Singer/songwriter Jack Bown, 19, of Green Valley, and former Bossley Park High student, has been passionate about music from very young. And he's been writing songs for five years now. And he also teaches guitar at Wetherill Park. He's currently gigging around Sydney and the West at different venues and events and is looking to release his own music soon. He also teaches guitar part time. He was a featured solo artist in the Schools Spectacular three years in a row and recently graduated from the Talent Development Project, a non-profit mentoring program for budding singer/songwriters from state-government high schools. It's been going for 28 years. Previous graduates include Human Nature, Morgan Evans, Angus & Julia Stone and David Le'Aupepe (Gang of Youths). Hundreds of students audition for a place each year. Jack and the other 11 Project graduates from his year are staging their graduation concert this Monday, June 17, at the Giant Dwarf Theatre at Redfern. It's a chance for them to showcase themselves and their skills in front of an industry audience of 300+. The performers work exceptionally hard to reach this night, many have been attending the Project's masterclasses and workshops for several years. Each graduate will perform two songs.
This concert is the culmination of a lot of work by everyone involved. How have you all been preparing for it?
Because we all live so far away from each other, with people from northern NSW to the inner city to the south coast to where I am in the South-West and further, everyone's preparation while not at TDP is quite individual, which I enjoy. When we're together, we're very supportive and help each other as much as we can. It's a lot of hard but enjoyable work, individually and as a group.
What songs are you doing?
I wrote both the songs I'm doing. They're about personal experiences, like most of my songs. One is about the passing of my grandfather and other significant people in my life who've died. A tribute to them. All my songs are quite personal. My style is influenced by Jeff Buckley, Kings of Leon, John Mayer and the Australian band Gang of Youths. I guess you could say my songs are pop-based because I like to have a catchy hook or chorus and I love interesting melodies and cool chords to go with that. A lot of my songs are acoustic-based but some tracks are more band and electric guitar oriented. I'd struggle to put myself in a genre but if I had to it'd probably be alternative/indie pop and rock.
How intensive is the Project's program?
The Talent Development Project runs two to three times a month and we meet in inner Sydney. We come from all over NSW. But it was a long road to get where we are now. It started with an online application over a year ago. I also had to send a recording of one of my songs which I just did at home. We then had to audition and, hopefully, progress through to phase 3. There are so many people who help run it but at the front of the project is Peter Cousens, the artistic director. And knowing people like David Le'Aupepe, of Gang of Youths, and Angus and Julia Stone have done it was even more of an incentive!
What are some of the possibly unsurprising things you've learned?
So many important things. Giving stuff a go is a huge one. As well, it's given me so much confidence. I can honestly say this program has changed me. Not just in terms of performing, and songwriting, but as a person. I encourage any young songwriter, singer, instrumentalist, musical-theatre performer in the public school system, to go for it. You won't regret it, I promise.
What did you do in the Schools Spectacular? And what's stayed with you from that?
I was a solo featured artist from 2014 to 2016. It was a great three years and such an awesome experience. I represented my school, Bossley Park High. I attended that school because of its Gifted & Talented Program and it was fairly local. When I attended Schools Spectacular in year 7 with the school, at 13, I had a burning desire to do it. And the next year I did just that. To get the chance to perform in such awesome venues like the old Sydney Entertainment Centre and Qudos Bank Arena was just a dream come true. I learnt what's expected of you to be able to perform at that level. It makes you realise the commitment and dedication required to make it in this industry. And to learn that so young was a blessing.
I'm quite an accepting person, no matter your race or your religion or anything else. It's due to being from this very multicultural part of Australia, which is just great.JACK BOWN
How do you approach songwriting?
To me it's about the full picture. The lyrics and music combine to create something really cool. I usually start with the music. And if the music isn't resonating, I won't continue with it. Sometimes the music comes from an idea I'm writing about, sometimes the other way round. The music guides the story and the narrative. I enjoy both methods of writing and love the journey but I prefer to write the music first. There's nothing really like it. If I've had a bad day music is always there and I love that.
Sometimes songwriting can help you express things otherwise hard to put into words?
I've written songs at some of the toughest moments of my life. Honestly, for me it's about coping. Not just writing music, but also listening, it really has such a huge effect on me. Whether it's been the passing of a loved one, relationship trouble, pretty much anything, I can always rely on music. And not just the tough times, the happy ones too and it's really cool be able to highlight the good moments. I started writing at 14 and those first songs weren't that dissimilar to my style of writing now.
We all have one or two songs in our lives that mean something deeply personal and profound for various reasons. What are your special songs?
There are a few. Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd will always hold a special place in my heart because that was one of the first songs I learnt on guitar, and just one of my favourite songs ever. Old Man by Neil Young and Heroes by David Bowie also hold a special place for me.
It's often glibly said that "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach." But the truth is those who can, sometimes also have to teach! And students are very grateful to have a working performer to teach them!
You know, teaching guitar has been a great learning experience for me. I've been teaching it for a couple years now at Nadia's Performance Studio at Wetherill Park where I got lessons myself my whole life. I started singing lessons there at 5 and started guitar and drama lessons at 7 or 8. To go on and teach there myself is awesome!
The South-West is probably the most multicultural region in the whole of the country. What's that meant to you?
I believe I'm quite an accepting person, no matter your race or your religion or anything else. I'm sure this is due to me being from this very multicultural part of Australia, which is just great.
- Jack Bown on YouTube: https://youtu.be/67wmJh7NLYw.