A Big Moment

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a·dult
əˈdəlt,ˈadˌəlt/
noun
  1. a person who is fully grown or developed.
    “children should be accompanied by an adult”

Yup. That’s how I feel this week. Like an adult. Making adult plans, writing adult emails, making adult choices, and speaking up like a fucking adult. I love it.

One adult choice that I made––some months ago actually––was to start an Artist-In-Residence Concert Series in New York. And now the fruits of that adult choice are, er…coming to fruition. The premiere of my residency is now less than two weeks away! This is a real commitment, friends. This is me saying to myself (and to anyone who will listen) that I commit to creating a compelling, meaningful, and memorable experience repeatedly, every other month, at a great venue I love: The Bowery Electric. And, that I believe my audience will want to want to come back to hear more, and bring their peeps too! That’s how that shit works. I’m committed, and excited to push myself with this series to get to a new level. To build a scene. And yeah, I’m also feeling the newness of it. Pushing through to the next level in anything that one does is never easy. But I’m not expecting it to be. The process is intimidating, but potentially rewarding unlike anything else.

One of my favorite compliments that I’ve ever gotten came from a keyboard player, Federico Pena, who I worked with back in the day. He said that he always looked forward to working with me because I was a singer who always gave her all, even in rehearsal. I was surprised, as I didn’t have anyone to compare myself to (wasn’t everyone like this?). His point was that I never did a half-assed job of it, and I’ve really held on to that compliment. It means a lot to me. Sometimes I’ve been sick––even very sick, at times––both in rehearsal, and on stage, but it’s true: whatever I have had available to me at any given moment, as an artist, I’ve always given it my all.

So, in two weeks, on Thursday, October 6, I’ll take the stage at The Bowery Electric, and needless to say I intend to put it all out there. I’m planning on playing two brand new songs that I’m very proud of, which is always a BIG MOMENT. I’m moving forward, making new music, and it’s a thrill to be able to share that process as it’s ongoing. This is a grown up thing to do, I think. To take on a big project like this, and know that it will open new doors that I can’t even conceive of yet. Being brave, and taking the next step even when I don’t know exactly where it leads. Being an adult is cool.

Tickets to The Bowery Electric, here!

Letting Go of the Cactus

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I have an awesome, quirky, yoga-teacher from Mexico, who at regular intervals tells the following amusing story in the beginning of his class in his adorable, thick, Mexican accent. It goes something like this: 

A wise teacher was walking one day when he heard one of his students cry out to him… “Master, master, help me!” The teacher quickly rushed to the student, only to find him hugging a cactus. “Master, master,” the student cried, “Please help me, I’m in agony!” The teacher looked at him, and calmly replied, “Just let go.” The student then loosened his grip of the cactus and with his arms stretched out wide said “Ohh…Thank you master. Thank you!” 

Sure, it’s kind of a silly and simple story, but I get it.

I’ve started decluttering…gradually…as I’m beginning to prepare for a move to Manhattan, after 20 years of living in Brooklyn. This will be a slow transition––as moves go––and will not happen overnight, or even before the end of this year. But it is happening, and I’m very excited about it.

In the process of moving I’ll be letting go of a lot of baggage––quite literally!––and detaching myself from a lot of cactuses that I didn’t even know I was hugging. Stuff can become pretty sticky as it accumulates, and some of the stuff I own is just slowing me down. It’ll feel good to get down to the nitty gritty of what my life’s about, and what I actually need for it to work. As for Brooklyn––rest assured you’ll be hearing a lot about my love for it as this process moves forward. But I do recognize a moment when it arrives, and the moment is here. Taking this new, transformative step is the right thing to do. 

My unconscious mind is aligning with my conscious one, as for a while now I’ve been having powerful, recurring dreams of liberating myself. I won’t go into details as to the content of those dreams…I’ll simply say that I see myself “letting go of the cactus” quite regularly. And yes, it does feel so much better.

Ps. The pics are from a drive through the desert during my recent tour.

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The Summer Camp Feeling

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I’m back in Brooklyn, settling back into my life, having come back from my West Coast tour late Sunday-night. I’m having what a friend of mine calls “summer camp feeling.” That poignant feeling that one gets at the end of a powerful and intense experience…when you’ve been a part of a community, having some sort of adventure, and all of a sudden you’re supposed to go back to what’s normal––to go on with your life as if everything’s the same, when everything’s different. You’re different. And you just feel…out of place.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to be back home. Touring really is exhausting! But it’s an incredible adjustment to go back to normal routines after doing concerts night after night, having great adrenaline rushes, dips and dives, living out of a suitcase, driving great distances, and staying at different hotels each night. It’s a mindfuck both ways. And mind you, this was only two weeks. This gives me much more insight into the lives of other touring musicians, business people, politicians, actors, dancers, troupes, troops, humanitarians, travelers, and whoever else does this sort of thing. I’m sure there are all kinds of tricks of the trade that one learns along the way, and I’m sure the transitions get easier the more you do this, but this is where I’m at right now. I’m adjusting.

That all being said, we’re already in the process of booking a similar round of gigs for the West Coast in early 2017! And I’m about to travel to England next month to do some concerts there..! Not to mention the fact that I’m starting up my bi-monthly NYC residency at The Bowery Electric on Thursday, October 6th! There’s a lot of amazing stuff going on!! I mean, this is EXCITING! This is…success! And I’m thrilled. I really am! OF COURSE I am.

But today I’m fighting a cold, and I’m taking it one moment at a time. I’m living a beautiful, inspiring, exciting time in my life, and I’m having a decidedly human experience of it. Being an artist is not just glitz and glamour, in case anyone was still under the impression that that’s what it is. It’s hard work, and it requires a great amount of emotional stability, psychological strength, and physical stamina. I’m in the process of replenishing my reserves, so I can do all of this again real soon. And ironically, I can’t wait!

Never a Dull Moment

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Day 13/14 of my co-headlining West Coast Tour with Blake Morgan. We finished the tour off last night at Capps Club in Kenmore, WA, close to Seattle. What a fantastic venue! Such good people, and amazing sound! It was a magical, intimate evening, in a worthy setting to bring this brilliant adventure to a close.

Currently I’m on my hotel bed, fresh from the shower and in my schlumfies, trying to stay awake in order to finish writing this post. I’m exhausted, and so is Blake. We’ve driven close to 2,000 miles on this trip, and needless to say that takes a toll. Not to mention our bonus adventures of driving through a post-apocalyptic scene in Northern California, the sky thick with smoke from a long-blazing forest fire, a shooting next door to the venue we performed at in Eugene (see Blake’s video below), and a blinding, torrential downpour while driving into Washington State… It’s been intense, in more ways than one!

We drove six hours from Eugene, OR to Kenmore, WA yesterday, with Blake at the wheel. He had woken up in the morning sick with a fever and his voice wrecked, barely able to speak. One of those fun surprises that one can encounter on the road… We brainstormed in the car as to how to manage the situation. Not wanting to cancel his part of the show and let down the good people who were coming to see him play, we decided that our best bet was for me to sing his songs as well as my own. He would perform a VH1 Storytellers-type of show, sharing stories and anecdotes about the songs etc., and accompany my singing on guitar and piano. Balls. But I’ve been listening to him perform these songs quite a few times now, and I was confident that I knew them well enough to do them justice. I said yes to the challenge.

I practiced some of Blake’s songs in the car, and we ran through a couple of them briefly in the hotel room, and in the green room of the venue. We printed out the lyrics, and in order for me to actually see them, I wore my glasses on stage, for the first time ever. Whoa! Blake prefaced the change in our performance plans to the audience beautifully, by evoking a hypothetical scenario of a younger Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, touring together in the 1970s…One day Bob Dylan gets sick and can’t perform his songs the way he would like to, and asks Joni to sing his songs that night, while accompanying her for her set and his own. (Blake said all this to the audience, while acknowledging naturally, that we’re no Joni and Bob, and saying that “a boy can dream…”) What a concept! That would be a special night indeed, and one that I for one would have liked to witness. Phrasing it like that seemed to go over well with the audience, and we felt a warm flood of support throughout Blake’s set. I sang my heart out, and I thought we played beautifully together, him helping me out by mouthing the words to me. It was intimate, raw, and vulnerable, and as he sang the last song of his set with me, we both had tears in our eyes. Goddammit, we pulled it off!

This has been a very successful run for me. I’ve made wonderful new friends, I’ve expanded my musicianship, I’ve grown in confidence as a performer, and I’ve sown some seeds for my music on the West Coast. I’ve also discovered that I’m stronger, and more shit together than I thought I was, or could ever be. I’m a tough motherfucker! I’m serious. I’m doing this for real!

So here I am, wrapping up the Thousand Ways to Die-tour. The name is not far off the mark..! But in the end, Blake and I are both alive and kicking, and we’ve killed it on this tour. We caught some good luck and we caught some bad luck, but I for one feel tremendously satisfied overall. This is what it’s like. Never a dull moment, my friends. Never a dull moment indeed.

 

Watch Blake’s video about Eugene HERE!

 

 

 

 

Circular Reasoning Works Because…

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Day 6/14 of my West Coast Tour and I’m realizing I should’ve packed more T-shirts. I get to wear all my stuff more than once, and I’m already a bit bored of the line: “Circular reasoning works because circular reasoning works”, that’s printed on the front on one of my T-shirts. I packed lightly indeed.

Right now I’m in a rental car driven by my partner in crime, Blake Morgan, headed from San Diego to Los Angeles. We’ve done 3 concerts so far–two at the House of Blues in Las Vegas, and one at Lestat’s in San Diego. We also did a morning TV-show performance at a San Diego TV-station, and a radio interview this morning for Music Friday Live.

What touring is, is kind of like sowing seeds for my music; some of them will take root and grow, and eventually lead to more seeds being planted… In a massive country like the US, the quest to get myself heard can feel daunting, but I’m decidedly not intimidated by it. I believe in what I’m doing, and I feel a strong sense of purpose. The simple act of sowing these seeds is incredibly powerful for me. I know that I’m in the right place, and that being on this tour is the right thing to do right now.

I wasn’t kidding about the “Thousand Ways to Die Tour” though. We’ve had to dodge some major bullets already, including suffering from some serious chemical sensitivities, breathing in the noxious air of our hotel/casino in Las Vegas. At some point I actually felt like I was on a roller coaster even as I was sitting down, and Blake felt even worse. But we did make it through, with flying colors in fact. And we’re stronger for it.

This is not easy. Not at all. I need all my emotional, psychological, physical, and most importantly, musical skills to make all this work. But it is working, goddammit. It is working.

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.