An Interview with Janet Labelle

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Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with the talented Janet Labelle. Among other things, we touch on what she’s been up to during the lockdown, her newest music, her opinion of the music scene today, and what she’s looking forward to the most once COVID-19 breaks.

If you would like to learn more about Janet Labelle, you can head over to her website or Bandcamp and dig in. Once you’ve done that, check out this interview with Janet. Cheers.

Andrew:
Janet, I appreciate you taking the time today. How have you been holding up over the last year or so? What have you been up to?

Janet:
Thank you, Andrew. I feel very fortunate to say that I’ve been doing okay through a year that has been so catastrophic for many. I’m thankful for my health, and of course, every day is a bit different and there have been difficult moments for me. I’ve been grateful to be able to make music at home this year and I took time to get reconnected with nature again. As a city girl now, but with a childhood spent in the New Jersey suburbs and camping every summer, my heart always resonates with the outdoors. I felt that being back in tune with the natural world and taking incredibly long walks near my home in Brooklyn this past year was immensely healing and helpful.

Andrew:
Before we dive into your professional career, let’s go back a bit. What first got you hooked on music?

Janet:
Music was always a part of my life, but there is one moment that stands out as pivotal for me. One of the strongest memories I have is listening to “Rocket Man” by Elton John when I was six or seven. I remember lying on the carpet in my childhood bedroom with my head in my hands, staring at the stereo, and hearing the instruments as they faded out at the very end of the song– almost as if the musicians were leaving the room one by one. I marveled at the “fade out.” It felt like a magic trick to me. I used to turn up the volume knob to the loudest point so I could follow the song to the very last note.

Andrew:
Who were some of your early influences?

Janet:
I think many people of my generation might have had this experience, but I grew up listening to the tape cassettes that my parents played during car rides. Music from The Eagles, Bryan Adams, Traffic, Fleetwood Mac were always in rotation. My parents had an extensive collection of tapes and records. My love of music certainly started there and developed over long car rides and from listening to records that they played at home.

Janet Labelle – Suddenly (2021)

Andrew:
Let’s talk about recent events first. Tell us about your new release, Suddenly.

Janet:
Suddenly is a special album to me that explores topics that I had been reflecting on for a while. The album began as two songs that I wrote on the piano that I later developed into two full-band versions. The songs were recorded to 8-track in Hollywood and then completed this year at Studio G in Brooklyn– one of my favorite studios. I played practically all the instruments. I got my start as a drummer in a Pop-Punk band, so I couldn’t resist laying down the groove on these tracks. When finalizing the songs at Studio G, I had the idea to make a piano and vocals version of the song “Suddenly.” I grew up playing the piano, so I always consider it my home base. This stripped-down version of “Suddenly” is a more intimate delivery of the song. It’s always interesting to have two versions of a song that you feel strongly about. I’m curious about how the different versions will resonate with people.

Andrew:
What lyrical themes do you tend to explore with your music? Is your music intensely personal, or are you only telling stories, so to speak? I understand that you’re exploring the complex concept of love lately. Tell us more about that.

Janet:
Writing lyrics has always been a means for me to explore my feelings around certain topics and experiences in daily life. It feels like an intensely personal process whether I’m writing about an event in my own life or writing from a storyteller’s perspective. The concept of love has always been an overarching theme that I’ve been inspired to write about since I was a teenager writing songs in my first band. Over the past few years though, I’ve become more interested in exploring the nuances of what writing about love means to me. The songs on the Suddenly EP are an exploration of different types or embodiments of love. The title track “Suddenly,” for instance, was written as an exploration in self-love, patience, and compassion while “Don’t Take Me Back” is a song inspired by romantic love and an exploration of painful feelings within a romantic love dynamic.

Andrew:
How about the production side of things? Do you self-produce, or do you bring in outside voices?

Janet:
Yes, I self-produce. As a multi-instrumentalist, taking on the production aspect of my music has felt like a natural progression for me over the past few years. Playing the instruments and making arrangements in my own songs allows me to feel a deeper connection to the music that I create. Of course, I often bring in other musicians to add their flair to the arrangements.

Andrew:
What are a few of your favorite albums and why?

Janet:
Of all the albums that come to my mind, these are a few special ones in my collection:

The Friends album by the Beach Boys– I discovered this album in my twenties after having been a Beach Boys fan most of my life. I was very much familiar with Pet Sounds and all of their popular hits, but when I heard Friends, I was instantly drawn to the raw, organic music-making and improvisational style of songs like “Diamond Head” and “Passing By.” Thinking about the Beach Boys at this stage of their career making music together in this way, recording most of the album in Brian Wilson’s home studio, felt deeply moving. When I listen to the album, it reminds me of the joy that I have when making music with friends. It reminds me of why I make music in the first place– for the sheer joy and love of it. You bet that I completely lost it at a Brian Wilson concert a few years ago when his band, including Al Jardine, played a song from this album.

Maid in Paris by Françoise Hardy is also a top album for me, with the first side of the record sung in English and the second side sung in French. The French side of the album is my absolute favorite­. Her laid-back and gentle vocal style tugs at my heart every time I listen to this record. Songs like “Pas Gentille” and “Mon Amie La Rose” are well worn out songs on my vinyl copy.

Stone Ground Words by Melanie– Melanie’s entire catalog has had a tremendous impact on me, but this album is one of the most lyrically poignant albums that I love. Side two of the album opens with a song called “I Am Not a Poet (Night Song).” Her lyrics in this song open with, “I am not a poet; living is the poem. I am not a singer; I am in the song.” I remember discovering this album in high school and was moved by these words– her lyrics have continued to resonate with me through my life.

Andrew:
What other passions do you have? How do those passions inform your music, if at all?

Janet:
I spend a lot of my personal time either birdwatching or going out to the Rockaways in NYC to surf. There’s an intensity of focus required for these two activities that energizes me. I often find myself deeply relaxed when engaged in either. The feeling I get is similar to the feeling I have when I’m intensely focused and engaged in a musical process. I consider these passions as each contributing something different and meaningful to my life, but I think that having these two outlets help me clear my mind and contribute to my ability to feel more grounded and focused when it comes to songwriting– or really when it comes to trying to accomplish anything in my day to day life. Occasionally, I’ve given a little nod to these passions in my lyrics too, for instance, in my song “Suddenly” with the lyrics, “The ocean blue surrounding me,” I’m very much imagining myself in the water here. Or in the lyrics for the songs “Birdsongs as Afterthoughts” and “From a Window” from one of my earlier albums called Bird Songs, which unsurprisingly has a lot of bird imagery.

Andrew:
Last one. What’s next on your docket? What are you looking forward to most in the post-COVID world?

Janet:
Well, first of all, thank you, Andrew, for your time and for having me on Vinyl Writer Music. I think one of the things I’m looking forward to the most is playing and attending more live music shows. After basically lying dormant as a performer for many months, I’m looking forward to doing a live performance this week on Radio Free Brooklyn (8/12 at 8 PM EST) and playing drums at a show (on 8/18) for Late Slip at Arlene’s Grocery in NYC. I’m also going to be sifting through some demos made this past year and working towards the next release. I’m eager to get back to live shows on a more consistent basis though– to absorb the energy of the room, and most importantly, to reconnect with friends and fellow musicians.

Interested in learning more about Janet Labelle? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interview

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

Andrew has always felt himself to be a "jack of all trades, master of none" type of person. With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found Vinyl Writer in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Stories from the Stacks. Over time, the column grew into a website which now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process.
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