Singer, songwriter and entertainer Jack Viljoen is approaching his personal crossroads, where he’ll have to choose between following his music career or continue working as a fitter and turner.
“My plan is to get my music to a point where I can support myself and quit the ol’ day job,” he said. “That’s the dream of every musician, taking that first step and doing what you love for a living.
“Life is just too short, there’s so much more than getting up, going to work and coming home.
“Like having the freedom to go places, meet people, play music and live the life I love.”
He admits making it as a musician will be a tough gig.
“I looked at a crowded marketplace and thought, ‘Why not me?’” Jack said.
“I don’t play Lotto, but I think it’s the same, you’ve got the same chance as the next bloke.
“It comes down to how hard you’re working, to keep on pushing.
“But I knew if I wanted to go professional I’d have to work very hard at it.
“Anyone can play music, but to sell it, I had to have the skills and talent to keep improving my guitar playing, learn to play more instruments as well as learn new songs and musical styles.”
The beginning of the journey
Jack’s come a long way from his debut at the Gladstone Country Music Festival in 2009.
“I was at the Ecofest in 2008 and I saw local musicians Clyde Cameron and Bullamakanka fiddler Stu Watson playing there,” he said.
“I asked them if they’d like to play some music together, because I was getting a bit tired of playing music on my lonesome at home.
“They invited me to the Queensland Railway Institute (QRI) Club where the local country music group meet each Tuesday night.
“I went and met some great people including Rob Hopkins who taught me so much.”
Jack honed his musical skills performing each week at the QRI Club along with another talented local musician Hayley Marsten (link to Hayley’s site:
“I got involved with the festivals and that lead to the next thing and so on,” he said.
“Over the years I got to meet Judah Kelly and Homegrown from the Voice who are in the US now.
Then there was his lead role in the locally written and produced play ‘Boomtown’
Jumping Jack leaps into ‘Boomtown’
The 2013 Queensland Music Festival production was watched by thousands of people who packed into the Marina Parklands to watch the epic show which featured numerous locals including two ‘dancing’ tugboats.
Jack played the lead role as Jumping Jack, the time travelling host who takes a newly arrived family to Gladstone under his wing and shows them the region’s history and best features. A role with echoes to his own experience when he arrived here in 2006.
“To be given the opportunity to perform in front of thousands of people on a production of that scale was a moment which will stand out for the rest of my life.”
“We’d emigrated to Australia from South Africa,” he said.
“We’d never been out of South Africa and Australia looked like a good place to live.
“It seemed to have a very similar lifestyle, work and culture.
“Except for the language, which we thought might be English, but it wasn’t, it was Australian.
“For the first couple of months we didn’t understand anyone which came as a bit of a surprise.
“Still, it was a good place to be.”
Like the family in the play, Jacks’ first impression of Gladstone was less than inspiring.
“I was working in Brisbane, and we were visiting some friends in Dysart when my wife got ill right outside of Gladstone,” he said.
“So, I drove in via Mount Larcom and took her to the hospital.
“I remember thinking, ‘This is an ugly town, I never want to live here.’
“A year later some friends of mine asked us to visit them in Gladstone.
“This time we came in on the Dawson Road and I thought ‘Oh, Gladstone’s quite a pretty place.’
“I got a job here in 2007 and we love it now.
“It was the best decision we ever made, our only regret is we didn’t do it sooner.
“You hear that from a lot of people who settled down here.”
As Jumping Jack he convinces the family to stay in Gladstone after showing them the many benefits of living here.
“It was a sensational event,” he said.
“The producers taught us so much, like how to engage with the crowd, how to stand, move and look at people.”
Striking out on his own
Using the skills he’d developed during the play and performing at numerous Country Music Festivals around the state Jack started playing gigs around the region.
“I really love playing country music, and I love Australian crowds, they’re so supportive,” he said.
“They want to see you succeed, Australians have a great sense of humour, it’s really dry.”
He has also identified another gap in the marketplace.
“There are a lot of Afrikaans speaking people in Australia so I’ve been slowly working toward building up that audience,” he said.
“Earlier this year I organised to play alongside South African music star Mathys Roets who was touring Australia.”
I get by with a little help from my friends
“I’ve been really lucky to meet some great people,” he said.
“I’m also lucky to have Clyde Cameron, Rob Hopkins and Stu Watson as my mentors.
“I’ve picked up something from all of them.
“I recall playing a gig to a room full of tables and chairs one night somewhere.
“Two guys were drinking in the corner, and I was singing my heart out and I told Clyde how frustrating it was.
“He said it doesn’t matter what the size of the audience is, you’ll get satisfaction from a small group or a big one, you’ll get something out of every audience.”
Singing with Adam Harvey
Australian country music star Adam Harvey has also been an inspiration.
“I was performing at the Murgon Music Festival last year and I saw Adam Harvey was the headlining artist,” Jack said.
“So, I sent his management team a demo and asked if we could perform together.
“He got back to me straight away and that’s how I got to sing onstage with Adam Harvey.
“He’s really down to earth, but that’s just the way Australians are.
“It’s all about mateship isn’t it.”
Potholes on the road to success
Jack admits he has a couple of obstacles to overcome.
“There are entertainers who can flow with banter,” he said.
“They tell funny little stories, which crack people up, then sing the next song.
“I struggle with that because I have a bit of a stutter.
“The other thing is marketing and management, I’m a performer, I’m useless at telling people to buy my product, but I’m working on it because marketing is the key to musical success.
“There’s a million people trying to do what I’m doing what I’m doing and one per cent of them are making it.
“I have to see it as a business instead of a hobby that pays me occasionally.
“I probably need a manager to help me, because I’m also terrible with finances.
“I go to work every day and give the money to my wife, because if I didn’t I’d be living in a house full of great guitars.”
The big leap forward
With the money he’s made so far, along with a grant from the Regional Arts Development Fund (RADF), Jack recently paid for three music video’s to be produced locally.
“That was a great experience,” he said.
“I recorded them in Calliope at Dave Beacon’s High Lion Studio.
“He’s a fantastic producer.
“You no longer need to go to Brisbane or Sydney to record an album, you can do it right here in town.
“Technology has come so far now, it’s not like the old days where you had a desk the size of a room and needed forty thousand dollars to produce an album.
“Dave’s got his studio really well set up to record professionally, he does a sensational job and I absolutely recommend the guy.”
When it came to filming the clips Jack was in for another surprise.
“Clifton Schulke, the producer and owner of Film Platter, lives two doors down from me in Calliope, we never knew!” he said.
“And we also organised to have Brad Fry from Frycandy on board to take photos of the filming.”
Using locations around the region filming wrapped up earlier this year and the songs were premiered at the Gladstone Cinema’s Gold Room.
“We invited people to come along and it was sensational,” Jack said.
“When the final song ‘Rain’ finished there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.”
Jack’s first two songs ‘Cool As Johnny Cash’ and ‘My Friend the Fiddler’ have been uploaded to Youtube and the number of shares and likes are starting to grow.
(Note: When I mention that ‘Cool as Johnny Cash’ and ‘Rain’ are my favourites and often find myself humming them, Jack laughs, “Perfect! That’s what I want, those songs to stick in your head!”)
“The next song ‘Rain’ will be uploaded soon,” he said.
“In the meantime, I’m putting together a promotional package to send to record labels, radio stations and publishing companies.
“There’s also another full album in the works, and after that I’ll start work on my duo’s album.
“I’ve got lots and lots of musical friends and I thought it would be great to get them together and make an album.”
Looking forward, looking back
As he approaches his musical crossroads, Jack plans for the future and reflects on his journey so far.
“Five years from now I expect to be living the dream,” he said.
“We plan to be set up to travel and play, perform and record anywhere and everywhere I can.
“We’ll keep our home in Gladstone because it’s a great community and we love the area.
“Music has always been a part of me.
“My mum said I was singing before I could talk.
“There’s another old saying, ‘You don’t play music, you are music.’
“It sounds corny, but it’s as close as I can get to describing my addiction.
“I can’t help it, I’ve got to play music.
“It’s not a choice, but I love it!”
The following are Jack’s top tips to anyone considering entering the music industry:
- Go out and meet people. If you see someone you want to be like, or they’re doing what you want to do, then go and speak to them. Don’t be scared or shy. They started out where you are now and more often than not they’ll give you words of advice, or give you a contact to talk to.
- Keep pushing forward, follow that next step. Keep going. It’s slow, tedious and disheartening sometimes, but if you keep moving forward you’ve got to get somewhere.
- Turn up, and give the audience all you’ve got. Respect the fact that people have turned up to see you so give them your best.
- Enjoy yourself!