Originally from Finland, Janita – pronounced YA-nee-tuh – is a Brooklyn based singer-songwriter who over the past few years has had the music industry buzzing. Having performed scores of sold-out shows and played many sold out festivals, she’s earned herself a reputation as one of the hardest working artists today and 2017 looks set to be the year where more music fans around the world discover this great talent. While in New York back in November, I was fortunate enough to meet her in a little café in the city and, as the world moved at it’s fast pace around us, we chatted in depth about social media, musical inspirations and advice for other artists. It’s taken a few months for me to solve the technical issues that affected my ability to transcribe our chat, but I’ve finally fixed them, so read on to find out more.
TITL: Okay so firstly, tell me a little about yourself. How would you sum yourself up in a few words?
Janita: As a musician, I’m a guitar playing singer-songwriter, who also plays piano for whom music has been a calling all my life. I started very young, I was thirteen years old and it’s just been a wonderful journey of doing what I love. My new album Didn’t You, My Dear? is the one I’m most proud of. I just feel like, ideally, as an artist you try to evolve and get better and I feel like I’ve really been able to do that. This album is something honest and real, and it’s been really well received which has been really nice.
TITL: So did you have any other career ambitions prior becoming a musician or has it always been set in your mind that you’d be creative in this way?
J: My career plans have always been connected to the arts in some way or another. Music is something that spoke to me since I was little, since I was around two years old and it was something that I connected to immediately. I’ve always loved dance and visual art, and felt connected to them as well, but for me, music was the one thing I’ve always felt really strongly about. I’m interested in a lot of things but somehow they all come together, like writing and literature, and all my interests in that way have certainly helped me when it comes to creating music.
TITL: In terms of the instruments you play, are you classically trained or did you have lessons as a kid?
J: Originally I was classically trained on piano and I played for about ten years when I was younger, but everything else I’ve pretty much learned on my own. I’ve taken some classes for the technicality of vocals and singing, but I think in order for a singer to create their own style, it has to really be about their own development and journey of discovery, and I don’t particularly think that works so well if you’ve got a tutor or a teacher guiding you. It’s important, as an artist, that you give yourself a chance to explore exactly what it is that you want to do, how you want to sound, that kind of thing.
TITL: Is there one instrument you favour over another or are you just proud of the fact that you’re a gifted multi-instrumentalist?
J: Well I appreciate you calling me gifted, but to be honest, it’s not really something I’ve thought about. When I first started playing here in New York, I noticed that a lot of musicians, particularly back up musicians, were able to play more than one instrument, and I always thought that was really cool. I think singing is my most natural instrument, if I can say that, and I feel like that’s something that is particularly powerful, but I do feel like I’ve been able to find a voice of my own as well thanks to being able to play both the guitar and the piano.
TITL: Hailing from Finland, have you noticed any differences in the music industry between here, in the US, Europe and back home?
J: Finland is a very small country and so there are limits as to how far you can go, especially when you’re making English speaking music – that makes the audience and market even more narrow. I felt like the smart thing for me to do was move here and pursue an international career. I’ve had a lot of great opportunities here and I feel like I’ve found a great label home here in New York with the ECR Music Group – and my career is blossoming in a way that I haven’t seen in quite a while, The US is obviously a huge market and it can he really hard to come into but I feel like I’m making good progress, plus it’s given me the opportunity to tour in places like Germany and play in London, which has been great. Every market has its own quirks and everything, but I think, ideally, my career would be one that would allow me to travel to different places around the world.
TITL: What would you say makes you stand out from all your musical counterparts?
J: I probably, at one point in my career, thought about being in this industry as some kind of competition, but that’s not how I approach my music these days. I feel like, for me it’s important to be able to create art that’s compelling and lyrics and melodies and music that means something to me. It’s been really liberating to stop looking around and seeing what other people are doing; I can get very inspired by other people don’t get me wrong, but I’ve come to the very healthy realisation that what comes most naturally to me and what is unique about me won’t be helped by looking around and seeing who or what I’m up against, so to speak. I’m not trying to do what’s current out there right now, I’m just creating something that speaks to me, and if that speaks to other people, then that’s fantastic.
TITL: Who or what most influences your song-writing?
J: I think one of the best way to get inspired is to just be present. If you’re not connected to the world around you in some way or another, then inspiration is always going to be hard to come by. It’s also important to give yourself the time to think about what drives and inspires you; to think about the art that you love and from that, inspiration can come pretty easily.
One of the most influential performances I’ve seen recently was one by Daniel Lanois – he’s a producer who has worked with U2 and Neil Young and so many other amazing artists – and he’s an unbelievable pedal steel player. He was playing a gig at Rockwood Music Hall and together, he and his fantastic group of backing musicians, had me bawling my way through the entire show because I’d never heard music played like that before. It was soaring and emotive and transported me away to a different universe. I’ve experienced that before, but that was by far the most powerful experience I’ve had and it was incredibly inspiring.
TITL: What would you say makes a great song and with that in mind, which would you say is the greatest ever written and why?
J: I don’t know if I’ll be able to answer that question. It’s one of those classic questions that you kind of want to know how to be able to answer, and I’ve never been asked that before. I think there is a different kind of magic to each song. Power can be and come from different places in songs; sometimes the most powerful music you hear in a moment is just instrumental – as was the case for me when I saw Daniel Lanois – other times you get struck by a particular lyric.
One band that I really, really love are the Punch Brothers and they have a song called “Julep”, which is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard in my life. It’s in the music, it’s in the lyrics – when I’ve heard them play it, which is a couple of times live now, I just start to cry. There’s something about it that’s just so beautiful – it’s the perfect marriage of melody, music and lyrics. I’ve mentioned one song, but there are so many others that have had such a huge impact on me. I really love those old, classic tunes that everybody knows – they touch me as well – but there are also a huge number of immensely powerful songs which the vast majority of people have never heard. I’ve performed many powerful songs over the course of my career, including Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, and it’s certainly one of those heart-stopping songs, but there are many others out there as well.
TITL: When it comes to touring, have you noticed any similarities or differences between audiences in different countries?
J: I noticed an interesting quirk in Germany. I was over there for a month and I played about twenty shows and noticed that the audiences would wait until the very last note had been played and gone away before they started clapping. That was really weird for me because here in New York, when they hear a note that sounds like the last one, even if it’s not, that’s when they start clapping and over there, in Germany, they really waited it out. I was weirded out by that to begin with, but at the same time, it was great to see people really immersed in the music and wanting to hear every last note of it.
TITL: If you could play any venue in the world, which would it be and which four bands or artists, who can be living or dead, would you most like to share the stage with?
J: These are great questions! I love London, for me it’s one of those magical places and I was fortunate enough to play three shows there a while back and outside of New York City, it’s the one place I’d want to live in this world. But, I don’t really know the music venues of the world outside of the areas where I’ve lived and already played. I think, as an artist, you’re always wanting to grow and move up to the next level, and one of the places I really enjoy here in New York City is Bowery Ballroom. It’s a nice venue because it’s big but not too big and allows for an intimate setting, but it also feels a lot bigger than that too.
As for who I’d play with….I really love this band called Blonde Redhead, they’re a shoe-gazery kind of rock band. They’re just awesome on so many levels and I feel like I have a personal connection with them. Elliott Smith, who is sadly no longer with us, is somebody whose music is incredibly moving to me, and I love Beck. Finally, I’d have to go with Punch Brothers who I mentioned earlier. Those four of them would make an interesting mix I think. Maybe I could add Daniel Lanois and he could create the whole vision of the night too…
TITL: To what extent has social media impacted your career and do you see it as a positive thing or more of a double-edged sword that can be dangerous depending on how it’s used?
J: I think is quite essential to me as an artist and I find myself using a couple of different platforms. It’s a really important way for me to engage with my followers and my listeners and sometimes when it’s hard to find publicity in other ways, I think it’s great in the fact that it allows you to be pro-active in other ways. I find it really important, but at the same time, there are issues with social media such as the way it often derogatizes fact and how truth is ‘up for grabs’ like never before. In order to be part of social media, you have to take the good with the bad – like you often do with most things. It can be a great tool, but it can also be used for unhealthy things like bullying – I think we’re all still figuring out what the whole deal with it is if I’m honest.
TITL: Do you pay much attention to what critics think or are you just happy to do what you do and create the music you’re proud of?
J: Critics are always going to have an opinion, need it be good or bad, and that’s fine and they, like anyone else, can of course share those thoughts with others, largely thanks to the boom in social media. However because I have my own pages on several platforms, I don’t feel obligated to keep people’s negative comments on there. If I see one, it’s highly likely that I’ll delete it – it’s my page and I don’t have to support that kind of negativity on or in my own little world.
In terms of compliments, there was one recently, I can’t quite remember what the words were but they said something along the lines of my being an artist that can transcend and send you to another place with their music, and they named me alongside musicians like Jeff Buckley, which I think is about the most beautiful compliment I could ever get. Ultimately though, I love what I do, I put my all into it and I think my music is a true representation of who I am as an artist, and that’s what really matters to me. If other people connect with what I do, then fantastic and if they don’t, that’s okay too.
TITL: What does the future – the next twelve months or so – have in store for you?
J: I plan on touring more, both in the UK and the US and I’m very excited about that. I also plan on getting back in the studio as I’ve been writing quite a bit recently as well, so 2017 is looking good…busy but very good.
TITL: Finally then, what would you most like to achieve as an artist and do you have any advice for upcoming artists looking to make their own way in this ever competitive industry?
J: I feel like I’m moving in the direction of my dreams. I want to be able to tour and play my music to different audiences; I want to be able to create albums that are meaningful and honest, not just for me but others as well and I feel like I’m doing those things. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future – none of us do – but I really admire the careers of artists like Joni Mitchell, Patti Smith and Leonard Cohen; people who have made art their whole lives and been able to push the envelope and create something authentic over and over again. Those kinds of artists and their careers are the ones that inspire me the most – to see the longevity and that not every artist is or has been a flash in the pan. That’s what I’m aiming for – a career that spans a lifetime.
For the advice…I think for any artist who plays an instrument, it’s important that they find the right one. I truly believe that make all the difference, as, when I first started playing guitar and picked one up, I didn’t feel 100% comfortable to begin with but over time, as I began experimenting with different ones, I finally found one that ‘fit’, with me and my music, and since then, I’ve been more creative and felt more positive about what I do than ever.
More generally, I think the music industry as it is right now is such a tough place that you really, really want to have to do it in order to succeed in it. The music industry chews bands and artists up and spits them out so often, it can be really hard to just even get your foot on the first step of the industry ladder. You have to want to do it for the right reasons as well; not for the potential fame or whatever, but because you’re passionate and want to share that passion with others. The way bands and artists aren’t getting paid for their work can be very demoralising and it’s a real issue, but for me, my love of music and love of the arts is what keeps me motivated and pushing forwards with my career. You also have to really know yourself – what you want, what you like and what you don’t, and be prepared to stand up for those things even when people around you disagree. Know yourself as both an artist and a human being – it’s crucial to creating honest, emotive music that touches not just you but listeners and fans as well. If you want to work on your art, work on your life.