Janey Street is working on a new album, which may sound confusing, considering that she just released a new album, My Side Of Paradise. She has written 23 songs for the next project, meaning that the material will be ready when it’s time to go back in the studio.
Until then, she is working hard to promote and tour My Side Of Paradise, her 13-song debut for Blue Elan Records and first for a label in quite a few years. The disc was preceded by a five-song EP sampler, I’m Not The Girl I Used To Know, which Blue Elan released to advance the full-length.
Street is no stranger to the music industry. She was signed by Warner Bros. while still in high school in Queens, N.Y., then by Capitol, and finally by Arista, where she charted two singles, “Under The Clock” and “Say Hello To Ronnie.” And then … she wasn’t signed by anyone. Based in Los Angeles at that time, she worked day jobs, wrote songs for television and movies, eventually moved to Nashville, and remained active in the music industry, but never expected to sign another record deal.
Kirk Pasich started Blue Elan Records in 2014 and contacted Street about signing. “This record label is unlike any other,” she says, with more than a hint of enthusiasm in her voice. “They’re outside of the norm. Age doesn’t matter. They are a cool bunch of people and a godsend to anybody in this day and age. It’s a weird time in the music industry and most labels aren’t artist-friendly. These people are amazing.”
You stated in an interview, “Nashville changes you.” How so?
It changes you as a songwriter because it’s so competitive. Even though I was an established professional songwriter, had three record deals, and was writing music for movies and television, Nashville gave me an edge that I didn’t have before. I sharpened my skills, and I think it shows on this record. I was accomplished when I came here, but writing with such great writers, and learning from the way they approach things, gave me that extra edge. I’m a better craftsman than I used to be, but artistically I haven’t changed. I still have things to say and ways to say them that are uniquely mine. I can be an assignment songwriter for an artist that is looking for a specific type of song. I can get the vibe. I know how to do it because I’m a good craftsman, and I’ve been doing that for years for film and television. That’s a different hat I wear. It’s hard to analyze. All I know is that I’m happy with the way I’ve approached all the things I’ve learned in Nashville. It’s helped me as an artist.
How has Nashville changed since your first visit?
Nashville is now the fastest-growing city in the country. As far as the music industry, in the old days the songwriters were older, and they’d go to the studios and play songs for the artists. Now, if you’re 20 years old, you’re too old for a publishing deal. There are a lot of young, talented people, but the publishing business has gotten bad because of streaming and all the copyright problems and licensing. I’m involved with the Nashville Songwriters Association, who, along with ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC, go to Washington on a regular basis, pleading with them to change licensing laws, because they’re streaming well-known and not-so-well-known artists for free, and the artists are making no money. You get played a million times on Pandora and get a five-dollar check. The publishing business has taken a big hit because of the Internet, and because of the way things have changed, and everybody is trying to fix that. Publishing companies sign young, potential artists that can get record deals, because that’s the only way they can get in on something. There are reasons for the way things are, but all these great older songwriters have gotten thrown out of the mix, and it’s sad. I’m happy that I have a record deal and I’m doing my own thing now.
You moved to Nashville from Hermosa Beach. Would that have happened without Janis Ian’s suggestion?
I’m not sure. Janis and I went to summer camp together when we were young, we became friends, and we kept in touch. We’ve always been allies. I was in L.A. doing a lot of film and television writing. Janis came to L.A. with a writer friend of hers, Kye Fleming, we wrote some songs, and they both loved writing with me. She moved to Nashville, and she was co-writing with people there. She encouraged me to come. In fact, she paid for me to come, and she set up writing appointments for me. I stayed here for a month, wrote every day with great writers, and I fell in love with it. It was a small community of creative people. As much as I loved Hermosa Beach, I felt Nashville was the place for me because I could make money with a publishing deal, and I could get cuts and work on my writing career. Everybody was very gracious to me, as well, and it just felt right. But if Janis hadn’t brought me here and put me together with these people, I might not have made that move.
Were you hesitant to sign another record deal?
No. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to make another record. I have a passion for recording. I’ve been making demos, doing production, working with younger artists, and working around the music industry, like everyone around my age. Especially in Nashville, there’s a lot of mentoring and “business around the business,” and a lot of people wanting to get into it. They don’t have experience and they need help. I was doing a lot of that when this deal came along, and I had to switch gears a little bit, but I was thrilled about it. Sure, it’s always scary when you take a leap like that and put yourself out there as an artist. But music is my life, and when things didn’t go so great for me, I kept on writing and did whatever I could to make a living with my music, which is what most people do when they’re dedicated to it. I didn’t take any shortcuts or do anything I hated musically. I loved writing songs for other people and for film and television, performing house concerts, and doing workshops. I didn’t like waiting tables, which I also did, but anything that involved music I was happy doing.
Did you consider releasing independently again?
I had released an independent record, The Street Less Traveled , which Fred Mollin produced. I did it with Nashville musicians in a studio. I had a co-publishing deal with a guy in New York, and I made that album with the money from that deal. He put together a distribution deal with a company out of New York called Synergy, but they went out of business. I sold the record at my gigs. I’m proud of it, but it’s a defined blues and jazz record. It’s all over the Internet and I never see any royalties from it. I did not think I would make another record after that one, because it didn’t make much money, and I was interested in making money and surviving. At the time that this deal came to me, about a year and a half ago, I was concentrating on mentoring and working for the Nashville Songwriters Association, and writing and trying to get cuts. They signed me and I didn’t have any songs because I was writing all this other stuff. They said, “Let’s do a record,” and I wrote the whole album in six weeks. It was very unusual.
You recorded this album in L.A. Why not in Nashville?
The record label introduced me to Dave Darling, who is a great producer with a great track record. He is not their staff producer, but he works with a lot of their acts. I liked his work and he seemed excited about my songs. The label was kind of leaning that way, and after meeting Dave and having him review my stuff, I felt that he was enthusiastic about my work and that he was a good choice. I had a good feeling about it, I made the decision, and we turned out to be a great match. He’s the best producer I’ve ever worked with. He was collaborative with me and listened to all my ideas. I’ve produced different things and I have a lot of skills at this point in my life, and he was open to all of my production ideas. We had great chemistry. The actual recording took about five weeks. We did seventeen tracks and picked thirteen for the album.
Which guitars do you use in the studio and onstage?
I’m not a session player. I played guitar on one of the tracks. I have a Janis Ian model Santa Cruz guitar. Janis lent it to me so that I could record with it, because I have a Pro Tools setup, and she gave it to me as a record release present. I did a gig here with an eight-piece band at the City Winery, with Janis and a bunch of hit songwriters, for my CD release party. It was a benefit for Gilda’s Club and it was a big success. We packed the place and raised $5000. I recently got an Epiphone ES-339 and a pedalboard with an equalizer and tuner. Janis had L.R. Baggs send me a DI box, and I have a Fender Blues Junior amp, so my setup onstage is acoustic and electric. I don’t play piano onstage because it’s too restrictive, but I write on piano and guitar. I haven’t written on the electric guitar yet. I got the electric for some of the rock stuff I do onstage. Between my Arista record and this record, I put out The Street Less Traveled, and I did house gigs with just my guitar, but with a full band and a formal kind of show, it’s nice to have both guitars.
How is the writing process different when you’re co-writing?
It’s pretty interesting. I wrote alone a lot in my life, but I’ve become more of a co-writer because of my life here. I’m a conceptual writer. If I walk into a room with a great writer, I usually have a melody, hook, concept, and some lines. I usually have the song on its way. These writers are so skillful that they can help me get to the end of it faster. The creative process sometimes flows out of you, and sometimes it takes a while to gel and it takes a couple of sessions. We’ll have a verse or a chorus, and we reconvene and come up with great stuff.
At what point did you feel that you understood songwriting — that you “got it” as far as writing a good song?
I was signed to Warner Brothers when I was still in high school, and I was writing good songs then. We did interesting stuff. It wasn’t as crafted as what I do now, but it was a different time and people took more liberties with their songs. Songwriting came naturally to me. I mentored so many songwriters through the Nashville Songwriters Association before I got this deal, and I still do some of that. I enjoy teaching songwriting because I’m so passionate about it, and I understand how to explain it. Songwriting is about communicating with the listener, and there are all kinds of ways to do that. You have to do certain things at certain moments in the song so that whoever is listening is interested in it. My approach from the beginning, and this is what I tell my students, was: Write songs the way you like to listen to them. You hear a song on the radio and it gets to you. If you’re writing something, you have to translate what gets to you into what you’re trying to get somebody else into. For me, it was always natural. I’ve developed and gotten better, and I keep growing, hopefully.
How do you teach something that should come naturally?
First of all, it’s a craft. You can’t teach someone how to be naturally talented or artistic, but in songwriting as a craft —there are people who come up through the Nashville Songwriters Association and become hit songwriters because they figured out the craft, they hook up with other talented people, and they have hits. You can teach the craft. Whoever you’re teaching has to be able to get it, and if they do and they work hard, they figure out how to structure the song, how to write a hook, where to put it, what to do lyrically to make it work, and what to do melodically to grab the listener. Mediocrity sells, and that’s always been the truth, and if you go to writers’ nights here, you’ll hear some great songs that you’ll never hear on the radio. A great song does not mean a hit song. One has nothing to do with the other. It’s frustrating, because as a songwriter, your goal is to write accessible great songs, not great songs that nobody gets.
There were periods of time when you worked as a waitress, painted houses, and taught guitar lessons — while hearing yourself on the radio. How did you keep your spirits up?
I don’t know. When I was growing up, I was focused on my music. I started playing guitar when I was in the fourth grade, and I got so into it that you’d walk into my room at my house and I was always playing guitar, playing Beatles songs, songs I had written — it was obsessive, very obsessive. I think people like me, when they’re that age, they go through a period where that’s all they do. It becomes their whole life, and it did become my life. I didn’t have an easy time at school, but when I started playing and singing, I got to be very popular. I had a band in the sixth and seventh grades called Operation Blues, and we were working every weekend in Queens. I didn’t feel comfortable in myself in other areas of life. I wasn’t good at anything else. I got into the business at such a young age, and I did well. I had boyfriends who were musicians. I lived a musician life. By the time things went south, I was already in it and I didn’t know what else to do. I became resourceful and wrote for film and television, played gigs, waited tables, and I kept on keeping on. I never decided to do something else. I didn’t think I could, so I guess I was in a corner, in a way. It might look like, “How did you go through that?” but I felt like I didn’t have much of a choice. There were times when I was depressed, to be honest, because I couldn’t say, “Oh, I’ll go to school now.” I didn’t have a way out. I was stuck with it. So I kept on trying to make a living. I never thought I would get this record deal at my age.
Are you optimistic about the future for singer/songwriters?
There are guys like Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith, young artists who have come out over the last few years and done some really cool stuff, and there have been successful singer/songwriters over the years. So it’s not a dying art form, I don’t think. I never thought of it like that. I thought the business was very discouraging, a kind of “Why bother?” thing, but everybody feels like that at times: “Why are we doing this?” There’s no money it in anymore because of licensing and all the problems, but it doesn’t stop anybody from doing it. I see young, talented people here and I appreciate their work. I always knew it was difficult, but I kept on because I like doing it. I like the business. I never lost my enthusiasm for it. I never got into this so that people would say, “Janey Street is great!” I don’t care. I never got into this because I wanted to be a star. I just wanted to make a living at what I do best. I love the work, I’ve made a living from it on and off, so I guess my attitude is it’s just what I do. I don’t think about it, because the odds are so against everybody, but everybody around here loves to do it and loves to get together and write. What a life!
For more on Janey Street, visit her site HERE.
Cover Photo Credit: Hunter Armistead