Wednesday, December 2, 2009

SPECIAL SPOTLIGHT ON AMAZING SINGER SONGWRITER GUITARIST JANET ROBIN by Denise Vasquez

I've had the pleasure of seeing some of the most INCREDIBLE, heartfelt, musical artists perform live~ Etta James, Bonnie Raitt, Ray Charles, Jeff Buckley, Heart, Tracy Chapman, Mike Stern, Jeff Beck, Santana, Tito Puente, Alanis Morissette, Ani DiFranco, Beth Hart, Linda Perry...

To name a few...
AND...

JANET ROBIN

If you don't know who Janet Robin is, please allow me to introduce you to her in this very special FEATURE!

Janet Robin is an INCREDIBLE MUSICIAN, PERFORMER, AND TEACHER !!!

She has studied with, performed with, written songs with, and worked with MANY of our favorites~Lindsey Buckingham, Randy Rhodes, Heart & more!!!

Not only have I seen Janet perform live on numerous occasions over the years, but many years ago I took some private guitar lessons from Janet! She's an AMAZING musician as well as teacher & has opened up many doors over the years for many of us female musicians!

THANK YOU JANET!!!

I saw Janet perform the other night at the "Guitar Goddess Magazine" Launch party...her performance was BEYOND inspiring as ALWAYS!
I told Janet how I would love to interview her for my blog...she was totally into it, so here's the result of our INCREDIBLE interview...
-How old were you when you first picked up the guitar?
Actually, I was 5 years old but the teacher said my hands were too small, so I had to wait a year, so officially it was 6 when I started learning.
-Who inspired you to want to play?
My older brother initially inspired me. I kinda followed in my brother's paths... if they took karate, I took karate, if they took guitar I took guitar. My one brother, Steve, was a rocker. He listened to Zeppelin and Sabbath all the time. He really wanted to learn guitar. I followed in his footsteps...He's now a Dentist :), like my dad... but comes to all my shows...
-Who are your biggest influences?
Well, as my brother was listening to Zeppelin and all those late 70's, 80's bands, I was doing it too. I was into Jimmy Page, Hendrix, Heart, Black Sabbath, but also modern rock like Bowie, and of course, always The Beatles. At the same time, there was a side of me who was really into James Taylor, Carol King, Joni Mitchell, CSN and those more acoustic bands. When my brother moved onto electric guitar, we got a referral to study with a guitar teacher named Randy Rhoads. He taught at his mother's school around the corner from my parents house. Of course at the time, he wasn't as famous as after he got the gig with Ozzy but he was in the LA band, Quiet Riot. I followed my brother and also started taking electric guitar at around age 9. Randy was an amazing guitarist, not to mention teacher. He was really encoraging and inspiring to me as not only the youngest student, but also one of the only girls he had. He never treated me any different. I learned A LOT of my guitar techniques from him and later adapted them into my own style. As time went on, I had the opportunity to work with people such as Nancy Wilson (Heart) and Lindsey Buckingham, both amazing players and songwriters. I definitely was influenced by working with them. I had quite a variety of influences and inspirations, and still do even to now. I love Gustavo Santaolalla, the composer of "Brokeback Mountain" great guitar work in that soundtrack.
-How did you come to meet your teacher Randy Rhoads? Was he your first teacher?
Randy wasn't my first teacher. I had a few teachers at a place in the Valley called, Valley Arts Center. It used to be in Studio City and doesn't exist anymore. After that, I moved to Musonia where my brother was taking from Randy, but I was still on acoustic/folk and taking from a woman named, Arlene that was teaching there. After a year, I moved to electric after begging my parents to get me an electric guitar and then I started up with Randy. As mentioned above, Randy was a referral from someone, can't remember who, but I know my Mom also liked Musonia because it was really right around the corner from our house. Musonia is still there and Randy's Mom, Delores Rhoads, still teaches piano. I think she's 85 and I often stop by to say hi as my parents still live in the same house.
-How did you get involved with "Precious Metal"? Was that the first band you got
involved with? How long were you together?
Actually, no the first "bands" I played in were neighborhood garage bands. One band,
ROXX, our lead singer was the nephew of John Travolta. My first "paying" gig was a birthday party for Grandpa Travolta, and John Travolta paid us $100 to play the party at a rec room of an apartment building in Sherman Oaks.. I met John and it was very exciting. I was 12 years old. In high school at age 17, I answered an ad for an all-girl
band looking for a guitarist. I joined Precious Metal and our first gig together was a lunch time show at my high school. After graduating and doing a bunch of shows and recordings together, we got a song on KROQ local band hour with Rodney Bingenheimer and a record exec from Polygram heard us on the radio and asked to meet and talk about a record deal. I was 18.
-What was it like being signed to Polygram Records and then Chameleon/Capitol
Records?
We did ok with our first deal about 30, 000 copies, not a lot back then but it was an accomplishment for me. I think I thought rock stardom was around the corner but more hard work was coming. We eventually got dropped- not enough sales and our name "Precious Metal" was misleading as we really weren't that metal. More like hard rock, or like a female Bon Jovi. So radio had a hard time with us and also there weren't a lot of bands with female singers being played back then. There actually was a quota of how many "female" fronted songs they could play on a radio roster. After several years, we finally got signed to Capitol. That opened up more doors and we had a little more money to sustain ourselves. We had better tours, opening spots, tour buses, etc.. I was older and could appreciate it more. Unfortunately, it was 1989 and right before the "Grunge" revolution started and our music was going out of date. They tried to promote us but radio wasn't into, so we eventually got dropped from that label. That was around 6-7 years of being in the band, and we all decided it was time to move on.
-What was it like writing songs with “Heart”? What songs did you write with them?
I wrote 2 songs with Ann & Nancy, and Sue Ennis, along with my singer Leslie. Capitol put us all together thinking it would be a good match. I think we wrote a couple of good songs on our last record. One made it - "Trouble" and Nancy is guest guitar and background vocal. It was exciting for me, as I'm a big fan of Heart and they were a big influence. Now we were working together. Later in years, when I played with Lindsey Buckingham, Nancy came out to the show. I also opened for Ann & Nance on one their acoustic shows. Though we go in and out of contact, she's been a great supporter
throughout my career.
-When did you start writing songs? When did you first write a song for yourself? Do you have a preference of writing songs for yourself or others?
I think I started messing around with writing at an early age, maybe 9 or 10. I used to use two tape recorders and do sort of a multi-tracking experiment. I love writing my own songs, but also have a lot of experience in collaboration, having been in a band for so long, and I do enjoy writing songs for other artists or score compositions for tv/film. I just did some instrumental guitar pieces for a webseries. I really enjoy doing those
projects as well.
-Do you have a technique to your writing? What is your process?
My process depends on the project. If I'm writing my own songs, usually I start with some chords, or riff or musical idea on the guitar, since guitar is my first instrument. I might hum or sing out a melody, and then I start replacing the melody with actual words even if they don't make sense at first. As I work on it, I try to make sense out of the whole song and tell some sort of story. If it's another project, like a film or tv show, I write depending on the scene or emotional need of the scene or title, usually with help of a music supervisor or director.
-What do you like writing about?
That's a tough question to answer because it really depends on what's going on in my life at the moment...sometimes relationships, sometimes self-discovery, sometimes other people's relationships...sometimes travel experiences, etc.. I try to relate to it in some personal way.
-What inspires you?
People, places, things :) Emotions, travel and inner self discovery.
-How often do you practice?
I play almost every day, as I have guitar students quite often, but regular practice depends on if I'm in writing or performing mode. I'm always playing, though. For a typical one off show, I might practice the set 3 or 4 times myself and with band members if it's a band show.
-Do you have a preference ~ playing guitar, singing, or writing?
Well, guitar playing is my first love. Singing and writing go hand and hand. I love both.
-How did you hook up with Fleetwood Mac guitarist Lindsey Buckingham? How did
playing with him influence you?
After Precious Metal broke up, I was referred about a year later by someone who knew me at Polygram from years ago, to audition for Lindsey. He was looking for another girl to complete his 5 guitar army. I auditioned one day- it was long 5 hour audition- playing parts, singing background parts, talking, hanging out. Lindsey doesn't do anything fast! we just sort of hung out and jammed. He's kinda old school and wants to make sure he also "gets along" with his bandmates. I can see why, having been in Fleetwood Mac and so much drama. I think he was looking for fresh faces, young musicians, no drama, and fun on stage and off. He influenced me in more ways than one. Guitar playing of course had to be at the top of your game. Singing background's had to be perfect and your performance on stage had to be classy. I learned to be a pro in that band. Precious Metal was a good band and we had some pro success, but it wasn't anything like being in LB's band. He expected perfectionism. So much so, that after many rehearsals, he would listen to tapes of us individually on different tracks. We didn't know we were being recorded at the rehearsals. Any issues with our playing or singing, and he would sit us down individually and talk to us. Basically, if there were any problems, he would say "you better fix this or I'm gonna have to fire you" It was crazy! Definitely put the fire under my ASS to do my best, to rise to the occasion, and focus all my efforts on his show. It paid off because I was able to learn so much from that experience. Also, as time went on, he saw that I was a writer and encouraged me to write more, sing more and express myself. A few times we got together for some jamming-writing sessions. He was a bit of a mentor without knowing it. It was great. I still keep in touch and just saw FM this year in Anaheim. He's a great musician and great person.
-You debuted your solo album in 1998? How many albums have you released to date?
I have 5 cd's now.
-Do you have a favorite album? If so, why is it your favorite?
Well, I have attachement to all my cd's but my newest one, Everthing has Changed, feels the most like "myself" capturing my guitar work, writing, singing, and humor. Also, it was a unique experience working with John Carter Cash at Cash Cabin and recording in
Nashville.
-How does having your own label differ from being signed to a major label?
Well definitely, there is more artistic control. You can basically do whatever you want, record any song you want and present yourself however...
-Tell us about your newest release “EVERYTHING HAS CHANGED” how did it come to be?
I was thinking about my next recording and what I wanted to do.. I wanted to mix more acoustic with electric, I wanted to write about some of my travels...having been to Czech Republic several times and playing in Europe. I wanted to write about some self discovery and relationship issues that I hadn't really explored in a while. I also wanted to work with a new producer. I thought about doing it myself but I was interested in working with someone this time around, and perhaps away from LA, even in Europe at one point, I thought about recording there.
-How important are your fans to you? Is it true your fans helped support your newest
album?
My fans are pretty much everything in regards to keeping me going...support and encouragement and even this time, in financial ways. It's up and down being a musician and stressful at times and with no label support when I was writing this new record, I wasn't sure how I was gonna be able to record it.
-How did you end up working with John Carter Cash on your latest project?
I'm gonna keep answering the above question in conjunction with this. As I was exploring ideas for my next record, I was with a friend during XMAS two years ago and we watched "Walk the Line" which I had seen before but not in a long time. My friend mentioned to me I should cover a Johnny Cash song...I'm not much of a country artist but always thought Cash was cool, athough I frankly didn't know much about his music. After watching the movie I got insipired about Johnny and June's relationship and did some research to see if they had children together. They had children from previous marriages, and only one son together- John Carter. I found more info about him and that he was a record producer in Nashville and ran his Dad's private studio, Cash Cabin in Nashville. I found Cash Cabin on myspace and sent a message about possible production together, thinking maybe only the studio manager would get back to me, but 2 weeks later, it was John himself who responded, listened to my other songs on my myspace and mentioned the possibility of working together. He gave me his personal email and cell phone to have a meeting. We stayed in touch for a year, as I got a gig playing guitar for Air Supply and he was writing a book. I also had to write more songs for my new cd. Finally, we set a date and budget for the recording. I didn't have the money, so I took the project to my fans. Basically asking them if they wanted to be involved as donors to the project. Not paid back- just full donation, but they would receive their names on the cd and a free cd. I was totally overwhelmed by the response and people started sending in donations to a paypal account I set up. This is the wave of the future, if you don't
have a full-fledged record deal. The fans are part of your career. They support you, they encourage, they spread the word, and if they donate, then they feel like that are part of the creation of your work, which they are! I couldn't have done this without my fans and supporters.
-Congratulations on your licensing/distribution deal with Hypertension! Does this mean you will be touring Europe in the near future?
After recording this cd, I did get it picked up by Hypertension Music. It was a referral by my friend, Colin Hay, who also has a deal with them. Again, I had to reach out to fans a second time because the first cd only had 8 songs on it. With this deal, they needed a full cd so I had to record 2 more songs. I raised an additional $4,000 to head back to Nashville and record 2 more songs with John Carter. I will be touring Europe again, this January opening for Midge Ure (Ultravox, Bob Geldof) 3 weeks.. again in April/May and this summer. I enjoy very much touring in Europe and look forward to it. There is a great appreciation for music of all genres, genders, and ages. Hypertension is also a European booking agency, so it's a good one-stop licensing deal.
-What challenges have you faced being a woman in the music industry over the years?
Well there have been some.. mainly being a woman guitarist but I practiced and worked hard and just didn't listen to comments like "you're good for a girl" sometimes I would challenge them and say "what exactly do you mean??? There are a lot of classifications in music and but in the end, if you work hard, present yourself with respect, you will gain it, male or female. You can never think of yourself as "less than" because your girl. I think there's a lot of insecurites out there but the music business itself is tough so you better stand tall. Work hard, practice, be industrious and respectful.
-Can you offer any advice to aspiring female musicians?
Don't let anyone tell you anything is different being a woman! work just has hard as anyone else out there! Treat yourself with respect as others will if you do! Work with guys and girls! Stay creatively open! Stay positive!
-Any Upcoming Tours, events, shows?
Everything is listed on www.janetrobin.com
-Where can someone purchase your music & merchandise?
-Anything else you would like to add?
Don't give up! Keep working and improving and always be open!
For more information on Janet Robin visit her website www.janetrobin.com

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