Josh Prinsloo is the frontman and leader of the Fruit Vendor band. Fruit Vendor hails from Cape Town and they blend their eclectic Afropop sound with authentic and meaningful lyrics. In 2018, they won the Barleycorn Music Club’s annual songwriting competition and in 2019 won the best band category in the Stonebear & Mayor Records eMerge Music Competition. We spoke to Josh about the rise of Fruit Vendor as a brand and how he manages to have a full-time career in the arts industry.
How long have you been performing and recording as Fruit Vendor?
Fruit Vendor is about 5 years old now. Prior to Fruit Vendor, I was playing in bands as an instrumentalist mainly trying to get a lot of experience. My primary instrument was bass and I tried to play with as many people as possible. That was before I started writing my own songs. I used to be in a band called Brother & Brother which I started with Adrian (guitarist for Fruit Vendor) because we got tired of playing other people’s music.
We played original music in Brother & Brother but over time I started writing songs that didn’t fit into the band’s sound stylistically. Fruit Vendor filled that gap and gave me an opportunity to transition into music full time. Fruit Vendor started with me playing solo. Initially, the sound was very folky with me playing solo and then morphed into a more electronic sound. It has now become more organic. For the launch of my first EP I hired a few guys to play with me and Fruit Vendor has since grown into a full band. We still use electronic sounds but it’s more of a full band sound now.
Have you reached the point yet where you can comfortably do this on a full-time basis?
Yes, I have, although it depends on what your definition is. Over the last 5 years since starting Fruit Vendor, I have been freelancing in the arts and culture industry doing lots of different things. I am also an actor so I have done a lot of theatre work. I also teach music. I have taught topics related to music like a 4-day songwriting course or music business workshops. The teaching is not something I actively pursued but people were just curious about how some of it is done. I have formed a career out of all these extensions. So you can say that I am in it full time, but I am not a full-time performer, although I would love to be. It works in waves. Some weeks you play gigs all over the show and other weeks you play less.
I have become strategic about the gigs I play. Nowadays it is important for me to understand the purpose behind them.
With Fruit Vendor, you progressed from a solo artist to a full band. What challenges do you have to keep a band together in 2019?
I have been very fortunate in that each of my bandmates is sold on Fruit Vendor as a brand. It also helps that we are all best friends. I think the biggest challenge is to continuously invest time in the band while our lives are constantly changing. Last year I got married, so did our drummer, Jason. Adrian (guitarist) moved to Berlin and our bass player Roscoe is studying full time. We’ve all got our things going and you have to keep everyone invested in the band. As a bandleader, I am very focused on making it worth everybody’s while. I won’t expect them to play a gig that isn’t lucrative from a financial perspective. I cannot expect guys to give as much as they could when we were all students! The challenge is to navigate all these different seasons in our lives. So when I want to do something I first get everyone’s buy-in. If they don’t then I’ll try to scale it down or look at other ways to work around it.
Another big challenge is trying to monetise a brand. If any business exists for profit you have to find a way to make it sustainable and to thrive. It is probably the number one challenge; trying to monetise your passion. It is not necessarily a negative thing; it just takes determination and business savvy.
It has always been my impression that you were very clear on how you wanted the Fruit Vendor brand to be communicated. Your imagery and use of social marketing channels always seemed focused with a clear vision. Was that the case or did it all grow organically as you went along?
Often people ask me what the name “Fruit Vendor” really means. Some people actually find it absurd to name your musical project “Fruit Vendor”. I knew from the beginning that I didn’t want to go under my own name because my name on its own isn’t very interesting. I was looking for a pseudonym or a stage name and I wrote this song called “Fruit Vendor” before we named the band. The song is literally about somebody standing on a street corner vending fruit. I realised that vending fruit is not just about somebody selling something nutritious, but it also speaks to someone that is an entrepreneur and someone who engages with other people on a daily basis.
The fruit that we are vending is musical fruit. As musicians, we are selling a musical product in whatever format it takes. That is where we started and it wasn’t really very well thought out in the beginning. I just went with the initial meaning behind it. I find that once people understand the heart behind it they are a lot more willing to get behind it. It started unplanned but it took shape organically as we grew. The best thing about the name is that it is scalable and it takes us into places that we otherwise might not have. Last year I did a corporate gig for a fruit conference in Pretoria just because they knew there was an artist called Fruit Vendor.
Your lyrics are very socially conscious and you have a flair for adding a new perspective on very ordinary “everyday” issues. Do you write about stuff that you feel personally strong about or do you see yourself more as a social commenter?
It’s a bit of both. I love writing about stuff that is meaningful to me and also real-life situations. I find it more difficult to write about stuff that kind of just falls from the air. I’ve always got my eyes open to see what is going on around me. I am also very conscious of specific feelings I might have on specific things happening around me. I am at the point now where I have written about everything in my personal life so I am trying to write about other people’s stories.
I feel that if you are doing pop music you don’t have to forfeit good content for the sake of getting onto the charts. It can still have depth and meaning.
I do get frustrated at times with songs that are not saying anything. When I find a song by an artist that is saying something poignant and profound I get really excited by it. So our aim is to have a party with our songs, but the words must still have meaning. We recently produced a song called Rollercoaster that everybody described as “summery” and “fun”. The lyrics are actually dealing with the issues of what means to be a man and an adult. So while it has a fun Cape Town beat with a cool groove it deals with the real issues of growing up. The beat hooks people first and those who are discerning listeners will get the message afterwards. I feel that if you are doing pop music you don’t have to forfeit good content for the sake of getting onto the charts. It can still have depth and meaning.
Many musicians have an aversion to the term “pop” music. For them, it implies a degraded product. In reality, the term simply refers to something that is popular. It seems however that it carries a stigma in certain circles.
In the beginning, I also struggled with whether I wanted to be called a pop artist. Now I embrace it fully because I love pop music. I am however looking for stuff that is well-produced and also has something to say. We are a pop band and as long as the content is resonant then I don’t think there is anything to feel weird about or disassociate from.
After 2 EP’s your first full-length album is almost out. When is the planned release date?
We don’t have a fixed release date yet. I have spoken to a bunch of musicians that have done this before to get some advice. So we just want to get the merchandise ready before we secure a launch date. Some musicians fix the launch date and then everything else has to fall in line. We don’t want to get the CDs on the day of the launch! So we will first get everything in place and then determine a launch date. Being a manager of a band is a lot of work. I am project managing this with a tick list! A lot of musicians do not see this as a business, but being an indie artist and DIY musician I learn a lot more about business than I thought I would.
Are you doing a lot of the producing yourself or are you using external producers as well?
Our experience is that the traditional music production landscape is very expensive. Our song Rollercoaster was produced by Stonebear & Mayor Records which is run by Helmut Meier and Lucas de Beer. We won that through a competition that they ran. Prior to this, we have been producing our own stuff forever. It just isn’t viable if you are not on a commercial major label or don’t have a funder paying for all of it. Due to the cost, it was never an option for us. My very first experience as a singer in a studio was a bad one in the sense that I realised you get what you pay for. If you want to get a favour done often you will be disappointed. I realised that I could not depend on favours and that I had to teach myself to do this. So over the past 10 years, I have slowly built up studio gear and learned to self-produce. I am also fortunate in that my bandmates also produce other artists.
You are touching on the point that being a musician nowadays requires a multitude of skills. You have to be a great performer, have business acumen, play your instrument well, know how recording software works and how to produce music.
10 or 15 years ago you could make a living in this industry by just doing one thing. The lesson is that nowadays you need multiple skills and be more entrepreneurial.
I learned how to use this software trying to do my own music only to in turn start teaching other people. Now people start asking me about the business side of things, how they register their songs and what ISRC codes mean. All the things that I had to learn through the process are now becoming possible income streams. If you are considering music as a career you have to be open to the process of being led through these various offshoots of the core thing.