[Photo credit: Reto Sterchi]
There are some artists who give off a truly artistic energy - you can tell that art consumes their entire life and they stay true to their craft - just by listening to their music. When we listen to alternative artist Janita
's latest album, Didn't You, My Dear?
we hear authentic passion and raw emotion. For someone who's been an artist for basically their whole lives, it most certainly shows. We got to talk to the singer from Finland about being an artist, protecting other artists' rights, and more. Check it out below.
You've been making music professionally since you were 13. What have you learned from your experience of being an active artist for 24 years?
Oh my, I have learned so many lessons from being an artist. Where to begin? Probably the most important lesson I've learned is how crucial it is to have a clear vision for your art, for your career, and to know what you're shooting for. If you don't know who you are and what you're trying to do, there are plenty of people out there who will be happy to make those decisions for you. I've experienced this first-hand. And if you lose yourself as an artist - or even more importantly, as a human being - what do you have?
You studied classical piano and ballet in your early years, but your sound in your latest album, Didn't You, My Dear?, seems to combine elements of jazz, alternative rock, and indie. How did you find your sound? What helped you form it? Did it all come naturally to you?
People do say that I have a recognizable voice, a distinct style of songwriting, and that I have my own style of playing instruments. I love that, and it's a huge compliment to me. At the same time, I don't know if I believe that one ever "finds" one's sound. I think that we as artists are always looking for it. In my case, every time I think I've found it, it evolves. And I'm not necessarily talking about a drastic change here, just a simple evolution. The thing is, everything I've done and experienced and all the music that I've listened to and loved -- it all informs what I do. As long as I keep expanding my horizons as a human being, as a music lover, and as an artist, I'm also working on my sound.
You have consistently been posting on your blog for almost six years about things happening in your life and your feelings and thoughts toward them. How important is blogging to you? Does keeping an open connection with your fanbase play a role in your music writing?
I began writing my blog six years ago on a whim, to be quite honest. I never thought that that first post would be followed by hundreds of others, week after week, and that it would end up being such a journey for me. I've talked about my emotions, my experiences, my beliefs, and my struggles, and I've felt surprisingly free to be open and honest about my life. Ive received wonderful feedback from people who have been reading what I've written and that has certainly motivated me to continue. But if I started thinking (while writing it) about addressing a large group of people, I probably wouldn't be able to write a word. In fact, I always write my first draft in the form of an email, as if I'm writing it to one person. That keeps it personal. The blog is more of a personal and artistic exercise that I share with whomever is interested. It has no specific goal or purpose, it's simply something that has felt good for me to do. And as an incredible bonus, I've been able to connect with people through it.
You are a part of the I Respect Music campaign, which has gotten a bill introduced that would start making radio stations pay artists for airing their music. How did you get involved with the campaign, and how has it affected your experiences within the music industry?
I got involved with the campaign from the very start, through my label mate Blake Morgan, who is the founder of I Respect Music. He was the one who taught me that The United States is the only democratic country in the world that doesn't pay artists when their music is played on the radio. I was horrified when I realized this - that even someone like Aretha Franklin has never earned one penny for the song "Respect" being played on the radio. Up until that point I had assumed that Finland (where I'm originally from) was an exception because it did pay artists for radio play, but it's the other way around. The US is the exception, joining countries like Iran, North Korea and Rwanda in this policy. I got so passionate about fighting this injustice, that I've joined Blake a number of times on Capitol Hill where we've met with key members of Congress about the subject. I've also joined him in speaking about the issue at a number of universities. This is just one of the many issues threatening the livelihoods of artists, but it's a huge one. Solving this one issue would change things enormously. I Respect Music is all about getting artists paid for the work that they do - just like teachers, lawyers, plumbers, and truck-drivers get paid for their work. At its heart, it's about human rights. That's something that I'm willing to fight for any day.
Your debut in the states happened when you were already a music icon in Finland. Does the process of getting yourself known in America after establishing yourself in Finland feel like you're starting from the bottom again, or do you see it as an extension of the image you've already built yourself?
Being a well-known artist in any other country doesn't really help you when you're trying to build a career in music in the States. It's not something that I've ever been able to leverage - if anything, it's been a bit of a hindrance. On the other hand, on a personal level, my history in Finland has been very important to me. I got a lot of experience as a performer at a very young age - experience that people starting from scratch here in the US aren't able to get. That all being said, I feel like in this business you are always starting from scratch to some extent. You're only as good as the current music or art that you're making, and you can't ever really lean on your past work. It is my job as an artist to compel my audience for however long I've asked for their attention, and that quest continues throughout my career. About comedy, Chris Rock said, "Anyone can have a hot year but who the hell has sustained a career not being funny?" That works for music too. You can't sustain a career in music without being good at what you do. So my aim is to be good, and to always get better. That's what I'm trying to do with my new Artist In Residence Concert Series at The Bowery Electric in NYC. To challenge myself to grow, and to do it in front of an audience. That's what it's all about, in my opinion.