Home Interviews Interview: JOHN SWAN

Interview: JOHN SWAN

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It has been seven years since singer John Swan’s last album release, ‘Have a Little Faith’. Now, finally, Swanee is excited to see the long-awaited release of his latest work, ‘One Day at a Time.’ I caught up with John recently to talk about the new album and the journey he has taken in his life both musically and personally. “I was going to produce an acoustic album of stuff I’d written,” he explains. Then he met up with producer Darren Mullan. “We sat around and had a play with a couple of songs and he came up with an idea and I came up with an idea and we married the two ideas together and they married very nicely so we spent that day just writing songs and doing things and the next day we talked together again and we did the same thing. He had put together a basic idea and I wrote the lyrics and put a vocal on it and that was one of the first tracks that we did. So from then on, we did exactly that and just wrote tracks on the day. And it was really easy. He’s a really cool keyboard player, a good singer and plays multi instruments.”

Also playing on the new album with John was Damien Steele Scott on bass; Andrew Bignall sharing drumming duty with John; Cam Blokland (rhythm guitar) and guitarist James Mueller who, John says proudly, is ‘one of the best jazz guitar players in the world.’

The first single from the album, released simultaneously, is ‘Fallen Angel’ and has gone to radio the same time as the album.

“We’re sending out a DVD with pre-ordered copies of the album,” says John. “Just something to give them as a bonus. We offered them a track if they downloaded (the album) and they get a DVD if they buy it from the website. John St. Peeters shot it. We do a lot of work with the Ovarian Cancer Council and with Autistic kids which is a soft spot in my heart. You’ve got to do what you can. Some people are just too busy but I’m lucky I’ve got time.. or I make time.”

John devotes a lot of his time to supporting charities and special causes. “It makes me feel good to be alive,” he says. “It’s good for the soul.”

His latest project is Swags for the Homeless, a charity that aims to provide swags for people who are without a warm bed and sleeping on the streets. This is just one of numerous causes to which John tirelessly gives his time, energy and resources. “Almost every day I do a Salvation Army Run,” he explains. “I go to the bakeries and I pick up the food and take it to the Salvos. People come in for their dinner and we serve them. It’s really nice. These people are so damaged because of the homelessness and they can’t stand society. They don’t like being in groups of people. Actually getting to serve them is one of the most humbling experiences that I’ve ever had. They have touched my heart in so many ways and, but for the grace of God, there go I.” John is quick to point out that it is a common misconception that all people who are homeless and sleeping on the streets are alcoholics or drug addicts. “They’re homeless. They don’t always have alcohol or drug abuse. Don’t get me wrong; some of them do.”

He relates a story about a man he met in Perth after a gig. “There was a guy there who was homeless,” he tells me. “And I said hello to him. He didn’t want to know about talking He had a very articulate voice. He was very well spoken and polite. And he told me his story. He had a house in Sydney on the water and his wife and kids were in an accident. He got a call to say his wife and kids had been killed. He got out of that place and just started to walk and never went back to it. Never touched a bank account. Never touched anything. So behind a lot of these people, imagine these incredible stories of great torment and pain and life as we know it shuts down. I can’t possibly imagine what it would be like to lose my wife and children.”

John explains that he tries to write about stories like that and has incorporated some of that into the lyrics of the album. “And there are dedications to people who have passed away,” he says. “And that we’ll never get to see again, in celebration of their lives. So I try to bring it to the music. For me, it’s part of my life. It’s not something I do because I have to. I do it because I want to and when I write, I’m in that frame of mind. Some of them are my own stories and some of them are stories from life; stories that I’m honoured to be a part of and that I’ve been privileged to do. When you look at these people, they’ve got nothing and they want nothing. And they deserve to at least be warm. That’s why I’m trying to raise the money for swags to give them a swag each and something warm in their stomach. They are things that we take for granted; food and warmth.”

Of course, John also has his own story to tell and it is one that he is only too happy to share these days. “I partied too much and got into drugs,” he admits. “When you’ve never had any money before and all of a sudden, you start earning a lot of money…” It didn’t help matters much that John was sponsored by a brewing company. “I was getting paid just to drink their product. I almost lost my life and my wife and my family. It wasn’t easy but I got myself cleaned up. I gave up drugs, cigarettes and alcohol on the same day because I figured you might as well suffer once rather than three times. I’m not the bravest man in the world,” he laughs. “I had to do AA and I had lots of good friends who helped me. And they were all people that I really respected. Everybody was trying to get straight and sober at the same time because we had lost so many of our peers through drugs and alcohol. Now that I’ve got a good life, I can do things for other people. I think hitting rock bottom did it for me. I was very, very sick. I nearly lost my life. Alcoholics Anonymous turned me around and now, because of that, I can see other people’s pain a lot clearer. I look them in the eye and I can feel in my heart what they’re going through.”

John’s musical journey began at a very young age. “I was about thirteen,” he recalls. “I was playing with a band and we went to Melbourne, sort of ran away from home. The other guys were older. I was a young drummer and we got a job in Melbourne, playing with Lynne Randell’s band. She had a hit with ‘Ciao Baby’ and we just played little gigs around Melbourne. Then I played with different bands like Blackfeather, and Jim Keays’ band. I lived with Jim for years.”

Last week, both John and the late Jim Keays were inducted into the South Australian Hall of Fame. “I was fortunate enough to get to speak to him just before he died,” he shares. “And we said our things and Jim said ‘Go out there and kick arse!’. You know, I don’t take things like that too much to heart. It’s just that if you stick around long enough, you’re going to finish up somewhere!” he laughs. And it might as well be in the Hall of Fame. “Yes,” he agrees.

He recalls a few missed opportunities along the way, like ironically passing up the job of singer for Cold Chisel when they started up. “I remember going to the rehearsal and thinking ‘Jeeze, I made a mistake here.’”, he says with a laugh. “I’ve always had a close affiliation with them physically and spiritually as well, not just because of Jim. I loved all the guys. I brought Steve Prestwich to a gig when they were looking for a drummer and I was playing drums at the time. He got that gig and it sort of cemented Chisel together. I guess that’s one thing I’m very proud of. There’s many stories of ‘If I had’ and ‘I might have’ but ‘if’ is a big word. We run our courses regardless. Some of us are destined for certain things and others for others. My thing is that I never really expected to or wanted to be famous. I just wanted to be good at what I did and that’s an ongoing process. I practice more now on guitar and piano. I play drums and guitar on the album.”

As a musician, it is important for John to see the audience getting involved in the show and enjoying themselves. “I’ve always been one who wanted to make sure that people had a good time. It’s not ‘Come and watch me play’; it’s ‘come and be part of it.’ I really get off when they get off. It’s a two way street. That’s why I don’t miss the drugs and drink. Now I get off on the audience. If somebody’s enjoying it, even if there’s just one person there having a good time, that’s enough to keep me going. I do the hospitals during the day and you’re singing to someone who’s dying. That’s one of the greatest privileges you can possibly have and as long as you don’t go on a personal level, and start trying to do things that you’re spiritually not capable of handling, it’s a wonderful thing to be able to hold somebody’s hand when they’re dying and look them in the eye and say ‘How are you doing?’ You learn so much about life. Not many people get the opportunity to do that sort of thing. It seems like the sort of thing nobody would want to do but when you do it for the right reasons… Just to be there for someon. I think that’s all I ever wanted to do was be there for someone to help them, to not necessarily get anything from them. Just being there is enough and I’m good at that.”

So now, with his solo album finally out there, what’s next on the agenda? Well, he is also releasing a single in the U.S. that he produced with Australian producer Mark Moffatt who is now based in Nashville. Moffatt produced John’s last album, ‘Have a Little Faith’ and the singer was fortunate to have some very well credentialed musicians play on the album with him. “I couldn’t have paid for the people who played on that album,” he admits. “They’re from big bands like Billy Joel’s band and they just come home to Nashville and do sessions and while they were doing sessions, Mark was there and they heard it and they said ‘What can we do? How can we help? Can we play on it?’ so I guess that’s my payment back for whatever they did for me. It’s like Karma. I said ‘I can’t pay you. What am I going to do?’ and they said ‘Well, you’ve got to come over here and sing with us’ and I said ‘OK’ so we may do a tour through the States, through Nashville and the southern parts of the states. We’ll do the college circuit. They’re like 10,000 seaters, those colleges. So it’s like doing big gigs here and we’ve got people from Bonnie Raitt’s band and people who have played with Ted Nugent’s band. They all played on my last album,‘Have a Little Faith’ and they are all incredible players so it will be great.” But for now, John is just excited that he is finally able to share his latest work with his fans and as for the future, well, like the album says … one day at a time…

by Sharyn Hamey

Copyright © Sharyn Hamey 2014. All rights reserved

To order a copy of Swanee’s new album ‘One Day at a Time’, click here

To find out more about how you can help provide Swags For the Homeless, click here

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