BY HEATHER SMITH
Janet Robin’s career is like your favorite mix tape: full of assorted content that creates an amazing journey. She has the glam rock tracks from her Precious Metal days; the classic rock tracks from her stints playing guitar with Lindsey Buckingham and Air Supply; the 90s alternative with Meredith Brooks. Each varied and enviable chapter or track influences an impressive solo career, all of which we’re exploring in our interview with Robin.
In Part 1 of our interview, we learned about her early career and her influences. In Part 2, we go deeper into her creative process and find out what makes her tick.
Your album “Everything Has Changed” was produced by John Carter Cash and was recorded in Tennessee at Cash Cabin, a studio Johnny Cash built and where he recorded his later releases. What was it like to record there and do you think it had any influence on your sound?
It was awesome there. I love Los Angeles, but it was so nice to get away from here and just be in a place that demanded creativity. And that’s what that cabin is like. It just makes you feel at home and that anything is possible. You can relax and just be yourself. The equipment they have there is top notch — great mics, mic pre-amps, amplifiers, even some of Johnny’s guitars and his piano. There are pictures of him and June all over the place and it just feels like home. I think it helped relax me and also kept me focused at the same time.
What was it like working with John Carter Cash? What kind of influence did he have on you?
He is amazing. He’s open, creative and just really pushed me to be myself, which is why I wanted to work with him in the first place. A lot of people I’d worked with, though they are really talented, were always trying to make me sound like someone else, but he just wanted me to sound like myself, and if I wanted to have a five minute guitar solo at the end of a song, I could do it. He really left the doors open, but he also orchestrated the sessions.
They all ran smoothly and he picked amazing Nashville session players, including David Rorick, who was Johnny’s bass player for 25 years. John Carter Cash was really influenced a lot by Rick Rubin, who produced his dad’s last record. He’s a hands-on guy without being “hands-on.” I think he learned a lot about producing from Rick. It was a great experience. I loved every minute of it.
I was so lucky to have fans that wanted to support that record — I raised $20,000 from fan donations. That was an incredible feeling, too; that people really believed in my work and wanted to support it.
What is your creative process like?
Besides having a glass of wine? Well, sometimes I do. No seriously, it just comes on for me. It’s like this internal feeling that comes on. A lot of time I’ll be rehearsing something else. Then I just start jamming on a riff or something pops into my mind and I get into the mode.
Does the music come first or the lyrics?
Usually the music first, but I have written lyrics first before. Usually it’s the music though because I always seem to have that damn guitar in my hands.
Do you lock yourself away and write or do you write anywhere?
I do like to lock myself away, either here in my apartment or at the rehearsal studio. I don’t like to be disturbed and usually try to shut everything off like phones and computer. It’s a very focused and quiet time for me. I need to sometimes just sit for a few hours and play a song idea, then write some lyrics down, then play again. That could go on for hours. I don’t have specific times when I write. It’s just really when it comes on. If I’m planning on releasing something though, I do try to speed things up and schedule actual writing time for myself.
Besides your solo career and working with other artists, you have scored pieces for commercial purposes. How does your creative process differ for that? You’ve also had several songs featured in various TV shows. Which was the most surprising that got used and in what show?
I really enjoy that process. It’s so totally different than writing for yourself. In fact, it’s a lot easier for me. A director or producer will give me an idea of exactly what they want, and that really makes it a lot easier. Or they want it to sound like a certain band or artist. That also makes it easier. I’m not working from zero; I have instructions. Instructions always help.
I also enjoy it because sometimes it’s stuff I wouldn’t normally write for myself. It opens me up to a lot of other styles.
I think the most surprising opportunity was getting a few of my songs in the soap operas “All My Children” and “One Life to Live”. I never thought that a rocker chick like myself would have songs in soap operas. They gave me instructions for those songs and being able nail it really made me feel like a true pro musician, no matter what style I was writing or playing.
You are about to go on tour through Europe. How do fans in Europe differ from those in the U.S.?
Fans of music here are great. But in Europe they are really great. Maybe just more excited? They love American music and American musicians. They also seem to be more gender and age blind, so they don’t seem to care that I’m a girl who plays guitar or focus on my age.
If European fans like your music, they like your music. That’s pretty much it. I can appreciate that. It’s honest. I love playing there. The venues can be really awesome, like doing shows in castle courtyards, or theaters from the 1600s. We don’t really have that here. There’s so much history there. One hotel I stayed in on the road in Germany was apparently a hotel that Mozart used to stay in on his travels through Europe. That’s just super cool.
Speaking of Germany, you seem to be very popular there and the Czech Republic. How do you think that happened?
Well, I got lucky once again, and was hooked up to an awesome Czech band called November 2nd through an American producer, David Bianco. Our music is similar in style. They sing in English, too, not in Czech.
I asked if I could come over sometime to their country to open for them. They hooked up a full summer tour and really got the ball rolling for me. I started playing some big festivals back in ‘07. They also got a lot of press for me. I really owe a lot to them. Now over seven years later, I just keep going back and I have a band there now. They are super supportive. I brought them over here in ’08 for a west coast tour. They were really excited for that and we had some great shows out here. I’m so grateful for all their support and friendship over these years.
As far as Germany is concerned, that came to be through a German record label that I had been in contact with through my friend, Colin Hay (Men at Work). I opened a lot shows for him and one day he told me about this German label that I should reach out to. They passed on my previous CDs, but when they heard the one I did with John Carter Cash, they loved it. I signed with them and they also became my agents in Germany.
I eventually moved onto another German agency and have just continued to keep building my fan base there. Germany is the second largest music market in the industry. It takes a while to build there, but I have a nice group of fans that seem to keep coming back to my shows. The venues keep having me back and I go where the work is!
What has been one of your favorite solo shows? What made it special?
I’ve had some amazing solo shows over the years. Maybe it’s not because of my own playing but because of the venue or the audience. There was one castle show in the Czech Republic that was just so special. It was in the courtyard. Torch lamps were lit. There was a stage with lights but everyone was sitting on the ground. I felt like I was playing in the medieval times! It was beautiful outside summer weather. I was playing music in this amazing venue and it gave me goose bumps.
Opening for Heart was also a really special moment in my career, and I felt their audience was a perfect fit. I remember after the show a long line of people waiting to buy my CD. I wasn’t expecting that, so that was pretty exciting.
What’s next for you?
On May 18 I take off for Europe for 25 shows in Germany, the United Kingdom and the Czech Republic. I am also working on new songs for the next studio record. I hope to finish that at the end of 2015. With touring, producing and teaching it’s a lot, so that’s why it’s taking so long.
I have been in talks with a German label that wants to release a compilation CD in Europe and that will probably happen soon, possibly even next month while I’m in there.
Just working as much as I can and keeping things moving. That’s always been my strategy. Create new stuff, apply it and rock it!
Janet Robin is currently on tour in Europe. Be sure to check out her website at www.janetrobin.com.
Heather Smith is the creator and producer of Rubyfruit Radio, a podcast featuring the best in female artists.