An Interview with Jon Stevens

Hot on the heels of his UK tour, Jon Stevens is hitting the road around Australia for a national tour to celebrate his latest album release, Starlight. The tour, which will see him rock into six states and territories, will also feature very special guest and Jon’s long-time friend Kate Ceberano. He has fronted some of the most legendary Aussie bands – Noiseworks, INXS and Dead Daisies.

You recently got back from touring in the United Kingdom. What was it like playing in London, especially as you were there when London was essentially in chaos?

We arrived three days before the [attack on London Bridge] – so it was all [going] awesome and then we got caught in the middle of London. We got stuck till about 5:00 a.m. in the morning – couldn’t get a cab, couldn’t get a car, you couldn’t get anything – they locked all of London down. It was a pretty scary evening actually. It was a ghost town. [We were] staying at Shepherd’s Bush, looking out the hotel window, then there’s Grenfell Tower on fire about four blocks away! Waking up that morning and opening the curtains; London was a bit strange this time around.

[But the shows were] good – we were there for three weeks. I pulled out stuff I haven’t played for years [which] was great fun because you forget how good some things are live. We played at the Isle of Wight Festival, which was massive and that was great fun, and a bunch of shows in London.

A lot of artists struggle to tour internationally, but you make it look so easy. What advice would you give to any young musicians wanting to tour overseas?

Get on a plane and go. The great thing is – I spent a lot of time in America in the early 80s – but nowadays you’ve got social media, you’ve got everything at your fingertips. You can look anyone up online. You can plug into people. You can book your own gigs on the other side of the world, if you’re really that keen. It’s a big ol’ scary world out there, but it’s awesome! I recommend any young person [to] travel because traveling opens your eyes – it changes [and] matures you.

You’re toured the world, recorded albums, done musicals, sang with/in different bands. Do you think versatility has been one of your greatest assets for your longevity?

Oh, without a doubt! But I think that versatility comes from growing up in a household – I was the youngest of eleven children – hearing every kind of music there was to hear and singing all the time as a kid. We grew up playing guitars and singing. It is part of the Maori culture. Part of the Scottish culture [is] drinking and singing – it doesn’t get any better [laughs]! It seemed natural that I’d end up in a band.

You’re home in Melbourne right now about to start the Australian Starlight Album Tour – with very special guest songstress, Kate Ceberano. You’ve recorded and toured with Kate before – as well as playing the principals in 1992’s Jesus Christ Superstar stage production alongside John Farnham. Why did you decide to bring Kate on tour with you?

I love Kate – she’s a wonderful lady. We’ve always chemistry together in our performing lives. We’ve known each other for so long – she’s like one of my sisters. I always love seeing her [and] being around her. She’s such a positive, uplifting person. She’s a delight to be around.

We played one song together a few years ago on tour, so we’re elaborating a bit more on that. It’s a bit of a family affair because her brother’s going to open the show and she’s going to play with him, then I’ll do my thing and then we’ll all jam out [together]. We’ve got a big 12 piece band – brass and singers and stuff – so at the end, it’s going to be 16 people on stage having a lovely time!

Can be expect a Starlight set or will you be mixing in classic songs you’re known for – such as No Lies, Love Somebody, Take Me Back, Touch and In My Youth etc?

I always play the hits in Australia that I’m known for. It’s a bit eclectic. Last time, when I put out the Woman album, I played that whole album from beginning to end and then a bunch of other stuff – so there was two halves. There’s a lot of material – I got a lot of songs [laughs]. This tour we’re playing a bit of everything. It’s a rollicking ride [when] we’re all jamming out together.

The Starlight Tour is named after the album of the same name, released earlier this year …  

I wrote all the songs together with Dave Stewart from the Eurythmics [and a] legendary musician, songwriter, producer, absolute gentlemen and all around good bloke. 30 years ago, in 1987, Noiseworks [the hard-rock band Jon has fronted since the 80s] got to tour with the Eurythmics. The Eurythmics were in their heyday – massive all around the world! We played with them here in Australia. [Dave] could have been another arsehole superstar, but he was nice to us. You don’t forget that stuff. I’ve always been mindful of treating people how you’d like to be treated. I’ve met a few arseholes along the way, but generally they never survive. It doesn’t cost you anything to be a nice. Most of the time we’re treated well, but sometimes we coped a rockstar’s ego [laughs].

Did working with Dave change your initial ideas of what you wanted the album to originally sound like?

Yeah, I had all these songs I’d written and all these ideas, and pretty much the minute Dave and I got together in a room and started writing, about 15 minutes after meeting each other, I never played him an idea. We hit it off immediately. The chemistry was apparent instantly, so we wrote the album straight off the bat. It sort of channeled itself. We’re both fearless in the creative process. We don’t overthink. We don’t overplay. It either works over a short space of time or it doesn’t – and if it doesn’t, we’ll move on to the next thing.

The creative process is a really funny one. Dave and I understood each other creatively and we worked really, really well together. People say, “What’s he like?” And I say, “He’s like Willy Wonka.” He’s a little, genius dude. He’s very vague but super creative with a million ideas. I love Dave. His track record speaks for itself – I mean Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Mick Jagger, Annie Lennox – he’s worked with everybody. They all know him and love him. I’ve just joined his fan club – the Dave Steward fan club [laughs].

Would you like to work with him again then if you got the chance?

Oh, for sure, absolutely! I’m doing something with him when I go to London in September. We’ll always do something together when we can. He’s doing a gig and he’s invited me to be a part of it.

It’s quite a personal and emotional album, especially the title track. Why did you choose Starlight as inspiration for the album title?

The song itself was quite deceiving. It seems like an uplifting, optimistic, happy kind of song, but it’s really not. It’s about suicide. I wrote it about losing someone to the black dog. It’s not a good thing. You’re just left behind. Everyone’s left behind questioning, “What did I miss? What could I have done to change? To help?” It’s a really hard thing to come to turns with. The song’s got a lot of depth. It just seemed like the right title for the album.

I could have called it F.U.C. – which is another song on the album [laughs].

Does the song carry more weight when you sing it live?

With all my songs, it’s always better live. It’s from years and years of working live. Everything I do has to be able to translate in the environment, so Starlight live is so powerful. It’s epic. I don’t play RIP (Millie) anymore [the song is dedicated to his mother who died of cancer]. I haven’t played that for years. It was a very personal soul deep song. “Starlight”, I’m a bit more objective about the message, the story.

The first single off the new album is entitled “Hold On”. What is the first single about?

The lyrics – One shot will take you. You’ve got one life, don’t you waste it. When you’re falling to pieces, you’re not the only one. Pleased to meet ya! I mean self-explanatory – we all go through ups and downs. We all have our moments where we’re like, “Oh my God, my life sucks! I just want to fucking jump off a bridge!” Everything bad that can happen to a person generally happens at some point in your life – whether it’s a relationship breakup, whether you lose somebody you love. The thing is, when you get pulled into that hole and you feeling so down, so alone and like the world doesn’t care and nobody cares, you’ve gotta ride it out. A new day starts again – you have another crack at this thing called life. Don’t ever loose your optimism because that’s the thing that helps you get over the humps. So Hold On is about picking yourself up, dusting yourself off, having another crack, because that’s what you gotta do. Life’s short enough. The ride will end eventually [laughs].

The other thing is there’s always people worse off than you – always. It’s interesting; you find some of the people in the worst situations are actually the happiest. The world is a very strange place. Humans are evil creatures, but then humans are also incredibly amazing – it’s the yin and yang.

The video looks like quite a big production with stunts, explosions and more. What was it like filming the video? Did it get the testosterone pumping?

[Laughs] It was a big day, I gotta say! I did all my own stunts and it was pretty crazy. I wasn’t going in there thinking I’m going to be doing all this crazy shit, but I had to, so it was quite fun after a while. Jesse Davey was the director. It looks like a very expensive clip but it wasn’t expensive at all. He was just great. It was just great. He did a great job.

The video has been shared quite a bit on social media. I also noticed you’ve embraced Facebook and other platforms. How important is social media for you these days as a musician?

I’m trying. It’s still something quite get my head around it. You’ve got to have some sort of something that people can just tune in, because everything’s instant these days. If somebody is asks, “Who’s Jon Stevens?” They’re going to look me up. I find it really amazing to be able to communicate directly with fans – it’s brilliant. I love that aspect of it. All the years before social media, before internet, before computers, the only way you could meet fans was by doing gigs. Now you see them online, you say hi or whatever [and] they respond like they’re your friends – and they are. Some of them are crazy, but aren’t we all?!

I’m very respectful of my fans and I’m nice to everybody. If I meet someone famous myself or that I’m a fan of I’m shy, I won’t even say hello, so it’s quite brave of people to come up and have a chat. It takes guts. I respect that people make that effort.


To connect with Jon, visit: www.facebook.com/jonstevensofficial

[Originally posted at the AU Review]

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