Janet Robin Interview

photo credit: Alfonse Palaima

By Lauren Hurly

Boston Girl Guide's Lauren Hurley sits down with indepedent musician
Janet Robin.4/02

BGG: Are you working on any new recordings at this time?
JR: The last CD I produced mostly myself. I am now working with a different producer, Dan Marfisi. He's a drummer that's work with a lot people. He's really
creative, has a home studio. Even though I have a studio at home I opted to
work with someone this time around. Last time I did it alone. It's fun, goin'
pretty good! It's casual. We're also approaching differently- we're not "live tracking."
We're actually starting with the guitar and vocals, then building the tracks on that.
I like it- kind of a new and fresh approach. I will turn it into my own release again
or we'll see if we can get a different record label. I'm seeking another label just so
I can get more exposure.I can only do so much as an independent.
BGG: How did you get started?
JR: I started guitar when I was six. My brother played guitar when he was 10. I wanted to do everything my brother did. We were both taking lessons from a
woman doing folk & classical. He moved on to electric guitar who happened
to teach around the corner where we we're growing up in North Hollywood. I
wanted to move up to playing electric, too. I had a few years of classical then
I moved to electric at about 10 years old. We were both lucky because the teacher was Randy Rhodes, this famous hard rock guitar player, who has now passed away.
We learned everything from him. All electric playing, solo playing, everything. He was a great teacher. I studied with him for about 4 years. I was listening to garage bands around the neighborhood. Then in High School I got into the all female band Precious Metal. We were together for about 6 years; had a couple records out. I got my feet wet in the music business with that band.
BGG: Is Precious Metal a sore subject to talk about?
JR: I have mixed feelings because part of me wanted it to become more sucessful than it did because we put so much work into it. But then, the other part is I was glad when it was over because there were a lot of issues with the girls, the management, the label we were on. It was almost a relief when the band broke up.
BGG: How did it feel to start a new band on your own?
JR: That was a really big deal for me. There is a big chunk between Precious Metal and my starting my own band. About a year after Precious Metal broke up I got a great gig with Lindsey Buckingham. I was playing with him for about 3 years as a guitarist, sideman, whatever you wanna call it. That was such an inspirational gig to have. Especially coming out the thing with Precious Metal which was this nightmare of business crap. I got into his situation- totally pro, totally together at a way higher level. It was good! It was a good gig; he's amazing to work with, very inspirational.
So after his gig ended I did some soul searching. I was always a writer. I did writing in Precious Metal, sang back ground. I just thought, well, I'll just embark on my own and see what I can get going. So that's what I did!
BGG: What was the first gig?
JR: Actually I did an open mike. I was really nervous. It was only one or two songs that I had to play. I remember leaving the house drinking a couple shots of tequila (laughs) before I went to OPEN MIKE. It's not even a gig. It's like "Talent Show."
I brought two people with me to play because I was so nervous. Really nervous!
BGG: Did you play your own material?
JR: Yeah, couple of my own songs with these two guys playing, and me half drunk on tequila. My first real gig was at Molly Malone's. Right down the road, with my own band. I was frightened then, too. But I just went into it head on. "I'm just gonna do it", y'know? I knew I'd have to develop, I knew it was going to take time. But I really was OK with that.
BGG: Would you say that Lindsey Buckingham influenced your guitar playing style at all?
JR: Oh, yeah. I'd say a lot. I've been lucky because I've had these great guitar players in my life to inspire me. And I've been able to work with them in some manner. Randy Rhodes being my teacher, that was the first great thing. He was this amazing guitar player. Then I worked with Nancy Wilson from Heart when I was in Precious Metal; we wrote some songs with them. I got to spend some time playing guitar with her. She's always been a great inspiration. Then when I got the gig with Lindsey- it was like, "oh my God, another amazing guitar player and musician to work with." He's a perfectionist and expected the best in every way. Yeah, he influenced me a lot. I think you can tell his influence more on my second CD then maybe on the first one. He kind of got me back into finger picking more, which I studied when I was starting classical- that requires a lot of finger picking. And he is such an amazing finger picker that I had to get back to that when I was working with him. But just to watch him and absorb
BGG: How would you describe your guitar style?
JR: I'd say it's a hybrid. A mixture of all these styles. I went from playing in this hard rock, metal chick band to this really tailored guitaring with Lindsey. It's a hybrid, y'know? It's your basic aggressive rock guitar playing. I tend to have a pretty aggressive style, even on acoustic guitar. So, I'd say it's a hybrid of a lot of different styles of hard rock & pop.
BGG: Who would you say are your musical influence right now?
JR: Well, beside all these guitarists, I've had all these songwriters influence me. Bands like Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, Heart, the 70's bands. I grew up listening to all that. Even the quieter stuff- James Taylor, Carole King, some of those things. I listened to so much various kinds of music and had a big span when growing up.
Right now there's not really many out there but there is a woman named Garrison Starr. She's like the only girl, far as I know, out there right now who really rocks.
She has great songs, a great singer, she plays great guitar and is a good performer.
She has a whole package that I really connect to. Sheryl Crow is really cool. People say various things about her... I think she's a great songwriter, excellent singer. Very talented, very musical- I like her a lot. I also like Amy Mann. I think her thing is so cool and special. Those are the people I am listening to now that I'm diggin'.
I need to mention Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders because I grew up totally into them. I'm hoping there are going to be many more women rockers coming up out there. We need it.

BGG: In what other ways do you express yourself creatively?
JR: I try to paint but it just comes out in squares and circles (laughs). I do enjoy that but don't do it much of it. I think I could get into more art if I spent the time. Really, music is my main expression. I play other instruments like piano & bass. I can pretty much pick up any kind of instrument and play something on it. I'd say that and writing lyrics is my main form of expression. I get my feelings across that way.
BGG: Are you playing piano on the recordings?
JR: I haven't done that yet, mostly because I do not have keyboards right now. I do have to figure that out because I like what I have come up with but there are really no keyboard on any of my CDs. I played a little keys/synthesizer with Precious Metal.
I can create keyboard sounds on my guitar so I can simulate it if I hear something.
I have a cheap Casio and sometimes it works. We have had to use that before (laughs).
BGG: Are you interested in producing other people?
JR: I have been. There is one guy that used to come to my studio and I'd work on his
demos as producer. I enjoyed it. You can say "oh it's easy because I've produced myself so I can produce someone else now" but I think it's all hard. To produce yourself and then produce someone else. Especially someone else because you have to tap into their vision and then go along with it while bringing in your own.
You have to click- the artist and producer have to be on the same page and that can be difficult to find. Maybe someday- I think I have producer skills. I'd have to be the right artist, right time. There aren't many women producers.
BGG: Alanis and Sheryl Crow produced their own records.
JR: You just don't see a lot of women producing other people. Well, Sheryl Crow produced a little Stevie Nicks on her last thing. I thought that was really cool.
BGG: What do you write first?
JR: Usually I come up with a musical riff on the guitar, then come around with some sort of melody, I'll start harmonies on that. Then I'll start scribbling down some lyrics.
Then I get going from all that. Sometimes on the road I'll have a pad and jot random thoughts - keep writing & writing. I did that on my last tour a lot.
BGG: Do find yourself writing from real life experiences?
JR: Some are, some are made up stories.
BGG: How has the West Coast music scene changed since you've been in it?
JR: Well, I'm a native here so I've seen it change a lot over the years. It was really happening in the 80's, y'know, with Guns & Roses and all that- we were all having a good time, I was with Precious Metal at that time. Then there was the grunge thing, and L.A. was a desert, everyone was in Seattle. It was all up there so there was nothing much happening in the mid 90s. Luckily I was working with Lindsey then so I wasn't in that scene. In the late 90's, the Lilith Fair and singer/songwriter scene slowly started coming back. That's when I kinda started my own thing. It's gone through a lot of changes. And now I'm seeing a lot of rock bands coming back- not hard rock, necessarily. Just good pop rock bands with good songs, good singers & writers. I'm really enjoying that right now.
BGG: How do you see the future of women's music?
JR: I have no idea. It can only get better. As far as exposure; women are out there doing it and selling records. The whole Lilith Fair started out as a good thing but ended up being attacked as an actual style of music. Which is kinda lame because you don't say that when you think of a bunch of male singer/songwriters. They don't have some big name, like, The Zeus Pack or whatever (laughs). I just made that up. But it's sort of a shame because it brought the status of women into a different area.
I see it coming back. Sheryl Crow has been doing well for a long time- that says something. As far as the music business- I don't think it matters whether it's women or men. It's the records that sell that dictates what's going on in the business. What the public wants and buys is what sells and it doesn't matter. But I do see more women playing instruments now than I did 10 years ago. And that's a cool change.

Check out Janet Robin's website for information on her and her music: www.janetrobin.com.

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