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INTERVIEW: JON STEVENS – 2017

INTERVIEW: JON STEVENS – 2017
By Shane Pinnegar

A few years on from his surprise dumping from The Dead Daisies – the band he formed with Westfield zillionaire and rock star wannabe David Lowy – Jon Stevens has released his superb tenth solo album Starlight [reviewed here], and done another lap of Australia – this time with good friend Kate Ceberano in support.

“Things are good, man,” he says when asked how life is. With a new album and tour, it seems almost too obvious, but his casual voice as he shepherds his Grandkids out of the room is as legit as it gets. “Yeah, just working away, mate.”

He may be ‘just working away’ at it, but his casualness doesn’t address the fact that he had none other than Ringo Starr play on a track on his record. Did he go all fanboy on the legendary Beatle?

“No! I just tried to be cool as hell, know what I mean?” he chuckles. “It’s just like, what do you do? It was really, really nice of him to play on the record and I had the pleasure of meeting him with Dave Stewart. We sort of hung out in an informal environment at Dave’s house and we got along like a house on fire. It was just one of those things, you know? I’m very lucky.”

Dave Stewart – he of Eurythmics fame – produced Starlight, hence the drafting in of his famous friend. Stevens’ recalls his own band, Noiseworks, supporting The Eurythmics way back when, but notes that they didn’t stay in touch or anything from that time.

“He was chuffed when he realised that Noiseworks supported the band back in ’87, 30 years ago,” explains Stevens. “It was one of those things where he was a big rock star at the time and didn’t remember much of that period when they were the biggest band in the world.

“I did say to him, ‘you were really nice to us when you didn’t have to be, and I never forgot that.’ Fast forward almost thirty years and we end up working together. Put it this way: if he wasn’t nice to us back then, there’s no way we would have worked together now. He’s a good man.”

Speaking of thirty years, that’s how long ago the debut Noiseworks album was released. Has it been more ups than downs since then?

“It’s life, really. We’re still here on the planet so whilst here, make as much music as possible and try and reach as many people as possible with the music,” he explains, his voice casual, but his passion obvious. “That’s always been the plan. I love what I do. I’m very grateful to still be doing what I love. I’ve always sort of felt that when I’m about 70, I’ll become good. That tradition of old blues men, you know… I remember seeing Muddy Waters in 1981 playing and I was just mesmerised, and I [thought], ‘I want to be that when I grow up.’ I’m still trying to grow up.”

Stevens approached Stewart to produce the album, bringing along a bunch of fresh demos to play him, and was not expecting the duo to click immediately and instantly start writing new material.

“You know what, I didn’t play him anything in the end,” says Stevens. “We just sat down within the first fifteen minutes of meeting each other and just started writing. We had this amazing chemistry and we just got into this sort of stream of consciousness vibe. It was amazing. Stuff just poured out. We were both very excited about that and obviously the combination of that is Starlight.”

For any kind of creative artist that spark must surely be the ultimate goal.

“When you’re collaborating, it is a question of chemistry,” Stevens opines. “I’m not a paint-by-numbers kind of songwriter. I’m a from-the-heart songwriter and I’ve got to feel it because I’m the singer. It’s got to have extra substance in it for me to passionately and believably perform it and sing it, so I’ve got to feel right. Dave understood that. He understood that and was very empathetic towards that goal on each song. It was great.”

I joke that the title Starlight surely can’t be simply because Ringo played on the record, and Stevens was happy to set me straight about the real meaning of the album’s name.

“No – I never thought of that before! Starlight is actually a song and it’s about suicide. The bridge is ‘so you threw your life away, couldn’t face another day, but I believed in you, no matter what they say. Love is gone and you have to carry on.’ I’ve certainly had my fair share of that in my life with various people, family members, friends, et cetera. That song just came out and it wasn’t until I wrote the bridge and saw it and went, ‘oh my god, that’s what it’s about.’

“It was a subconscious thing, so it was a release of those sort of feelings, I suppose. But songs… everyone can take a song however which way they want. I’m quite literal in my songs. I don’t really have many hidden meanings in my songs. I’m pretty straight ahead if you look at the lyrics. That one, it just seemed like the right title for the album.”

Lead single from Starlight, Hold On, got the full video clip treatment, and it’s like a rad little action movie. Stevens explains that it didn’t cost anything like as much as it looks like it would have to make.

“It was actually done by a guy called Jesse Davy who is another friend of Dave’s,” he explains. “He’s an English guitar-playing guy who dabbles in filming. We shot two videos in one day – Hold On and Starlight – in succession. I did all my own stunts. It was real guerilla filmmaking, so it wasn’t expensive at all. It looks great because Jesse’s good at the old CGI stuff, post production stuff. He’s a really great, easy guy to work with so it was just fun doing it. When you shoot the hell out of everything that’s moving, you’ve got a lot to work with in the edit – all the explosions and things falling down, that’s just CGI. It’s the magic – it’s not really a case of [being] expensive, in fact, it’s the opposite.”

Starlight is an eclectic album coming in thirty years into a eclectic career. Above and beyond Stevens’ distinctive vocals, there’s something else above and beyond – a vibe that you can always tell when it’s a Jon Stevens song, I think. The singer ascribes it to his love for what he does.

“Maybe passion? I’m passionate about life, I’m passionate about everything, but I’m particularly passionate when I’m singing and writing,” he enthuses warmly. “It comes out in that kind of way. I’ve always said I can’t write a love song unless I’m in love. As far as observing what’s going on in the world or making observations about people and life, that’s what songwriters do and storytellers do: just give a little glimpse into whatever’s affecting you at the time, you know? I don’t know… maybe that’s for other people to work out? For me, everything I do, I give it 110%.”

Starlight was released in the UK in September, with Stevens heading out for promotional appearances and a few shows, an opportunity he relishes.

“It’s great to get out in the world and play shows,” he says, probably stating the obvious, but he sure he isn’t taking any of this for granted. “There’s a lot of Australian artists touring all around the world. It’s amazing. They don’t look down on it. Australian artists are really respected and there’s a lot of gigs, a lot of festivals, and there’s just a lot of stuff going on. There’s a tonne of artists that people don’t even know here that are working over there.

“It’s interesting because I guess that’s the internet, a different way of doing things here nowadays in the music industry. You don’t have to be with a major record label. The independent thing is really strong. Back in the ‘80s, it was very, very difficult to break into America [or] Europe. You had to be constantly touring, constantly, for years, before you got anything going. Nowadays, it seems a lot quicker. Not to be huge or anything but just to work. If you’re good, you’re good and they’ll take you on. It doesn’t matter where you come from.”

It was on one of these trips that Stevens found himself in London when the London Bridge terror attack occurred in June. In November 2015 a rock and roll show was targeted at The Bataclan club in Paris. Do these incidents make him nervous to travel the world?

“Not really,” he declares gravely, “because you don’t know when your number’s up and you can’t think like that. It was really, really hard being in London. We actually got caught out that night in the middle of London and we couldn’t actually get back to our hotel until like five in the morning because they locked down London.

“We were caught out at a restaurant and we had to get out of there. Anyway, we ended up in a bar. What a terrible, terrifying [incident]… but you can’t buy into that and stop doing what you’re doing. You’ve got to keep forging on.”

Finally, we touch on his shock 2015 departure from The Dead Daisies, the band he co-founded with rich kid David Lowy in 2012 and released one album and an EP with. It seemed like a little awkward, some might say.

“Yeah, it was news to me at the time,” Stevens says with a sigh, before referring to an injury which sidelined him for a brief time. “I was at my worst and they just kicked me in the head some more. It was a… what do you call it… a takeover.”

I found their latest live album disappointing – all flash and no heart – not to mention that with only Lowy left from Australia, and now covering the likes of Grand Funk’s We’re An American Brand, they seem to not only have forgotten their roots but are actively attempting to rewrite their history.

“Yeah, that’s what sort of freaked me out, too,” Stevens observes, “because it was started here as an Australian band and unfortunately, the guy I was working with decided to make it an American band. I guess that’s where he wants to go, where he wants to be.

“I haven’t really listened to their stuff with the new outfit but I’m proud of the stuff I did with them. I created it. I came up with the name, the logo, the whole thing. It was my contribution, pretty much everything. But that’s the thing with being a creative person, you know, just keep moving and keep doing stuff and they do their thing, I do my thing.

“It was very, very disappointing from my side of the fence, for sure, to find out online that we’re touring in Cuba – but I’m not actually going, when I actually started the band. It was pretty nasty stuff. Anyway…” his voice trails off before he adds, positively, “you just do what you’re doing and it’s kind of like, being a solo artist you don’t have to put up with… I make my own decisions and don’t have to put up with beginners.”

 

INTERVIEW: JON STEVENS – 2017

Filed Under: Interviews

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