Musicians have a certain mystique about them from both their lovely tunes to their (usually) good looks. So it really is earth shattering when one of them passes away, especially while they’re young and at the top of their game. Queensland performer Jessica Papst is taking her show Only The Good Die Young across Australia, putting her own twist on the classic songs of those performers who have passed away. She spoke to Milk Bar Mag about her performances at The Butterfly Club.
What are some of your favourite bands?
That’s like asking which one is your favourite child! But, no holds barred, my cool (and not-so-cool) favourite bands include: INXS, The Rolling Stones, Queen, Bon Jovi, Roxette, CCR, Fleetwood Mac, Michael Franti and Spearhead, Maroon 5, Powderfinger.
I actually get to feature some of my favourite artists in this show, as well as some of the bands listed, like Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse and Jeff Buckley. I also love Beth Hart and everything she is doing for blues and rock. I love James Bay’s voice. I’m a massive BLUESFEST fan.
What inspired Only The Good Die Young?
At the end of the day, it’s all about the music. I’ve always found that my connection to any material I’m working on is enhanced by, or totally driven by, my connection to the music. It’s spiritual to me. I have lived through moments of my life and can tell you who I was listening to at the time, or the song that reminds me of… So this show plays into a huge part of who I am as a singer and as a human. Ok, that sounds wanky! But it’s true. The show itself celebrates some of my favourite music and musicians who, I believe, died while they still had something left to give. Of course, that’s a very subjective point of view, but it evolved out of my fascination with the 27 Club – that infamous group of rock stars who left too soon. When I began looking into the idea, I discovered that there were so many intriguing stories around other musicians who died at 24 or 31 and so we expanded the concept to include these people.
There was also a book that I came across (and mysteriously never found again) at an airport too…it was about the 27 Club. The moment I sat down on the plane I regretted leaving it behind. I’ve looked in every airport lounge since, to no avail.
Why do you think death keeps a singer in the spotlight, as opposed to singers who are still alive but their careers fade away?
When an artist dies “too soon”, they often go out still in the height of their career. We are then able to keep them at that point without ever having to see their career decline. Amy Winehouse was a mess when she went, but she still had so much music to give and that’s the tragedy in her loss. Jim Morrison was a poet and a thinker as well as a musician (and all-round hottie) and so we lost the music and the mind that challenged a generation. I believe Jeff Buckley was one of the greatest lyricists who ever walked the earth. What they gave us in their music was so rare anyway, let alone losing them too soon, and at an early age – often in tragic circumstances. I don’t think it disqualifies the value of musicians who are still alive, but it certainly is something special to the 27 Club and the other artists our show looks at.
In what ways have you reimagined the famous songs of these bands?
We’ve tried to enhance their stories and celebrate their work by, at times, keeping the work closer to the original, live version. Other times, we found a more stripped-back, or funked-up arrangement of the work gave it new life or enhanced the story in some way. It’s a bass, drums, keys (and keytar) show, so Shanon’s work with the arrangements keeps the funk-soul-rock vibe.
You have performed this show in both Brisbane and Adelaide before coming to Melbourne. How do you find the theatre scenes of each city differ?
Adelaide audiences are incredibly supportive, especially through Fringe season, and they’ll take a risk on a show (particularly if it’s at an established venue) and come out and see new works. We were lucky to be playing at La Boheme, Adelaide’s premiere and permanent cabaret venue.
Brisbane is growing in its cabaret scene. The last few years have seen new festivals emerge and lots and lots of local artists creating and showcasing new work. I love that Queensland artists come out in support of each other; they believe in growing the industry there and the Brisbane Powerhouse in particular (under Kris Stewart) is making some excellent choices in programming and in supporting local artists. My strongest desire for Queensland is to see more professional work available to local artists. There are so many amazing people that live and work up there and there’s just not enough to go around. But, as is always the case, those that love it will create anyway.
What are you plans for the show after Melbourne?
We are looking at finding producers and funding to develop a regional tour of Australia. It’s the kind of show that is so much fun for audiences and for the band, I’d love to see it have some longevity. It appeals to a cross-section of the public because the music is from the 1960s until now and celebrates some of our favourite artists. And there’s plenty more on the cutting room floor, when reducing the show to 55 minutes. The first member of the 27 Club, Robert Johnson, Dyke and the Blazers, Linda Jones, Eva Cassidy, Mama Cass, Keith Moon…plenty of artists and plenty of room to develop the show. We are also looking at Adelaide again next year, Sydney and the Gold Coast (my current hometown). I want to give Australian audiences the chance to remember some of the artists that form the soundtrack of their lives, and re-live the memories that go along with it.
Originally published here at milkbarmag.com on Thursday 9 July 2015