Jo Kelly Stephenson – Interview

By • Nov 20th, 2007 • Category: Acoustic, Australian, Country, Indie, Interview, Music

Artist: Jo Kelly Stephenson
Track Name: Deep End (there is a live to air recording at the bottom of the article)
Playback: mp3/flash

Jo Kelly Stephenson has just completed her full length album ’I See Flowers, You See Cars, featuring Mike Rudd, Bill Putt and Peter ‘Robbo’ Robertson from Spectrum (Ill Be Gone), and co-produced with her father Ken Stephenson. She currently works with a similar line up performing a combination of roots music with hints of blues, jazz, R&B and pop / rock. Have a listen to Deep End while you read through the interview.

Email Interview with Jo Kelly Stephenson.

Jo at Hardimans

The last time I saw you perform was at Hardimans working with Ross Ryan, Jools and I were both really impressed with your vocals (and melodica playing which I notice you haven’t used on the album). Since then you have released your album, “I See Flowers You See Cars“. Four tracks from it have earned top 10 placements in the ASA – Australian Songwriters Association Awards 2007, you scored a nomination for the Rudy Brandsma Award and “I See Flowers, You See Cars” has been nominated a finalist in the Independent Music Awards in the USA Alternative Country Category. Going well isn’t it?

In your website bio it reads

“spending most of her early years riding around in a red Kombi, some of Jo Kelly’s favourite memories were of dancing to her father’s band at late night gigs. It was these moments that paved the way for the musical journey that was to follow”

So let’s play 20 Questions and start back at your childhood.

1. In a world where there are an infinite variety of creative outlets, when did you realise that music was it for you? When did you start making music, what was your motivation to do it?

Jo: I think I was about 8 years old. My dad came home with a documentary on the Beatles. That was it for me! I went scrounging through his collection of old cassette tapes and found every Beatles album he owned. I don’t think he’s ever seen those tapes again!

Jo Kelly Cover

2. Tell us how the new album developed, when did you start writing and recording the material?

Jo: It’s a collection of old and new material. I really wanted a ‘produced’ sounding album, therefore took a lot of time to carefully decide what each track needed. Now that I have that produced album I can move on. I want my next album to be done in two weeks!

3. How did you approach creating the album’s material, do you start with the lyrics or the melody or does the song spring into your head fully formed?

Jo: As a general rule, groove and chords first, melody next then lyrics. Though there are exceptions. Sometimes I wake up from a dream with a full chorus in my head. I’ll elaborate on that later.

4. Does the place where you live (or places where you have lived), have an affect the music you create, or your taste in music?

Jo: Of course. I lived up near Byron for some time and a lot of happy songs about sunshine came about there. You’re also exposed to different types of music everywhere you go. I don’t think one can avoid being influenced on some level by the music and environment surrounding them, whether they like it or not.

5. On your album apart from having Ken Stephenson (your dad)playing Lap Steel, Dobro, Banjo, Mandolin, Electric Guitars, Bass doing Backing Vocals & the production. You also had Robbo, Bill and Mike from Spectrum on the album. Was it fun working with them?

Jo: They were true seasoned professionals and it was a joy to have them on board. They know about groove those guys.

6. Big music influences in your life? Pick a band or musician, past or present, who you flat-out LOVE and think more people should be listening to.

Jo: Gillian Welch and her gorgeous husband Dave Rawlings. They make magical, honest, non-contrived music together.

7. What’s one of your all-time favourite recordings by this band/musician?

Jo: I like it all. The real joy is seeing them live. I had the pleasure of doing so at the Meenyan town hall when they toured Oz.

8. What musical periods or styles do you find yourself most drawn to as a listener? Old stuff or new stuff? Similar to yours or radically different?

Jo: A lot of old stuff. I l grew up on the old folk rock scene. Joni, Bob, Neil, Leonard, though lately I’m getting into Americana and Alternative country. Buddy & Julie Miller, Emmylou, Harry Manx. A bit of Tom Waits, J.J Cale and Tony Joe White ‘Swamp’ know “chomp”, “chomp”. I do however love artists like Coldplay, Crowded House, Nick Cave and old soul blues, Bill Withers, Otis Redding. I even got into the British punk scene for a while, but that’s another story. I like lots of different music, I’d get bored if I listened only to music like mine.

Jo Kelly Stephenson - Cowgirl with pink hat

9. As you create more music, do you find yourself getting more or less interested in seeking out and listening to new music made by other people…and why do you think that is?

Jo: It is often other people’s songs that inspire me to write. I always enjoy hearing something new that makes me tick.

10. What aspect of making music excites you the most right now? What aspect of making music gets you the most discouraged?

Jo: Making the music is the easy part, getting it out there is the challenge. Trying to work a day job so that I can pay to be a musician is what gets me down the most. Those worlds are so far apart.

11. How hard is to produce and finance your musical productions?

Jo: Well I was fortunate enough to work with my father, Ken Stephenson, who has been building up his own recording studio for years now. He’s a great producer and engineer who is passionate about recording, which is an important factor. We also work very well together as a team. The hardest part for me is trying to pay a band when we take the music to the live stage. It’s sad but true, most venues don’t pay for original acts. That’s why a small cover charge really isn’t that much to fork out. The cost of a drink!

12. With the music industry paradigm changing from the 4 majors telling us what to consume to the musicians dealing directly with the fan, you have a few of your songs up on MySpace, which is where I got to hear your song “Deep End”. What do you think of the music industry today?

Jo: There are pros and cons. I think it’s brilliant that artists have more freedom and independence. Everyone gets an opportunity to record and showcase their music. Maybe people are more savvy when it comes to record contracts also. With the freedom comes extra responsibility though in the sense that ‘development deals’ don’t really exist anymore. Record labels want a ‘turn key product’ ready to market and packaged to go, so artists probably need to be more business minded these days. You don’t just go and play at a cafe and get picked up like Joan Baez and all those old folkies! That’s my understanding anyway, correct me if I’m wrong.

13. As an artist, what do think of “giving your music away” Do you have Any thoughts on Radiohead’s decision to release an album on the internet and let the listeners set the amount that they want to pay?

Jo: I’ll think about giving my music away for free the day I have enough food to eat, not to mention recouping recording costs. Artists still have to pay the rent and survive somehow. It’s such a conflict of interests trying to hold down a day job then be all so creative and musically inspired when you get home each day. Generally you wouldn’t apply for a full time job in another industry and expect to not get paid, regardless of how much you like the job. I’m sure Radiohead are now in a position financially to allow their audience to set a price for their music.

14. Gibson or Martin? Seriously, tell me something about the instruments and gear that you use?

Jo: ‘Simon and Patrick’ acoustic guitar all the way from Canada. ‘Korg’ digital Piano & a new ‘Line 6 Variax’ electric guitar with an in built computer! It allows me to program in different guitar tunings! It’s brilliant, but heavy! { I am jealous, I read about the Variax a year ago and immediately wanted one. thatch}

15. When was the last time you wrote a song? What can you tell us about it?

Jo: It all started a month or so ago when I had a dream about Keith Urban. I dreamt I was the girl with the floral dress in his film clip. He was singing away and I said “hey Keith, how do you write songs like that?” Then I awoke and realised the song was mine! I’ve recorded a rough version. It’s called ‘Urban Dream’. Cheesy, I know.

16. What’s the saddest song you’ve ever heard?

Jo: Nina Simone, ‘Wild is the Wind’ would have to be one of them.

17. What was your first professional gig like?

Jo: It was at ABC studios when I was about 18. It went very smoothly. No awful gig tales there!

Nearly finished

18. What are you currently up to? What’s next?

Jo: Well, there are the Independent Music Awards. If anything happened there, I’d be straight on a plane to the States. I’d love to meet all my Americana idols over there. I’m also live on Joy FM 94.9 this Saturday 17th November at 4pm, so tune in!

SIDEBAR We couldn’t publish this interview before Jo played the radio show so we recorded it and you can find the live to air version of “Deep End” at the bottom of this article {thatch}

19. If you had to interview yourself what is the question you would ask and of course it’s answer?

Jo: Why do you think interviewers ask so many questions? No comment. Just joking!

And finally the last Question: 20. What’s on high rotation on your MP3 player at the moment that we all should know about?

Jo: Paul Kelly ‘Stolen Apples’. Lucinda Williams ‘West’.

Good choices, thanks for your time and your typing.

Ok, you can get a feel for the album at and pick up up a copy of the album from her website.

Deep End – acoustic from the Joy FM Interview

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Here is “Deep End” taken from the Joy FM interview referred to above, it is just Jo and her guitar. It’s a good performance.

We may post the whole interview some time later as it runs about 25 minutes.

is fascinated by guitars, music, guitars, production, silly noises, guitars and used to be a musician. Did I mention the thing about the guitars?
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