John Ellis on the SAMA’s and Music

John Ellis is the uber successful front man from Tree63 that left his busy touring life in the States to come back home and settle down as a solo artist.  His stunning debut solo album Own Way Home has just been nominated for a SAMA in the Best Rock Category, something John is honoured and humbled by.  We chatted to him for a few minutes.

1) Congrats on your nomination at SAMA17 in the Best Rock category.  How do you feel about the nod from the industry?
As a first time solo artist I am really grateful that the industry has acknowledged my break from Tree63.

2) You are up against some stiff competition.  How do you feel about that?
I feel like the under dog in this category and personally for me, its enough to be nominated.  A win would be wonderful but I am grateful to be in the same category as bands like Prime Circle.
3) Tell me about the album and where the thinking came from in the recording process?
This album was a reaction against some of the things I had experienced in Tree63 both here and in the States, and I wanted to make a strong individual statement away from having led a band for so many years.
4) I believe you live in Durban.  Would you ever consider coming to the big smoke and how does it affect you as an artist living so far away?
Durban has its very own vibrant music scene and there is a fierce sense of independence down there and a sense of being removed from the big smoke which can be a good and bad thing, bad in that we are removed from the industry but good because a lot more creativity can flourish.  And no, I wouldn’t consider moving to JHB  🙂
5) How do you juggle teaching Politics and English, recording, producing and performing and being a dad?
The juggle is very difficult because family life is a job on its own and music is the complete opposite.  i do the best I can, I find myself in Durban too often but at the end of the day family has to win (not for everyone, but for me)
6) As the front man for mega-successful Tree 63 for so many years, what do you miss about the band and how does it compare to being a solo artist?
I miss the familiarity the audience would have with well-known songs and building an audience from scratch is tough.  There is a comraderie that comes with being in a band that I miss but I don’t miss the band politics and having to answer to so many people to get things done.
7) Who would you most like to perform with on an international stage?
Most of them are dead ie: Bob Marley or Ron Sexsmith but living artists like Johnny Clegg, Ray Phiri and Jack Parow.
8 ) Do you miss living in America at all as an artist?
Yes I do because music is a 24/7 job there and there is always a gig if you want it 365 days a year.  But its so physically exhausting over the years that its not something you can sustain for years.
9)  What’s on John Elli’s iPod right now?
Arcade Fire, Ron Sexsmith, Tom Waits, The new Royskopp album and lots of 70’s Maskandi music.
10) Why are you bothering to sing about politics when its so obvious most people just want to party?
Because I have always believed that music, rock ‘n roll and social change are interlinked and I am a lover of protest songs.  People like John Lennon, The Clash, Bob Marley, Rage Against The Machine have used the intrinsic power of rock and roll to politicise their audiences.  In a country like South Africa where so much is at stake politically there is such a big space for protest music but the interesting thing is no white people are doing it – its all the older black guys who were part of the struggle.  I love my country, I’m not an angry white guy, Im an angry South African – there is a difference.

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