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Janet Gardner

Most people will know Janet Gardner as the lead singer of the melodic rock band Vixen, but that same Janet has now released a solo album under her own name, which will definitely scare the Vixen fans a bit. The material on this record is namely quite a lot heavier than what we’re used to of miss Gardner. All the more reason to get in touch with this sympathetic singer to learn more about all ins and outs of her first solo effort.

By: Sjak | Archive under hardrock / aor

Hi Janet, you are best known for your contribution to the first three Vixen albums which were released between 1990 and 1998. What have you been up to after the release of ‘Tangerine Dream’?
I started a family, got married, I have a fourteen year old son now and musically I just wrote things for myself. It was a period where I really did some other things in life.

In 2006 the fourth Vixen album ‘Live And Learn’ saw the light of day. Why weren’t you handling the vocals on that one and do you see that one as a real Vixen album?
Sure, Jan was involved and she had the name Vixen at that time, so for me it’s definitely a Vixen album. We had tried to get together a few years before that, but as we had some difficulties keeping things together we split up again. After that Jan formed a new Vixen, did some touring and created the album ‘Live And Learn’.

In 2012 the reunion of the original Vixen then finally took place. How did this happen and what was the intention that you had with that possible reunion?
In that year we just got together again talking about a possible reunion. Of course we first had to get through a lot of issues, but at time progressed we really started to go for it. We were already talking about a possible set list when Jan called us and said she had some health issues. She asked for a couple of weeks to figure things out, but when we heard back from her we found out that she had ovarian cancer and a few months later she passed away.

Indeed, Jan lost her battle with cancer in October of 2013. What did her death mean for you personally and for the band?
It was a horrible loss for the band and for us personally because we had been long-time friends. Of course we had our issues but these were all band related and not personal. So for me personally it was totally devastating and as she was the founding member of the band it was a big blow for the band as well.

Still you decided to continue with Vixen with Gina Stile as guitar player. What was the reason for you to keep Vixen alive after all?
The main reason was that Jan had set things in motion again and had really tried to reunite the original Vixen. We spoke a couple of people that were really close to her and asked them what they thought Jan would want us to do. They all said to go out and play the songs to keep Jan’s legacy and memory alive, so that’s what we did.

Meanwhile Gina was recently replaced by Britt Lightning if I’m not mistaken. Why did Gina leave and how did Britt get into the band?
There was a consensus in the band that we needed to make a change musically to capture the old Vixen sound and therefore it was decided that Gina should be replaced. We knew Britt from the Monsters Of Rock cruise where she played in a Guns ‘n’ Roses tribute band called Paradise Kitty and because she was a real up and coming phenomenal guitar player we asked her to join Vixen and she did.

What are the plans that you have with Vixen for the (near) future? Will you only do live shows or are we going to see a new Vixen album as well?
Right now we are planning a lot of shows and we’re going to capture one of them for a live-release. We’re also going to include a cover song and an acoustic rendition of an old Vixen song and it will be released somewhere in the near future. We’re very geographically challenged to write new music as we’re all over the United States, so it’s very hard to get together and work on new music. We mainly use e-mail now to exchange ideas and we’ll see where that leads us.

The main reason we’re having this conversation is the release of your first solo album. Why did you feel the urge to release a solo album in the first place?
Justin, my husband, and I bought a new house and set up a studio in there. We just started to fiddle around and didn’t have the intention to release something at first. But once we started writing, we just couldn’t stop and it just kept flowing out of us. So before we knew it we had enough material for a full album and since we very happy with the stuff we wrote, we just decided to release it.

How did the song writing between the two of you look like?
I had been a while since either of us had done a lot of writing, so we both had a lot of ideas bouncing around in our heads. Most of the time it started with Justin having an idea for guitar riff and then I would come up with the melody, the chorus and some lyric idea, but sometimes it would be the other way around and I would come up with a riff and he jumped in. We didn’t really have a formula that we used to go through the writing process, we just let all the ideas come to the surface and started working from there.

Are you going to bring this material to the live stage as well and if so, are you already thinking about forming a real band for that?
Yes, as a matter of fact we have already played one show in Justin’s home town Chicago and it went great! The response from the audience was great and we had a blast. We have some more shows booked here in the States in the Mid-West and on the East Coast in September. We’re going to try to get some more shows in the States and then we will try to come over to Europe.

The solo material is much darker and heavier than what we heard from you in the past. Was that something that you were intentionally looking for or did that happen naturally during the song writing process?
It just happened naturally, because as we got through experiences in life, some of the bad things that you don’t necessarily want to talk about are therapeutic to get them out in songs. So there was definitely some of that going on and also a lot of the influences that we had from other heavier bands that didn’t come out before came out in this material.

Aren’t you afraid that the traditional Vixen fans will be disappointed by this change of style?
No, not really because they have Vixen for that and this is not a Vixen record. I think there are songs on the album which will certainly appeal to Vixen fans and so far the reactions from them has been very positive. I’m not really that concerned because Vixen is still around and this is just me displaying another side of myself.

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What were typical elements that you were looking for and that needed to be present in the material for your solo album?
We didn’t really restrict ourselves to anything in particular. We just wrote from the heart, wrote from our soul and did what we felt and when it didn’t work at the end of the day when we look at it as a whole we picked the strongest elements and continued. We didn’t really sit down and do anything on purpose.

One of the songs that really stands out is ‘Best Friend’ as it’s a rather subdued song among the other heavy tracks. Why did you think that this one would fit on the album?
Well, that song is very special because that’s Justin’s and my story. It a song about us, so we had to put that one on our record, we just couldn’t leave that one off…haha.

If you had to pick one song from the album that would represent Janet Gardner best as a solo musician, which one would that be and why?
Wow, that’s like trying to pick your favorite child! It’s very difficult, because they all have something from our soul. Both Justin and I put our heart and soul into it, so they all have special meaning to us. If I had to pick one though, it would probably be the first song that we wrote together ‘If You Want Me’. This song is heavy but still melodic, has big choruses, lots of vocals and that kind of nails down what we like. It has a bit of a modern twist to it, but it’s at the same time very eighties oriented and this song is what kicked the whole thing off, so I guess I have to go with that one.

Which song will be released as a first single and when will the first video become available?
Yes, the first single will be the opening track of the album ‘Rat hole’ and we have made a video for this one as well. We worked together with the label to decide which song to release as a first single and it’s definitely different from what Vixen people are used to hear from me, but it’s a great song, very catchy, and a lot of people that we played it for, it caught them right of the bat. The video is pretty old-school as it is performance based. We’re playing the song in a couple of different settings with the attitude that you would expect.

Did you write and/or record more material than what was placed on the album? If so, which tunes and what’s going to happen with those?
We did, we had a couple of songs left over that didn’t quite fit. We really like them, but they were just not suited for this album. We might re-arrange them in the future for a possible next release. Next to these finished songs we also had a couple of ideas that we still need to work on to make complete songs out of them.

The album will be released through Pavement Music on August 17th. How did you get connected to this record label?
Originally we didn’t really have any plans to use a label, but when we released a teaser video things started to take off and we started to get some offers. We chose Pavement for two reasons, first because we loved their plan that they had for us and second because of their enthusiasm as they really loved the record. They didn’t want to change things and that was important for us. Furthermore we did look at the bands that they had on their label and they’re all great bands, so we thought that this would be a great home for us.

What are your expectations of this solo album? When will it be a success for you?
Just doing it is already a success for me. I’m just really happy to release something that I’m proud of and that I want people to hear. That’s enough for me and anything more that we get is a bonus.

Will you actively pursue a solo career next to your Vixen obligations or was this just a one-time thing?
I will be doing both as it is a big world out there I feel that there are lots of opportunities for both situations to blossom. The other girls in Vixen also have side projects as Roxy is also in Madam X, Share is working with her husband on a project and Britt is still in Paradise Kitty, so we’re all going to have different options of being able to be creative and that’s really good for everyone.

You were also responsible for the production side of things. Are you going to keep on doing that yourself or will you call in some outside help in the future to get an independent ear in?
I think we’re always open to using other people to maybe get a different perspective on things. We talked about having someone mix or master, but Justin did a great job. He did a lot of research, he got lots of plug-ins, spend a lot of time working on the sound and he definitely grabbed on to the technical aspects.

The artwork is just like the music pretty dark. Who was responsible for the artwork and what was the assignment that the artist was given?
We weren’t really planning anything, but we knew we had to have some photos, so we had a photographer that we know, John Gregory, come in and experimenting with different styles and ideas. When it became time to turn in the artwork, we called another friend to create the logo and to work on the photos a little bit. It is darker than I anticipated, but once you see it for real it looks pretty good.

What are some of the subjects that you like to write about in the lyrics and where do you get your inspiration from?
I do most of the lyrics, but when I get stuck I’ll pull Justin in to help me out. Inspiration comes from life, I use real life experiences like relationships, behavior of people or our worries about the future for our children.

The album is really a collaboration between Justin and you, but why did you decide to release it under your name as a solo-album?
We thought about using a band name and we even talked about a few ideas like Planet Janet, but we didn’t really want to use a band name because it isn’t a band. Eventually we just decided to make it my solo-album and release it under my name.

What are some of the dreams that you have and that you still want to make happen, both as a person and a musician?
I’m really very happy and I feel incredible blessed, so there’s really not much else that I would desire. I couldn’t ask for much more!

Okay Janet, I would like to thank you for your willingness to answer my questions. Is there anything that we didn’t cover that you want to express to our readers?
I don’t think so, as you touched all the aspects that we needed to talk about. We’re really thankful to everyone for all the support and we can’t wait to bring this to you in Europe!

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