Alex Gibson, musician and The Voice contestant. Photo: Ben Rushton
Alex Gibson's taking nothing for granted.
A few months ago he was a regular on television screens around the nation, making it to the third-last round of The Voice. Now, the Canberra lad is back out on the streets again, busking for an airfare to get to his next gig.
Gibson knows it's not enough to ride on the coattails of his relatively successful stint on national television - no, from here, it's all about hard work.
The Voice contestant Alex Gibson and judge Seal on set.
"I know for people to hear my original music, I've got to get out there and literally show them the music, and that's what I'm planning on doing," he says cheerfully, speaking from a motel room in Melbourne a few hours before a gig.
"I'm trying to be realistic about it. I know if I don't knuckle down now, it's something that could fade … If I don't work hard now, I think that's possibly it. If I just sat in my room waiting for the phone to ring, then nothing would happen."
The afternoon before, he'd been in Sydney and needed a few extra dollars travel money to join Voice alumni Jac Stone and Nicholas Roy at the Melbourne gig. So he headed from the Sydney home he shares with his two brothers, one a hip-hop artist, the other an engineer-in-training, to his favourite busking spot, and sang for it.
Canberra singer Alex Gibson when a student at Campbell Primary School.
Gibson's joy seems unshakeable, and his enthusiasm is contagious. He's riding the ups and downs of a career in music, but convinced of the idea of success through hard work.
"I needed to buy my plane ticket, so I went down to Circular Quay and went busking in the afternoon. It was a sunny, beautiful day, I sold some CDs, met some people, and it was great," he says.
"It's not something that you go into thinking you'd ever make money. That's a plus if it happens."
Gibson's journey into music started long before The Voice - about 20 years before, when, growing up in Canberra his parents sent him along to join the Canberra Boys Choir at the age of six.
"Basically my parents probably did it because I just wouldn't stop singing around the house, so they thought let's put him somewhere they can teach him how to do it," he says.
He took a couple of years off singing when he started high school at Canberra Grammar and his family moved out to Bungendore, preferring rugby to music. But his hiatus didn't last long.
"I guess I didn't think it was the cool thing to do, but then a couple of years without it and I thought I've got to get into this again and so I started playing at the school rock shows in front of everyone. I look back at some videos and I was not very good, really. I've got to be honest, I was not that great. But that's where it all started I guess," he says.
"When I wrote my first original song and played it in front of my whole school at Grammar, I realised this is what I wanted to do. I was actually 17 or 18 years old, I was a late starter when it came to playing guitar and being a songwriter."
Gibson moved to Sydney to study at the Australian Institute of Music after he finished school, and says with or without The Voice, music was always going to be his life.
"Whether I was on the show or not, it wouldn't have made a difference to that. I would want to be doing something in the music industry for the rest of my life because I just love doing it, I couldn't imagine doing anything else, really," he says.
"People now recognise me. People always say hello when I'm walking around, so I guess that's a slight adjustment, but that's great … It's been easier to get gigs, and there's been more people who are just interested in listening to my music. It's kind of similar to the way it was before the show, except now it's all the time busy.
"I got exactly what I wanted out of the show, I met some amazing people behind the scenes. You just felt like they were your backbone, they were really supportive. I got good mates out of it, and now people are coming to my gigs - win, win, really."
In his perpetually positive way, Gibson won't hear a bad word about the show. He believes Seal is "the real deal" and says they've been emailing regularly. He also concedes there is a lot of hesitation within the industry about reality shows, but is adamant the contestants are treated with "integrity and respect".
"For that reason I would recommend anyone to go on it if they feel they're ready for that sort of thing. It's not an easy ride, it's not like you just rock up. It's a bit of a challenge, in a good way," he says.
"The show" features prominently in our conversation - almost every question, and many of his answers are formed within its context. But Gibson doesn't think he will always be "that guy from The Voice".
Instead, he points towards singers such as Matt Corby, who began as "that guy from Australian Idol" but is now more recognised for his song Brother. Gibson sees the present as his chance to get his own music heard, and start selling This Is Life, the album he recorded with his band before the show.
"I think we've seen a few people break away from the spring board, not that it's anything to be ashamed of - it was brilliant for me. But I think I can now show everyone my own music. If I can get my music into people's heads, and that's what they think about when they hear about me, then for the long-term future that's what they'll think of, they'll think 'Oh Alex, he's got his new CD out' or something like that," Gibson says.
"This one here [This Is Life] is relatively unheard. I've got new songs in the pipeline, but I'm going to be pushing this one for a bit longer now. It feels like it's almost a new record, to be honest."
Gibson says he draws most of his inspiration from his life, and like to write stories into his songs. One of the tracks on his album is called Bungendore, a gentle, melodic tune about going home by a dusty road, over mountain ranges, to a "wondrous place" filled with sunshine.
Despite living in Sydney for more than six years, the Canberra region is still in Gibson's blood, to the point he is actually apologetic for his repeated professions of love for his old home town.
The day after he left the show, Gibson was straight on the phone to venues in Canberra, looking to book a gig. He's been back a number of times, to play before a Brumbies match, and to jam with students at Bungendore Primary School and at his old stomping ground, Canberra Grammar.
He admits he feels closer to Canberra than ever after receiving numerous messages of support from the city through the show, and says he is looking forward to bringing his band there for the first time in August.
"It felt like, more than anywhere else in Australia, they were behind me. That was such a good feeling, having them there helped in my confidence as well.
"The Southern Cross Club in Canberra is a really important gig to me, because that's the first time I'm ever taking my band to Canberra, so it'll be a different experience. I've also got Jac Stone coming along and she's an incredible singer and a songwriter."
We've been on the phone 30 minutes, yet his humble happiness still flows endlessly down the line. When he puts the handset down to find a flyer for the Canberra show, he can be heard whistling absent-mindedly, but perfectly in tune, to the Beatles track With a Little Help from My Friends.
For Gibson, it goes beyond an attitude of all or nothing; the concept of nothing just doesn't exist.
"I think I've been motivated by the belief that's been instilled in me, the belief I've been given. Everyone's out there hoping that I go well, and if I didn't give it my all, everyone who is out there sticking up for me and supporting me, I would be short-changing them."
If hard work is a measure of success, we can expect to see plenty more of Gibson in the future.
■ Alex Gibson with Jac Stone. Canberra Southern Cross Club, Woden. Friday, August 9. Dinner and show: $59, 6.30pm. Show only: $25, 8pm. Bookings: 6283 7288. See www.cscc.com.au.