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Articles Home » Music Talk » VIXEN Interview with Janet Gardner
VIXEN Interview with Janet Gardner


Interview with Janet Gardner

By:  Nina McCarthy, Senior Music Journalist

Boston Rock Radio



Before her show at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT, I was able to have a pleasant chat with Janet Gardner, lead vocalist of the legendary all female rock band Vixen.  Gardner also recently teamed up with her husband and guitarist/songwriter/producer, Justin James, and released a solo album on August 18th via Pavement Entertainment.  Joining me in the interview was contributing writer for BRR, Lisa McLaughlin, who reviewed the solo album HERE.



BRR:  I know you weren't there from the very beginning, but how did Vixen form?


JG:  Jan Keenum, the original guitarist (RIP) formed the band in Minnesota with a bunch of her friends.  The guys were getting together and forming bands so she did it with her friends.  None of them played to begin with.  They're like OK you're going to play bass, you're going to play the drums, I'm playing guitar, and you're playing you know whatever.


BRR:  They were still in high school, right?


JG:  Yeah. That's how it started and then they all moved out to California and then one by one people started to become interested in other things and wanting to do other things.  So when I joined the band it was before Roxy or Share were in the band. It was just Jan and three other girls and we toured in a van, in a station wagon, you name it.  We just got out there and went across the country a bunch of times and we decided to come back to L.A and we all got day jobs, the dreaded day jobs.  But, we wanted to advance.  We wanted to do some demos, look for management and try to get things to the next level.  So we got really involved in the L.A scene at the time which was a blast.  We were playing a lot and going to see a lot of bands.  It was like a postering war, you know, there was no internet.  There was no way to promote yourself except leaflets and flyers and plaster the Sunset Strip, put them on windshields, do whatever you had to do.  So we did that for a while and then we found management. And incidentally he was managing Richard Marx at the time too. And so he got us a record deal and we went in and we started recording and then it was towards the end we talked to Richard a bunch of times because we knew him from having the same management.  He said we should write a song together and do something together and then his record took off and he was gone and out on the road.  He told us not to release our record right away because he had a couple ideas he wanted to run by us and he had a song for us.  We went in with him and finished that song and then everybody flipped out. The record company went, “Oh my god, this is the greatest thing ever. It's a hit song. You guys are on your way.”  And we were. Surprise, surprise they told the truth.


BRR:  How did the name originate?


JG:  They had a couple of different names.  I think they were called Genesis and then someone else obviously had that one. And then they were called Lemon Pepper or something like that.  They were trying to think something good for an all female type of thing and somebody just brought up Vixen and it stuck.


BRR:  And so even though the band was formed much earlier, you weren't signed until 1987.  What seemed to be that pinnacle moment for the band, like you knew that was when you made?


JG:  Well you know, the moment that we we played the showcase for EMI at the time with Manhattan Records and then they they said, “Yeah, let's do it.  Let's make a record.”  That was one of them. There was a bunch of them.  That was a big moment and I remember when I was driving in my car down the 405 Freeway and “Edge of Broken Heart” came on.  I mean I was like, “Wow!  I had to pull over.  I couldn't even drive.  I was screaming and had to call my mom.


BRR:  I can't even imagine what that must be like!


JG:  So that was a big moment.  And then when we started touring and we opened for the Scorpions and that was a big arena tour and that was just a mind bogglingly dream come true time.  It was amazing. And I was really nervous too if their crowd would take to us, but they did.


BRR:  Great! In an industry dominated by men, how did it feel to be the alpha female?


JG:  We really honestly didn't pay that much attention to it.  We were focused on the music and performing and doing what we do and didn't really put much thought into the fact that we're women we're not supposed to do this.


BRR:  That's good because it might have held you back.


JG:  Right, exactly.  We made sure that we had our act together because we knew people were going to be very critical. “Can they really play?” Whereas, guys they didn't really look at them like that.  So yeah, we just worked really hard.


BRR:  Being an all female band, did you find you were not taken seriously?


JG:  Sometimes people were skeptical and thought, “Oh, it must be some producers thing that he threw together or you know they're not really playing.”  That was silly even though there was some of that. Hey you know the more we played, the more people we got up in front of the more people were like OK they are just a band, a really good band.


BRR:  How long was it before you actually gained that respect?


JG:  I don't know. We’re still trying to!  There's still people who think girls shouldn't be doing this.


BRR:  Some of my favorite local rockers are female and I respect that so much.


JG:  Me too. I mean, I'm cheering all of them on!


BRR:  What kind of struggles did you encounter as an all female band, personally and professionally?


JG:  A lot of it was the same as any band. You know you have to dedicate yourself.  You have to go on the road a lot.  You know your personal life is always affected. You sacrifice time with loved ones and you can't even keep a plant alive, you know what I mean because you're never there.  So some of that of course is difficult at times.  And then, just night after night and not making enough money and you know having to think about your future and should I give it up because you know I want other things in life too.


BRR:  And you have your son too, obviously. (Which was cool to meet him too.)


JG:  Yeah all of that. It's a constant, you know, you love it more than anything else.


BRR: You have to in order to not give up and make it.


JG:  Yeah. But there are certain realities in life like food and a place to live and things like that.  All musicians have the same struggles and that's why some give it up early in their life and they say, “What are the odds of my getting anywhere with this?”  So it becomes a hobby.


BRR:  It's getting harder and harder.  So, when did you decide to reunite as a tribute in Jan’s memory?


JG:  We were planning on reuniting with her.  So we had set a lot in motion there and unfortunately she passed away and we thought, “What are we going to do?  What would she want us to do?”  And everybody that we spoke to and in our conversations everybody was like,  “I think she would want you to go out and play those songs and honor her memory and keep those songs alive that she was such a part of.”


BRR:  How does your solo endeavor differ from Vixen's iconic style, besides having your husband involved?


JG:  It was great because it was nice to step away from the expectations of what people think Vixen should be and it is great to be able to experiment and do some different things and some things that maybe wouldn't go over well as Vixen.  You know, not everyone feels the same about everything lyrically, musically, you name it.  I just wanted to have a little bit of freedom and with Justin, when we sat down and started writing after the first few songs we were talking about them and we realized what was so great about working together is that we could both be so much ourselves.  We didn't have to fit into anything. It was just us being us.


BRR:  I think Lisa said she read somewhere that it just came naturally too.


Lisa:  It was a very organic flow.


JG:  Totally.  There was nothing forced because we didn't put any restrictions,  “Oh no that's not going to work because we want to sound like this.”  If we like it, then it was good.  Then it didn't matter if it was like, “Some people might be put off by this.”  It’s kind of like if you don't give them something honest and real, then you're not giving them anything.  That's kind of where we were coming from.  We're happy and there's no egos and nobody is pouting because their idea didn't blossom into something fabulous. Some things don't go anywhere and we knew that.


Lisa:  And taking on some of the same issues that you did with the insurance companies and talking about how they they rape the individual.  That was such a great song. I loved the way that you did that.


JG:  I mean those were things that various times in my life I would question, “Oh, is that too political?”  It was total freedom: this is what I think, this is what I feel, and this is what's going out there.


Lisa:  And that's the beauty of the beauty of the Constitution.


BRR:  Was there any marital discourse while you wrote, produced, and performed your solo material as newlyweds?


JG:  We were very concerned about that.  We have both been in relationships before that didn't work out so well when they tried to make music together.  So we were really concerned about it, mostly me. He said, “Oh come on.  It will be fun and it will fine.”  I was like,  “Well what if it doesn't work and then it kind of drives a weird tension thing into our relationship. I don't want that.  It's not worth it.  So, let's just take it slow.  Let's be really, really conscientious about each other's feelings.  I think we're both grown up enough that we check our egos at the door so let's get naked and do it!”  So we did (laughing.)


BRR:  Awesome.  On that note, any advice as newlyweds, particularly for newlyweds working together musically...or anybody in a relationship working together?


JG:  I think you just have to you have to do two things:  you have to try to be very sensitive to the other person and try to desensitize yourself a little bit and try not to take everything too personally.  It's hard, but you have to kind of separate yourself a little bit and say he's not attacking me personally and just because he doesn't like this line or something I came up with doesn't mean that he doesn't love me and that I'm not good and that I'm not talented and that I suck.


BRR:  Exactly.


JG:  You have to kind of avoid going down that road. And and I think a lot of what we both tried to do too is build each other's confidence.  And if you can build the other person's confidence, they're easier to work with. And if they'll do that for you then you're easier to work with because you're confident. You know you don't suck.  Not every idea that you're going to come up with is going to be good.  And I think that translates to any kind of business.  It helps to discuss it and try it and put it away and move on.  It's not the end of the world.


Lisa:  You can dissect something and take the good out of it, kind of build from that. Like you said check your ego at the door and say, “ OK this is good for you, this is good for me.”  Put it together and it's good for us and it works  It's a serious cohesion and I like it when I was listening to Vixen and then the solo stuff, you could see it was entirely different but the same.  You could hear Justin's input in it but you could still hear you as being you and that's what I absolutely loved about the solo stuff.


JG:  That's what we tried to do, to kind of get the best of both of us. I mean I come from the 70s and 80s and so whatever I do is always going to have a lot of those elements in it.  But I love Halestorm.  I love Shinedown.  I like Slipknot.  There's something to be learned and that music does evolve and that if somebody is doing something good, then why not embrace it.  I'm not a purist though. Definitely not. So if anybody is like,  “That doesn't sound exactly like Vixen,” well, I'm not a purist.  This is what I do and this is all I do.


Lisa:  You're not robotic.  It's perfect for this world. There's too many boxed people, compartmentalized musicians.  You need people that break out and they give you things that aren't the same every time.  Like you get these great solos that just burst out of nowhere and that may not be what you get on day two because you make it something that's more melodic.  It comes from the heart.


BRR:  And with Vixen you're dealing with other band members, but with your solo work you have that freedom.


JG:  And the collaborations like that are great too, but it's definitely more intense and it definitely takes a lot longer.  Justin and I were a committee of two.  It's a lot easier to get something through a committee of two then a committee of four.  Everyone has to be happy.  Everybody has to be in the same mode and it's more difficult but a lot of times the end result can be amazing and magical because you're getting all of that input, all of the great ideas as one.


BRR:  So now back to Vixen and a little fun question What is the best tour prank you ever pulled off and on who?


JG:  We weren't very good at them but other people pulled them off on us.  Ritchie Blackmore was a real prankster, believe it it not, because he was so quiet, never said anything, he just did things.  So yeah, he loaded our  dressing room with stink bombs once.  We walked in and was like, “What happened in here!”  Stuff like that.


BRR:  What advice would you have for any women trying to make it in the music business today?


JG:  This would probably go for anyone, but just put your fear aside and get out there.  I mean, I think what kills more talented people's musical careers is fear. I really do. I know so many great basement guitarists, it's unbelievable.  


BRR:  You wouldn't believe it, but I have severe social anxiety. I've come a long way but now I do this. Like you said, you have to put that aside and go for what you want.


JG:  Yes, you have to put your fear aside and get out there and get in front of as many people as you can and deliver your message, deliver your goods.  Because if you're real and it comes from your heart, people will feel it. Don't be afraid to let people feel it.


BRR:  WouldBRR:   you care to add anything else?


JG:  Just thanks for all the support.  Music is magical and fun and I'm just so grateful to be able to do it.  So, just thank you!


  Drummer - Roxy


Bassist - Share







JG:  Thanks for all the support.  Music is magical and fun and I'm just so grateful to be able to do it, so just thank you.



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