James Johnston is one of the rising musical talents from the Manning Valley. Combining school with a part-time musical career for several years, his laid back attitude and positive mindset are becoming his trademarks. Being in show business from an early age is proving to be an asset in his chosen career. He is about to embark on many new musical adventures.
> Do you come from a musical family?
No. The only connection is my sister, who plays the piano, but Mum and Dad are very supportive of my career.
> How has your school career progressed?
I finished Year 12 last year.
> Are you now pursuing a career as a full time musician?
Yes, I decided to give it a try. I had plenty of gigs during school, and this has flowed through to this year, with good bookings. There are now opportunities to explore, which so far are working out.
> What age were you when you made your first public appearance, and what was it like?
When I was four I sang a rock song at the Taree Eisteddfod. It was fairly daunting; I do not think I appreciated what was happening at that age. I do remember it was a great experience which still lives with me, and it was probably one of the factors to keep doing the music thing.
> What else attracted you to the world of music?
I enjoyed doing my thing behind closed doors. As I grew older I realised it was a chance to be creative. I love music, and it is my way of expressing myself. Along with the audience reaction, it is a great feeling.
> You are only 18 and have achieved so much. What has been a highlight for you?
The Starstruck concert at Newcastle; I was one of the soloists.
Performing in front of 5,000 people every night and being at your peak is a demanding exercise. It was good; the buzz was electric …
> How would you describe your style?
I have a broad range of musical styles. In January I performed at the Tamworth Country Music Festival. I love the acoustic side, singing and combining with others in the same genre.
> What instruments do you play?
Mainly guitar. Also the bass, and a little piano.
The guitar is my specialty, though.
> Who have been your musical influences?
John Mayer, Garth Brooks, Bee Harper.
> What about the popular music of today’s youth?
Yes, I enjoy most music – the top 40 stuff is good. You have to be across all types of music – it gives you ideas. My style is my own; I am trying to have my own sound.
> You write your own songs – how many have you written?
About 25 and climbing.
> A lot of your songs are about love. At 18 you are expressing mature lyrics about relationships etc. Are they drawn from personal experiences?
Some are. I observe and listen a lot, which also gives me inspiration.
> Do you have any albums released?
Not yet. I have a CD with six songs I made myself, which are sold at my concerts.
I have recently finished my first professionally produced CD/album which will be available later this year. There is no hurry; I want it to be right.
> Do you intend to include a DVD of some your performances from the album?
That element appears to be a feature of many new albums; if I can arrange it, I may do it.
> Where do you see yourself in 10 to 20 years?
Of course, it is every entertainer’s dream to make your mark in your home country – that is my goal. At the moment I am doing as much work as I can – you could say I am establishing a market. If I make the grade, then heading overseas is always the prime goal after success here.
> You are going to be spending half your time in Newcastle from now on. What prompted that?
I have found plenty of work there. Also, the opportunity has arisen to do a few things.
The first is the formation of a band that has four members; we have a drummer, then the three others harmonise together – no solos.
Another opportunity is very exciting; I have been asked to join a new ten-piece swing band. It is unusual to have such a group of musicians on the scene.
Also, I do a couple of gigs on the Central Coast as a duo.
> Will this be a permanent move?
Not really; I will see what happens. I still have and will be seeking bookings in the Manning Valley, as I do not want to lose playing to the local audience. Moving out of home will give me the experience of leaving home and experiencing what it is like to fend for myself.
The Manning Valley will always be my home. If things work out, then I may be able to tour sooner rather than later. This not a burning desire at the moment; it is my mission to really want to get the right mix and style for the future. I have plenty of time to head on the road.
> What will your new musical opportunities in the Hunter involve?
At this stage it will be rehearsing in unison with the booked gigs. It will be pretty full on with the new band and then the ten-piece band. It is exciting with the heap of new material I have to learn and then the challenge of blending in with others.
> You are performing as a soloist, duo and in the new band; do you vary the music that you play accordingly?
As a soloist I stick with my own songs and a few that are in same style. I am trying to develop a mixture of acoustic and straight solo stuff with guitar.
In the duo and band we concentrate on covers, including the mainstream songs; we also have our own arrangements, with some having the acoustic touch.
The big band will have a combination of some of the older well known songs mixed with many of the recent hits. Mixed with woodwind, brass and strings etc – it sounds great.
> Do you have a management group handling your affairs?
No, not yet. I do not believe I am ready to appoint someone yet. I do everything myself at the moment.
> James, thank you for your time.