A Conversation With … Jesse Shewan

Co-director of creative studio St O’Donnell with Chinyama Zuze, Jesse is one of the driving forces behind an outfit that is making its mark on Sydney as an incubator for some of the most diverse and forward thinking talent this city has to offer. Ahead of their takeover of our studios this Saturday, September 22, we had a chat with the person who’s making it all happen.

BYO: St O’Donnell has been making waves for the past two year – what’s been the trajectory for these past years?

Jesse: So initially we were looking at it from the label side, more so music and then from that we sort of realised that we were doing events as well. So we were like ‘Cool, there's a hole in that market, let's champion local Sydney artists that are coming up not just from music, but also film, fashion and art.’

BYO: You have brought together a really diverse group of artists as well and it's not just one genre or medium, so when you are bringing together these artists, what's the thinking or curatorial vision?

Jesse: So on the line of music it comes down a lot of the time to what Chin and I like listening to. When I comes to our events, Sydney has so much to offer and so it's championing artists we do see really coming up, it doesn't matter what sort of genre. There are two types of music, good and bad.

BYO: What are some of your own musical influences?

Jesse: For events its again what we're sort of vibing at the time, so for this event we've got Cabu, who we manage and then also Love Deluxe. I tried actually last year to book [Love Deluxe] for a set, so it was finally giving us the chance to book an artist that we do both really like, Chin and I, and as a collective we all really like. So yeah, it's finding music that we will listen to and love.

BYO: Within Sydney it's often talked about how hard it is to be a creative for a whole host of reasons. What do you see as the challenges that St O'Donnell helps artists and creatives overcome within Sydney?

Jesse: In Sydney cultural value isn't held that highly. We sort of try to bridge that gap, where we do see these sorts of things where it's only a couple hundred people, but it's showcasing it in front of say brands, so some of the visual artists we've worked with we've then tried to tee up them with other brands to then work together as well. It's creating that middle ground. Us going, ‘Cool, we understand there is value in culture, it's not always just a financial benefit,’ so it's then how do we then put it in front of the right people?

BYO: Do you see collaborating with brands and linking people up across different industries as the way forward for promoting this cultural value?

Jesse: Art is a collaborative process, whether you're painting by yourself, it's not as if it's just shared with one person, it's meant to be shared with the world. You're influenced by the world around you so I feel as an art community, whether that be music or fashion, visual arts, it has to work together, for Sydney to grow, it needs to work together.

BYO: As an artist yourself, before St O’Donnell, what were some of the issues that you saw with booking gigs and the way that it's changing now?

Jesse: So I was lucky, I was playing before the lockouts came in and [prior to the] lockouts [venues] would make their money from late night entertainment, and then push younger artists to come through earlier on in the night and be able to showcase. When we were starting to come in and really trying to push there was less and less opportunities to really put yourself in front, so it was then crucial that you have the right connections with people, you understand the actual system works. There's the whole other world that needs to be understood, if you really want to succeed you have to play the game. Sydney music is a game, and Australian music scene is a game and you have to play the gameOnce you've played that game and you're in that position then you can really make a difference.

BYO: Obviously the lockouts had a huge effect on the creative industries but the idea of the lockouts can obscure what actually was involved, and it's not just that places have shut down but that whole creative ecosystem has changed. Do you compare that with other music scenes overseas where it's not so much about playing the game or knowing the whole structure?

Jesse: I think it's everywhere [but] I think it's just become a lot more crucial in Sydney because it's a lot harder now. With the lockouts, something that Chin and I have said is it's made people more creative. You can't just now go and throw your stock standard gig, or showcase show and really expect people to come through. You have to have this point of difference and that's where we have have these gallery events, it is to create that point of difference where it's not just ‘Cool, there's a couple of bands playing, there's a couple of DJs playing.’ It's a couple of bands, a couple of DJs playing [but] there's also visual arts on display, [and] that's where we've been working with Amy [Roser] to curate for that space, there's going to be fashion involved with it, and then working with brands such as Young Henry's, Jameson and Frank Strong's where they can provide alcohol for the event and food as well this time, and so there's this whole inclusive package you get.

BYO: Where do you see St O'Donnell developing as a creative agency in the future?

Jesse: Hopefully just keep on growing. It was originally just a little collective of a bunch of guys putting on stuff, so future wise hopefully it becomes bigger and the event will hopefully turn into a mini festival. Management-wise we're quite happy with the roster that we have, it's small but the artists that we have on that roster we're very very excited with the sort of stuff they've got coming, with Cabu the sort of stuff he's got coming up at the moment, Price J she's about to explode, next year will be massive for her. Building those brands, building those partnerships we have between artists, venues, companies and other things we work with and yeah just growing Sydney's culture.

Pick up tickets to St O’Donnell Select Gallery here: https://events.humanitix.net/st-o-donnell-s-select-gallery-005