we enjoy it and yes it is a passion; but we also have to be mature enough to be professional.
Jody: The other thing is we don’t have a superstar complex. We are very professional. We understand that someone is paying for us to be there so we have to abide by certain things: don’t get drunk, arrive looking decent, etc. The corporate world taught us to respect our superiors and showcase our brand in a particular way. So we learnt a lot and we don’t regret studying at all.
What did you parents say when you told them you are leaving a secure corporate job – to become musicians?
Callen: When we told our parents, they were 100% supportive! I remember having the conversation and my dad asked why it has taken me so long to decide this for my life.
Jody: In fact, I think Callen’s dad was more into the idea than my dad at first; but he came around to it.
Callen: After the conversation with our parents; I pulled out the Excel spreadsheets and tried to figure out what was the minimum we required in order to maintain a liveable standard of life. Everything had to align before I took that plunge.
Were you self-aware of your talent or was there some other influence that told you that you needed to pursue music as a career?
Callen: Look, you either know you can play an instrument or you can’t. Being very humble about it, we know we can play our instruments. So when we decided to leave our jobs, we had a lot of faith and self-belief in ourselves then. Looking back at videos from a couple years ago, we can’t believe we had the courage to leave the corporate world but it’s amazing to look back and see how much we have grown.
Jody: He is saying that very diplomatically. What he is trying to say is that we are much better than we were 4 years ago and so that is a life lesson – don’t be afraid to throw yourself into your destiny and go for it. There is always room for growth. We knew we had something to offer, little did we know how much we had to offer.
As a duo, who has been your biggest influence?
Jody and Callen: Goldfish
Jody: Also, Lost Frequencies and Adam Walker on an International level.
Callen: But Goldfish and Good Luck are definitely our local heroes. All of them play live instruments.
So where do you draw your inspiration from?
Callen: Acoustic Element is all about covering modern pop songs but played acoustically. Whereas Alt Ego, is where we look to create our own specific sound. We love house music and outdoor festivals, so we try to get that feeling to come through with the trained classical music from where we came from. The fusion has sort of given us a gypsy house feel so that’s where the inspiration comes from. Jody is very good at beats; I’m very good at melodies and then we fuse them together.
Get Wild, Interstellar and The Great Pretender are my favorites, do you have a favorite?
Jody: Get Wild and Embrasse Moi are my standouts.
Callen: I love Get Wild, I really do love it. But Embrasse Moi is also one of my favourites! Embrasse Moi is predominantly music based. Jody has a guitar solo and he beatboxes the bass instead of using an electronic piece. Throughout the whole track we have the piano going- which is awesome as I don’t play piano on any other track. At any given time there are 4 instruments being played by just two people and that is what makes the song very special.
What Personal Branding advice do you have for young musicians? How important is it?
Jody: I always say, think of the person that you want to be seen as and then proceed to dress for the occasion. Always keep it sexy and always be confident with yourself.
Callen: Following on from that – you should always carry yourself in a way, that if you were to have an outer body experience, you would talk positively about that person.
Jody: Also – remain professional; and just be you.
How did you guys fund/ market yourselves throughout the process?
Callen: Proud to say that from the beginning we have been self-funded.
Jody: The money these twenty fingers made have funded us. No matter the income and which venue we played at – we would always save our money.
Callen: We bought absolutely everything with our saved money. Our equipment, our albums, first shoots, videos, and all of our recording sessions, have been self-funded.
You have done your 10’000 hours, that’s amazing!
Jody: We definitely have.
Callen: That’s what makes every achievement even sweeter. We continue to invest in ourselves.
Jody: Our families have been very supportive but they have also made us learn and work for our own success. They invested so much in us in terms of studies and education- they gave us that initial break.
How do you keep yourself motivated when self-doubt creeps in?
Callen: The power of two. Having a supportive business partner who is there and willing to assist, no matter what happens is the best. Even when one of us has a situation on stage, the other one will compensate and make it work. With absolutely everything we are there for each other. If one of us is down, the other will lift him up. We are amazed how people can navigate the music industry on their own.
Jody: 100% correct – the power of two. The team work aspect is definitely key to keeping us on track. We spend so much time together, especially over the last 7 years… I can’t even imagine having done these past 7 years alone.
Do you have a clear vision for your musical careers?
Callen: “Decisions as we go. To anywhere we flow. Sometimes we believe in times that we should know”.
Jody: Ah, he is quoting Lost Frequency’s song Reality!
Callen: The reality is that everything has been “unplanned planning”. We always plan and yet things have mostly gone the other way around.
Is that luck, is it God’s timing, what is it?
Jody: It’s a combination of luck, God’s timing and hard work. Gary player said “the more I practice, the luckier I get”.
What do you hope people get from listening to your music and latest album?
Callen: We have always said that our music is a journey. We want people to feel what we felt and feel when we hear it.
Jody: A little bit of Nostalgia.
Callen: As soon as you put the album on from the beginning, it seems familiar. We use nostalgic moments to let people know what’s coming.
Jody: Acoustic Element is vibey and soothing. We like taking our instruments and making it vibey, which is not what has been done before.
At what point will the realization set in that you have made it?
Jody: That’s a very good question! I think the day we have made it is the day we actually sell out a stadium for our own show!
Callen: I have to disagree! We always want the next big thing. As soon as we get the sold out stadium – we are going to want something bigger. If you had to ask us that question, 10 years ago, we would say we have made it now. But if I do have to say something, it would be the day we play at Tomorrowland.
Do you have any advice for young musicians, trying to break out into the industry?
Jody: Work hard, be yourself, don’t charge too much in the beginning. Play for peanuts and get some credit in the industry that you might find yourself in. Be respectful, don’t overthink things. Be chilled and stay humble.
Callen: I would say 1) don’t be afraid of hard work, do your time, it will pay off in the end. 2) Be yourself, be fearless, but also be smart about your decisions. View yourself as if you want someone else to view you. 3) Stay humble, no one likes arrogant people.
Jody: And celebrate your victories – no matter the size!
What can we expect for 2018:
Callen: A new album with a more advanced sound.
Jody: More shows and finishing our Acoustic Element album.
If you had to Break The Ice with anyone past or present, who would it be and how would you do it?
Jody: Goldfish! They are most definitely our muse. They are everything we want to be. I think we would Break The Ice by saying something like “Yoh Dom and Dave, we made a song called Interstellar, which is modelled after Moonwalk Away. Have a listen and we will play it for you”. We literally made Interstellar for them.
Callen: We love Moonwalk Away! Interstellar was inspired by them! Definitely would choose Goldfish.
Photography & Videography: Justin Govender
Talent: Jody Abel & Callen Petersen
Host: Kendal Olivia Barrett
Location: One & Only Cape Town