Vixen's Janet Gardner and Justin James
By Jay Oakley
Well Janet, it's a little later in the evening but thank you so much for sticking around so we can talk for a minute.
Janet Gardner: Well, thank you for sticking around. It's been, kind of, a circus but I'm glad we have this moment to talk.
Absolutely. You had said, not only on stage but also personally that this is the last show on the first leg of your solo tour. So how did this show and the wrap up of the current leg go?
Janet: It went great. We had such a good time tonight.I love doing this. I love it being so up close and personal because some of the things that you and I were talking about like M3, you're, kind of, far away from the audience and I can't run out there. This is so great and so different and so much fun in a different way. It's so much more personal.
Absolutely and you were very active out in the crowd, singing out in the crowd. Is that something you like to do when you play venues that allow for it? When you don't have to jump over a photo pit to land in the crowd.
Janet: [Laughs] Right yeah, I really do enjoy that and when we do places like this, in a situation like this, it's your core fans and I love being able to get really close and sing right there. People are taking selfies and it's a blast, I'm enjoying it.
Yeah, you had a lot of fans out here tonight who are very supportive. They're not only very supportive of your new record but are very respectful of everything you've done with Vixen over the years.
Janet: Yeah, it's great. That's what it's about. When you reach people on a certain level and then they become a true fan, somebody that is going to stick with you even if you're doing something a little different, they'll give it a chance. They'll give it a good, solid listen and try to understand what you're trying to say to them. So yeah, this is really great.
I always like to talk a little bit of history which I typically do more at the end of interviews but I'm bumping up a little bit since Justin will be joining us shortly.
Janet: Right! Let's get this out of the way. [Laughs]
One of the things I wanted to touch on, when it came to Vixen because you guys have had a lot of history and you've had some very exceptional musicians who have been fortunate to play with you. We have lost Jan (Kuehnemund) recently, how was she as a person, as a band member, what are some of the things that you can tell me about her as a person?
Janet: She was one of the most easy people to be around, ever. Certain people you're around, I lived in a band house with her for years and we were together all the time and it's very rare when you find someone that never gets on your nerves. [Laughs] She was one of those people that was just so easy to be around and so kind and so easy going and a very rare kind of human being. Just really, really special and horribly missed. There's still times when I can't even believe she's not here anymore. It just doesn't seem fair, it doesn't seem right but she was very talented, really unique. I've never known anyone quite like her before and I'm sure never will again but definitely missed.
Do you remember where you were when you heard about her passing?
Janet: Yes, actually Share (Pedersen) called me. She was crying and said, "I just got the call, she's gone." So, we both hysterically cried for a while and then we just hung up the phone and then in the days after that we all, kind of, reached out, spoke to Roxy (Petrucci) and we, kind of, lived with it for a while and, sort of, let it sink in, which it still hasn't, I might add. I wake up some days and I'm not thinking that she's not here. So, over time, we started to talk about what would be best for her legacy and Vixen and how we could carry on and still honor her and keep her memory alive. So, it took a while but we were able to come to an agreement that, "OK, I think she would want this." We spoke to other close friends of hers who said, "Yeah, go out and play those songs. Keep that music going." So, we did.
You touched on it and since you did have a separation in the band with Jan being out of the band for a little while but having the Vixen name and you and the other guys doing JSRG (JanetShareRoxyGina.) I was one of the many fans that got to see you at M3 playing under that name. There's still a part of me that's like, "Dude, you should have bought a shirt that night." because I've never seen them since.
Janet: [Laughs] That's a short snippet of history.
When it came to her being out of the band and the majority of Vixen playing as JSRG was that because, at the time, you all weren't seeing eye to eye for her not to be a part of the band?
Janet: Well, the rest of us wanted to get out and play and we wanted to play it together. We did approach her, she wasn't ready to do that. She was happy with what she was doing and we respected that. We said, "Hey, if you're happy, go do your thing but we want to play and we are going to play the songs that we helped put on the map." So, with that understanding, we started doing it. It's unfortunate when you have that, when you have two forms of a band. Like, you see Great White and then Jack Russell's Great White, we had that for a minute. We didn't have the name Vixen but we had three out of the four members of Vixen working together, playing the Vixen songs. I think, eventually, she saw the light and said, "This is stupid. We should join forces, we should reunite the original Vixen, let's get it all out in the open, let's settle our differences and move forward." So, we were all really excited to do that. We were talking about it, we had the set together. We were like, "Let's play this song, let's rework the order, let's figure out how to do this." We were raring to go and it was such a devastating blow to all of us that we never actually got to get on stage together again. It's terrible.
Absolutely, she's definitely missed by the fans and there's definitely no denying the impact she had as not only just a member of a female band but also guitar playing in general. That's something that I like to point out more, we all know the impact that MTV had but she could play and she was very in-your-face when it came to that stuff. It's important to be aware of that, you can comment and make the stance about women's rights in metal but just as a guitar player, in general, that's something that's not worth ignoring.
Janet: Absolutely, she gave it all. She gave from her heart from her soul because that's the kind of person she was. It was the first thing that I noticed and the first thing that attracted me to Vixen when I first started talking to them about being a part of it. Of course, she was the only member of the band when I joined that was still in the band when we did the whole MTV-era thing. But, she was definitely the thing that attracted me to it. As a person, as a guitar player , as an artist. So, her legacy will live on and she definitely paved the way for female lead guitarists. There were other female guitarists before her, of course, but as somebody who would just rip solos, I think she really had an impact.
My last question involving Vixen, you had Gina (Stile) with you for quite a long time, doing wonderful things and playing on Tangerine and playing with Vixen, then JSRG and then back with Vixen but you also have Britt (Lightning) now because Gina has stepped aside. Please talk about Gina being a part of the band and now Britt being involved.
Janet: Yeah, I had a great relationship, a great creative relationship and a great personal relationship with Gina. She's a very dear friend, I think she's immensely talented and I love her to death. Had a blast on stage and off stage with Gina. Now, we have Britt and she's a super, super nice person and a very talented guitarist. We haven't played that many shows with her but everything's coming together great. So, it's all good.
Awesome. Thank you for touching base with me on some Vixen history. I really appreciate that, Janet. But please, Justin, come and get involved in this because we have you know. [Janet Laughs] So, I'm going to backtrack to one of my previous questions that we started off with so you can get in on it. It's the last show of the first leg of the tour. How was it? How has the first leg gone and how was tonight?
Justin James: It was awesome. Each night got better and better and tonight was just fantastic. So much energy, we're gelling together as a band, these songs are starting to come alive and just loving it. Having the time of my life up there, it was awesome.
Janet: I want to add something to that because you were talking about that before. the difference between playing the bigger shows were you're separated from the crowd and then doing these kind of things were you can jump off stage and go hang out and sing with people and do all that stuff. I'm enjoying it much more then I THOUGHT I would. Which is great because I knew I would like it. It's like, "OK, this is going to be something different. A little more close and personal." But, I thought, "Oh, all the traveling, it's a little different level." But, I'm having way more fun even then I thought I would and that's really cool. Part of it's because you're here. [Talking to Justin]
Do you have a current plan for the next leg?
Justin: Um, sort of. We're, kind of, doing the same thing we're doing on this. Continue to get better and stronger and just have a blast and kick people in the ass.
Janet: Do you mean, where we're going?
Yes, not just where you're going but do you have a current schedule or do you know roughly when you'll be going out on the road for that second leg?
Justin: Yes, right now, we have set in Texas. We hit in early December, we're going to be doing three shows out there. Two are confirmed, we have one more coming in and right after that we go out to LA at the Whisky, then Vegas, San Diego and then after that we're in works to hit Europe and go over there so we've got a lot going on right now.
Is the Vegas show at Count's Vamp'd?
That's what I figured. They've been picking up a lot of, not only, the great bands from the 80s but a lot of just great bands in general.
Janet: I think it's going to be a free show too.
Justin: It is going to be a free show. The first time Janet and I ever played together was at Vamp'd and ironically, we got married the next day.
Janet: Yes, the next day. So, it will be really great to go back there. We'll have a lot to talk about.
That's very exciting. I want to switch it over to the album because that's very important too that we definitely need to touch on because it's your album, it's your child and we got to here a lot of those songs tonight. Tell us about the album. The writing and to have it out and released and for the world.
Justin: It was funny because we started doing this right after the year began. It was probably about a week into January and it started with just me fiddling around on the guitar, Janet coming into the room saying, "What was that?" Of course, I didn't remember what the heck I was playing so she hummed it out, reminded me of what I was doing.
Janet: I said, "It wasn't that one, it was the one you were playing before that. What was that one?"
Justin: We did the first song and we still had no idea what we were doing at that time and we got through it and we were just so impressed with what we did and had no idea that we had that creativeness between the two of us that we decided to do another one and then another one and then about five songs into it we were like, "We're on to something here." and we said, "Maybe, we should put together a band. Maybe, we should do something more with this." Before we knew it, I think it was three, four months into writing and recording together, we had a full album ready to roll. Again, totally organic and super excited and we both just loved and looked forward to every day. It became, instead of, "Where are we going out tonight? What are we going to do? Lets go to the studio, lets write another song!" We had that bug in us and it was great.
Janet: Yeah and it was really good too because we didn't put any pressure on ourselves and we had no expectations and when you have that luxury that's when a lot of really honest and real stuff comes out because you're not trying to do anything and you're not expecting anything from the situation. We were just having fun in the studio.
Justin: And just trying to please ourselves.
Justin: Instead of thinking about trying to write a hit or making something that's going to make this group happy or that group happy, it was what was going to make us happy and this is what came out of it. It was a blast.
Was you relationship and subsequent marriage the catalyst for doing a solo album? Or Janet, did you have any interest in doing a solo album at any point in the past?
Janet: I never really, thought about it much. My priority and my thing was always Vixen or offshoots of that and I never really put a lot of thought into it. I did occasionally and it was definitely on my bucket list. At some point, I would like to step away from this, from what we talked about with all the expectations and the thought that, "OK, this might not be right for Vixen but it's something that I want to do. It's something that I want to say." Then, working with Justin, it added another element to that, of things that I might not necessarily have thought of and it just happened to gel and it was like, "This is great! This is a good time to do this." So yeah, it worked out great.
I'm under the impression that you two played all the instruments on the album. Is that the case?
Who did the drums?
Justin: [Points] Janet. She kicked ass.
Janet: I love rhythm section stuff. I really do. I think that it's like building a house. If you make a really good groove and a good foundation then it's much more fun when you start piling stuff on top of it. So, to me, it's always a priority to get that solid, to lay that foundation. So, I liked doing that and it was great because he was like, "It's all you. It's all yours." [Laughs] because he doesn't really like doing that and I used to not like it either. But now, technology is so great that you don't have to be amazing at it. You can cut and paste, you can say, "This is a great verse, let's put that here." It makes it so much easier to do and it makes it possible for somebody who's not great at it to be able to make it work for your song and that's what we needed.
Justin: She's being humble. She's great at everything.
Did you lay down the guitar and the bass work?
Justin: The guitar. She actually did most of the bass work too on there. Actually, all of it.
Janet: Yeah. We were always together doing this but yeah.
Were you always planning to call it a Janet Gardner album as opposed to you guys thinking of a band name? Did that ever come up in conversation?
Janet: It did and we did play around with a calling it a duo thing like The White Stripes. But, we definitely thought about every possible option. Now, we like it being a band because we actually have the people that we like being in the band but, at the time, it was just the two of us. Yeah so, we played around with a few names and a few possibilities and Justin was like, "You haven't done a solo album so people will be like, What!"
Justin: And, she's kicked so much ass over the years, she deserves this.
Well, please touch on those guys right quick. How'd you meet them? They ripped tonight and you mention tonight was your bass played designed your guitar.
Janet: Unbelievable. Yeah, Anthony (Gemignani.) We had a different bass player at first, it was a childhood friend of Justin's, who has a family and a lot of things going on so his commitment was questionable to what he was going to be able to do. So, Anthony made guitars for Justin and they were reasonably good friends, you tell the story now.
Justin: Yeah, I had met Anthony a couple of years ago. He owns a music school out in New Jersey and I did a show over there and he's just a great guy and then he started making guitars for me after that. She was talking about this childhood friend I had and basically, he learned bass while I learned guitar and stuff so we had that bond together. But, when he couldn't do this, Anthony's a phenomenal guitar player and I know he can pick up bass, I've been in that situation before, myself and we're out in the east so let's reach out to him, let's see if he'd be interested to do it and luckily for us he was and he wanted to be a part of it and he came out and totally kicked ass with us. Switching from guitar to bass is different but each night he got better and better and better. And Richie (Rivera,) our drummer, I did some shows with him years ago in another band before and he was just so much fun. He's such a great guy, he was just so excited to be out there, he's great to watch, very entertaining. Just a no-brainer, so we reached out to him. He came in and he's just phenomenal, so top notch, the guy barely ever misses a beat and the only time he ever does is when he loses a drumstick and tonight his bass drum pedal snapped on him or something but other then that, he's awesome and we're lucky to have them.
Janet: And talk about being prepared, we went in to the rehearsal for the first show and neither of us had one comment for him. Not one thing like, "Could you play that kick drum pattern different? Or this fill or that fill." Nothing. We went through every song, I was was like, "I've got nothing. I've got nothing to say." He nailed everything from the second we played the first song.
Justin: He's so good. We're so lucky to have him. He's great and he's just fun, besides being an incredible musician, he's an incredible great guy. He's just fun to be around and always happy and never drama.
Janet: Always positive, doesn't complain about anything ever and Anthony's the same way. He works his butt off. He made himself a bass to do this gig. So yeah, they're great guys.
Absolutely. And, one of the things you touched on that I thought was cool was when you spoke about doing songs that might not necessarily work here or with Vixen. I thought that was very cool because over the years, I've gotten to know Michael Sweet from Stryper pretty well and he and I will will shoot the occasional text back and forth but one of the things he said in an interview we did was he loves doing his solo albums because it allows him to do music that he likes that he just can't do with Stryper. So, I thought that was very cool because there's going to be Vixen fans that hear that you have done a solo album and will be excited to get more Vixen music when in reality it's not necessarily going to be that way. You as musicians have creative outlets for other stuff so it was cool to hear that, to a certain degree, is where your heads were at when working this album out.
Janet: Absolutely because there have been a couple of comments, "Well, it doesn't sound like Vixen." Well, why would it? What would be the point of that? Making a Vixen album by myself, why do that? Vixen is Vixen and that's great and I love doing that but it's nice to step away from that. It's nice to be able to go, "Well, Vixen wouldn't do that but we can." So, I think it's important that lyrically and musically say some things. You can't be in a box. Who wants to live like that?
What is it about this album that you want to see it achieve? I'm not necessarily talking about things like money, selling a bunch of this or that. I'm more interested in what you two personally want it to achieve. Do you have personal goals that you want?
Justin: That's a tough question.
Janet: Nothing really. I can honestly say that. This was a great surprise and the satisfaction in just doing it and being happy with it and saying what we wanted to say and for us it was a great bonding thing. It was a really great way for us to spend time together and being able to do something that we both love to do so much, together.
Justin: To me, it's achieved already what we wanted it to achieve. To make ourselves happy, to do something that we're proud of and that we can live with.
Janet: And, all of the great response that we've gotten and the people that are moved by it and the people that enjoy it, that's just icing on the cake.
Janet, Justin, thank you so much for taking a second to talk. It was a pleasure.
Janet: Thank you too. It was great. A wonderful interview.
Justin: It was a total pleasure.