South African musician Jon Shaban discusses his new solo album, his folk-punk band The Shabs and what’s next for him
By Emily May
South African singer and songwriter Jon Shaban has been wowing audiences with both his solo career and his folk-punk band, The Shabs. He has played in various other bands, both domestically and internationally, but decided a few years ago to launch a solo career. Performing with just him and an acoustic guitar, his music have been described as honest an easy to relate to, sharing his personal experiences through his songs. He has released two solo albums, 2015’s Fortune Favours The Brave and the recently released Speak Your Mind, which features guest appearances by several of South Africa’s most talented musicians. Shaban also sings and plays guitar in the folk-punk band The Shabs (formerly The Shabeen), which he founded with fellow South African musician Ryan McArthur (upright bass), who frequently collaborate with drummers and accordion players. The band counts Flogging Molly, Frank Turner, Against Me! and Mumford and Sons as influences. The Shabs have toured extensively over the past 4 years across South Africa and Europe and have released one album, 2016’s Folk Is Dead, as well as the split album Deja View with fellow South African band Rambling Bones. The band is currently on tour in Europe and plans to release a new full length album later this year. Staff contributor Emily May recently spoke with Shaban via email about his new solo album, The Shab’s current European tour, the split album with Rambling Bones and what’s next for him.
You recently released your second solo album Speak Your Mind. I read that your goal for the album was to be bigger and better than your first album, Fortune Favours the Brave. What can you tell me about the inspiration behind the album and do you feel like you achieved your goal?
The inspiration behind the album was basically just writing and collecting a bunch of songs through my last 3 years of living on the road as a full time musician. I definitely think I achieved my goal with Speak Your Mind. Besides me and the guitar, there are other amazing artists that came and performed other instruments on the record and helped develop and build the songs in such an amazing way.
I read that the recording process for Speak Your Mind, which was written on the road over the past 3 years, was very different from any approach you’ve had before. In what way was it different? Was it a conscious effort to write the album on the road or is that just how things worked out?
The biggest difference was I had only ever played those songs on my guitar by myself and I invited a bunch of other artists to come and help as ‘the band’ on the album. A lot of it was just done in studio without prior rehearsals and that’s not something I’ve ever tried before. But it was great. We all really got to use our intuition and not over think anything too much. I wouldn’t say it was a conscious decision to write the songs on the road specifically. It’s just how it happened. I generally get waves of writing inspiration during or straight after tours.
Speak Your Mind features several guest musicians, both friends and musicians that you have played with over the years, including Stelth Ulvang from The Lumineers and various fellow South African musicians such as Matt & Nick Catto and Ann Jangle. Did you have specific artists in mind from the beginning that you wanted to feature on the album? Was this a way for you to, in a way, spotlight other great South African musicians?
I recorded all the songs that I wanted to put on the album very roughly at home and then listened to them on repeat. I pictured parts that I thought might work and approached musicians who I thought would be great at those parts. So I think, yes, I did want specific musicians to feature on the album. And I’m really grateful that pretty much everyone I asked was willing to contribute. I don’t think I can claim that I can offer these artists any ‘Spotlights’ that they can’t achieve themselves but I will forever sing their praises and be proud of my relationships with them
Who are some of your favorite musicians/bands right now? Who are some of your favorite emerging artists?
Some of my favourite SA bands are Rambling Bones, Hatchetman, West Coast Wolves and SDO. Emerging artists include Dean Thorne, Sarah McArthur and Roachy. That’s just a few, but I’m sure there are more.
You are also part of a folk-punk band called The Shabs with Ryan McArthur. How did the two of you meet and decide to form the band?
Ryan and I have been playing music together for the last 16 years. We met at High School and our first band, Captain Stu, did fairly well as a SA band. We toured a lot and made a lot of the connections we still work with today. In 2012, I was asked to put a band together for a charity function and Ryan was the obvious choice as bassist. That was the forming of The Shabs.
The Shabs are in the midst of a European tour, your biggest one to date! What have some highlights been and what are you looking forward to with the remainder of the tour? I also read that you are excited to play the entire tour as a full band. Have past tours been a mix of full band and solo performances?
This is our 3rd European tour in 3 years and is definitely our biggest and so far, best one yet. As I type this we are just over halfway through the tour and we still have so much to look forward to. We have already had some amazing highlights but I have a gut feeling the best is yet to come. This is our first tour as a full band with all four of us. The other tours were just me and Ryan for the most part.
At the start of the year The Shabs released a split album entitled Deja View with The Rambling Bones that was written on the road over 18 months. What inspired you both to collaborate and what was the writing and recording process like for the album? Do you think you will do a split album with any other artists in the future?
Deja View was such an exciting project but also one of the most challenging things we have ever done. We were just so busy and kept missing deadlines on our side when it came to the recording (Rambling Bones were way more on it than us) so we landed up recording at like 6 or 7 different studios all around SA. Once we had the tracking done, we then edited everything ourselves and then sent it to mixing. We are VERY proud of it though. It was tough, but I think the songs are great and working with RB is always a treat. The idea was sparked between myself and Jay Bones at a gig we did together in PTA. Ryan and I have a theory that if you start talking about something enough, you should try make it happen. So we put together a strategy and made it happen. I think splits are a great way for bands to share an audience, so yeah, we could definitely picture ourselves doing one again one day. It would be great to try with an international band.
I read that The Shabs are planning to release a full-length album before the end of the year. What can people expect from the album and how will it compare with the first album, Folk Is Dead?
That is the plan. We want to get a new album out for summer in SA and then bring it to Europe early 2019. Our sound has definitely developed but we still sound like The Shabs. One of the coolest things is we have a full time drummer again so writing has been super exciting because Jon brings a whole new energy to the songs. I think we’re onto something awesome
What’s next for you, both with your solo career and with The Shabs?
Just going to keep on keeping on. More touring, more releases, more shows. Watch this space!
Stream or purchase The Shab’s music:
Stream or purchase Shaban’s solo music:
Listen below for “We Are The Ones” from Shaban’s latest solo album and “Settle Down” by The Shabs.
Provided to YouTube by The Orchard Enterprises We Are the Ones · Jon Shaban Speak Your Mind ℗ 2018 Shoreline Songs under exclusive license to Next Music Released …