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JOHN Ellis — who formed and fronted Tree63, one of South Africa’s favourite bands — is the first featured act at the Maritzburg Musicians’ Club of 2011 this coming Tuesday. A seasoned artist with a longstanding career in the local and international industry, his experience ranges from small intimate shows in local clubs to crowds of 100 000 in New York. His unique guitar-driven rock, classic songwriting and natural showmanship always makes for an exciting live music experience.
The support act is Aymira, consisting of Kyle Baker and Daniel Rossouw. What started as a jam between two friends has become a duo consisting of two nylon string guitars and a sound injected with jazz, Latino and African flavour.
• A note from the MMC:
“After much debate, we have had to face up to the increasing cost of supporting local music. We have not had an increase in door charges in three years. We have also been unable to bring some musicians to the stage due to insufficient revenue. So we have increased the entrance charge to R30. This is still ridiculous value for money when you consider that R70 to R100 is the going rate for music concerts.” • The MMC meets on Tuesday at the Red Door at 8 pm.
RYAN CALDER caught up with John Ellis ahead of his show in PMB next week.
How are your new year’s resolutions going?
Great. I broke most of them on day three, and at this rate I will have dealt with all of them by early February.
What’s life like as a solo artist compared to your days fronting Tree63?
Less fraught, more lonely. Less gigs, better music. Otherwise, weirdly similar.
Describe your ideal gig.
300 people in a 100-capacity room. They all know all the words, and they all want to actually be there.
You’ve straddled the eras between the “traditional” way of the music business (record labels) and the current indie way (indie artist, social networking, etc). Is the business of making music better off now for solo artists and bands than it was?
In theory, yes. The power to be creative and make a living out of it is more in the hands of musicians now than it has ever been, thanks to the Internet. The downside is, everybody and their dog is doing it, no matter how talented they (or their dog) are. Competition is up 10 000%, and everyone is cooler than you. Music has never been more of a popularity contest or more of a business than it is now. In the long term, that doesn’t bode well for civilisation.
How many albums have you sold?
Let’s see: one to mom, six to family members, 87 giveaways, that leaves, 9 906 in a box in the garage.
Just how good or bad is it to be back in South Africa?
It’s only good. We were bored to tears in the States. Things are just way too comfortable there. When you’re from Africa and you’re used to living on the edge (yes, readers, even suburban whiteys find it hard), it’s just too much to take when everything works efficiently all the time. South Africa is indescribably beautiful, and Durban is an incredibly exciting city to live a safe distance from.
Have any politicians responded or reacted to your album Come Out Fighting?
With an overwhelming sense of indifference, lack of concern and overall apathy. Much like they react and respond to voters.
Would you ever consider politics? Why or why not?
My father, Mike Ellis, has been an opposition MP since 1987. Under the banner of the PFP, the DP and now the DA, he has had the pleasure of opposing six South African presidents. I’ve always been attracted to politics, but when I see him having to endure the current internal party squabbles that seriously threaten to undermine the DA’s national vision, I realise that politics is uncomfortably similar to the music industry. One occupation full of miscreants is more than enough for one lifetime.
What’s the one thing you would change if you could?
The name of Durban’s brand new white elephant, sorry, Fifa stadium. I wish everyone would just own up and call it Sutcliffe Stadium. The man deserves an honour like that after all he’s done to Durban.
What have you got in store for the Maritzburg Musicians’ Club on January 25?
Stripped-down versions of my new songs as well as more well-known Tree63 material. Just the way I wrote them. I’ll be bringing along a couple of mates to add some flavour to the stew. Also, I promise not to rant. Unless I’m provoked, of course. Maritzborough doesn’t mess around.
* Catch John Ellis on Tuesday at the MMC, hosted at the Red Door in Quarry Road. Entrance is R30 and the evening starts at 8 pm. Check out his Facebook page, follow him on Twitter or visit www.johnellis.co.za