Songwriters Musepaper, December 1990 - interview by John Braheny

Talent And A Unique, Adventurous Musical/Visual Style Make Her A Major Contender

Jane Child was a natural to be an artist.  That was, in fact, the plan from the beginning, only it didn't turn out quite according to the original plan or schedule.  Her concert violinist father composed and performed contemporary classical music and wrote film and television scores and her mother was a vocalist/pianist/composer and music teacher. They were grooming her for the classical concert stage and began teaching her piano, voice, violin and harmony at five. At 12, she sang in the Children's Chorus of the Canadian Opera Company and was later accepted into the Royal Conservatory of Music to study piano.

Her classical career aborted when she joined a rock band at 15. After touring for two years she came back to Toronto and performed locally with her own songs. At that point she was writing a song-a-day. A demo she had produced got to some labels and, after living in New York for a year, she wound up in L.A. and signed with Warner Bros. Records who allowed her total artistic control to arrange and produce her own album. If the demos were any indication of what was to come, it's easy to see why they would let her do it. Her self-titled album shows a unique vision and command of textures and dynamics, a powerful elastic voice, a poetic and evocative lyric style a little more on the dark side than her #1 hit, "Don't Wanna Fall In Love," and a diversity of R&B, rock and classical musical influences that, rather than making you ask, "Who is she, really?," makes you say, "I can't wait to hear what she does next."

JB: I was interested in the fact that you went from classical to rock ‘n' roll improvisation. How did you make that transition?

 JC: It was like flying by the seat of my pants because I'd been playing a certain way for ten years. I started playing when I was five. I started playing rock ‘n' roll when I was 15. And suddenly I felt lost, you know, and the band I was playing with had learned the other way so it was natural for them. But I didn’t know any standard progressions, I didn’t know when you play G. to me that was a triad. I had no concept of voicings or anything like that or soloing, not to mention that I was playing different instruments. I had to deal with synthesizers.

JB: So there was an electronic component too.

JC: Yeah! It was a big transition. And sing at the same time and stand up and look good. I played standing up my first band. But the desire was there. I really wanted to learn.

JB: So what was the process? How did you go about learning to do that?

JC: I would cop licks of keyboard players that I liked. I’d stay in the club after the band played…all night with a tape recorder and cop Dr. John solos.

JB: That’s a great place to start.

JC: And so I would just play with the synthesizers until I got comfortable with them, And I had a B3. You learn how to play different instruments. You play differently on an organ that you do on a piano than you do on a synthesizer. You make it work for you. But I only knew one set when I joined the band so I’d come on for one set and then I’d learn another set the next week.

JB: Why did they hire you if you didn’t know anything about rock ‘n’ roll?

JC: Well, they knew I was classically trained and I’d sung in the Canadian Opera Company when I was a kid. And one of the guys in the band had sung in the Opera Company when he was a kid so he figured I’d be good.

JB: At least you had chops!

JC: Yeah, and I wanted to do it. And I think I was maybe less jaded, more eager. And we liked each other.

JB: So how long did that last?

JC: I was on the road with this band for about two years. And it was hard ‘cause their band was somewhat original. None of my songs, they wrote their own. They were not a recorded act and not playing top 40, so we got sent to the end of the world, and being sent to the end of the world in Canada is a lot tougher than doing it in the States because…

JB: It really is the end of the world.

JC: Oh yeah.

JB: Especially up north.

JC: Celsius and Farenheit meet, you know, and the oil in the truck freezes. You’re dealing with the elements. We’d be driving in blizzards where we couldn’t even see the hood of the truck and we made $25-a-week each and all the rest of the money went into the equipment. The accomodations were absolutely…I don’t think you can imagine where I had to sleep and there was a bathroom down the hall. Usually these places were inhabited by junkies or winos.

 So that’s who I was sharing a bath tub with. I had a hot plate and I used to try and save money by cooking in my room, which was illegal and they didn’t like us doing that. So, sometimes it would make the power go out and we’d have to run around and find the circuit breaker. It was really hard and I had to haul my own equipment. And I wished at that time that I played the flute because that stuff was heavy. But it made me realize, if I was willing to go through that, then this I s really what I wanted to do ‘cause I had left high school and home to do this. So it was a pretty good test.

JB: What kind of material was the group writing? Was it pop?

JC: Well, they were pretty much in to The Last Waltz… and the Grateful Dead. That was the music that they really loved which was great because it was before my time. They turned me on to Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin and stuff that I really wasn’t aware of.

JB: And a lot of jammin’ kind of things.

JC: That’s all we did on stage…was jam! And I went to some Grateful Dead concerts which I never would have done. They were into the Allman Brothers, the Band, the Dead, all that kind of music. I think the reason they hired me was ‘cause Donna Godchaux had been in the Grateful Dead and I think she was a keyboard player. But none of them are still in music.

JB: I guess they didn’t want it that badly.

JC: But I did.

JB: During that process, did you pick up any pop songs form, structure, any craft?

JC: I wasn’t allowed to listen to rock ‘n’ roll when I was growing up. I was going to be a concert pianist. So my parents felt that it would make me pound and not approach the instrument…turn me into a barbarian. It really didn’t last that long. The stuff that I heard that flipped me out was black. We used to get into the car every Christmas and drive to Florida. So I heard stuff on the radio in Florida that I didn’t hear in Toronto - Stevie Wonder, Earth,Wind and Fire and I saw a culture that I didn’t see in Toronto. We weren’t exactly staying at the Hilton. It’s this little motel we used to go to every year and the same people would come every year… from Indiana. So it was kind of a nice little tradition. It was an odd way to have Christmas every year ‘cause we had a silver Christmas tree in this little motel. But I’d hear this music there and I was allowed to hear it because I was on the beach and I had a radio. And acts like Stevie Wonder were what blew me away. So I think that affected me a lot in my vocal style and the chords that I chose. And growing up in Canada, which is a very hard rock country, the other side of me was a big Led Zeppelin fan. And that’s where the feeling for that kind of power and passion comes from because I love Led Zeppelin.

JB: Did your classical training give you any ability to analyze what you were hearing?

JC: Yes, but it’s not something I feel that I do. When I write, I don’t think like that. I go completely by ear and that’s the natural way for me to do it. Sometimes I’ll come to a point and I’ll think… okay, what did I just do?

When I’m vulnerable, I tend to write on piano, if I’m feeling aggressive, I’ll write on guitar and I’ll write on synth. And it’ll be a groove-oriented tune. I’ve been writing a lot of lyrics.

JB: Lyrics alone?

JC: Yeah, that’s new for me but it seems to be happening.

JB: So, previously, it would start with music.

JC: Always with the music. Some of the later songs on the record like "You're My Religion Now" and "World Lullabye" I would have the concept for the song...

JB: Musically?

JC: Lyrically. What usually happens is that the music suggests the mood...what the lyrics should be saying. Sometimes, 'cause I play and sing, I'll sing nonsense lyrics  just to fill the space and then can't get rid of the line, like the first line of "World Lullabye" was one of those. I don't know where it came from but I know what it was saying. And I couldn't lose it. So I had to build a song out of it. I don't know, I tend to be of the mind that we just receive. It sounds kind of cosmic, but when I'm writing something, I go to a different reality and it's not a trance, but...

JB: Alpha state.

JC: Exactly! I was gonna say that.

JB: It's really what it is. So many people write from that place, while they're driving, just before sleep, just before waking up. Your subconscious is hooked up.

JC: It sounds like my words because I didn't know what it was. And then I read and realized there’s a name for this. Because before I fall asleep…now I just keep a notebook and my Walkman beside my bed because I always come up with stuff, I seem to be able to go there a lot which I’ve always done, but only recently became aware of what it was called. Yeah, it’s great. You come out of it and you listen back and you go “wow.”

JB: Where do you think your lyric ideas come from? Do you read a lot?

JC: Yes. I like Ayn Rand a lot. She’s my favorite author. I’m a romantic. I like Hemingway because he says what he means and there’s no bullshit. I like the Russians…Tolstoy and Dostoevski because they paint great pictures. I’m a high school dropout, but I always read. So even after I left school, I would read. There’s a Canadian author, Robertson Davies, I’ve been reading. He’s cool. I like D.H. Lawrence. I like the classics. I also read a lot about different religions because I find that fascinating. I’ve really been interested in eastern culture, so I’ve been reading about Hinduism and Buddhism and the Bahagavad Gita. And I find that interesting. But I don’t really subscribe to any religion, but I factor in all the information.

JB: When you’re putting together your tracks, do you visualize an entire production before you start to do it or does it grow as you go along?

JC: Usually when I writing, I hear everything but I do like to have the basics cemented and then just fly. It’s nice to be spontaneo - you know, the icing is fun. Once you've got the cement. it's fun to put the icing on it. In terms of backgrounds especially, that just kind of happens as it goes.

JB: What kind of equipment are you using?

JC: I used the Fairlight a lot on the first record and I'm in the process of trying to get one. So Fairlight is great because everything is under one roof. And I’d do everything myself, so it's great to be able to hear everything simultaneously. And it's a great sampler. I like creating my own sounds. I've used the Mac a lot. There's new system that I'm also trying to get because I like the direct-to-disk on this Mac system, Studio Visions and Sound Tools

JB: Do you have Opcode Vision?

JC: I don't have anything right now.

JB: I just saw a demonstration of that 1ast week.

JC: I used to use Performer when I was first doing demos. There's things about that I like. It's really accurate, more accurate than Fairlight. But I think the Fairlight is such a musical way to go about it. You see all the tracks. But I'm thinking about using some players on this next record. I think that would be fun.

JB: You had a great guitar player on this one.

JC: Oh yes, James Harrah. He's great.

JB: Are there things that you did on the first aIbum that you won't do in the next?

JC: I wanted it be perfect and I guess I had a lot to prove. Needless to say, I was a new artist producing myself. I had complete creative control. There were people saying, "you can't do it." and that's like putting up a red flag up in front of me. And now, people say, "Okay, you did it." I basically did this for myself. That's why l write - that's why I make records. It's for me. If other people like it, that's great, but  I have to like it. So I'm going to relax more. I'm going to take more chances.

The other thing about the songs on this record… some of them were a couple of years old for me. Most had been demoed. So making the record was basically making good versions of the demos… a lot of demos that people were really married to. There's nothing been demoed for the next record. And I'm excited to go in and feel that magic. Because that's what it's all about. It should be fun. I feel like this record did justice to those songs and that part of my life and everything about it - the sounds that I used. It documented that time. But it is a different day.


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