Nowadays, good music is hard to find. It seems odd to say this, but I have long noted that things like this happen when materialism infects the world. Good music is alive like good food and like good food; you have to grow your own. Maybe add some organic sounds to your audible diet.
It was a Sunday afternoon when I first heard the voice of Janet LaBelle. Steve Berson played a track we had worked on for quite some time. We had been looking for a soulful singer to fill in the chorus on a track. Steve had invited Janet over to the studio earlier in the week to lay down some vocals. I must say her presence on the track was truly refreshing, a gasp of air, a new life.
Later, I had the honor of performing with Ms. LaBelle during the recent Warlock Asylum show at Arlene’s Grocery. Rarely have I’ve met a musician with such talent. An oasis in a desert of sound, to say the least, Janet LaBelle is paving her way in the fine arts of music and song. I recently had a chance to ask Janet a few questions about her career and musical inspiration after accidentally at the Le Bernardin Restaurant in Midtown this past summer. I am sure you will find Ms. LaBelle’s perspective very insightful:
Messiah’el Bey: It is a privilege to be able to learn about who you are as an artist. I really enjoy your work, especially the video for “Goodbye Baby.” You have a tremendous voice and a unique approach as a musician. For our readership, who may not be familiar with the artist Janet LaBelle, how would you describe yourself?
Janet LaBelle: Thank you, Messiah. Playing and writing music has always been my outlet since I can remember. My hope is to connect to people through music in a way that music has always been there for me. I’ve always felt a huge emotional response when listening to music, particularly to music that sounds as though it were being sung or experienced for the first time. It’s important for to me to achieve this effect when performing live or in the studio. I’m a big fan of recording live to analog tape to capture this kind of spontaneity and raw emotion. I also feel that performing live for my fans allows my energy and passion for what I’m doing to really come through.
Messiah’el Bey: What factors helped you decide to pursue a career in the musical arts?
Janet LaBelle: There was nothing else I was good at really. Ha! Actually, I feel that once you are bitten with the music bug, the desire to perform and create is always with you. For me, I was taken with music at a very early age and would daydream about growing up to be a working musician. Ultimately, I think it was this daydreaming that pushed me so hard to not let my childhood-self down.
Messiah’el Bey: You definitely have an original approach to your work. Who are some of your musical influences?
Janet LaBelle: When I started performing as a solo artist, I always felt that my catalogue of songs was having a bit of an identity crisis. My influences span so many genres and eras that it has taken some time to hone my sound. Some of my biggest influences fall into the genre of ’60s folk/pop. I love timeless themes and catchy melodies. The artists that have had a huge impact on me are Melanie, France Gall, Diana Ross.
Messiah’el Bey: One thing that I enjoy about your work is the quality of the music that your band has produced. Can you tell us a little more about the band that we see playing with you in the videos and stage? How did this all come about?
Janet LaBelle: Yes! I’m very fortunate to have such a great crew behind me. Believe it or not, we all grew up in the same hometown. Each of the members (Evan Taylor, drums; Kyle Cadena, guitar; Andrew Kimball, bass) are all hardworking and talented musicians in their own right. When the guys aren’t performing with me, they can be found performing alongside Bernie Worrell (Parliament Funkadelic/ Talking Heads), working on solo projects, or playing with other artists on the scene.
Messiah’el Bey: I am curious about your source of inspiration. I do notice the conviction in your words and you definitely have a strong stage presence. Can you give us any example about how you come up with ideas to create such beautiful music?
Janet LaBelle: I’ve always been inspired by sounds—the sounds of instruments and the moods that they can create, the sound of a voice, the rhythm of lyrics. Typically when I write a song, I will have a mood or an experience in mind that I want to convey then I choose the best instrument that will help me with the writing process. I get a lot of inspiration from just listening to music and discovering sounds that I’ve never heard before– songs that make me think: “how did they do that? I want to do that.” I get a bit obsessed with figuring it how certain sounds are made–I think that interest has always kept me challenged and inspired. It’s also important to look for inspiration beyond a record collection. Even though I like to spend a lot of time indoors with my instruments and listening to music, I’ve come to realize the importance of getting outside and experiencing the world. In that way, the music I write becomes very unique and personal to me.
Messiah’el Bey: What difficulties have you face in pursuit of your musical career?
Janet LaBelle: I think for any independent artist the most difficult challenge is to maintain unshakeable level of determination and belief in yourself, which can be tough especially in an industry that is always changing and oftentimes presents unclear waters to navigate. For me, there have definitely been bumps along the way, but I’ve realized that slow and steady progress is the best kind of progress you can make. It’s easy to get discouraged from pursuing a career in music when the mainstream notion of success is that it can happen overnight or through a reality TV show. It’s important to keep in mind that every long-lasting and fruitful career requires time and dedication.
Messiah’el Bey: Is there any particular message that you are trying to get out to your audience and fans?
Janet LaBelle: I always have some sort of message in mind when I set out to write a song, but I try to keep my themes as universal as possible so that people can find their own meaning.
Messiah’el Bey: Where do you see yourself and your career five years from now?
Janet LaBelle: I’m hoping to have traveled more and to have spread my music to more people. Having a few more albums out would also be nice.
Messiah’el Bey: Thank you so much for sharing some of your insights and knowledge. What thoughts would you like to leave with our readers today?
Janet LaBelle: I’d like to encourage readers to live their dreams no matter the obstacles in the way. Sometimes we are our own worst enemies, but there is nothing more rewarding then living the life you see for yourself and no one else can decide that path other than you.
We wish Janet all the best in her career! We are sure that you will be hearing more about her in the future. For more information on the Janet LaBelle phenomena, please visit her website at Janet LaBelle. Stay blessed.