Sunday, 24 September 2017

Interview: Janet Gardner of VIXEN

Vixen were one of those bands tailor-made for the MTV era, a time when catchy melodies and attractive ladies were a successful combination. It was a completely different time for the music industry when it was big budget videos that directly transferred to millions of album sales for artists. Vixen themselves had a brief meteoric success on their first couple of albums before the grunge era curtailed their career projection. They continued as a band with sporadic career breaks and the individual band members following their own different musical paths. After taking a break from the music business for personal reasons, Janet Gardner has returned with a new set of songs that she has created with her husband. Antihero Magazine spoke to Janet about the new album and upcoming plans.

Janet GardnerMark Dean: How was your video location searching?

Janet Gardner: Good. Very good. I’m thrilled. It’s going to be perfect.

Mark Dean: What song will you be doing the video for?

Janet Gardner: We’re going to do the song “Rat Hole.” That will be our first one.

Mark Dean: Will it be just a home-produced video? I assume there’s going to be none of that ‘80s big production video thing.

Janet Gardner: I’m not really sure what we’re going to do. We still have a lot to figure out. But, you know, the location that we found is just your basic video production studio. They have lots of lights, they have a white sync wall. So, we can pretty much do what we want. We still have to figure that out. But yeah, it’s kind of an edgy song. So, you know…

Mark Dean: These new songs represent the first new music from you in quite some time. I just wondered what has rekindled your passion for music again.

Janet Gardner: Well, you know it was always there. There are other things in life. When I became a mom, of course my main concern was making sure that no matter what happened I would be able to take care of my son. So that kind of music was there for fun, but as far as pursing anything that would take a lot of my time, it kind of took a back seat for a while. But now, you know, he’s old and mom doesn’t know anything, obviously. Now he’s 14, so he would just as soon I go off and do other things once in a while.

Mark Dean: What about the music title, will it just be following your name because it is a solo project?

Janet Gardner: Yeah. Yeah, for this particular stuff that I’m working on with Justin [James]. Yeah, it’s going to be just my solo stuff.

Mark Dean: Have you got an album’s worth of stuff already done?

Janet Gardner: Yes, we do. We are good to go.

Mark Dean:  I’ve enjoyed the three songs that you sent over to me

Janet Gardner: Thank you.

Mark Dean: I just wonder if you could tell me a little bit about each song.

Janet Gardner: Alright. Well, I think Justin sent you the song “If You Want Me.” That was the first song that we wrote together and we were both kind of nervous because we hadn’t worked on any music together, so we got the studio set up and he was down fiddling on a guitar and he was playing that “da do da do”. So, I started playing a couple of chords going over that and me singing a melody and before we knew it boom, we had a song. So, that was the first song that we worked on and then I think you got the song “Candle” too.

Mark Dean: Absolutely beautiful. I really, really loved that one.

Janet Gardner: Thank you. That, I’d had that bouncing around in my head for years because both of my parents passed away in the last ten years or so, and I was actually with my dad alone when he passed away and it was such an overwhelming feeling of loss and sadness, that that’s where that came from. So, I had fiddled with that for a few years and then when I finally got a great partner in Justin to kind of help me bring that to fruition, and also Jan [Kuehnemund] passing away. Some of the lines in that song sort of came from my feelings about that. So that’s where that one came from. And then “Rat Hole.” There’s a few kind of bitch fest songs. But it’s really kind of tongue in cheek also. It’s not all that serious, but people need to…If you listen carefully, you can kind of figure out what that one’s about, but I’m not going to say.

Mark Dean: So, do you have your own recording studio where the album was done?

Janet Gardner: Yeah. This is recorded, we recorded it right here at home in our pyjamas and slippers. So, it’s really great, because literally there was a couple of times where I got up in the middle of the night, at like three o’clock in the morning and went oh, I hear a string part that I’ve got to put down. So, you just run downstairs and flip on the preamp and just go at it on the computer. So that’s really nice, because a lot of times I just forget stuff. I will wake up in the morning and it’s gone. So, it was nice to be able to just do it whenever it came to you.

Janet GardnerMark Dean: Was it just the two of you that recorded the album or did you bring in other musicians?

Janet Gardner: No, it was just the two of us. A couple of times we talked about it and said well, maybe we should get someone in here to play some drums or have…But as we started doing it, it was like well, we don’t really need it. We just kind of did it all ourselves.

Mark Dean: What about the album release sale? Do you have an expected date for that?

Janet Gardner: We’re looking at the first single to come out in June and I think the whole thing will be out in July.

Mark Dean: Right. How’s that going to be released? Is that something that you are going to release independently yourselves or are you going to employ one of those very popular fan-funded type schemes?

Janet Gardner: No. I think we’re just going to release it ourselves and choose one of those things that get it out to iTunes. And get it out to all the…Just like a distributor. We’ll get it available and do it ourselves. So far, we haven’t really shafted or anything. So, you know, if something pops up that is a good deal for us, that we’re interested in, then of course we’ll consider it, but so far, it’s been just us.

Mark Dean: What about your views on those fan-funded schemes? I’ve interviewed a few artists and they are either pro or totally against those sorts of things.

Janet Gardner: You know, I haven’t really thought much about that. I think it’s a good thing. It lets people support you. It’s kind of like back in the really old days of like Mozart and stuff when they had patrons. People who would sort of support artists that they wanted to hear from. I think it’s a good thing.

Mark Dean: I mean certainly from the fan point of view you feel more of a connection with the artist, you get a little bit of an insight into the album before it’s finally finished and things like that. It’s a two-way thing.

Janet Gardner: We’ll do some things like that on our or will maybe have some little contests and here you can get in on it before anyone else kind of thing, but any kind of formal thing like that, we haven’t really. We had everything we needed in here, so we didn’t need money. We didn’t need to ask anybody for money to record anything and we’re keeping the budget really under control. So we don’t really need anything like that at this point, but I mean it’s been great. The response that we’ve gotten and the support that we’ve gotten just from Facebook friends. And fans that are interested in hearing what we’re doing. So, it’s been really great.

Mark Dean: And then obviously, you’re going to be out playing the songs live. I think I saw that you had one gig planned. Have you a series of gigs lined up to promote the release?

Janet Gardner: We are in the process of getting some more dates. We’re definitely going to…We live in Connecticut, so we’ll definitely do a local show here. That’s in the works. And then a few. We got a couple things on the West Coast, and of course we would love to come across the pond, so we’re looking at some things there. I’ve got some…August is totally booked with Vixen, so that’s out. We’re doing some stuff there. So yeah, and definitely the Mid-West. We have quite a few tentative plans there too. So yeah, it’s coming together.

Mark Dean: What about the format then of your album, solo album shows? Will it again be just you and Justin or will it be featuring a full band format?

Janet Gardner: Yes, yeah. We have a great drummer and a fabulous bass player and a second guitar player who’s also going to play some keyboards. So yeah, we have a five-piece going.

Mark Dean: Okay, just moving on then. I’m just wondering. You seemed to have taken a break from the music industry for quite a while. Obviously, you trained in a separate career. I just wondered if you saw in advance the changes in the way the music business was going and you decided to get out at that time.

Janet Gardner: Not really. There was…I did sort of… Obviously in the early ’90s and most of the ‘90s we were looked as passé, the whole scene that we were involved in. So, you know, it wasn’t very appealing to throw yourself out there and get people going, “eww, we don’t want to hear that.” So, you know, it was kind of a good time for me to, you know, do the family thing. And do other things that were important to me at the time and spend some time with my family. And you know, I would always sit down with a guitar. I always had things to say, but it wasn’t necessarily what people wanted to hear. So, I wanted to spend some time doing other things in life.

Mark Dean: How do you view on reflection the Tangerine album because it was a bit of a change of sound for Vixen? A complete departure from the sound of the first two albums.

Janet Gardner: Well, yeah. I mean during that time I really was listening to a lot. I loved and still love Stone Temple Pilots and Soundgarden and some of those bands at that time. So yeah, there was probably a little bit of influence from those bands and you know, along with my roots which are definitely in the ‘70s. Aerosmith and AC/DC and Led Zeppelin. I mean those were the bands that truly are rooted in my soul. So, you know, those will always be there and as you go along you hear other things that you like. It kind of has an effect on you. So really some of that came out on that album, and also a lot of the lyric content was obviously much darker than the happy ‘80s stuff that we did in Vixen. And that was just from life experience. You know, it’s got to go somewhere, so that’s where it came out.

Mark Dean: I watched the VH1 thing today, the bands were reunited. Do you feel, again looking back did that put unnecessary pressure on you all or is it something that you think might have happened anyway?

Janet Gardner: That definitely would have happened anyway. Bands, the whole dynamic of bands is very, very volatile. In any band. It just is. Everyone is passionate about what they’re doing and everyone has their own feelings on what it should be and what it shouldn’t be. It’s tough for bands to stay together tight. And you see bands go through it all the time. Members change and alliances changed and people’s feelings about things change. So, I mean, yeah. I think we were destined to come full circle and come back together anyway. So, no, I don’t think it was a lot of pressure. I think everybody was really happy to see each other and hang out and reminisce, and it was fun. You know, I think for the drama purposes of that particular show, they kind of focused on a few little awkward moments. I’m like, “okay, here we are. Now what do we do?”

Mark Dean: You did seem a little, well it came across on camera anyway, a little uncomfortable in parts of it.

Janet Gardner: I think they kind of did that on purpose. To create some sort of…

Mark Dean: Tension?

Janet Gardner: Yeah, tension or awkwardness. But no, I think it would have happened eventually anyway. We would have all sort of ended up saying hey, this was great back then, let’s do this again.

Mark Dean: You mentioned there you had some live dates booked for Vixen coming up. I was just wondering then with the newfound enthusiasm or the rejuvenation interest in writing and creating music again, if you have plans to pursue that through Vixen with maybe another album?

Janet Gardner: Yeah. For right now we are, our plans are to do probably a live release. Because we never did that with this line up. You know, certainly not with the original Vixen with Jan, R.I.P. She did a live release with her other Vixen band. But Roxy and Share and I have never done that. So, those are… That’s definitely in the works for this summer and we’re going to try and get some sort of live release, and then yeah, we’ll talk about doing some new music at some point.

Janet GardnerMark Dean: Vixen exploded massively in the ‘80s. Looking back, how do you view that period of your life where you had great success? It appeared to be suddenly thrust upon you. Was that difficult to deal with, the level of fame, the success and all that went with it?

Janet Gardner: Well, you know, we had been out playing for years before that. Before Roxy and Share joined the band.

Mark Dean: Was it?

Janet Gardner: So, we had definitely paid some dues and stuff. People say oh we were like an overnight success, which in reality it really wasn’t. It was a lot of hard work and a slow build on the fan base. But yeah, then obviously, we signed a major record contract and had the videos and the big studio production. So yeah, I mean it was…

Mark Dean: It was earned.

Janet Gardner: It feels like it was overnight. But it was very exciting to all of a sudden to be in front of, you know, big arena crowds and opening for big bands and things like that. It was totally a thrill.

Mark Dean: How would you intend to explain during popularity of that music period, the ‘80s? I mean you’ve got all those classic bands of that era still going out, still making music, still touring?

Janet Gardner: Yeah. I mean it was a really, really fun time and I think people liked to relive that. Why wouldn’t you? It was just so much fun, and the bands were all out having fun and people would come to the shows come to have a good time. I just went to see Tesla, Poison and Def Leppard the other night and that’s what people were doing. They were like just having fun. Great songs. Good times. That never gets old.

Mark Dean: No. It seems kind of ironic that all that era was ended by the grunge era which nobody talks about anymore. It hasn’t had the same enjoying appeal that the music that preceded it.

Janet Gardner: Well you know, everything kind of goes around and comes around, and I think the influence of those bands is still there in new rock bands. I think that that did have an impact on the rock bands of today. I hear bits and pieces of Stone Temple Pilots and Nirvana and Foo Fighters. For crying out loud, they’re still huge.

Mark Dean: Taking you back even further. What would have been your first introduction to music?

Janet Gardner: You know, my mom was a pianist. She played the organ at church. So, I would go sit with her and turn pages and fiddle with all the different sounds on the organ and stuff, and she would make me sing and I took piano lesson. My dad played violin. So, we were always around music. After a while I wanted to switch over to guitar, so my parents begrudgingly bought me a guitar, and that’s how it started. I was into local talent shows and I put together little bands and stuff like that, like kids do. Then I joined a group called The Young Americans right out of high school and we played all over the country and went to Japan and France, and so that was a nice way to get some stage comfort. Because I was really, really shy, terribly shy growing up. So, it was hard for me to get upon stage in front of a bunch of people, but I got over it.

Mark Dean: What sort of person would you be? Would you be a glass full or a glass empty? Do you always see the good in things, the good in the situation, the good in people?

Janet Gardner: Yes, oh yeah. I’m an optimist for sure. I always give people the benefit of the doubt for sure. You know, life is great, you know. If you look at the good things. It’s a lot easier to get up in the morning and move forward if you’re looking ahead and not looking at the bad things that have happened to you or the bad things that could happen to you. So yeah, I’m a glass half full kind of girl.

Mark Dean: What in your life would you be most proud of? Musically I mean, your music career.

Janet Gardner: Yeah, you know, I think that in general I’m proud of what we were just talking about, of moving forward and trying new things. You know, I’m proud of myself as a mom, I have to say too. I hope that I’m as good a mom to my son as my mom was to me, and that’s what I strive for. And musically, I think there’s never going to be one moment that I’m going to go, “oh that is it.” You know? Because once you do that too, where do you go from there? So, I’m still looking to expand and, you know, express myself more through music.

Mark Dean: So, you’re sill ambitious then? You still have hopes and dreams?

Janet Gardner: Absolutely. I’m still looking forward to that next wonderful moment on stage or in the studio or some great creation that moves people. That’s always the goal.

Mark Dean: Are you happy now, in that you can balance your two careers or do you ever see a day maybe where you can return and play music full-time or have you got a happy balance?

Janet Gardner: It’s funny that you say that, because I’m one of those people that it’s hard for me to do something sort of, you know? I’m one of those people who would get down here in the studio and stay up for three days straight without sleeping trying to finish a song or perfect something. And it’s been a really good experience for me to have to walk away from it, because a lot of times I’ve found now when I have walk back to it, everything is much clearer to me of what I need to do with it. So yeah, it’s actually worked out really well that I have to go deal with my son or I have to go do something else and walk away from it. So yeah, I am in kind of a happy place there actually.

Mark Dean: Just a couple and then we’re finished. Who would be the most inspiring musician that you have worked with? Is it difficult to pick?

Janet Gardner: That is really difficult to pick. Because everybody has their own contributions. And you know, my bandmates in Vixen have been great and I admire them very much and respect what they do, and that’s always been a great collaboration. I loved writing with them and working with them. Right now, I am loving working with my husband, Justin. He is so good at so many thing that I am not. His strengths are exactly what I need to help me get things to where I want them to be. He’s very patient, very understanding and supportive. You know if I’m onto something good he will just back me up. “Oh yeah, keep going on that. That’s great. That’s great. Keep that coming”. So, you know, there’s been so many people. Even with Richard Marx in the studio doing “Edge of a Broken Heart”. He was very good at the same thing. Just saying, “Oh go with that. That’s sounding great. Stay on that thought.” And Gina. The former guitar player. She was great to work with. We had a great rapport back and forth. So yeah, they’ve all been very special in different ways.

Mark Dean: I’m surprised and your positivity comes across about creating music with Justin. I’m surprised you haven’t gotten together and created some music before now.

Janet Gardner: Well I haven’t known Justin that long. We’ve only been married for about a year. So, and we were busy, you know, buying this house and settling here, and then of course the studio. Getting that set up was one of our first priorities after we moved in. But yeah, it didn’t take us long. We laid down these ten songs in a few months.

Mark Dean: Okay, then just to wrap it up. If you outline again your schedule for the next six months with regards to album release date and touring.

Janet Gardner: Our first show is May 27 and that’s a pre-release party. So, we’ll have some CDs there for the people who are there to buy. And the first video and single should be out beginning of June, and then we’ll probably release another single before we do…The whole thing should be out in July. And there’s some Vixen shows throughout the summer here and there. Then I’ll do some solo shows throughout the summer here and there, and just see how it goes.

Mark Dean: What about then for people like myself in the UK or indeed other parts of the world who can’t get to that show and get your album early? How can I get a copy? Is it available through your website directly?

Janet Gardner: It will be when it gets released. If you want one, I’ll send you one.

 

Mark Dean: That would be brilliant. Just a final one then Janet. I’m sure you’ve done many, many of these interviews over the years, but who would you like to sit down and personally interview yourself? Maybe not even musician, a hero, a personal information, anybody that comes to mind.

Janet Gardner: Let me think about that. You know who I would love to interview? It would be Ann Wilson of Heart. I would love to pick her brain, just because you know, I know she’s been through a lot. Her voice is absolutely out of this world ridiculous and I would just like, but I don’t really get a great sense of her as a person and I never really have, because I think she’s pretty private. And I would love to talk to her.

Mark Dean: That’s a bit coincidental. I did an interview with Nancy not that long ago.

Janet Gardner: Really? I didn’t see that on your website. I’m going to have to read that one.

Mark Dean: Yeah, I interviewed Ann a few years ago, but I fully understand what you’re saying. I mean it was difficult to get behind the answers and try and find out who she was.

Janet Gardner: Yeah. I have always been fascinated with her and I’ve never even met her, which is kind of weird, because, you know, we toured a lot, we travelled a lot. I met everyone else in the band except for her. It’s hard to get to her.

Mark Dean: Okay, that’s brilliant. Thank you very much for doing this.

Janet Gardner: Your welcome. Thank you, Mark. It’s been a pleasure.


About Mark Dean

I'm a 40+ music fan. Fond mostly of rock and metal - my staple musical food delights. Originally from Northern Ireland, I am now based in the UK-Manchester. I have a hectic musical existence with regular shows and interviews. Been writing freelance for five years now with several international websites. Passionate about what I do, I have been fortunate already to interview many of my all-time musical heroes. My music passion was first created by seeing Status Quo at the tender age of 15. While I still am passionate about my rock and metal, I have found that with age my taste has diversified so that now I am actually dipping into different musical genres and styles for the first time. Photo: Mark Dean with Jeff Kendrick of Devildriver - Photography by Olga Kuzmenko

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