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The Synergy Effect: An Exclusive Interview With JANET GARDNER

By Ruben Mosqueda, We Go To 11
Tuesday, September 15, 2020 @ 1:14 PM

"The song “Charmed Life”, I just hated that, I hated it, hated it, hated it. I thought it was cheesy, the lyrics were awful and I just felt so stupid singing that!"

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Live Photo By Larry Petro/Petrofyed Photography

“The response to the pre-orders was incredible. We had a limited signed CD and poster bundle and we only signed a few of those and they sold out. Amazon sold-out of the first pressing of Synergy. They based what they had in stock on the last album and this has sold better than that”, says former VIXEN singer JANET GARDNER proudly of the new album. She and JUSTIN JAMES released a new album back on August 7th, 2020 on Pavement Entertainment. The album is titled Synergy and it is the first album under the duo’s names, unlike the previous two albums which were under Gardner's name. KNAC.COM caught up with both Juston and Janet in 2019 when they were promoting the last album, Your Place In The Sun. This time around it’s Gardner but still a fun conversation nonetheless. KNAC.COM spoke with Janet on August 21st, 2020 and this is the result. Enjoy the interview.

Ruben Mosqueda KNAC.COM: You worked relatively quickly on this one, no?

GARDNER: Yeah we did! It was COVID ‘lockdown’ and nothing else to do! So, let’s make a new record! [laughs] It was kind a blessing that we were able to make another record a year apart from the last one.

KNAC.COM: So what was the timeframe that these songs took shape?

GARDNER: We started this one on January 1st [2020]. We had a couple of songs done and we had some gigs lined up and we made our way to Australia. We got back from Australia just in the nick of time, had we spent one more day there we would have been stuck there. We got home, we hunkered down and got back into writing mode and got right to work on the new album. We finished up the two songs we had written before we went to Australia and kept going and going until we had enough songs for the record.

KNAC.COM: On Synergy you didn’t stray too far from what worked on Your Place In The Sun. It’s hard rock, power pop, and there’s some heavy riffs and grooves that border on metal.

GARDNER: Yeah, that’s us. We don’t put too much thought into things. It’s not calculated. We don’t talk about it much if at all. When we are writing or recording, toward the end is when we try to make sense of it all. When we have 7-8 songs then we start to map out what we need to make the record better; Do we need to rework a song, is there anything that doesn’t fit that we can take out and replace it with something else?

KNAC.COM: How hard was it to sort out the sequencing on the record, because any of the first three songs could have opened the album.

GARDNER: Well, I think looking back what was up for discussion is what came after the opener. I think we both agreed that there was no doubt that “Wounded” would open the album. We thought that was a no-brainer, we knew in our gut that it was the opening track. After that we tried every combination imaginable as far as the sequencing of the album. [laughs] You can only imagine how many various playlists we came up with before we wound up with the final tracklisting. I don’t think people have any idea how you have to get the right flow, the pacing and the tempos just right. I’ll give you an example of the song “I Promise”. If we placed that right behind a fast song it would just sounded super slow. So what we did was place that right behind “Say You Will” because it was a better place for it. We must have gone through like ten different variations of the tracklisting before we got it right.

KNAC.COM: Is this all of the songs, what we hear on the record or was there a song or two that were dropped?

GARDNER: These are all of the songs. If there were songs that we didn’t think were going to cut it, we knew it and they were left in the early stages of writing for the record. We usually don’t finish songs if they don’t feel right. We move on quickly because there’s no sense in wasting time on that.

KNAC.COM: Was there any of this material that you had ‘moved on’ from previously that made it on to this record?

GARDNER: There was one idea that we wound up using for the song “On A Wire” that wasn’t something that we tossed aside, it was something that we just didn't get around to developing.

KNAC.COM: One thing that I immediately noticed when you put the album on pre-order was that you added Justin and it is not under your name, it’s a duo. What inspired that? When we last spoke, you and Justin were moving forward under JANET GARDNER similarly as PAT BENATAR does with NEIL GERALDO.

GARDNER: [pause] Well, I think it was time, people were questioning it. Fans are fans, they were wondering if it was a solo act or was it a duo? Why is his picture on the album cover? They had a point. It was time to rip that band-aid right off. This is a duo. This is what it is. In retrospect, we should have probably done that from the start. At the time, people didn’t know me, some did, some knew that I was in VIXEN. People didn’t know Justin, so billing it as a solo thing was the best thing to get this out of the gate. I had mixed feelings about it, but in hindsight we should have just billed it as JANET GARDNER AND JUSTIN JAMES or GARDNER/JAMES, but it is what it is and what’s done is done. It is now what it should be. When we made the change I don’t think it was surprising and people were accepting of it.

KNAC.COM: Getting back to your visit to Australia, what was the reaction to GARDNER/JAMES?

GARDNER: You know that was an experience. It was my first time there. VIXEN never made it to Australia, so this was exciting for us. It was like a ‘bucket list’ thing for us. When we got the offer, I was like 'we’re going!' I didn’t care what we had to do, we were getting on a plane and we were going no matter what. The reaction was just amazing, it was such a memorable tour. We loved meeting the fans and them giving us feedback on the show. I’d go back there in a second! Well, once we get the clearance to do so because of COVID! [laughs]

KNAC.COM: Did you tailor the set list with a few more VIXEN tracks for that tour?

GARDNER: We did about the same set that we had done leading to those Australian shows. We played maybe 3-4 VIXEN songs and the rest was our material. The one song that I don’t think I could ever get off stage and not perform is “Edge Of A Broken Heart”. That’s a must. We rotate “Rev It Up”, “How Much Love” and a couple others that we’ve thrown in here and there.

KNAC.COM: How do you plan on promoting Synergy being that currently due to COVID-19 there’s limitations. We’re on the phone today to plug the album, but looking ahead what else is in store in terms of promotion?

GARDNER: We haven't’ delved into streaming stuff, but you know we might. It just depends on how much longer this goes on for. If we’re still stuck in place come January 2021, we’ll have to seriously consider doing something like that. What we have done is that we have been making a lot more videos for this album. We will be releasing our fourth video in a couple of weeks. I think that has helped us keep our visual presence out there. I’ll say this right now, I’m not a huge fan of doing acoustic stuff. I don’t mind a song here or there but I like loud rock and roll, that’s my thing. We’d have to do a band thing. I have seen some of those things, STEEL PANTHER comes to mind. They’ve done some extremely entertaining streaming concerts.

KNAC.COM: One thing that I found in seeing VIXEN live over the years is just how much heavier the band was live. I think the live album you did for Rat Pak Records is a perfect representation of what the band was live. I’m sure you hear that from the fans over the years.

GARDNER: Yeah, people have said that not only about VIXEN but Justin and our band. There’s just something about the live energy, the grit and the imperfection of the performance. The live performance is a slightly different art than what you do in the studio. Of course it depends on the venue, the sound and all those other varying factors. That album showed you what we were all about, drums, guitar, bass and screaming vocals! [laughs] Which is what we’ve carried into what we’re doing today.

KNAC.COM: Just a couple more things and I’ll cut you loose. The tune “Big Brother” made the live album, what was the story behind that one?

GARDNER: Oh My God! That was so long ago! I’ll try my best to answer your question. That goes back to the debut album, we wrote it when we were putting songs together for that album. JAN [KUEHNEMUND] and I wrote that together, if I recall correctly it was after a band rehearsal, Jan just started playing the riff. We worked on that one really quick from what I recall. It was in the running to make the album, but it was bumped by “Cruisin’”, I recall that it was an ‘either or’ type situation and we had to put it aside. The song was in the graveyard for a while, then it was ROXY [PETRUCCI] who suggested that we dust that off and start playing that again. I was all for it, I thought it was a way for us to do a tribute to Jan. So that’s how we ‘revived’ it.

KNAC.COM: You got a chance to do some date supporting KISS on the Hot In The Shade Tour.

GARDNER: That’s right, we filled in for SLAUGHTER for a week’s worth of date. They had another commitment so we got the call to step in for those dates.

KNAC.COM: What was that experience like and did you get any business advice from GENE SIMMONS because it sounds like he routinely gave opening bands advice.

GARDNER: That was awesome! We got to do some dates in Texas and in and around the Southwest. Maybe because we were girls, he didn’t bother to do that? So, no we didn’t get any advice from Gene! [laughs] Maybe he spoke to some of the other girls about it but I didn’t have that conversation with him. They were really nice to us and treated us very well. Unfortunately we weren’t out there that long and we didn’t get to know them well. We hung out a couple times during that week and that was fun.

KNAC.COM: Going back to the VIXEN debut album, there were a lot of co-writes and a lot of material that was submitted to you. How was that for you at the time? Did you go with it because it was being suggested? I imagine you wanted to showcase your abilities as songwriters and not have so many submissions. Did that decision help or hurt the band?

GARDNER: I will state the obvious, “Edge Of A Broken Heart” was a great song, we benefited from having some great material on that album. When it came to some of the other songs I was like, “Do we really need to do this?” I just didn’t understand it. I thought that we had a few songs that were just as good as the songs that were submitted that were suggested for the record. It did go both ways. “Edge Of A Broken Heart”, “Cryin’” are just great songs, you can’t deny that. I’ll have to be honest, we didn’t have songs that were as good as those two songs, but we did have songs that were just as good as the ones we weren’t involved in writing. I think you’re right, we should have fought for it a little bit harder. The song “Charmed Life”, I just hated that, I hated it, hated it, hated it. I thought it was cheesy, the lyrics were awful and I just felt so stupid singing that! We had other songs that would have added a little more punch to the album! In hindsight now, it wouldn’t have hurt to fight to get a couple more [of our] songs on that album. It was our first album, a big deal on a major label, we put the trust in the handlers because we thought that they knew best.

KNAC.COM: Who’s a celebrity you met that made an impact on you?

GARDNER: TINA TURNER! Meeting her was one of those ‘Oh My God’ moments. We were in Cologne, Germany and we were performing for a live TV taping. Tina was there and I was completely starstruck! I must have gotten like five words, I was in awe. She was like, “You girls are so hot! That was such a great performance”! I just remember her being very complimentary and super supportive.

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