“This is where the future is going to lift off from,” Connell Cruise says, looking out at the New York Stock Exchange. “It’s a dream so big I couldn’t have possibly dreamed anything close to it.” This Friday the 27-year-old singer was finally able to reveal a secret he’s kept under wraps for the past few weeks. He has been signed to Epic Records, a division of Sony Music, home to the likes of Sade, Outkast and Avril Lavigne.
“It’s unreal how huge it is,” he says, his voice soft-spoken but full of delight. “There’s still a lot of work to be done. This is just the beginning. But it’s such a great beginning!” Cruise, who’s been playing the piano since he was 4, released his debut album last year, which spawned hits like Not Just Friends and 99%.
Producer extraordinaire LA Reid, who is responsible for signing artists like Usher and Pink! during the course of his career, inked the deal with David Gresham and Andrew Mitchley of local label David Gresham Records. Mitchley has been back and forth to New York with Cruise, meeting with labels who expressed interest in him, following the success of his most recent single, Into the Wild.
The track, which reached the top of the South African iTunes chart in April, caught the ear of Epic Records A&R rep, Matt Maschi, who took it to Reid. “Beyond the numbers, I thought it was a good song,” says Maschi. “It has a positive message – it’s loud, big and has an element of sound that doesn’t come from here in America. It has this world sound that comes from South Africa.”
Cruise joins fellow South Africans, Kongos, who have rocketed to success in the US, off the back of their song, Come With Me Now. The track was certified Platinum this week, selling over a million copies in the US, and Double Platinum in Canada. “It would be cool if we saw more songs over the next 5 years coming out of South Africa and being successful like this” says Maschi. “But no matter where you’re from, a good song is a good song.”
Yet Maschi says it was more than just the song that helped seal the deal for Cruise. “He’s a wonderful person. Just hanging out with him I’ve found him to be a charming guy, who’s down to earth, and that’s a rare find.”
He says there are big plans for Cruise, who’ll stay in the US to finish his second album, working with the best songwriters and producers in the business. But Cruise says those plans will include regular trips back to South Africa, to perform for his fans. “They’re the reason I’m here,” he says. “I could never leave them behind.”