Interview with Sterling EQ

Electrifying instrumental pop

If you can only imagine instrumental bands performing in stuffy concert halls and sterile conference buildings, you surely haven’t heard of Sterling EQ. Using electronic classical instruments, the ladies from this four-piece pop group give instrumental music another dimension and even get their audience on the dance floor.

Let’s meet band: Carina Bruwer, Ariella Caira, Eriel Huang and Renate Riedemann are four ambitious women who bring glamour and virtuosity together. Each of the girls bring unique personality traits to Sterling EQ, and similarly, they draw on inspiration from a variety of music genres, From classical to rock, jazz to South African music styles like kwaito, and from pop to world music, they take pride in consolidating so many styles into something that is distinctly their own.

The award-winning group (they won a SAMA in 2011) has shared the stage and collaborated with international megastars, like Snow Patrol, Boney M and South African legends like Johnny Clegg, and now,  after a few busy months of touring, they are in the process of recording their new album (expected to come out around August 2012).

Despite their busy schedule though, the ambitious Sterlings still see Cape Town as their home base and enjoy every bit of its beauty. We sat down with the musos to talk about their dynamism, their passion for music and the role Cape Town has in their lives. 

Get a great taste of Sterling EQ’s music with this video: 

CapeTownMag: What have you been up to recently?

SterlingEQ: We have had a mad past few months, recording our new album for EMI and touring.  In May alone, we travelled to Dubai, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Johannesburg, and of course also touched down in Cape Town for a few performances in the Mother City.  We are truly blessed, being able to do what we love.

CapeTownMag: What does the name Sterling EQ actually mean?

SterlingEQ: “Sterling” describes the colour of our instruments, and also stands for “strong” and “accomplished” – qualities that are important to us and which we feel depict our act. EQ stands for “Electric Quartet”

CapeTownMag: What song of yours are you most connected to, and why?

Carina: I feel that Nova represents our “migration” from classical to pop music. Having been classical performers up until the formation of Sterling EQ, this “new music” was indeed new to all of us, and Nova was the first taste of something much bigger for us. We also did a super-fun music video of the song, which is still receiving international airplay.

Renate: I have a special place in my heart for Caruso. Its long and evoking melody lines draw the audience and performer into a purely musical sphere.

CapeTownMag: What concert do you consider your best, and why?

Ariella: Without a doubt our Live DVD recording - we were so exhausted, nervous and with all the technical issues on the day, the performance was surely destined to be a total flop. Somehow we pulled through, performed and played our hearts out and won a SAMA award for the production.

Carina: We truly enjoy all our performances – each has something special, and usually the reaction of the audience makes every show worthwhile for us – whether big or small.  Our recent performance in March 2012 at the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town stands out; we had a fantastic house filled with spirited audience members, and a guest performance by my good friend and musical inspiration, the guitar maestro Saudiq Khan. It brought back great memories of when we played together in a flamenco band and everything worked together to create a perfect evening.

CapeTownMag: How do you think your fans perceive you, and how does this differ from reality?

Sterling EQ: Sometimes we may come across a little more glamorous than we are in real life – we dress up for stage and photo shoots, play at awesome events and parties and travel the world. But really, we are just four girls with a passion for music, fun and adventure, and we enjoy our quiet time too.

CapeTownMag: Tell your fans something they don’t know about you.

Sterling EQ: Something fans won’t know about the group is that we never sit together on planes – we all need aisle seats and the airlines really shouldn’t get this wrong. [They Laugh]

Carina: Although I will probably be a flautist for the rest of my life, I am really a lead electric guitarist at heart!

Ariella: I’m a terribly confused individual. I was a vegetarian for seven years and truly considered joining a Thai monastery.  I have a diploma in patisserie and have an origami obsession. I love Charlie Chaplin films, and growing up I wanted to be an astronaut. Enough said.

Renate: I have a bit of (self-confessed) OCD when it comes to parking. Seeing that most people open car doors without conscience or care, I'll pick the most unpopulated spot to park. And no, I don’t mind that it usually means I have to walk an extra mile to get to the entrance of the place I’m visiting.

Eriel: I have a love affair with shoes, mugs, flowers, books and CDs.

CapeTownMag: Is there an area of Cape Town that has influenced your music?

Sterling EQ: Our sound has not really been influenced by Cape Town music as such, but merely living in Cape Town and being surrounded by such beauty and great vibes certainly forms us as individuals and a group.

CapeTownMag: Do you have a favourite street corner in Cape Town?

Sterling EQ: Cape Town is such a vibrant city - each corner has a different feel and flavour and whether it is the beautiful old architecture and churches, the pristine Company Gardens, the kaleidoscopic Bo Kaap or the magnificence of the Camps Bay-Clifton coastline, there’s inspiration to be found in it all!  No matter where we travel, Cape Town will always be home and our hearts are always happy to return.

CapeTownMag: What is a nice place to go on a first date in Cape Town?

Sterling EQ: Anywhere near one of our amazing beaches. A romantic sunset and a “lolly to make you jolly” is a truly relaxed and Capetonian way to start something special. For a second date – go bigger – Grand Café in Camps Bay or Tintswalo Atlantic Restaurant close to Hout Bay. 

CapeTownMag: If anything were possible, the best place to have a concert in CT would be…

Renate: Clifton 4th, it’s a semi-private beach tucked away from most of the notorious Cape wind and great for sunset picnic vibes.

Eriel: Right on the very top bit of Table Mountain! Overlooking the entire Cape Peninsula. The view says it all.

Carina: A yacht off Clifton, on a hot summer’s night.  The view of that side of the coast is absolutely spectacular, and I think it would be the sexiest gig ever. I used to do a lot of open water swimming, so the ocean and especially Cape Town’s waters have a special place in my heart.

Ariella: Our stunning Green Point Stadium.  The magnitude and grandeur of this space is breath-taking and as it’s quintessentially “Proudly South African”, it puts everyone in a good mood.

CapeTownMag: What musicians do you admire?

Eriel: I love listening to the local bands in each place we travel. On side streets and in cafés; they often represent the life of that place.

Renate: Coldplay – having had very humble beginnings, and going on to greatly influence or revolutionize the whole genre of pop rock. And naming your child Apple, respect.

Ariella: Apocolyptica- the cello has never been more hardcore. Queen has brilliant incorporation of classical music into their rock genre, and Yanni has been a huge inspiration to us as a band – his compositions are nothing short of genius, with melody lines to melt your heart and passages of utter gob-smacking, show stopping brilliance- they leave you breathless.

Carina: Vanessa Mae, for pioneering and popularising the genre we now call instrumental pop music.

CapeTownMag: When you are not making music you like being busy with…

Ariella: Hot yoga at Cape Town's greatest studio. I also like to be busy with cooking, learning Italian and spending time with my family.

Eriel: Community projects, tango dancing, taking walks, finding new spots for tea.

Renate: Singing. Muay Thai. And hanging out with good, uplifting friends.

Carina: I own Five Seasons Entertainment, which is Sterling’s management company, so that comes with some significant responsibility.  I also put a lot of time and effort into brainstorming around the promotion of the band and its music, and liaising with our record company, EMI. I also swim 3-4 km a day and am a mommy to Milena (4) and Italia (1).

CapeTownMag: What goals do you have going forward in life?

Renate: Using what you were given to the full, and never taking yourself too seriously.

Ariella: I aim to live as regret-free as possible by not letting any opportunities slip away. I have a bucket list, which is growing faster than I can tick things off, with lots of travel destinations and once-in-a-lifetime experiences I’d love to try.

Eriel: Definitely travelling more with music, finishing my Masters degree and getting a PhD.  I would love to work for the United Nations one day.

Carina: Although I am very career orientated and a bit of a workaholic, my “goals” aren’t always very defined, as I prefer to see where the hard work leads me.  It’s essential for me to enjoy every aspect of my life; if it’s not fun or rewarding in some way, it’s not worth doing.  I also have two beautiful young daughters and there is nothing as important as their happiness.


By Karin Willemsen for the Cape Town Music Series. The Cape Town music Series is a project of highlighting muscians, bands and DJs based in Cape Town and the Western Cape.


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