Lucy Kruger on her new album A Human Home

We spoke to South African musician Lucy Kruger about her new album and performing with vulnerability.

Photo: Makar Artemev

When it comes to her career, Lucy Kruger is living life in the fast lane. Since arriving in Berlin five years ago, the South African singer-songwriter has released four albums and is touring all over the globe with her band.In March earlier this year, Lucy Kruger & The Lost Boys were one of three bands selected from Germany to perform at the South by Southwest (SXSW) music and film festival in Austin, Texas. Her new and fifth album, A Human Home, which she’s been working on since the pandemic, is out this month.

You moved from South Africa to Berlin in 2019 and, with the release of A Human Home, have released five albums since. It seems coming here has been great for your career, but why did you make the move in the first place?

I don’t have a very romantic answer to that question. It was in many ways a logistical choice. My bandmate at the time and I wanted to be playing live as much as possible, and touring options in South Africa are limited. For two years in a row, we organised our own European tours. I don’t know how we managed it, but we did, with public transport, thousands of emails, and too much stuff. Putting the tours together from South Africa was challenging, and we decided it would make more sense to base ourselves in Europe. We had a few artist friends who had moved [to Berlin] before us and knew getting a visa to stay might be possible.

So you could say that you moved to Berlin more out of convenience than conviction…

I had some anxieties about moving to a big city, but in many ways, [Berlin] feels much more spacious and relaxed than some of the other big cities I’ve visited. I also thought I might be intimidated by how hip it is, but because it’s so big, and there is room for a niche of every kind, you’re able to let go of a lot of things. In a way, you’re too anonymous to worry about how you’re perceived.

I was sceptical of scenes, but now I think they’re vital in nurturing culture and community.

What have been your first experiences playing in Berlin – and Germany, for that matter – been like?

On our first tour in 2015, we played in Mainz with a Berlin-based band called This Love is Deadly, which ended up being a sweet show. The first time we played in Berlin was at 8MM bar, which would become a bit of a home base for us. Alex, who opened the bar, also runs Synästhesie festival. The second time we visited Berlin we played the first edition of the festival. There is a lovely Berlin music scene that we came to know through those spaces. I was sceptical of scenes, but now I think they’re vital in nurturing culture and community. We’ve felt a lot of support and it’s made a huge difference.

Your performance at Synästhesie was very memorable to me because it felt quite different to your recorded music…

I hear this a lot. It’s difficult to make records. I’m still figuring it out. Writing is one experience, recording is another, as is performing live, and they play very different roles for me. When I’m writing music, it’s often quite an insular experience, and I don’t always think about how the music will translate. Live, I’m getting to a stage where I’d like to offer something a bit more extroverted. I value vulnerability in performance, and used to think that meant stripping the performance down and remaining introverted in some ways. But more and more, I think that’s short-sighted. Performance is still performance and should contain play, and, in some ways, it is perhaps more vulnerable to be bold and express enough to risk failure. When I’m watching a band, I want to feel like I’m in the room with the performers. I’m greedy for interaction and openness.

Photo: IMAGO/ ZUMA Wire

Do you draw inspiration from other musicians, and, if so, who has the biggest influence on you?

[I] basically [listen to] Adrianne Lenker on repeat. (laughs) That’s not true… it’s a little bit true. I’ve been promising myself I will branch out and be more investigative in my listening, but I often get stuck on what I know I love. I have been listening to a lot of Adrianne Lenker, Big Thief, Fever Ray, Cate Le Bon, Aldous Harding, Jenny Hval. A lot of women, which is not necessarily a conscious decision, but which makes sense, I think. The music I make mostly concerns how I experience the world, which is as a woman – so perhaps that work just speaks to me – as a human and as an artist. Perhaps it’s a natural or necessary counterbalance to the many male artists I listened to growing up. I also just think that there are a lot of women doing extremely interesting work at the moment. I wonder if it has to do with women having more access to a platform than before but less influence from obvious or historical models. There is a need and possibility for original expression.

Performance is still performance and should contain play.

You were one of three acts from Germany to play at SXSW in March. What was that experience like and what did you take away from the trip?

It was a challenging and unnerving experience. After arriving in the US, we were made aware of the military’s involvement as a festival sponsor as well as the fact that the tech sector of the festival was platforming RTX, Collins Aerospace, and BAE systems – all companies involved in providing weapons currently being used by the Israeli military to commit war crimes against Palestine. We don’t want anything to do with these companies.

Photo: Makar Artemev

The situation overshadowed the trip in many ways. We went as a duo, which was challenging musically. So much about the experience was new and therefore overwhelming – like [it was my] first day of school or something. It was interesting to be in a space where so much of the music and literature I absorbed growing up was created.

Let’s talk about your new record, which you started writing songs for during one of the Covid lockdowns. It feels extremely personal, more so than your previous albums. How did you conceive of it and why did it take so long to complete? You released three other records in the meantime…

When I started making the songs from A Human Home, it wasn’t necessarily with an album in mind. There were a couple of things I was hoping to do. I suddenly had a lot of time and wanted to learn, and to play. To learn how to really play, perhaps – with songwriting, that is, and production, and my own creative process. At that stage, getting back to South Africa wasn’t an option, and suddenly Berlin felt much further than before, so the idea of home became a sort of inevitable theme. I asked friends and families to send me some thoughts about their experiences with isolation and used those as starting points for songs. It was a way of discovering an independent voice while trying to stay connected. Something about how impossibly alone, and how impossibly interdependent we all are. It’s a small, strange, personal record and I wasn’t sure when or how I would share it, but it seems now is the moment. I think there is still a lot of making sense of the past few years that is going on, and perhaps this can add to it in some small way.

  • A Human Home by Lucy Kruger & The Lost Boys is out May 31st.