The Beginning

When I was five years old I asked Mum and Dad if I could have piano lessons.

Now, Mum and Dad didn’t have any room in the house for a piano nor, was there enough money to buy one in the first place but that was okay with me… I still had my imagination to play with.

All through my primary school years I was constantly writing stories and poems then, I was making up songs to go with the poems and drawing pictures to go with the stories. Back then I was an unstoppable ball of creative energy.

It wasn’t until I reached high school though that my interest in music really came to the forefront. The school that I went to had a very good music program which I was most keen to get into. It was there that I could really begin to immerse myself in all things music.

The instrument that I wanted to learn was the saxophone, mainly because back in 1983 it was a pretty cool instrument to play. However, they were all snapped up by other students so the next best thing I thought to learn was the clarinet, which I continued to play until I left high school in 1987.

Most of my recess and lunch times were spent in the music room practising my clarinet and teaching myself piano. It was an environment in which I really felt I belonged to and through music theory lessons, I was introduced to sheet music, manuscript paper, treble/bass clefs and a vast array of notes for my imagination to play with.

It was around the same time that I wrote my first song. This was after my best friend Andrew showed me an “A” chord on an old nylon stringed classical guitar which was given to me on my 13th birthday by my Dad (perhaps to compensate not providing me with a piano all those years ago).

This inspired me to teach myself the guitar at home which allowed me to become immersed with music 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Add to that the thrill of writing a new song with each discovery of a new chord and my life was pretty much complete.

All of my school friends were budding musicians, my whole life at that time seemed to be revolved around music, it couldn’t get any better than that.

When I left high school music became something that allowed me to escape the day to day pressures of living. Music made my growing up into a young adult a more tolerable experience.

I started up bands which seemed to endlessly rehearse but never played any gigs and at the same time picked up the bass because I could never find a bass player for these endlessly rehearsing bands.

Wherever I was working at the time I’d carry around a small notebook and pen and scrawl down song lyrics and songwriting ideas at every opportunity. I spent the rest of the time daydreaming what it would be like to play music professionally… That was my idea of Heaven on Earth and it was my goal to find it.

Sydney

My first taste of being a professional musician came in 1994 when I joined a band that was going to relocate to Sydney called the “Chocolate Dogs.”

After playing some awesome warm up/farewell shows in Adelaide, we went to the promised land in convoy with swirling romantic notions in our heads of making it big, bolstered by the fact that the biggest band agency in Sydney at the time had decided to put us on their books.

Love Rears Its Ugly Heard (Living Colour) – Chocolate Dogs @ Revesby Workers Club 1995

We decided that nothing would stop us. “We’ll play as a cover band first to get some money coming in then we’ll start an originals band afterwards” we said to ourselves, “yeah sure, we’ll be able to do both.”

Wrong!

The reality was that after being shunted around every corner of Sydney playing in every shitty dive you could ever imagine, the agency dropped us after 18 months on their books. We didn’t know this but at the time but we were “that band from Adelaide” that played the venues that no-one else wanted to play at.

We then tried to make a go at playing our own stuff, the real reason why we all went to Sydney in the first place but with no real Plan B in place, poverty knocking at our door and band members arguing over royalty splits on income not yet realised the band split after one gig.

That experience was very painful, so much so that I gave up playing music and tried to have a go at living in Sydney as a “normal person.” I got a job at Aussie Home Loans and moved up the ranks pretty quickly, found love and moved in to my girlfriend’s place in Leichhardt.

All was going well but I started to feel the music calling at me. It was then that I started missing being a musician, writing songs, performing live and connecting with the muse.

On a whim I went to a weekend songwriting workshop in North Sydney and from there my love affair with music started again. I met up with people who would become the founding members of “Hot Fridge” and “Giffeaux” two bands that saved my life from the beige coloured glasses of mediocrity.

Brand Spanking New (C. Stewart) – Hot Fridge 1998
Nine Lives (J. Gifford) – Giffeaux 1998

I did however, become pretty obsessed with everything and playing in two bands and trying to hold down a full on relationship and a full time job took a real toll on my mental health.

I had a nervous breakdown in late 1999 and as a consequence of that I came back to Adelaide with my Dad (he flew up the day before to rescue me) and all of my belongings packed into my Mazda 323 station wagon.

The prodigal son had returned with his tail between my legs and the dark cloud of shame and failure hanging over his head.

Back Home

Even in those really dark times, music never left my side. It would knock on my door but I just wouldn’t let it in. After a few months of not leaving the house (I was living with Mum and Dad at the time) I decided that I’d had enough. Not having music in my life was like living with an amputated limb.

The next time music knocked on my door, I opened it and embraced it with open arms and from that moment on my life became a process of rebuilding.

I was still working casual day jobs but I was also in bands that now had some drive and determination and were wanting to go somewhere. Bands like the Heather Frahn Band, FunkStar and Orangutang

Funk Train (C. Stewart) – FunkStar Mk1 2001
Everybody Party Tonight (C. Stewart) – FunkStar Mk2 2002
Shake It (C. Stewart) – Orangutang 2005

I started to find myself in situations that turned into great opportunities for advancing my music career.

In 2006 I had another opportunity to really make a go at playing music professionally. “Yes it’s a cover band” I said to myself, “but still, I’ll be doing nothing else.”

So, I ran with it and FIGJAM was born. We got our demos together, got out and about and networked like crazy, we played everywhere and for the first time in my life I felt that I was in control of my musical direction plus, I was making a living out of what I loved.

As well as playing in two other original bands at the same time “Liars Bench” and “Soul Trader” I was a self employed, professional musician and I was loving it.

Wanna Be The One (S. Betts/C. Stewart) – Soul Trader 2006
Hand It To You (M. Parker) – Liars Bench 2006

And even though I was doing what I loved at the time, I still came across the same type of ungrateful, difficult, tight-fisted and clueless client/customer that you hear about but think “Nah, I’m a musician, that won’t happen to me.”

But as the years went by and the novelty of being a professional (cover) musician wore thin, I started to realise that in my drive to make a living out of music by playing covers interspersed with the occasional originals gig now and then, I was forgetting the real reason why I wanted to play music in the first place.

I was starting to burn out.

There were however, some bright lights during this time. I finished and released my debut CD “Seeing Stars” in 2012, I made the decision to start building a home recording studio so I can do all my future recordings in-house and I got married to my long time partner Mara who I met at a Liars Bench gig.

But all in all, it was decided that my main musical project FIGJAM would wind up at the end of 2015 and in the vacuum left by that decision had given me some time to think. I realised that I had made pretty much the same mistakes that I made in Sydney all those years ago.

I realised that I didn’t have any balance in my life anymore and that trying to play covers to fund your own music is not as easy as you might think.

Full Circle?

So where am I now? Well, I’m doing a lot more songwriting and recording plus collaborating with other songwriters and getting myself reacquainted with my blogging through Corey Stewart Online with more projects to be launched down the track.

For a while I had taken a long break from playing live but now I’m performing with a band called “The Ides Of March” plus, I’ve returned to the board of SCALA (Songwriters, Composers and Lyricists Association) because what better way to ingratiate yourself to the original music scene than to join an original music association.

Have I come full circle? Well, I reckon I have but I’m certainly looking at where I am and what I’m doing musically with a fresh pair of eyes and ears and that’s got to be a good thing.

What I will say though is that despite everything that has happened in my life so far, it’s comforting to know that music has never let me down, its always been there to pick me up, dust me off and be the means for me to get on with my life.

And with what has happened to me in recent months with Mara’s passing, I’m in need of some music therapy more than ever.

I would hate to think of who and where I would be if I didn’t have music in my life. It’s been there for me for as long as I remember and now, I just want to work on being true to myself and my chosen craft so I can create a way in which I can honour and repay the muse.

And repay her I will… In full.

Peace,

Corey 🙂

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