east coast faces : jon stevens
words : Shari Vena Tagliabue
We’ve followed him from Noiseworks, seen him as Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar, admired him in the post-Hutchence INXS, listened to countless albums, heard him belt out more hits than a heavyweight title fight, and seen him perform just about anywhere there’s a venue big enough to handle powerhouse vocals. But now it’s time to get up close and personal.
Stevens is headed up the East Coast to Townsville, to rock out the Dalrymple Hotel, and for the very first time Stevens will not only be featuring songs from his recent album, Starlight, but will be dipping into his back catalogue as well.
“Yeah, people always call out, ‘play Take Me Back’! he said, ‘but I didn’t want to, you know? I wanted to move forward. But now it’s time., and I’m really enjoying being back in the pubs, and people bringing their kids, they’ve never seen pub rock.’
This is great news for all of us who get nostalgic for songs we grew up with, and saves us from being the one to call out, ‘play Take Me Back’!
Aside from not realising Stevens preferred his music looking forwards rather than back, there’s a couple of other things you mightn’t know about this Oz rock legend.
Firstly, he’s from New Zealand of Maori descent. You probably knew that, he was naturalised in 1991 so he’s ours now, but did you know Stevens was one of 11 kids?
I asked what kind of music he listened to when growing up, and aside from a broad range of fantastic influences, it turns out EVERYBODY in his family was singing or playing a guitar – “I wasn’t even the best singer, you know?’ he laughed. In fact one of Stevens’ brothers, Frankie, is a bit of a name back in NZ. Like his brother, he performed in the musical, Jesus Christ Superstar, and was a judge on New Zealand Idol for all three seasons.
So you can imagine family gatherings…
Anyway, Stevens says, ‘We were into everything, blues, every style; there were guitars, and singing… I was like a sponge, I just soaked it all up, it was a pretty typical household’… (to him maybe, 11 kids, plus parents, that’s like about THREE typical families) but it’s the throwaway line about not being the best singer that demonstrates Stevens’ somewhat surprising lack of ego.
Not only is he happy to talk up the skills of others, collaborating with so many well known artists in the music industry over his entire career shows he’s a name other singers, songwriters and musicians are equally thrilled to work with.
I tried to pin Stevens down to see if he had a preference for either playing in a band, doing musicals, or as a solo artist, and his response? ‘It’s all the same, it’s all performing. Anyway, my preference is to keep breathing, haha! – and to keep working. I call myself a working musician, and I guess it’s like anything you apply yourself to, you get results if you apply yourself. If you’re doing something you love, it makes all the difference. A lot of people out there are doing things they have to do, I’m doing something I love to do, I’m very lucky.’
Stevens shared that his childhood dream was to play football, ‘It was before the NRL, but I ended up in music, and I’m glad I made that choice,’
‘Both are great careers tho,’ I suggest, and he laughs, ‘Yeah, but mine’s lasted about 30 years longer!’
He co-wrote his tenth studio album with Dave A. Stewart from the Eurythmics, who also produced it. Titled Starlight, it’s a rock/soul/country/blues mix; Stevens toured it with Kate Ceberano, and Ringo Starr plays on the track, One Way Street.
Yes, you heard right, THE Ringo Starr.
Impressive, right? So how does that even happen? Stevens is low-key about his high-profile contacts,
‘I pinch myself still,’ he said, ‘but you meet, you talk, and I asked if he’d be on my record and he said, ‘Yeah, sure’ – I mean from a musician’s point of view, that’s what it’s about.
People ask me to do things and I’m like ‘sure,’ it’s all about sharing - sharing and caring. I’ve had a blessed life, and I’m still learning.’
Suddenly the lack of ego, the joy from singing and playing music, collaborating with others, and a great work ethic makes perfect sense - with ten siblings, that’s just situation natural for Jon Stevens.
FIRST RECORD YOU EVER BOUGHT:
Lean on Me by Bill Withers, (a soul classic released in 1972, it’s had 92 million views on YouTube) ‘I was about ten, maybe 11 years old, I knew The Beatles, I knew The Rolling Stones, I knew Led Zeppelin, I knew all that.’
WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO:
Everything – I dunno, y’know! I’ve been watching this great documentary, The Defiant Ones about Jimmy Lovine and Dr Dre, it’s incredible – Eminem, Tupac, Snoop Dog, I’m loving that…
SEE JON STEVENS AT THE DALRYMPLE HOTEL ON FRIDAY APRIL 13, GET YOUR TICKETS HERE