On Saturday, 5 August Aandklas Hatfield played host to I AM, Newtown Knife Gang and Red Helen, a line-up as diverse as it was entertaining. I had a chat with Pierre-Henri Nel, the frontman of I AM after their set.

From the get-go, it was easy to see this was not going to be a straightforward Q&A interview. It was more a case of getting to know what I AM was all about as opposed to asking the same old questions every music blogger and writer asks every band. I started the interview with a couple of pre-planned questions, but quickly had a change of mind as soon as we started talking.

Gerán: First off, for all those unfamiliar with I AM, introduce the band and its members.

Pierre: Well, there’s K.T. on the bass guitar, Juan on the drums and Kelly on guitars. I play synths, the keytar and do vocals.

G: You guys are relatively new on the scene, though you’ve gained a lot of traction already. How and when did you guys start jamming together?

P: Well, I’ve been in the music industry for about eight years now. I played in a couple of metal bands before this, but I’ve been involved in music production and composition as well. I started I AM on the 1st of August four years ago, in 2013 I think. K.T. joined the band about a year later, and Juan just after that. Kelly is the newest member, she joined about a year ago. So, the current incarnation of I AM has been together for roughly a year now.

G: Describe the term ‘Mootpop’.

P: Firstly, just so everyone knows, it’s Mootpop, as in the area between the N1 and Voortrekker Road. Die Moot. You have to say the first part in Afrikaans, as the Moot, where I’m from, is one of the most Afrikaans places you will ever encounter.

Anyway, Mootpop was coined one afternoon while we were having a braai and a couple of drinks, and I was asked what genre music we make. Seeing as we don’t classify under any particular genre, the term Mootpop was thrown around simply because that’s the only thing that made sense. It’s a vague term, but not really. I’m from the Moot, and it’s what I know. And that certainly plays a part in the music we make.

G: The name I AM leaves a lot open for interpretation. Is there a specific story behind it was it just one of those ‘Eureka!’ moments?

P: I AM is what I am. I AM is what you are. The music we make, we don’t make it for anybody. It is a reflection of what we as band feel at that point in time. So the name doesn’t have a story behind it, but it rings true. I AM is what we are as a unit, but also what we are as individuals. Our only aim with our music is to let our individuality shine through and not be sheep who blindly follow. You have a lot of indie bands on the scene lately, and unfortunately they all tend to try and sound exactly like Shortstraw. And there isn’t a lot of individuality in trying to sound like someone else. So what we as I AM are, are individuals, as well as millennials. So we make music that reflects where we are at a certain point in time, as individuals. And being a young adult now, in 2017, you also have the label of millennial attached to you, and we embrace it. That is what we are, and that’s also what most of the people in the crowd are. And if you don’t like Rain Check or Solar Beam or any of our other songs, that’s fine. That’s what you are.

Coincidentally, we are also going into the studio at the end of the year to record another single, which is about a millennial relationship. The working title is Millennial Lover, and that might change still, but the subject is set.

G: You guys have a very unique sound, and from your above answer I can see why. But are there any artists that have had an influence on you as a band?

P: Well, we try and not let any artist have an influence on our sound. We don’t want people saying ‘Ah, I can here they listened to Artist X on this song.’. But obviously we all have our influences. Locally, there is not band that even comes close to Zebra & Giraffe. Internationally, there are a lot of artists in a lot of different genres that have had an influence on us, and me personally. Dance Gavin Dance, 30 Seconds To Mars, Panic! At The Disco. I even listen to Justin Bieber and Nick Jonas. But I’d say Michael Jackson was the biggest influence on me as musician. And even Prince.

G: Your first EP was put on Soundcloud, and you put it up for free download as well. What’s in store next? You mentioned the single you’re going to record, but is there another EP in the pipeline, or even an album?

P: Yeah, we are going to make all our music free to download. As long as people want to listen to it they should be able to. And the tracks off our EP reached their download limit, so they aren’t available for free on Soundcloud anymore. But the plan is to record the next single, and then try for another EP in the middle of next year.

G: OppiKoppi also added you to their line-up which is a dream for basically any band in this country. Is this going to be your first major festival performance, or has there been other noteworthy performances for you?

P: This is going to be our second ‘Koppi. We played there two years ago, I think. It was the one with the weird scribble theme (The Fantastic Mr. Vos Vos, 2015). But it’s always a huge jol playing Arcade Empire. That’s basically our home, coming from Pretoria and all. And it’s difficult to pinpoint one show that stands out, but I’d say the show we played there in March with Held on Til May, Made For Broadway and Scarlotte Will definitely ranks up there.

G: Last one. What are your goals with regards to I AM? Do you intend on making it a full-time thing or is this your passion project?

P: It’s strange that you ask me that now, haha. This past week I’ve been thinking a lot of what my goals in life are and what I’m good at. So I’ve done a lot of introspection and I’ve given a lot of thought to exactly that question. And what I realised is, I’m good at making music for I AM. It is what I was meant to do. I am I AM. And that is what I will continue to do. I don’t care if I have to live hand to mouth for the rest of my life, as long as I get to do what I was made to do. We all have to hustle, and I’ll continue to hustle for as long as I need to. But I won’t compromise on I AM, as what we in this project is what we believe in. If I can play a show, and maybe I’ll feel it wasn’t my best show or whatever, and then afterwards a kid comes up to me and says ‘Dude, this lyrics/verse/riff spoke to me.’, that will make it all worthwhile.

We ended the interview as Red Helen finished their soundcheck and we made our way inside. It was an absolute pleasure getting to know Pierre and getting a peak into the inner workings of I AM.

Don’t miss out on I AM as they will be making their way to Oppikoppi 2017!