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Finding Their Place In The Sun: An Exclusive Interview With JANET GARDNER & JUSTIN JAMES

By Ruben Mosqueda, Contributor
Monday, June 10, 2019 @ 11:17 AM

"We knew when we started working with each other that there was always a threat that it could drive a wedge between us on a personal level."

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Live Photos By Larry Petro/Petrofyed Photography

Singer JANET GARDNER released her debut solo album in 2017, which received favorable reviews. Joining Janet as co-writer and guitarist in the band is her husband, JUSTIN JAMES. Fast forward to 2019 and Janet has vacated her post in VIXEN to gamble on a solo career. Gardner released Your Place In The Sun on May 31st, which features some tasty riffage and melodic vocals. What's there not to love about that? “This is all fresh stuff, there’s nothing left over from the previous sessions, we wanted to start from scratch”, states the former VIXEN vocalist.

KNAC.COM caught up with Janet and Justin the eve before the release for the record and the duo are so enthusiastic about the album, it’s downright contagious!

KNAC.COM: Janet we know about your history with VIXEN, the departure from the band, and you wanted to write songs that you wanted. You’re going by JANET GARDNER and not under a band name. Justin, you’re very involved in the writing, recording and perfroming on the albums, so you could have easily named this something else.

GARDNER: Good question! When we first started talking about doing this, we threw around the idea if this was a band or should we be a duo. After much deliberation we decided that we’d go with JANET GARDNER because I have somewhat of an established fanbase. I think even if some people might not know JANET GARDNER they’re familiar with VIXEN and they’ll be like “Oh, that's the singer from VIXEN, I know who that is”.

JAMES: Janet busted her ass for years [with VIXEN] and we never did anything outside of that. I feel that she deserves the accolades for this.

KNAC.COM: You really have to check your ego at the door for this Justin.

JAMES: Yeah, you know I’m part of this, we’re a team and that is good for me. I know there are people that say "Oh, what is he doing on the album covers?!" We just brush some of that kind of stuff off. There are times when we respond back hoping to clarify that it’s the two of us that write, record and perform on the album. I can understand the confusion that people have, but I hope that explains to them what my role is in this. I’m just a lucky guy that gets to do something he loves with Janet. I love my supporting role in this.

GARDNER: I sometimes answer some of the fan questions on social media regarding Justin’s role in this. There have been partnerships like this before. The one that people would be most familiar with are that of PAT BENATAR and NEIL GIRALDO, they are billed under her name and they’ve done fine. I love that Pat gives him a lot of credit for his role in what they’ve done on all of those classic records. Now, people know them as PAT BENATAR and NEIL GIRALDO, that’s just great!

KNAC.COM: What are you two doing to make this remain a healthy environment to work and create? In a lot of cases, people who are married or together as a couple can’t work together.

GARDNER: I think for us, we worked on our own careers for a while before we even discussed working together. To be honest, we never really talked about it or seriously considered it, it just happened. We knew when we started working with each other that there was always a threat that it could drive a wedge between us on a personal level. There was a lot of trust there and we didn’t put too much pressure on it to work. The more we worked together, the more comfortable we became and it just worked out great.

KNAC.COM: How much material did you have specifically for Your Place In The Sun? Did you have a goal of 10-12 songs or did you just write until you thought you had enough for the record?

JAMES: It was probably a little bit of both. We started writing for this record at the beginning of the summer of 2018. We just wrote songs until it felt right for us, if that makes sense? We didn’t have a particular number, there were some song ideas that we felt weren’t as strong as the others so we left those alone and moved on. All the songs that made the album were the songs that we wrote for it.

We never ‘planned’ anything for the album, in fact we didn’t think that we’d do a second album. It just kind of all ‘just happened’ and next thing you know we’re working on a second record. Like Janet was saying earlier, with the first album we were kind of hesitant to do it because we thought it would hurt us. Then we realized that it helped us. I think on this album, we were even more comfortable with each other. We had been on the road together for a couple of years playing shows, it was just a lot easier. We got a chance to know each other better as musicians. I think that made Your Place In The Sun easier to make.

KNAC.COM: Justin mentioned that he didn’t know if there would be a second record. What would have been the game plan, being that you had left VIXEN to concentrate on working on your solo material?

JAMES: All me to clarify, I think we always knew there would be new music, but we just didn’t know when. We also kicked around the idea of working as a songwriting team for other artists that could be lucrative. It’s just so much fun. I think when other couples go out on the weekends and go on a date to the movies, we’re sneaking into the recording studio to work on songs and demo ideas.

KNAC.COM: There’s a number of great tracks on this album. Tell us about “Your Place In The Sun”, what's the inspiration behind that one?

GARDNER: Oh, that’s a great one. Justin came up with that fantastic riff. We quickly got to work on that, we wanted a heavy driving track with a positive message. We have kids, they’re in their adolescent age and it’s tough out there! We wanted to drive home the message that no matter who tries to knock you down, no matter what happens, hang in there and eventually you’ll be comfortable in your own skin. It took me a lot of years to do that, I know that. It takes time for you to be able to accept who you are.

JAMES: Janet had the idea to write a song with a positive message for our kids. It was such a cool idea, especially when it’s a song that's fast and driving like that. It’s just such a special song for us.

KNAC.COM: Since we’re talking about some of my favorites on the album, what's the story behind “Assassinate”? What a tune!

JAMES: I was noodling around with different effects while Janet was out of the house. We didn’t have a song with that kind of sound on it and I was playing around with the riff. I came up with the beginning intro part, then Janet got home and she came up with this cool chord progression, great vocal melody line to go with it and it just grew into what you hear throughout the day!

GARDNER: It has this ‘creepY and spooky’ vibe to it and that’s what inspired the title “Assassinate”. It’s not like trying to ‘assassinate’ me literally, but you’re just trying to hurt me.

KNAC.COM: What’s the story behind “Standing”? That’s another killer song.

GARDNER: [laughs] That’s one, if not Justin’s favorite on this album! [laughs] That’s another of Justin’s riffs! [laughs] We threw a few finger snaps on there and when the song starts, it like ‘boom’! [laughs] It’s somewhat biographical, I’ve been through a lot, I’m still here and I’m still standing.

JAMES: That’s one of the greatest compliments I have heard from people who have heard or bought the record, that “Standing” is one of their favorites or their favorite song on the album! [laughs] It’s one of my favorites! [laughs] Thank you! I love that song, I also have heard that song referred to as a VIXEN song on steroids! [laughs] That’s awesome! I love it! [laughs]

KNAC.COM: I’ll admit that with “Try” I was a little bit indifferent to the first 2-3 times that I listened to the disc, but when I have played it in the car on a number of drives to and from work, it’s grown on me quite a bit actually. What’s the story behind that one?

GARDNER: We wanted to set a nice musical bed, then tell a great story. I’m a huge fan of great storytelling in songs, I’m a huge fan of TOM PETTY and JOHN MAYER for that reason. We wanted to keep it simple, focus on the story, the lyrics of the song and I think we accomplished that. We didn’t want the music to get too overwhelming. I’ve been in a situation like that in the past where I had these feelings and we put that into this song.

KNAC.COM: And then there’s “Flamethrower”. What a way to close out the album.

JAMES: We’d go to the gym and we’d use that time to listen back to the songs, then select the songs that we liked and the ones that we didn’t like. We learned very quickly that “Flamethrower” is a great workout song! [laughs]

GARDNER: On the last record we closed out the album with “The Good and The Bye”, which was a rocker. This is similar in the sense that this is a song you play in the car and you drive fast! [laughs] We wanted to do something fun that wasn’t too serious and nothing fancy at all. We just wanted to rock!

KNAC.COM: Janet, you recorded your first ever solo ever on this album, is that correct?

GARDNER: That’s right! [laughs]

KNAC.COM: I didn’t recall seeing in the liner notes what song that was?

GARDNER: It’s the solo on “Kicks Me Back”! I never did that on any of the [VIXEN] records because my role there was to write songs and my ‘instrument’ is my voice. It was fun to record and Justin was so supportive. I think it turned out great, so it stayed! [laughs] Don’t get used to it! I like moving around stage! [laughs]

JAMES: Janet is known for her voice. As you know, she plays guitar on stage but she got her chance to showcase her guitar skills! I’m so proud of her!

KNAC.COM: Out of curiosity, how distracting is it for you to have fans record the entire show? Does that bother you at all? I get snapping a pic or two, recording a song or two but there’s people that record entire shows! I looked back at the show VIXEN did in Portland during The Rose Festival in 2015 and the entire thing is on Youtube!

GARDNER: We have [professional] photographers in the pit, they’re there for three songs, we get used to that because they’re not there the entire show. What you’re talking about does takeaway from the live performance a little bit. I used to want to take risks during performances, it’s a moment, then goes away. Like you miss a note, it was a moment and it would go away. Now EVERY single moment is going to be documented and it’ll turn up on Youtube! [laughs] It takes away from the spontaneity, the risk taking, now if something ‘sucks’ everybody is going to see it on Youtube! [laughs] I mean you can’t even try to cover a song that you don’t know that well, because if you miss a note of forget a lyric, it’s online! [laughs] And it lives there FOREVER! [laughs]

JAMES: I agree with what Janet said, but I would say that I’m able to ignore most of it because I’m playing my guitar and I have the stage lights on me so that I can’t see much of it. I’d love people to just enjoy the moment and the music. I don’t know if you can do that if you’re recording the entire show like that.

Janet Gardner Official Facebook

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