Famed as the front man of legendary South African rock export Tree63, John Ellis has performed around the world and decided that there’s just no place like home – Durban, South Africa! He’s come out fighting, in every sense of the word, on his debut solo album, and stirred up important discussion about SA politics and Christianity. But what we like the most about John is that he’s our KwaZulu-Natal homeboy who continues doing what he does best – thrilling audiences with cool tunes.
Name: John Ellis
Family: Wife, two children, cat, two brothers, one sister, 537 guitars
Hometown: Durban, bra
Music as a career is a fairly saturated market – what things do aspiring indie musicians in South Africa have going for them?
A ‘nothing to lose’/ ‘the only thing left to do is do it anyway’ mentality. Music used to be about music, so when the business end of it dries up, do you make music anyway or just walk away? Saffers seem to be making music regardless.
You’ve journeyed around the world and seen the music industry in various countries and in various forms. For up-and-coming musicians, what’s the best advice you can give?
Get a BCom! It’s business first, second and third out there. Marketing fourth. Branding fifth. Popularity contest sixth. Music tenth.
How do you use the online sphere to aid your new musical career?
It’s all about online now. In one way it’s the salvation of music, in another way it’s the end of music for music’s sake. Or is it? You now have to compete with everybody and their dog to get an audience, but you can find your niche and reach people directly without having to rely on a massive faceless corporate BS campaign.
Generating debate – in politics, religion and any other aspect – is something you’ve encouraged. Why?
I personally don’t feel it’s enough to entertain. I’m not Christina. Obviously. Music has a social function. I just feel this urgency to encourage people to step out of their media-induced reveries and engage their brains again, and rock ‘n roll is an urgent medium.
What potential pitfalls should SA musicians steer clear of?
Dumbing down their music to get on national radio.
What does a typical working week consist of for John Ellis?
Getting kids to school on time, avoiding gym, trying to finish 18 half-finished songs, planning English lectures, driving around in a songwriting-trance breaking traffic rules, fetching kids…
Who or what is the most important thing to you?
My family. My wife Tracy and my two children are everything.
Describe your ideal weekend.
Sun, sea, books, duvets, chocolate, mates, braai’s, more books.