Little Yellow Roses on the Subway

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I’m running around this week doing all kinds of chores––getting a haircut, doing rehearsals, buying extra guitar strings, dropping off dry cleaning, printing posters, buying little adhesive rubber pads for the keyboard pedal so it won’t slip on stage, etc., as I get ready to leave for my West Coast Tour on Sunday. As I write this I’m on the subway with my guitar and a bag of flowers that I’m dropping off at a friend’s house. She’ll take care of them while I’m away. My little yellow roses peaking out from a tacky pharmacy shopping bag, brightening up the day of my fellow subway passengers…

I’m excited to go. This kind of thing used to make me incredibly nervous, but maybe for the first time in my life my excitement has easily taken over my fear. I’ve practiced well, I know how to travel light these days (I think, I hope…), I’m healthy, my voice sounds good, and I’m in great company. Like I wrote in my post last week, any number of things could go wrong on a trip like this, but that––truly––is life. It comes with the territory. I’m living it. My life. Goddammit. And I’ll do my darnedest to write a blog-post or two while I’m on the road so I can share some of my experiences with you.

To end, I’d like to express my gratitude to all of you who follow and support me on this journey. It is never unclear to me that you, my friends, are what makes my life in music possible.

Love,

Janita

The “Thousand Ways To Die” Tour

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Touring is a unique creative exercise. It requires an immense amount of practical thinking, problem-solving, and taking care of logistical stuff, all of which I sure as hell never signed up for. Calculating the measurements of the trunk of a rental car was not what I had in mind when I dreamed of being an artist as a little girl. But you have to fit the guitars and the amps and the keyboard and the luggage into the car (the one that you can afford, that is…), don’t you? Otherwise you’re fucked, right? The reality of this work turns out to be a little less glamorous than advertised. But do I enjoy it? Hell yes I do.

It’s all of the little things that go wrong on a tour that will end up making you feel like you’re being nibbled to death by ducks. That’s why you have to try to think of every possible scenario in advance, so as not to be left in the lurch. Blake Morgan, the artist that I’m about to embark on my West Coast tour with next week, jokingly suggested that we call it our Thousand Ways To Die Tour. Yeah, but in a lot of ways he wasn’t joking. We had our experience in February, touring as a team in Germany, which we kicked off by blowing up an amp at our very first show. That’s the kind of shit that can and will happen, even when you plan as well as you possibly can. But like Matt Damon in The Martian, Blake and I have learned to “work the problem” together, and there’s no one I would rather team up with on a trip like this. Trust me, he’d find a way to grow potatoes in poop on Mars. That’s the kind of partner you want on a tour.

The Germany-tour earlier this year was the beginning of something new for me. Performing 20 concerts in 23 days was challenging to put it mildly, but I did prove to myself that I can do it, and that I can even excel at it! The growth I experienced in my musicianship alone was enough to make the run worthwhile, but beyond that I feel like I became an adult on that trip. That experience is what fuels my excitement and eagerness to get out there again next week, and to get everything I can out of it. I know it’ll be hard. I know that. But it’s the only way to be the artist I want to be.

So, here’s my conclusion: the challenge of touring is trying to manage the moving parts so that they don’t interfere with the art. I want to make sure that I give myself the best possible chance to do what I go out there to do (and I paraphrase Aaron Sorkin): “to compel my audience for as long as I’ve asked for their attention.”  So, with that in mind I’m setting up my guitar, amp, pedalboard, and a fake microphone in the middle of my living room…and I’m rehearsing.

My Jaguar, a Love Story

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One day in early July I walked into Matt Umanov’s guitar store on Bleecker Street with a friend of mine––just to mess around a bit and to look at some instruments. I went in with no motive to buy anything as I was in no need of a new instrument. I was perfectly happy with my gold-top Les Paul which I’ve now been playing for over a year, and have really loved. But…I was in for a surprise. I was about to fall in love.

As I made a tour of the store, one particular guitar caught my eye: a Fender Jaguar. I had long been a fan of the way it looks (Kurt Cobain had played one similar to this, as did Bob Dylan), but I’d never picked one up. For shits and giggles that day, I decided to haul one into the little chamber with all the amps, convinced that this was simply a crush based on looks and nothing else. I would soon put it right back on the shelf and go home to my beloved Les Paul. But darn it, the guitar worked its magic on me immediately, and vice versa. I played my signature finger-picky riffs, and they all just clicked. Okay. This was serious. I couldn’t put it down.

“What did this mean?” I asked myself. I’d never felt this way about an instrument before. I went back to the store the very next day, and no, it was not a fluke. The magic continued to be there as my fingers touched the strings. My friend knew it too, as did the well-known guitar guru of the store, Zeke. Something special was happening, and when I went home, I knew that the call had to be made. The guitar had to be put on hold for me, and a couple of days later, I went and picked it up. It is now my Jaguar.

So, that’s the story. In a couple of weeks I’ll be getting on a plane and heading out on my first ever West Coast tour, and this is the guitar I will take with me. I still love my Les Paul, but right now the Jaguar is right for me. It is amazing what having the right one can do. It can be the difference between mastering an instrument, or just going through the motions. I know that my future will be different now that I’ve found this guitar. It’s powerful stuff, perhaps surprisingly so. I didn’t know that it makes that much of a difference, but it does. Having the right one is everything.

 

 

 

Mining for Truth

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On Wednesday of last week my life changed. I witnessed something that I’d never witnessed before, experienced something that I’d never experienced before. Pure love, pure emotion, pure existence, pure music. Daniel Lanois, artist and legendary producer of U2, Bob Dylan, and Peter Gabriel (to name just a few) performed a concert at NYC’s Rockwood Music Hall and utterly shattered me. I didn’t know human beings could do what he did that night. I, along with everyone else in the room, witnessed a musical Shaman up there on stage and since then my whole life has been put into new perspective. Now I know what’s possible. That is possible. Holy shit, I got to get to work!

I had the opportunity to say my piece briefly to Mr. Lanois after his otherworldly set, and found myself crying as I shook his hand. Tears of what exactly..? Recognition, connection, joy, grief, humility…a jumble of emotions, truly. It’s simply amazing what music can do. I always knew it, but now I know. I told him that he had changed my life, and that he is now my Guru. (All while assuring him that I’m not a crazy person. Ha!) Lanois may not know who I am or what I do, but I for sure will be seeking out everything he has done so far (which is a lot), and I will study. And learn. And learn, and learn. 

The day following the concert, the same way others might “call in sick,” I called in “Lanois.” I was simply incapable of operating normally. While speaking on the phone, I was frantically looking for my phone in my bag…and then later, I brandished my house keys at the subway turnstile. Yup. It felt like my balance, my sense, and my understanding of the world had been altered. I’d been shook and turned around completely. A week later I can say this: it wasn’t a fluke. This feels permanent. There are some things you cannot un-see. There are some things you cannot un-know.

That same magical night I spoke to Rocco DeLuca, one of the mind-blowingly amazing musicians who had joined Daniel Lanois on stage. He said something that I’ll never forget. In speaking about playing with Lanois, he said that their aim each night is to be “mining for truth.” Apparently, on some days and nights they succeed better than on others, he claimed. I assured DeLuca that what I had witnessed that night was just that: truth. Everything had simply fallen into place. 

So, the quest I have laid out in front of me is to “mine for truth.” As I rehearsed some songs today on my guitar I was mindful of that quest, and it felt different than ever before. Not just to play, but to connect even more deeply with the force of the song when I wrote it, with the force of who I am, with the force of my voice, and with the force of my guitar. In other words, being true. That may or may not sound woo-woo to you, but I can assure you, it isn’t. For me this is real. I’m not fucking around, the time is now

J.

I’m back!

Piecemeal. That’s how I do it. I just figured it out. Just like I did it before––a little bite at a time. I don’t do particularly well without structure; that much I’ve learned about myself. So Friday it is. On Fridays I blog. It is good to be back on the page, my friend.

I have all these big thoughts, big ideas, big dreams. I want to blow your mind with my first entry, as I haven’t written for a while. A year, to be exact. I’ve changed so much and I want to show it to you straight away. See…see!!? But wanting to blow your mind is a shitty motive for doing anything, as how the hell am I supposed to figure out what blows your mind?

So I simply start writing, and see where it goes.

I’ll be much more likely to blow your mind, unexpectedly, one of these days when I’m not trying so hard. When everything isn’t hanging on this one moment.

And that has been a central theme of my life, hasn’t it? Wanting to impress, wanting approval, wanting validation. Wanting it, so desperately, from people who I could never get it from. I give up. I’m fucking doing my own thing. However imperfect that may be.

My blog is my little weekly art project, a piece of my mind, and this is how I take the pressure off of it. It is not trying to accomplish anything, and if it does, so be it. The most important thing is to begin.

See you next Friday.

J.

The Night Before

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I’m posting this today––having written it last night. My performance in NYC is tonight…

I write this on the night before a concert that I’ll be doing at Rockwood Music Hall, in New York City. I’ve performed there before, on each of their three stages, but something feels different this time…some change is happening in me.

As my band and I practiced today at the rehearsal studio I felt it, and felt it clearly: it’s a feeling of being comfortable in my skin. I am, and I’ve never quite felt this way before.

My sister’s dog just had two little puppies a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been eagerly watching them grow and change via Skype, whenever I’ve had the chance. The two pups just opened their tiny little eyes yesterday for the first time. They’ve had to rummage around with their eyes shut for the full length of their short little lives. How amazing it must be to have the world emerge in full color…! (However a dog sees it…) To have it all come into focus…! (Though I don’t think they’re quite there yet…) And to gradually fill up that loose coat of skin and fuzzy furriness that they exist in, and become proportionate with their large and clumsy paws.
Yup, its quite a journey of discovery and adventure..!

I suppose I identify with the concept of growing into one’s own skin. I identify with wearing a new role and a new identity loosely at first and gradually becoming familiar with it, and accepting of it. There have been moments as I’ve begun performing the music of my new album where I’ve been surprised about how my voice ends up coming out of my mouth sounding different, and stronger than before. There have been moments on stage, where I’ve been rocking out with my band, and with my electric guitar, and feeling like “Huh? I’m a rock-chick now? When the fuck did this happen?” But it happened. Gradually, and totally naturally. And a “rock chick” is not all that I am. I’m a fully three-dimensional human being, and being a rocker, too, is a part of me. All the sensitivity I ever had is still in me, but so is this new confidence and strength and badassness. To quote Margaret Atwood: “There is never only one, of anyone.” I am not the same woman I was before. I am different and I’m the same, at the same time, if that makes sense.

So, I’m no longer freaked out by the fact that I’m louder and bolder than before. My bark matches my bite, and I’m ok with that. It’s ironic that I make an analogy here about dogs, having declared on my album that I am in fact a wolf, not a dog….But you get my gist. To me, life is not worth living unless I’m constantly attempting to fill up a new coat of skin. That to me is the best stuff that life is made of! Blessed are those moments when you feel it all fits comfortably…perfectly. For that too is a passing phase.

A Roaring Start!

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I’ve been on a bit of an unexpected hiatus from my blog recently, and it feels good to be back. So much has been going on that I’ve simply been reeling a bit! I’ve been spinning so many new plates that I think I’ve needed some time to consolidate, make sense of, and get used to these new stakes in my life. It’s exhilarating!

2015 has gotten off to a roaring start, and so far it’s already been the best year of my life. It’s been enormously gratifying to release my new album to such rave reviews, and to start to be compared to many of my favorite artists. Wow, I tell you. WOW. It’s hard to even begin to express how much that means to me. Overall I feel stronger, healthier, and happier than ever. The theme of my life right now is deep gratitude for all the wonderful people and things that are and have been coming my way. Lots of hard work and persistence has gone into all of this. That’s why it feels this rewarding.

At the moment I’m in the process of buying myself an electric guitar, which is also thrilling. In recent shows I’ve been playing my friend’s Gibson Les Paul, and I’ve come to the conclusion this is indeed the right guitar for me. My last show at Webster Hall taught me in fact, that I’m going to concentrate on playing electric guitar primarily on stage right now. Not only does it make things simpler from a logistical standpoint (I won’t have to switch from electric to acoustic between many of the songs), but it’s also where I’m at musically. The rich textures on the album seem better reflected in a live setting with two electrics on stage, and with interweaving guitar parts. Some of the hypnotic elements on the album come through best that way live. So exciting.

Shopping for an electric?? How amazing is this! I feel like a kid in a candy store!!!!!!!!!  I’ve been having so much fun researching and trying all kinds of electrics and researching the musicians that play them. In the end I’m choosing a very classic instrument. In a couple of days I’ll be receiving two gold-top Gibson Les Pauls to try out, one of which I’m hopefully choosing to be a longtime friend; possibly, a lifelong friend.

So yet another new phase in my life has begun, and in my opinion it’s very fitting that a new guitar will commemorate it. I have a strong feeling that my guitar and I will be making some serious magic together in 2015!

Hidden Gems

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I just spent an hour playing the piano in the middle of an otherwise busy day. As I played, I had a feeling of release, and quite frankly––of pure joy! Isn’t that the sign of being in one’s element? I sure think it is. I am so happy that I’ve reconnected with my instrument-playing-self through the making of this new album of mine. I am an instrumentalist after all, I simply forgot it for a long time. Much like I forgot many other things about myself… But I’m glad to have remembered. Some of you will be meeting this part of me for the first time.

I started playing the piano the moment I ever met one at my grandparents’ house, which was probably when I was about 2 years old. I was immediately enthralled! You couldn’t get me off of that shit! It was all about the piano for me. I must have been around 4 years old when my family “finally!” bought one; up until then I played a tiny Casio-keyboard with all its many corny drum loops. Cheese-tastic!! Songwriting itself began for me when I was 5, and I wrote many “deep” songs about forlorn princesses…Hehe! Songwriting was cathartic and therapeutic for me from the very beginning.

Piano was my main instrument for a long time, and even though I always loved to sing, that won the game quite a bit later––when I was at the ripe old age of 10. But somehow, when I started working professionally as a singer at 13, my piano-playing swiftly dwindled. I suppose I deemed all the musicians that I worked with superior to me (which, in all actuality was not the case). I never learned to appreciate my abilities as a musician outside of being a vocalist. I find that rather sad, and I am in the process of rectifying that.

A couple of years ago, I picked up the guitar with a focused intention to learn to play it, and to use it as a tool for songwriting. I had dabbled in it a bit before, but this was different. I was going out on my own as a full-fledged songwriter for the first time, and I had to learn to play in order to write the whole frickin’ tune, the whole frickin’ album. Progress happened fast as I taught myself to play, and discovered my voice on the guitar through some random exploration. I have always been an independent learner when it comes to music (and quite a frustrating student to a number of teachers). I have never been one for curriculum when it comes to playing or singing. I tend to do my own thing…

So, during the making of my new album, “Didn’t You, My Dear?”, I discovered guitar, and I rediscovered piano. I play both on the record itself. It’s been quite a transition going from a vocalist who never played any instruments on stage, to one that does most of the time. I have naturally become quite a different performer through this transition. That said, I look forward to mixing it up as I go. I love the freedom of being able to move around on stage with just a microphone in my hand too. But now, it’s from a place of choosing. My choosing.

Playing instruments is one of the many areas in which I’ve had to go back to my childhood to reclaim a part of myself, in order to make myself whole. There are many gems abandoned in our youths, but they’re still there where we left them, if we decide to go a-looking. Personally I’m determined to collect each one!

This Precious Moment

#Janita #JanitaArtist Photo by Reto Sterchi

Next week is a huge week for me. On Tuesday I’ll be releasing my new single Beautiful You Are, along with the cover-image of my upcoming album for the very first time.  Woo-hoo!! Also, as of next Tuesday my album will be available for pre-order. Holy shit!!! I don’t know that I’ve really even wrapped my mind around all of that yet… This is a big fucking deal in my life!

Two days ago I held my new CD in my hands for the very first time. At the risk of sounding melodramatic–witnessing the package and my work of these last four years in this concrete way was life-altering. This project truly feels different: honest and true unlike ever before. I say that because my knowledge and understanding of myself is on a completely different level now than at any other previous point in my career.  And “All songs written by Janita” on the back of the CD–well, that is profoundly gratifying to me. This is a brand new beginning for me, of independence, and of being prolific as an artist. To celebrate this important moment in my life I will be performing my new album, as a preview, in a concert this Thursday.

Through my love of other artists I have understood that if I’m moved by a particular project that they do, I have to jump on seeing them live while they’re still promoting that particular project. Otherwise I might never see them play a specific favorite song again. My idols are often the ones that move on to create music that is quite different from album to album. As an example, The Punch Brothers have just released an album, that literally makes me bawl because of its beauty. There is no way that I will miss their concert while they’re promoting this album! (And in fact, I already have tickets to a concert of theirs coming up..!)

People sometimes come up to me wanting to hear a particular song from my past, and depending on what it is, the chances are that song is no longer in my repertoire. By comparison, Chris Rock is not out there touring, doing the same jokes over and over again every year, is he? Music is different of course than comedy, but there are many similarities too. I personally prefer the artists that deliver a different “punchline” each time. And in my own case, the woman I was when I released Seasons Of Life or Haunted…well, I am much changed from those days already. And quite frankly, I wouldn’t even want to go back. I am thrilled to be where I am at this very moment.

Any album may be around “forever”, but the artist, or a particular version of that artist will not. I regret to have missed certain heroes of mine at my preferred points in their careers, for I know now that these are missed opportunities that won’t present themselves again. But I’m glad to know what I know now, so I can try to catch as many of my most beloved artists live as I can.

Which brings me to this. The roll-out of this album is a unique and unforgettable point in my career, and through the examples I mentioned before I understand how precious it is. I invite you to share the specialness of this moment with me next week on Tuesday as my single is released, and again on Thursday as I perform an intimate concert at Rockwood Music Hall, stage 3, at 7pm. I’ll try to remember as I live through this special week, to relish every moment. None of them will ever come again.

Beautiful You Are

Janita, photo by Reto Sterchi

In just a couple of weeks, I’ll be releasing my new single, “Beautiful You Are,” in advance of my forthcoming album. I’m thrilled about this for many reasons, but most of all I’m excited about the prospect of sharing it with you. Sharing the music, sharing the art, sharing the process. Music and art is, after all, meant to be shared. Despite not aiming to cater to anyone per se, I’m also not making my art for simply my own pleasure. My hope is to have my music connect with you, and resonate with you.

I thought this might be a good time for me to introduce the upcoming song, kind of like I would do at a concert of mine. I always like it when artists tell the audience a bit about what inspired them to write a specific song, and I remember in particular a long, detailed, yet very entertaining story that Suzanne Vega told on stage about how she came to write her song “In Liverpool.” In the years since I saw her perform, I’ve been drawn more and more to sharing stories or anecdotes myself, about what happened or what inspired me to write a particular song.

So here, then…I’ll do it with this week’s blog.

I wrote “Beautiful You Are” about someone who’s become a dear friend of mine in the last couple of years. It struck me initially when I met her that she was fairly oblivious to her innate artistic talents, her beauty, and her considerable potential. She was walking––strike that––trudging through life, intimidated by everyone else, and always second-guessing other people’s thoughts and feelings about her. She didn’t trust that her thoughts were valid, or that anyone really cared what she had to say. All of her interactions, even with those closest to her, were suspect to her. The world clearly seemed to be a hostile place to her.

And yet I, like so many others, saw her beauty and her many talents. Despite my friend’s fearful attitude towards life and people, she did (and does) also possess a sweetness and a kindness, which I gravitated towards. It felt preposterous to me that she wasn’t able to see in herself the positive attributes, that to me were so obvious. As her friend it’s been my privilege to help present her with a new reality––actual reality––little by little. “Beautiful You Are” is one contribution of mine, to that end.

I think that so many of us go through our lives without ever fully realizing what gifts we have and the power that we can harness in our own lives. It’s often the result of so many negative messages thrown at us by inconsiderate or misguided peers, ill-advised families, and the ruthless media-obsessed world of today. Perhaps that’s the reason why I was so compelled to write about my friend: that unconsciously I identified so strongly with her suspicious attitude towards others. It’s taken me a very long time to trust people as well, and to learn to be open, and intimate. When people used to tell me that I was beautiful, I thought that they were blowing smoke up my ass, and that they were trying to use me somehow. And so, I reacted accordingly. Often I didn’t say thank you, and sometimes I would just walk away. I didn’t actually believe that they meant what they said, and quite frankly, I didn’t think I was worthy of the compliment.

Fast forward a couple of years, and I’m happy to report that both my friend and I look at the world through very different eyes. Open eyes. Much healing has happened in each of our lives, and we’ve each taken many brave steps outside our comfort zones. We have both come to understand our values as artists, for she too is one. I am finally recognizing my own beauty as well, and I hope that she is too. It’s required quite a bit of retraining of my mind, but I’m getting there, slowly but surely.

The work continues, but now I sing the song less for my friend and for myself, and more for those still acutely struggling to believe in themselves. The message is this: don’t let the bastards get you down. You are beautiful, you are.

Have a beautiful day everyone! And keep an eye out for that song. It’s coming out real soon!

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