Musician:  JANET ROBIN

Music Video: “View From Above

JANET ROBIN Web-Exclusive Interview

with M Music & Musicians magazine publisher, Merlin David


How did the idea of “View from Above” come to you?

I was feeling a little depressed at the time I wrote it, and instead of doing something negative—I put it into a song, trying to lift myself up and look at things from a positive view.


What is your creative process for writing songs?

Really, it’s just like eating or some other natural thing for me. It has to be natural. If I’m feeling creative I have to do it, right then—whatever that means, either playing guitar, singing, or sitting down and writing a song. I start by playing something on guitar, maybe a riff or chord progression, and if it moves me—I start humming along some melody. Sometimes actual words will come out. I make sure I’m taping it just in case I forget. I have hundreds of these ideas on audio notes on my phone. I go back and listen, and if it still moves me, I sit down and work on it. If there’s enough time, often I will finish it in that one writing session. Creativity is really interesting, it’s like a yearning, something you just have to get out and can’t contain.


What songwriting tip would you like to offer?

Don’t push things. If it’s not working right then, but you still like what you’re working on, go and do something else and come back to it with fresh ears. It’s good sometimes to step away instead of forcing something that may not be ready to come out.

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How do you keep song ideas fresh—and continue to think of new ideas?

I try to be a listener—to friends, family and myself. I draw from their experiences, as well as my own journey through life. If you continually try to move forward, try new things, meet new people, get out and tour, you will have a lot of things to write about.


Tell us one experience where something unique inspired you to write a song.

I was having a phone conversation, and I was being a little self-deprecating. And my friend said to me, “Oh Janet, don’t worry, you’re like a beautiful freak.” I just loved those two words together, and ended up writing “Beautiful Freak” for my 2004 acoustic record.


How does where you geographically live or travel influence your music?

I think wherever you live does influence your music, if you’re open to it. A lot of it comes from what you listened to growing up. And yes, where you grew up. There are regions in the world where cultures define a specific musical style. I have traveled quite a lot, to various places in the world. I remember Prague and being open to the music played there—Gypsy and traditional Czech, and even their flavor of rock ’n’ roll. I ended up writing a song “Everybody Falls in Love in Prague”—on my last record that features a little eastern European flare.

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Who influenced you to pick up an instrument and write?

My brother Steve was the initial inspiration. He started taking guitar lessons, and I just liked to copy everything my older brothers did. So, I thought I’ll try that. Luckily, it was so natural for me with the guitar. I became obsessed with playing, and would lock myself up in my room for hours practicing—while my friends were outside playing cowboys and Indians. My brother is now a dentist and still comes to all my shows. As for writing, I listened to all that 70s and 80s rock that my brother was listening to. I wanted to emulate what I heard—Zeppelin, the Beatles, Aerosmith, Bowie. Taking lessons from Randy Rhoads [Quiet Riot, Ozzy Osbourne] didn’t hurt either. He wasn’t only an amazing guitarist and teacher, he taught me how to use guitar licks as a “main hook” in writing songs.


Top 5 Musicians who inspired you to become a musician?

Randy Rhoads, Jimmy Page, Ann & Nancy Wilson, the Beatles, Lindsey Buckingham.


What instrument/equipment can you not live without—that helps you write, record or perform?

Being a guitar player, I really love having my guitar on hand. But I like all kinds of stringed instruments, especially different types of guitars—electric, acoustic, 6-string banjo, mandolin. Even specific brands of guitars influence my inspiration. I worked with the talented luthier Rick Turner on a hybrid acoustic-electric guitar “The Deuce.” It has a very unique sound and I have gotten a lot of inspiration playing that guitar. I also endorse Taylor, Gibson, and Fender—as far as guitars go. Each one of those guitars has a different sound and might even remind me of songs I grew up listening to. And that can inspire me as well. I also have a 6-string banjo that I love playing. It’s a super unique instrument—Gold Tone makes it, and I have been a longtime endorser. I also play a little piano but I would say guitars are really the thing for me.


Tell us about your work as a guitar coach for Jennifer Jason Leigh in Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight.

That was a really fun experience last year. I have never been on a big movie set before and this was on location in Telluride—in the middle of winter—freezing cold. Luckily, I was in the trailer most of the time teaching Jennifer in between her scenes. It was a great experience working with someone who had never played guitar before. I only had a few months to turn her into a “real” guitar player, which for this scene meant a somewhat complicated fingerpicking pattern, singing while playing, and having a hand cuff on one arm. She worked really hard—was very committed. Quentin is a perfectionist, rightly so. He wanted her to feel like a real guitar player, since he was going to film her singing and playing live. No cuts or anything—filmed and recorded live. Unfortunately with only a few weeks left on set, I was called out on tour, and had to get a sub to finish up until the actual filming of the scene. So I missed that. But I was so happy to be a big part of making her a guitar player for that one little scene in the movie. I was really excited when I got to see it on the big screen.

Janet Robin - Take Me As I Am - 2016

Any film compositions or other film and TV work?

I composed a few short films: Traces and Use Me Up—both featured in a few major film festivals, including the Hollywood Film Festival and the Palm Springs International Festival of Short Films. They were a lot of fun to work on—utilizing my guitar composing skills in a much different way was a great experience. You have to be really specific to match a scene or character’s emotion, depending on what the director wants, of course. I truly enjoyed the process and hope to do a feature length film someday.

You’re known for your guitar work. Tell us about working with musicians like Lindsey Buckingham?

I have been lucky enough to work with some amazing musicians in my career, not to mention fantastic guitar players. Lindsey, of course, is one of the best in the world. He’s also a great arranger, writer, producer and live performer. Working with Lindsey was like going to grad school and getting a PhD. He is a perfectionist—and nothing lower than that will do. He really challenged me to rise to the occasion. Super inspiring! I think we connected so well with our mutual love for guitar—that made it even more special.


How was the actual tour?
The rehearsal process was intense and I learned so much—even just about how to rehearse. One tour we opened for Tina Turner. It was all arenas—so exciting. I had only dreamt about that while growing up looking at rock magazines. I didn’t know it could actually become a reality—to play in such a big venue. Opening for Tina Turner was so inspiring. Talk about power. I watched her almost every night on tour, and she didn’t miss a step or hit a bad note ever. Her 20 years-younger dancers had trouble keeping up with her on stage. I was so amazed.


Lindsey seems to have been pretty influential.

I had a few private writing sessions with him, and he even came to see one of my shows when I started my solo stuff. He was one of the main reasons I started solo work. I didn’t think I could do it but he told me to get out there and do it. Over the years, he has sent me his demos; we’ve talked about songs and songwriting. It was and is incredible to have someone like that in your life. I still see him on occasion when he comes home for gigs with Fleetwood Mac, and it feels like a brother returning home. I learned how to become not only a pro musician by touring with him, but also more about songwriting and singing—and putting together a great live show. I learned a lot from my former band, Precious Metal. But Lindsey just seemed to take me to another level and thank god at the time I was ready for that.

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I believe you also worked with Heart.

While in Precious Metal, prior to the Lindsey Buckingham stint, the singer from Precious Metal (Leslie Knauer) and I had the opportunity to write with Ann & Nancy Wilson. That was an amazing experience—especially when you are writing with people who not only influenced you but are also your musical heroes. They were awesome to work with, and we wrote a few great songs together—along with Sue Ennis, Heart’s longtime co-writer and friend. [Ennis has co-written over 70 songs with Ann & Nancy Wilson, including “Straight On,” “Even It Up,” and “Dog and Butterfly”]. We all had a blast up in Seattle working together and it was certainly unforgettable. One time later on, I ended up opening solo acoustic for Ann & Nancy when they were touring as an acoustic duo in the late 90s. I still see them on occasion, when I go to their shows in town. They are mesmerizing talents—inspiring, hard-working women.


Did you work with any other musicians?
I toured with Meredith Brooks, another great guitarist. I don’t know if people think of her as one, but she is. We knew of each other here in the Los Angeles scene in the early 80s—especially since we were both female guitar players. There weren’t many back then. It’s all about timing though. She was coming out with a new record and wanted a girl to do radio spots with her, to play and sing and have female background vocals. She never forgot me, and I got a call from her manager. The “radio spots tour” turned into being the guitar player in her band for a few major tours, including one tour opening for Melissa Etheridge. I was still doing my solo thing at the time and Meredith was really supportive, and let me sell my CDs at all the shows. And one time she did a solo date herself and had me open.


Sounds like you had good camaraderie with other musicians.

I did a short tour with Michelle Shocked back in the early 2000s and she is an incredibly talented songwriter. She wanted to me to shine with my guitar skills and really gave me a lot of moments to do so. That was really gracious. She has been a longtime supporter of my solo work, and we continue to be friends.

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What was the last tour you played as a guitarist?
Air Supply was the last major artist I toured with, and I have to say both Russell and Graham (the singers) are two of the nicest, kindest, thoughtful people I know—not only in the music business but just in general. I did basically a full year of touring with them. They tour like crazy. This was the first time ever with a female musician in their band. They really couldn’t care less about that, and treated me with a lot of respect—just like any musician—the way it should be. Unfortunately, I left that gig when I had an opportunity to work with John Carter Cash on my new record. With their constant touring schedule, I just couldn’t do both. I never thought I would leave a paying touring gig, but I was becoming more and more committed to my own music. They saw that and understood, and fully supported my decision. We are still friends. In fact, I opened for them once when they played a show here in LA.


It’s nice to hear about positive experiences with musicians and touring.

I have been fortunate to have wonderful experiences with these artists and so many more. I think if you work hard, take yourself seriously, then other people will also treat you the same, and you will be rewarded in some way—perhaps have an opportunity to learn more from others. It’s always about learning and growing—as an artist, and as a person. They work hand in hand.


Which experiences stand out?

Writing with Ann & Nancy Wilson, at Nancy’s house in Seattle, was a lot of fun and a big highlight. That said, going to Maui with Lindsey and our band was even more fun and inspiring. He decided he wanted to try recording with his solo band—this was after touring. So instead of doing it at home in LA, why not fly everyone and all the gear to Maui, right? He rented the back lobby bar of a major hotel in Maui, closed it to the public and had all this recording gear brought in and set up. Our entire 10-piece band flew to Maui. We had five guitar players in his band. It was a really special sounding band. We didn’t have any specific new songs, he just wanted us to jam and come up with stuff. So our days consisted of getting up, going snorkeling, and then going to the lobby bar-turned-recording studio and jam with each other while recording until about 6 pm. Then we would all go out and eat or go to a luau. And yes there were a lot of mai tai’s consumed. It was a really inspiring, unifying experience. Another great learning experience—took me out of my world in LA and completely focused on being with Lindsey, the band, and playing music. Lindsey may be a rock star and may be able to do these kinds of crazy things, but he is the real deal, and all about the music. Capturing inspiration, writing, playing—all those things make him a genius, and push everyone around him to bring out the best of their abilities.

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Is it true that you have a personal Donald Trump experience?

Well listen, I am not a fan of his at all, I’ll be honest. And I haven’t been ever since he screwed over my old band, Precious Metal. He agreed to appear in our cover version of the song “Mr. Big Stuff.” The label president’s family had done a lot of business with him and knew him quite well. Things went awry—like they have many times with him doing business. After filming the video, he threatened to pull out unless we paid him a lot more money. There’s a lot more to the story but that is basically the main position we were left with. He had agreed to a small amount to help us out, and help his friend at the label. We couldn’t afford his new terms and had already done the filming with him. We had to re-shoot with a body double. While posing for promo shots from the video shoot with him, Trump managed to put his arm around my stomach and exclaimed “Wow, you have a tight body.” I was young and didn’t know how to respond. I was intimidated. But really, it was inappropriate. I don’t think much has changed for him. In the end, the video still came out, but it would have been a lot cooler if it had been him in it because it would have helped us with the promotion for our band. Back in the 80s, videos were huge on MTV, and having a guest like him in our video would have been great.

As a talented guitarist, and a musician in charge of your own career (with your Ani DiFranco-inspired Little Sister Records), any thoughts about women’s empowerment and the possibility of a woman (Hillary Clinton) in the White House?

Women have come a long way—in politics, in business, and in rock ’n’ roll. There’s still a long way to go, but we continue to trail-blaze and hopefully make things a little easier for other women coming up. I teach guitar in between touring, and over 70% young girls come to me because I am a girl. Perhaps they feel more comfortable. I also have young boys that come to me because I studied under Randy Rhoads. Those boys really couldn’t care less about me being a female teacher. They just want to learn from someone who learned from Randy. So it’s two-fold: I have girls that want to learn from a girl, perhaps because they feel more comfortable and maybe are more inspired by seeing another girl guitar player, and I have boys I work with that will hopefully grow up gender-blind, and will respect women not only in the music business but also life in general. I do find it interesting that there is a category for “female guitarists.” It has helped me because sometimes bands are looking for that—maybe for a look in the band. In many of my hired gigs, they wanted to hear female vocals—as well as someone who could play guitar. Ultimately though, it shouldn’t be a category. When you listen to a guitar on a track, if there is no video playing and you are not at a live show, you can’t tell if it’s a guy or girl. You can with a singer, so I get that. I’ve been on some “Top 10” female guitarist lists and I do take that as an honor. But maybe it should be just one list that also includes female players. Usually, they are not thought of, and maybe these female guitar lists will help that in the future. So for now, perhaps it is just the way it needs to be until people start thinking about (and including) all the amazing women guitar players out there, along with the men. Regarding the White House, I am extremely excited about that possibility. I was hoping that in my lifetime, I would get to see a woman become president. It’s ironic that it was an African-American man first—still the man coming first. Nevertheless, I can see it’s a real possibility for a woman to be the president, and I think that’s pretty damn amazing.


For someone only now discovering your music, what one other album will give valued perspective on their new Janet Robin journey?

Certainly the first one I did with John Carter Cash, Everything Has Changed—which features “View From Above.” I think that record really shows versatility of my guitar playing and songwriting, with different genres of music. Of course, my new record, Take Me as I Am (also produced by John Carter Cash & Chuck Turner) is a good one to check out when it’s released in a few weeks. The CD release show is Sunday, August 21 at 7:30 PM at The Whiskey A-GoGo in Los Angeles—tickets still available! (laughs) On that recording, I think I went back to my rock roots more than ever, and it’s also the first time I wrote almost every song except for one cover and one co-write. I really dug into my soul for this new record.


What PRO are you with—and how do they help a songwriter/artist like you?

I am with BMI. Really, all the PROs are basically the same. They collect information and money from companies that use your songs, and they pay you a royalty. The only reason to sign up with any one of them is if you have a record coming out and/or have songs in a film or TV show, or in a commercial. They also track your tours. So when you play live at a venue, you can list what songs you played at the shows and the venues pay a royalty fee to the songwriters.

What are your Top 5 favorite albums of all time?

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) – The Beatles

The Beatles [White Album] (1968) – The Beatles

Rumours (1977) – Fleetwood Mac

Led Zeppelin—any album

Heart—any album


Tell us about working with producer John Carter Cash.

John is one of the most down to earth people I know and have ever worked with. He is all about the music—about capturing true performances and bringing out the best. He never settles. Chuck Turner, who produced my new record (along with John as executive producer) is the same way. Those two guys always manage to push me to my limits—to bring out the best. Even send me home (which they did) to practice more. I love that they care so much. It’s what music is about, and what recording an album is all about—doing whatever it takes. If you have to practice more, then go home and come back better prepared. Capturing the best moment of a performance takes work, practice and confidence. They are very open minded and didn’t just railroad over any of my musical ideas. They listened and had me try a lot of different things before we would all agree on a part. I love working at Cash Cabin. It’s filled with pictures and memories of Johnny and June, and their family— and it’s all very personal. I feel honored to be there amongst his family’s belongings. It inspires me and it feels like a family there. I wish they were both still alive because I know I would have loved meeting them. They raised a fantastic son.


What inspired the standout title track of your new album Take Me as I Am?

I’m gonna turn 50 next month (September). I don’t hide that fact. I’ve just been thinking a lot over the last year and I’ve reached a point in my life where I just don’t care that much about what people think or say about me anymore. I never became a rich famous rock star, but I am so happy where I am—and grateful for all the amazing experience I have had as a musician. I do feel lucky. I’ve been able to make a living as a working musician. I’ve seen the business change so much over the years. I think it’s awesome that you can make it on your own if you want to get out there and make it as a musician—whatever that may mean to you. It’s always nice to have help—I’m not gonna lie. But at least these days you can get out there, release your own records, tour, promote and depend only on your loyal fans. If people don’t like my music or think I’m too old or whatever, I really don’t care. I have so many wonderful people in my life that support me—family, friends, and my amazing loyal fans. The last two records were fan-funded. I raised $20,000 for Everything Has Changed, and $10,000 for this new album. You know take it or leave it—here I am. It’s what you get. (laughs) If you don’t like it, it’s fine because you just have to take me as I am.


What’s next?

I have another project called The String Revolution—four-piece all guitar band. I’m the only girl. It was my idea to put this band together. I really wanted to orchestrate four guitars—much like what I learned from Lindsey. This is mostly acoustic and mostly instrumental. We are also getting ready to release a new record in October, and it will be mixed by Matt Hyde. He did Rodrigo y Gabriela’s 11:11 and was Grammy-nominated for a Slipknot record.

For more info and to stay updated on Janet Robin: 

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