Interview with Vixen frontwoman Janet Gardner, guitarist Justin James and drummer Richie Rivera

INTERVIEW WITH JANET GARDNER, JUSTIN JAMES AND RICHIE RIVERA

Date: September 22, 2018
Venue: Backseat Bar and Grill
Location: Winchester, Virginia, USA
Interviewer: Christopher Carroll
Photos: Christopher Carroll ROCK Photography

Janet Gardner, along with her husband, Justin James, have been bouncing through the US and the UK to play shows that feature their first release as well as a couple of songs they’ve written for their upcoming record. I was fortunate enough to see them when they played immediately after the release of the first record and I was truly amazed! I shouldn’t have been because Janet has proven herself to be at the top of her game vocally, for years now, in Vixen. Justin James is no stranger to the road after touring with Tyketto and his friends, Anthony Gemignani and Richie Rivera, were handpicked by him to complete the touring band. It’s one thing to be a good player or a good singer, but when you can come together and make the sum greater than all of the parts on great songs, then you have something special. That’s exactly what these guys have.

This time, Anthony had a prior commitment so they brought along Jeremy Baessler (who actually played the first Janet Gardner solo show, as well) to play and he seemed to have a blast! Live, the songs Janet and Justin wrote take on an added energy and attitude. They play these songs like they’ve been playing them for decades. You really ‘feel’ them! If you haven’t had a chance to see these guys live, pay attention to their Facebook page so you can catch them the next time they’re anywhere near you!  It’s well worth the extremely low cost of admission!

On this night, we decided to do the very first Sleaze Roxx interview in front of a live audience. The interview was conducted before the show, at about 6:30 pm (before any of the four bands that day played), so I walked in assuming there would only be five people there (including myself and the band) but I was excited and surprised to see the place was pretty full, even at that early hour!  This is how the interview went….

Sleaze Roxx: First of all, welcome to Virginia! I know that it’s completely different touring with a relatively new band that has one CD out as opposed to touring with an established band like Vixen or Tyketto and I want you to know that we really do appreciate you coming all the way out here to play shows like this for us because we love this kind of music. [To the crowd] Don’t we [crowd goes wild]? The first question is regarding your recent brain injury. Are you 100% recovered?

Janet Gardner: Yes, I am 100% recovered.

Sleaze Roxx: I saw you shortly after that head banging! I can’t even do that myself because it gives me a headache!

Janet Gardner: Well, the doctor didn’t [tell] me I couldn’t so…. I still do! It’s really great. I got an outpouring of love and support during that time and I swear to God, it helped me. It helped me recover. Thank you everyone for that! Yeah, I feel great. The last CAT scan I got was completely clear. Everything is good! [Crowd cheers] I’m rocking again!

Sleaze Roxx: That’s awesome and that’s scary. I’m sure it was scary for you!

Janet Gardner: It was more scary for him [Justin James] than it was for me. Seriously because it happened so fast, I was fine and then I quickly wasn’t fine and then all of a sudden, they were doing the surgery and he’s the one that had to sit there and wait. I was out. He was amazing, [and] took great care of me!

Sleaze Roxx: What a great guy!

Janet Gardner: He’s a keeper [crowd cheers].

Sleaze Roxx: So, your first CD… I loved it and I don’t love a lot of new things these days. Now I hear you’re writing some new songs!

Justin James: Yes, we are we’re about halfway through right now… of recording and writing and we were kind of questioning, do we have another one in us? Can we spit it out? So we sat down and to our surprise, the songs are coming faster than they did the first time! We’re loving it. We had a blast. It’s a little different, a little bit of the same. We’ve got to keep it fresh. We’re excited!

Sleaze Roxx: Interesting and I understand you’re going to play a couple of those tonight [crowd cheers].

Janet Gardner: YOU will be our guinea pigs [crowd cheers]. So, you gotta let us know how you feel about the new songs!

Sleaze Roxx: You did let me listen to one of the new songs earlier today and it seems like you two have this synergy. When you work together, these songs that come out are not just simple boring songs, they seem complex and every song takes you on an emotional ride. With the dynamics that are incorporated, the songs are not just one speed all the way through. First the song is heavy and then it gets soft… It’s just awesome! It’s amazing that you guys can do that. It doesn’t work this way for everyone. I’m sure you guys have been in bands or written with people where it doesn’t click. You guys have this relationship that just works.

Justin James: Thank you.

Janet Gardner: Yes, you’re right. It’s very rare and it’s very hard to find. Obviously, I’ve been doing this a while. So yeah, when you find somebody that you have the chemistry with, you just bounce off each other constantly. He’ll have an idea… then I will… then he will go back and forth. It is very rare to find so we’re very lucky and that’s why we keep doing it.

Sleaze Roxx: True, because your music does not sound forced. It’s not cookie cutter or formulated. Your music takes us on a journey. It’s impressive.

Justin James: Well thank you. It’s a joy we have so much fun and it’s like the same time as before. Where most couples on a Saturday night, they’re talking about where they’re going to go, what they’re going to do, we’re talking about what are we going to record, what are we going to get done. We love it.

Sleaze Roxx: So who do you guys listen to now? Who are your favorites?

Justin James: For me, guitar wise, it’s always been John Sykes, Jake E. Lee…. I absolutely just love the hell out of those guys…. George Lynch. For me, I love KISS, The Who, UFO, the new Halestorm, [and] Sixx:AM. I absolutely love DJ Ashba’s playing.

Janet Gardner: For me, Janis Joplin, Ann Wilson, Aretha Franklin…. awwww, she just passed away. Those are my favorite singers. I like strong women who aren’t the victim. I love Pink because of that very reason. She’s just bad ass! I love Zeppelin and Aerosmith going back. [Turns to Justin] What are some of the new ones we listen to? It’s so funny because I think about it when I’m doing it but then when someone asks me, I’m like, “Oh, I don’t know!” Greta Van Fleet — those kids are kicking butt.

Sleaze Roxx: There are a bunch out there.

Janet Gardner: Yeah, they’re out there. It’s just harder and harder for rock bands to make a name for themselves. It’s all pop and rap and country.

Sleaze Roxx: You guys have toured with some big name bands in the past. Tell us another rock road story!

Janet Gardner: Zakk Wylde — he was just a kid when we toured with Ozzy and he used to hang out in our dressing room and one night he was like, “Oh, oh I gotta….. oh, I think I sharted.” So, Zakk Wylde came in our dressing room and sharted. He probably wouldn’t appreciate me telling that story. I don’t think I’ve ever told that story.

Sleaze Roxx: He’s not shy.

Janet Gardner: No, no. He didn’t care! He just went and changed his pants. It was all good.

Justin James: This was when he was really young — like four!

Sleaze Roxx: Back when he was pretty.

Janet Gardner: Oh yeah, he looks like a 16 year old. I think he was about 19.

Sleaze Roxx: Richie, you’ve been touring with these guys for a little while. Do you have any good stories you can tell us? What has happened on the road that is interesting? They don’t mind you telling us that kind of stuff….

Richie Rivera: Well, I might mind! We’ve been touring all over Britain, the UK for a week or so. For me, our very first show in Scotland, we had flown in. It’s like a 12-hour flight. We got in, drove from London to Edinburgh. We were sound checking. I have a little mixer in the back. I plug it in. I thought I was going to be a professional musician who knew about the adapters and different voltage so I bought an adapter. I was very proud of myself, plugged in the mixer and it fried like that. I thought, “What am I going to do?” The sound man said, “Hold on. Let me make some calls.” Ten minutes later, he comes back and he says, “Well, I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news. The good news is — I found a place that has a mixer just like yours. It’s not that expensive. It’s about a 10-minute walk from here. The bad news is they close in five minutes so next thing I know, I’m hauling ass like a blaze of hair and chains running down this Courtyard in Edinburgh, Scotland where people are eating their haggis. I was like, “What the hell was that?” So that set the tone for how that tour went.

Sleaze Roxx: How did that tour go? That must have been pretty interesting.

Janet Gardner: We did about five or six shows. It wasn’t very long but it was great and I got to do all the driving and scare the shit out of the guys. It was awesome. I’d be on the wrong side of the road going, “Am I supposed to be over here or over there?”   Justin was sitting in the back going “Holy Shit! Jesus Christ! What are you doing? You’re on the wrong side of the road!” I only hit a couple of busses. It really wasn’t all that bad.

Sleaze Roxx: You were good driving on the wrong side of the road?

Janet Gardner: I did pretty good. Yeah… and these guys actually trusted me [Justin shakes his head no].

Sleaze Roxx: You never went on the wrong side?

Janet Gardner: Yeah, I did a couple of times but fortunately nobody was coming!

Sleaze Roxx: So how did you guys get into your instruments?

Justin James: You know for me, like a lot of people, watching KISS or somebody on stage, I was just like, “Oh my God! That’s so cool. I would love to do that.” I wanted to play a big show one day and have explosions and lasers and what not. I started really young. I was about six years old when I picked up a guitar. I had an older brother that was in a lot of the ’80s rock music so I gravitated toward that with regard to what I liked. I had another brother, who was a guitar player, [who] would sit and show me how to play. At the time, I couldn’t even hold a guitar so I would sit it on my lap and play it like a piano. I just had such a passion with it that my summer days were spent in the house learning how to write or figure out chords and how to get my fingers to do what I needed them to do.

Janet Gardner: I grew up in a musical family. My mom played piano. My dad played violin. I started playing piano and I begged and begged and begged for a guitar. My grandmother said no actually! My grandmother ruled every one in my family. She said, “No, no. You stick with the piano.” Then my dad snuck and bought me a guitar and that’s when everything changed because then I felt it! The piano was fine. I mean, I still play it and I still like it but when I got a guitar, that changed everything.

Richie Rivera: I guess for me, I always had a fascination with the drums. Somewhere, I have a picture of me when I was about three years old and, if I do say so myself, I was pretty fucking adorable! I had a cowboy hat and I’m banging on a bass drum. Then, in the sixth grade, I found out they were offering ‘beginning band.’ I was really reluctant to take lessons because I hate when people tell me what to do. But I found out, if you take ‘beginning band’, that you get to miss the first hour of school, so I was like “sign me up” and from there I never looked back.

Audience Question: Are there any other genres you like and how did you three meet each other?

Janet Gardner: I like all genres of music, really. My dad listened to a lot of jazz and so I like hearing that once in a while. The only thing I really don’t like is opera. It just gets on my nerves. Seriously, that’s the only thing I can think of. I like good orchestral, symphonic music. Obviously, rock is my favorite. I’m a sucker for a great pop song. I really am. I like some country.

Justin James: Janet and I met a little over three years ago. She was playing a show and I was there with a friend so that’s how we kind of began with each other. One thing led to another and we’re happily married now for almost three years [crowd cheers]. Richie and I had actually met a little while ago, maybe four or five years ago, in a band we were playing in at the time and I always appreciated his drumming. He’s just such a great guy that when we put this together and needed to put a band together to play shows with, there was no one I thought of before Richie to come out and do it with us. I’m so happy because he makes everything great [Richie laughs].

Richie Rivera: Yeah, Justin and I played together previously, so when he called me to do this…. Now, I’ll say yes to anything because I figured 90% of it never happens so I don’t have to worry about it but this one actually happened so I thought, “Oh shit, I’d better start learning these songs!” It’s been great! These guys have been a pleasure to work with. This is a bad ass gig and I can’t think of anybody I’d rather be on stage with than these guys.

Audience Question: What quirks do you guys have that get on each other’s nerves?

Janet Gardner: Well, you know Anthony is not here so we could pick on him… His squishy toy is getting on my nerves. We were in Scotland and we stopped and got off the road we were on these weird like almost like a creepy movie back roads in Scotland. We found this little Chinese store and Anthony found his squishy wiener on a keychain…. So the squishy wiener jokes have been going around for a really long time and I don’t know. It’s kind of getting on my nerves. I think these guys have heard enough squishy wiener jokes too. He’s not here.

Audience Question: What’s going on with Vixen?

Janet Gardner: We still have a lot of shows coming up. We have a little European run coming up. We’re going to play a big Festival in Nottingham England and then Madrid, Spain and then a couple shows in Germany. That’s coming up in October and then we have a few other shows flying out to some casinos. Things like that and new music that we’re just getting started.

Audience Comment: I saw a new song on Facebook.

Janet Gardner: Well yeah, we have a new live album out. That came out in July and it does have a new song on it and it has the new version of “Edge Of A Broken Heart” so it’s an acoustic version.

Sleaze Roxx: It has amazing sound for a live album!

Janet Gardner: Oh yeah. Michael Wagener mixed that and he is a miracle worker in the studio.

Sleaze Roxx: You guys always sound great in concert anyway. You are so professional and even you guys tonight, you sound very tight together, which makes it much easier for us to get into the songs and just enjoy them.

Audience Question: What do you do for fun? What are your hobbies?

Janet Gardner: It’s funny you say that because Justin was just talking about that. We’re so busy and between us, we have three kids so they keep us busy and so far, what we spend most of our spare time doing is music because we love it. You know, he was just saying, “Yeah, you know we could go and see a movie. Want to go do this?” Or we could stay home and record a new song and that always wins. Always! Let’s find out there what Richie does for fun!

Richie Rivera: Oh! Jesus Christ! I go to church and I play chess…. No, I’m kidding. Basically I hang out with women of questionable virtue.

Janet Gardner: Last weekend, we played a show in Oklahoma and we were walking outside ready to go and we said “Where is Richie?” And the guy that was doing security goes, “Oh, Richie’s like a latin lover. He’s in there with the girls.” Somebody drag him away from the girls!

Justin James: Yeah, like 5:30 in the morning or 6:30 in the morning, we had a flight. Where to catch it? It was already two in the morning and we didn’t sleep! It was all because of him!

Janet Gardner: That’s all right. It’s all in good fun! Right?

Audience Question: Janet, what is the biggest difference between playing with Vixen and playing with some dudes?

Janet Gardner: Actually, it’s funny because it’s not much different as far as the sex part of it — that these guys are dudes and Vixen are girls. Vixen, obviously I have a huge history with them so it’s like a warm blanket. We go up on stage. We’ve done it a bazillion times but this is new and fresh and exciting and energetic so it’s fun in that way because it’s a lot more spontaneous…. That’s the main difference — the fresh energy of it.

Sleaze Roxx:  Justin, Janet, Richie — thanks so much for being here!

Janet Gardner: Thank you guys so much. See you tonight everybody. Enjoy the show. It’s gonna be a blast!

Janet Gardner‘s “Rat Hole” video:

Janet Gardner – Rat Hole

Music video by Janet Gardner performing Rat Hole. (C) 2017 Pavement Records http://vevo.ly/Z9OXjp

Vixen‘s “You Ought To Know By Now” video:

Vixen – You Ought To Know By Now

VIXEN – https://facebook.com/Vixen The new studio single from our live cd, Live Fire – You Ought To Know By Now! Get the album — https://www.ratpakrecordsamerica.com/vixen Featuring Janet Gardner, Roxy Petrucci, Share Ross, Britt Lightning. Directed by Shane Stanley.