Local muso Jon Shaban speaks his mind on new album

Jon Shaban
Jon Shaban

The multi-talented local singer/songwriter, Jon Shaban recently released his sophomore album Speak Your Mind to critical acclaim in the SA music scene. Shaban is one of SA’s gems in the acoustic indie scene and with this new effort he feels that an organic and honest approach has provided his listeners with his best effort yet. Potchefstroom Herald had a chat with Shaban to discuss the album as well as his music style and success as a full-time musician:

Jon Shaban

Jon Shaban

  1. Hi Jon, it is an absolute pleasure to see how your career has progressed since the release of your debut album Fortune Favours The Brave. What would you say has been the biggest lessons you’ve learned in the past three years which culminated in your new album Speak Your Mind?

The biggest lesson I’ve learned has to be how to manage being a career musician. It is a full time job with loads of overtime and it needs the respect it deserves. I’ve made the mistake a few times before of being a ‘full-time’ musician and expecting things to fall into my lap. I’ve always failed and had to find other work. This time round, I think I’ve found a better approach. That’s just one of many lessons though.

  1. How would you summarise Speak Your Mind? What feel did you go for on the album, and are you happy how it panned out in the end?

I couldn’t be happier with how the album panned out. It was a completely different approach to any other recording I’ve ever done with any band or by myself. I had this bunch of songs which I thought would make a good album and I knew that I wanted to get a bunch of different musicians to collaborate on it with me and help add their own flavor to the songs. But instead of rehearsing beforehand and preparing for studio, we used the studio as the incubator for the ideas and I think it adds a really organic feel to the album

  1. I see there are a lot of local and international collaborators on Speak Your Mind. This to me gives the album a lot of variety. What is your standpoint with regards to collaborations, would you like to do more in future?

I think playing music with other musicians is always going to make you a better musician. I’m definitely keen on collaborating more in the future.

  1. How was the experience collaborating with Stelth Ulvang, touring member of the Lumineers on the song “We Need To Stay Positive?” How did the song come about?

Working with Stelth is always a pleasure and really fun. We connected a few years back and figured we have very similar tastes in music. The song was something I had written and never really finished and I figured it would work well with someone like Stelth adding something to it and then it naturally became this kinda conversational song about staying positive. There is another song called ‘Like Honey’ that Stelth and I also co-wrote that is out on his most recent EP, ‘Greetings from Perpetual Summer.’

  1. How has the touring process for the new album been? Do you feel that you have had a good reception to the new songs on the album?

The touring part is yet to start. I’ve been on tour around Europe with my band The Shabs since I launched ‘Speak Your Mind’. The end part of this year will be for touring it around SA and then hopefully a bit internationally next year. But the response so far has been overwhelmingly good.

  1. The opening track on the album “Dreaming Of A Better Place” has a real nostalgic and honest feel to it. Do you feel that story-based lyrics are where you excel the most as a songwriter?

I definitely think that lyrics are a strength of mine but at the same time that’s not what everybody wants to hear. I love telling stories and will continue to do so and hope that my music always remains honest and relatable. I think then, even though it’s not commercial, I will always appeal to the kind of person I want to be playing to.

  1. From listening to the songs I can see that you really like to retell your experiences on the road , for instance in the song “Speak Your Mind.” Would you feel this is one of the best ways to express your emotions as a musician?

As I songwriter, I think that songs are definitely the best way to express your emotions. But I also think any creative can say the same thing. Artists, poets, photographers etc…all use their craft as a creative release and emotional outlet. To me that seems healthy.

  1. What are your favourite songs on the album and why?

The answer to this question changes daily.

  1. The acoustic elements and arrangement of the songs has a real positive melody to it, and I think this also lends to the easy listening nature of the tracks. When composing music do you normally try to write uplifting melodies?

I’ve been told that my music is happy but my lyrics can be quite dark and cynical sometimes. I don’t think I do that on purpose. I think it’s just my style. There’s a lot of that happening in the world. There’s so much negativity and bad shit going on. We might as well at least try sound happy sometimes. Right?

  1. I really like the album artwork too. It is really colourful and attracts your attention. What are the main ideas behind it?

My amazing friend Megan Gallagher at Call Me Ishmael did the artwork. It was another collaboration really. I gave Megan the songs and asked her to design something that she thought would visualize the feeling of the album. She got a very anthropological feeling from the songs and came up with the art. Needless to say I love it. Check out Call Me Ishmael. Megan designs some amazing stuff!

  1. You were recently in Europe with the Shabs. How would you put that experience into words? Do you feel more SA bands should do a European tour if money allows it?

The experience is really amazing. To stand on a stage in the middle of some European country and get such a positive response to the band is always a next level feeling. Europe has such an amazing culture for live music. The infrastructure and support system is just so much more developed than here. I would definitely recommend more SA bands try make it over there but it is easier said than done. I think first start with some touring around SA and figure out if it’s something that appeals to you as a band. Being on the road is tough. It’s nowhere near as glamorous as people make it out to be. And being so far from home does make it tougher sometimes so first figure out if you’re cut out for it.

  1. What are your future plans for the rest of year, can we expect another single from the new album, a music video or two?

Yup. That’s the plan. I’ll be touring the record and working the it. The Shabs will also be recording our 2nd full-length album before the end of the year.

  1. Any tips for upcoming musicians who also want to go into music full time? What are the biggest do’s and don’t in the local music industry?

DO’s:

  • Support other musicians
  • Network as much as possible
  • Practice your instrument
  • Wake up early and treat being a musician like a job

DON’TS:

  • Drink too much and do drugs all the time
  • Develop an ego
  • Bad mouth other musicians
  • Undercut any other musicians
  1. One thing you would want to change in the local music industry and one thing that should never change in the local music industry? 

The one thing I would change is the mindset around supporting original music. For some reason it just seems so much easier to go out there and get a good paying gig playing covers. I understand why it happens but that’s the thing I would change

The thing I wouldn’t change is the sense of family and community that the SA scene has. I think because it’s so small, there are a group of people who really want to work together to develop it and it’s something I haven’t seen much of around the other places I’ve been.

  AUTHOR
Wouter Pienaar
Sport Journalist

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