Janet Gardner and Justin James: Live At The Whisky
Janet Gardner is best known as the fierce vocalist for the long running Vixen – whose hits songs Edge Of A Broken Heart, How Much Love. and Cryin’ remain all time rock and roll fan favorites. Late last year, Janet Gardner released her first solo album through Pavement Entertainment – in collaboration with her husband, guitarist Justin James.
Janet Gardner and Justin James were on the road in early January with complete band in tow, one of their stops being the world famous Whisky A Go-Go on the Sunset Strip. Prior their explosive live performance featuring both impassioned solo material and Vixen classics, we caught up with Janet Gardner and Justin James backstage at The Whisky for an all-encompassing interview. Read on…
At what point did you guys decide that you wanted to do this project together?
Janet: Well, you know, we got married, moved into a new house, set up a studio. We didn’t really have any expectations, we’re both musical, so –
Justin: It was funny because we actually kind of avoided it for a while because we were afraid that, what if it causes tension? What if one person doesn’t like something that somebody truly believes in? But it turned out to be exactly the opposite of that. It just – it brought us closer. But to answer the question, though, it was about a year ago. We started.
Janet: Yeah. Right around this time last year we started. So a lot has happened since then.
So what is the best/worst part about having your spouse in the band?
Justin: I don’t think there is the worst part to it. I really mean that because we just have so much fun together in everything we do, and we get to share this together, is just awesome to me.
Janet: Yeah, it’s a true answer, though. There really isn’t a downside to it. We make a great team and when one person’s struggling with something the other person jumps in to help and vice versa. It’s a great partnership. So, yeah, there really isn’t a downside.
How would you describe what you’re doing on your solo project to a Vixen fan?
Janet: Well it’s me, and, you know, I always do what I do. It’s got some elements, definitely, of Vixen, but it’s got a lot more different influences that have come from different parts of my life. And, of course, Justin adds so much, in so many different ways. I mean, guitar sounds, just a different way of thinking that we didn’t sit down to make it Vixen. So, you know, we had the freedom to add whatever we wanted. So, there’s some 70s influence, some 90s, some 80s, of course, and, you know, the 2000s.
Justin: That was another cool part about this was when we sat down ,we never had a sound – we didn’t say we have to sound like this or we want to sound like this. We just did what came out of us each time we sat down to write a new song, and it just kind of naturally and organically formed what it is.
Let’s talk about some of the songs. Select two songs from the LP, what inspired the lyrics?
Janet: Okay, well you pick one that you’re curious about.
The one where you’re talking about the problems of society, the guns,Let It Be Over?
Janet: Oh, okay, “Let It Be Over.” You know, we both have kids. So you look at things a little differently, and you think a lot more about the future and what we’re leaving to them. And things that we can do better for them, as a society. So that’s obviously touched on a lot of concerns about the environment and guns, obviously, the Sandy Hook thing happened 10 miles from my house. So that was my son was in an elementary school 10 miles away from where that happened. So that really hit me hard. And what else is in that song?
Justin: Just about the stuff that goes on in the world. Just war and issues like that. The sad things that we, unfortunately, hear about so often in the news. And just how – why can’t we just be peaceful with each other? Instead of always fighting or trying to outdo each other.
Definitely a hard-hitting song.
Janet: What another one should we talk about?
Justin: Hippycrite. That’s an easy one to talk about.
Janet: Well then you have to talk about that one.
Justin: Alright. You know, that song is basically just about people that always put on this persona of one thing and then as soon as you’re not around, behind their back they do the opposite – they’ll tell you you’re wonderful, you’re a great person, then the first chance they get they turn around and badmouth you to everybody else, and contradict themselves constantly. To kind of tell a story, what really inspired it was the one night we were out at that bar –
Janet: Yeah. Well, you know, it was cold. And we’d been cooped up and we’d been writing a lot. So, we decided, let’s go out, let’s blow off some steam. So we went out [laughs] and through the course of the night we saw people we knew and acquaintances and we met new people and everyone wants to get into deep conversations and it’s just funny that people who are preaching a lot certain things are the very people who are not living it at all. Oh, peace and love this and that and they’re the biggest back-stabbing person ever. It was just funny we were talking about it on the way home and there’s like a particular person we were talking. Acts like such a hippy but he’s really an asshole and does terrible things to his coworkers, Justin is like ” Yeah he’s a hypocrite.” So I said, a Hippycrite! We made up a word, cool! So then we ran home and wrote the song. [laughs]
Janet, how has it been to be up there singing without the other three members of Vixen? Exciting? Nerve wracking?
Janet: Yeah it is exciting. It’s cool because it’s obviously new songs that I’m doing different things on, singing differently than I do in Vixen. It’s really fresh, it’s exciting but it is a little nerve wracking because we haven’t played them that much. I’ve played the Vixen songs, obviously, forever! [laughs] So it’s kind of autopilot. We have fun on stage, but this is new and different and it has a lot of, for me, it’s more personal and has more emotion to it. So it’s great.
What’s going on with Vixen, any new music coming out?
Janet: We have a live release coming out with a coupe of bonus tracks on it. One that’s a new song and one that’s an acoustic remake of a classic. Yes, we have that coming out, we have some cool festival dates coming up in the summer. We’re doing Sweden Rock, Graspop Metal Meeting, Barcelona Rockfest and Nottingham just came in. So, those are gonna be really cool. We haven’t played those big European festivals in a long time.
Would Vixen and Janet Gardner ever want to tour together or do a show together, festivals?
Janet: That’s an interesting thought.
Justin: I honestly never thought of that.
Janet: Yeah, I’d do double duty. Oh god I’d be dead by the end of the night.
What do you think has kept you so passionate about Vixen and about music after all this time?
Janet: Once it’s in your blood, you can’t get rid of it whether you want to or not. It keeps you alive. it keeps you vital. It’s great way to express yourself and the creative part of it, I love that especially with Justin. It’s so satisfying to create things. It’s just something that once you do it, you can’t stop. It’s not possible. Then playing live, it’s the same thing. There’s no feeling quite like it.
Well you’re here at The Whisky tonight, when is the first time you both played here and with what bands?
Janet: Mine was obviously with Vixen. I can’t remember the first time, isn’t that funny? I think we’ve only played here twice, actually. The last time was probably 30 years ago. Can’t remember exactly, isn’t that terrible? It certainly felt cool walking back in and just, woah, taking you back in time. It’s really exciting that we get to do that.
Justin: I’m a Whisky virgin, this is actually my first time ever being in the whiskey. This is cool, exciting.
Do you have any messages for Vixen fans who are reading this right now regarding your solo project?
Janet: Hope you like it.
Justin: Buy the album.
Janet: Yeah, check it out. It’s a little different than Vixen but it’s still got a lot of elements that I’ll never get rid of because it’s part of me. That 80’s thing. [laughs]
(Interview by Ken Morton – Photos by Joe Schaeffer)