For many hard rock fans, there is no need to introduce Janet Gardner. Gardner has been a stalwart of the genre now for thirty years making a name for herself as the frontwoman of the legendary Vixen. This year sees the release of Gardner debut solo album – an album that she has recorded with her husband, songwriter/producer/musician, Justin James, and boy, what an album it is. Dave Griffiths was lucky enough to catch up with both Janet and Justin to find out exactly what kind of hard work has gone into this album.
“Well, it’s Justin’s fault,” says Janet when I ask her what inspired her to record her first solo album. “He inspired me by playing his guitar in front of me, and we started writing songs. It’s kind of funny to say that, but it is actually almost as simple as that. We moved into this new house together, and it was kind of inevitable that we would end up writing songs together. It just happened a lot faster than we thought it would.”
When I ask whether it is easy or hard to write and record an album with your spouse, Justin says: “I’m going to plug my ears for this. I don’t want to know what she is going to say.” Janet laughs and says, “There was a lot of bickering and shouting and fighting and doors slamming… no, I’m just kidding. We actually had nothing but fun doing this. We were a little bit apprehensive because it can get a little sticky mixing a personal relationship and a working relationship, especially when it is something that we are both so passionate about and that we care so much about, so we were a little nervous about it. But once that first song started rolling, and we figured that we have a really good give and take, one person inspires one part, and the other person jumps in on the next part. That we have a really good creative relationship, we just relaxed and enjoyed it. It was pretty effortless; I have to say.”
Justin adds, “It was almost like that first kiss, you know? Like my first kiss with Janet, you just know that love is there, and then you get that first song out of the way, and you’re like, ‘Wow, there is magic here.’”
When listening to Janet Gardener as an album, you quickly realise that this is an album that is written from the heart. There are tracks in there that are written about love and also a track called ‘Let It Be Over’ that is a great take on what the world we live in today is like and Janet admits that this is a very personal album for her. “A lot of it stems from our relationship,” she says. “Our conversations about what is important for us and feelings about different topics, and Justin was really great at encouraging me to say things that I really wanted to say that maybe without having him behind me that I may not have been brave enough to say or to come out with. He was very encouraging enough to say, ‘Yeah, let’s say what we want to say here. Let’s not hold anything back.’ And that’s pretty much where it all came from, from our conversations, our feelings about things, our experiences and our conversations about it.”
I ask Janet and Justin whether it is difficult recording a love song when the person it is written about is in the room with you and Janet is quick to answer with, “No, that makes it even better. Yeah, the ‘Best Friend’ track, we sat down, and we thought if we tell our story we are going to make people want to throw up, but we have to tell our story. And that made it even more special that we were in the same room together performing it and writing it. Yeah, it was even better.”
“It was funny because that song was, in particular, our story,” adds Justin. “Originally, that song was a lot longer – it was like seven minutes long – and we realised we better cut this down just a little bit, but we had so many cool things we wanted to stay. But again, it was just so easy to write.”
When I mention that the track will probably end up getting played at weddings or on people’s mix tapes, Janet laughs loudly and says, “It’s funny that you should say that because when we finished it, we said: ‘we have that everybody-cry-at-the-wedding song.’ No, I mean that would be great. I hope people feel what we were feeling when we were writing it, and I hope people experience the kind of happiness that we have because everybody deserves that and everybody should have that.”
The talk does return back to “Let It Be Over” and its poignant look at the world today, and it is obvious that it is a track that means a lot to both Janet and Justin. “There were a lot of things that obviously inspired that song: some of the lines about what are we doing to our planet first of all – our children deserve better than that. Between the two of us, we have three children, so that changes the way we look at the world because when we are gone, our children and the children of our children will still be here and what are we leaving for them? So that is what the whole thing is all about. There are also a couple of lines in there, the line about mowing down kids in the classroom. We live in Connecticut, and we live very close to where the Sandy Hook tragedy happened, and my son was in elementary school just down the street from there – so it could have been my son, it could have been him; it could happen to anyone. For about a week, it made the headlines, and it was in everybody’s consciousness, but then it just went away. Things like that continue to happen, and we can’t seem to work together to solve things, so that is where a lot of that came from. We need to work together, but everybody just seems to be working against each other, and it just doesn’t make sense.. it is a plea for that, you know?”
When I mention the fact that the album seems to have created it’s whole new rock sound that encases both the classic hard rock sound and the modern day rock sound, Justin says a lot of work went into making a sound for the album. “When we first started, we didn’t really have a particular sound in mind that we were shooting for, but then when we were about five songs into it, we realised: ‘Hey, we’ve got a sound going here.’ Between the two of us, it just happened, and I think that stems from a lot of the bands that we like and the sounds that influence us. We are very big fans of the 1970s and the 1980s, but we like a lot of new bands too – bands like Halestorm, Sixx:A.M., Beautiful Creatures, and I think that landed its hand into some of the unique sounds on the album. The other thing too is that with technology now, we have access to so many different things that we can try. The fact that we did this just the two of us – we wrote it, we recorded it, we produced it – we were able to experiment and try new things, and it was fun.”
“We have a home studio, so we recorded a lot of this in our pyjamas and slippers,” adds Janet with a laugh. “That made it really nice because we could just walk down the stairs, and at any moment, we were inspired by something we could just walk into the room and do it… and that is such a luxury. Because there was no studio time clock ticking, we could take as much time as we wanted, we could take breaks and go out to dinner or do whatever we wanted – there was no kind of pressure at all. There were no expectations from anyone, so we would pretty much write and record a track start-to-finish before we moved onto the next one.”
Janet Gardner is out on the 18th August.