Big Peter talks to Jana Peri
It's a dirty job but somebody has to interview musicians. With that in mind, the task of interviewing New Yorker Jana Peri was duly delegated to Big Peter McGee.
PETER: First off, Jana, thank you for taking the time to talk to us. It's a pleasure to speak to you. Now, when did you realise that you were in love with music?
JANA: My earliest memories are musical. It was always something I was obsessed with and, at some point, I became very serious about it. I'd always been writing and singing songs from a very young age, but I was also very interested in acting at one time and I majored in Drama at New York University. I went on several auditions, but my heart was always really with music. Music is much more immediate, and you have much more control over your own fate, whereas with acting, you always have to fit into someone else's mould. With music, you can do whatever you want, you can be whoever you want. You can just do your own thing. It's fun as hell! [laughs] For me, it's really about being out there and performing.
PETER. What bands or artists would you say have had the biggest influence on you?
JANA: I'll start with the New York acts - I'll get to the UK ones later! Blondie has always been a really big influence. I started listening to them when I was very young. Later, I got more into The Ramones and other punk groups. Daniel Rey, who has worked with the Ramones (Joey's solo album, co-writing songs with Dee Dee), produced my second release, Catching Flies With Vinegar.
PETER: And we come on to the topic of the much-famed NY rock 'n' roll scene.
There's still a scene here in the East Village, although it's evolving. It's cool, though, 'cause I still hang out with some of the old CBGB's crowd. Now that there's no more CBGB's, there's a monthly meeting at another bar. All the people who are still around who played there or worked there or have some connection to that scene get together and hang out. There are still a lot of live music venues, but not as many in Manhattan anymore. There's definitely been a shift, with real estate being cheaper elsewhere. Manhattan's gotten very expensive. I do live in Manhattan, but I've had my apartment for a very long time, and I've been hanging onto it by tooth and nail!
It turns out that British music has also made its mark on Jana.
My biggest musical influence was and always will be The Beatles. I just think that they're the measuring stick for everything as far as rock music is concerned. I'm sure that's why I've being going back to Liverpool so many times. Every time I go to the UK, I wind up meeting lots of great people.
PETER. I believe you know a fellow by the name of Ben Ruth?
JANA: You know Ben?
PETER: As I recall, we had a massive drinking session.
JANA: Of course! You can't be in the same room as Ben and not have a massive drinking session! Ben was my tour manager for my 2005 tour - he was absolutely instrumental in making it happen. He booked all the pub gigs and I did the bigger city ones (London, Liverpool) - but the pub gigs actually pay! This coming tour will probably put me into massive debt [laughs], but you do what you gotta do! [laughs]
PETER: In 2005 you released your first full-length album, Catching Flies With Vinegar, which was produced by legendary Ramones cohort Daniel Rey. Was it a rewarding experience?
JANA: Yeah, and it was really great working with him. He's really, really laid back and easy to work with, but when he wants you to do something, he'll find a really subtle way of pushing you to do it
Y'know, I think we made things easy for him as well, though because all the songs were songs that we had played out as a band for so long. Also, I was very specific in telling him what I wanted, and he helped me achieve it. For example, when we were doing overdubs, he knew the kind of sound I was going for and sometimes he insisted on making me play one of his guitars rather than my own. But I used my Telecaster for all the basic tracks and it's very fundamental to the sound of the album.
PETER: Do you have plans to record again anytime soon?
JANA: I don't have any studio time booked right now, but I absolutely want to! We did just release a single ("I Hate The Holidays (But I Love Spending Them With You)"), but aside from the expense of recording, that's just not been my focus lately. Changing personnel in the band and trying to organise tours has been my focus in the past year. After I come back (from the UK), I think I'll be heading more in that direction. My old drummer, who played with me on Catching Flies With Vinegar is back playing live again, so that frees me up a bit to focus on new material. Every time you get a new drummer they have to learn all the old stuff, but he knows everything already, so that makes it easier! So, I would love to record!
PETER: You're not shy about your love of touring. What does -
JANA: I'm not shy about anything! [laughs] Sorry to interrupt the question!
PETER: No, no, that's okay! Now, what, to you, is so rewarding about touring?
JANA: The opportunity to play outside New York City - anywhere outside New York City. Obviously, when you go to another country there's going to be big cultural differences, but really, New York City is its own planet. Anytime I'm playing outside of the city, even if it's New Jersey, it's a whole other experience! If I get out to the Midwest - Chicago, Indiana - the people are really different. There are things about them that are very much the same as New Yorkers, but there are things that are very different. Audiences respond differently, especially if you're playing in a small town instead of a big city.
The conversation flowed smoothly onto the subject of differences in British and American culture, and the surprises that await even the most regular American visitors to Britain. Thankfully, Jana wasn't sold on the Bluesbunny Editor's description of Scottish dining as "sitting down when eating fish and chips." No, really, it isn't that bad! (and when was the last time you ate anything other than a kebab? - Ed)
PETER: What can UK fans expect from a Jana Peri show?
JANA: Everybody can expect to have a good time, and, hopefully, will walk out humming my songs!
PETER: Jana, thank you for your time, and all the best for the future!
Jana Peri begins her UK tour in London on the 7th March, visiting Glasgow and Manchester before finishing the tour with a show in Liverpool. For more details, visit. www.janaperi.com
Author: Peter McGee
March 3, 2010
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