He had already won the 2009 SFRQ solo, joined The Electric Confectionaires, played overseas with both Neil Finn and Dave Dobbyn, delivered a smart debut EP and built quite a reputation when, aged 23, Jesse Sheehan headed for London, feeling that the work he was doing in NZ wasn’t big enough to match his ambitions. He already felt that he’d been in the same industry for a number of years and it was starting to get stagnant. Jesse was extremely generous in providing NZM with this ex-pat “essay” in which he shares the real trials and tribulations of a super-talented Kiwi musician trying to get ahead in one of the world’s music capitals.
When I got the world tour playing with Neil Finn in 2014 it gave me the affirmation and confidence I needed to follow my heart and move overseas. I felt that the scene in New Zealand didn’t suit me. I didn’t quite know which box I fitted into and I was attracted to the diversity and seeming freedom of the London scene. I also had a debut album that Neil and I had worked on for four months after the tour. The plan was to take this Neil Finn-produced debut album overseas and shop it over there.
I was given an opportunity to play at The Great Escape festival in Brighton in the UK in May 2015. This had been a long time coming. It stemmed from performing at Going Global in Auckland and from there getting the opportunity to perform at Big Sound in Brisbane. There I got asked to play at The Great Escape.
At Big Sound we were given a lot of hype from one of the main promoters of Glastonbury Festival. He told us that if we managed to make it to TGE he would get all his friends there and we would, “… do some shit man, we are gonna do some shit man.”
We didn’t have the money, but we were determined to make it happen thinking this was our shot. My manager Rodney Hewson got us some funding, but not as much as he had hoped, so the rest of the costs went on my credit card. We didn’t care, it was worth it because we were going to play a corker of a show and get signed and get rich and famous…
It didn’t go that way.
On the day this man was nowhere to be found. We called him, he had dropped off the face of the earth. We weren’t given a soundcheck, and we played a rainy NZ showcase with bad sound, to a pretty much empty room.
I was absolutely devastated. Something really changed for me at that moment, I felt an internal shift. It was the beginning of a new and happier me. Although it began as the hardest time in my life…
I decided to stay in London after that to work my way up in the music industry over here. About three months later I found myself in London having already run out of money (it’s expensive here), broken up with my girlfriend who’d decided not to move there (a fair and good call), knowing basically nobody, and with none of what I had expected to happen with my music having come to fruition. We took a big risk and it didn’t pay off. Maybe we’d watched too many movies.
Having been so invested in the idea of getting money and fame and having so many expectations of myself, other people, and events I had no control over, I was what you could call ‘beaten the shit out of by the universe’. Whether these things happen for a reason or not, it certainly benefitted me.
I picked myself up and kept going. I began to focus on the music and not the prize, on myself and my own wellbeing and happiness. I played every open mic night that there was over London and met many great musicians who I have consequently toured and recorded and worked with on various things.
I built up a small fanbase over a year and a half of relentless gigging and because of this managed to put on a sold-out album release show for ‘Drinking With The Birds’ at The Sebright Arms in East London last year.
I also secured some pretty amazing session work; playing with Emmy award-winning New York singer Lazy Rizo at Soho Theatre, Island Music-signed Sam Garrett, my longtime collaborator and musical idol Ny Oh [Naomi Ludlow], and many more.
Along with this I also got the gig playing in Dave Dobbyn’s backing band, and have supported him around the UK, Asia, Australia and NZ for couple month brackets over these last two years.
However, I have parked my solo career for a little while as I’ve decided to put my energy into other creative pursuits. I have an active mind and I don’t like to feel stagnant. I’m sure my solo work will benefit from this creative stretching I’m doing when it comes time to revisit that part of myself.
Aside from session work and function bands, I am focused on three main projects at the moment.
The first one is a musical theatre production entitled Hoops of Fire – The Musical. It’s a science fiction musical about a group of people trapped in a computer simulation. I was crowdfunded by some amazing people who helped me afford to go away to a converted convent in St Erme (France) with my small team to write and workshop it for a month. We have come back with complete scores and ‘the book’, all ready to go.
It’s something I’m very proud of and excited to share.
We have potential investors and are pursuing different funding avenues but whatever happens in that regard our main aim is to get this show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. We believe it will do really well there, as it’s pretty kooky! And hopefully good.
The second one is a rock’n’roll band called Negative Ghost Rider. We are recording our debut EP this UK winter to release early next year. Watch out for it!
And thirdly I have very recently crossed the line into the field of producing. I have produced three EPs now, two for Ny Oh who is an amazing Kiwi artist slaying it in London, and one for Roaman, a very talented Italian artist. Ny Oh’s new EP and Roaman’s EP are coming out this winter (summer for you guys in NZ!) – you can follow their music on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram.
I am soon producing an EP for English songwriter Paul Lynch and will be producing the EP for my new band Negative Ghost Rider. It’s something I enjoy and will be pursuing more over the coming years.
So in short, nothing that I expected to happen when I moved overseas happened, but a lot of other unexpected, wonderful things did happen. Two years later I’m a completely different person. I’m happier and more content. I’m busy and inspired by this electric and vibrant scene and I thrive off it.
If I could change a moment of anything that’s happened I wouldn’t, cause even the bad times were essential, in my growth as a person, and in the deepening of my artistic integrity and understanding.
My advice to other musicians thinking of moving overseas would be to not listen to people like me giving you advice about whether or not to move overseas.
Work out what you desire then follow your heart. Just be prepared that it probably won’t go as you think, but if you’re adaptable and prepared to ride the wave then you will be okay. And bloody well remember to enjoy it cause you’re gonna die someday, so focus on what matters, you self-centred artist!
That’s about as inspirational as I get I’m afraid. Thanks for reading my self-indulgent live divulgence.
I wish you happiness in your heart.