My first encounter with Jane Child came last December at an informal dinner in San Francisco. Ever since taking home her remarkable album I had looked forward to meeting the architect who put it all together single-handedly. This indeed was one especially innovative and talented individual.
Spending time with Jane was a delight. She’s soft-spoken, but not the least bit hesitant to share her views on a wide variety of topics. Several short months after that evening she had accomplished the next to impossible feat-taking a song from a debut release all the way to number one!
Born and raised in Toronto, Jane grew up in anything but a rock ’n’ roll environment. Her father, a classical violinist and her mother, a singer/pianist were teaching her to play and sing by the time she was in kindergarten. Since music was an integral part of Jane’s life, it was inevitable that pop music would infiltrate the Child household. When it did there was no turning back, and her background, including hours of study and practice, put her on course toward a professional career as musician, writer and performer, In the following interview Jane reveals more about the real world of her past, present and future.
By Dave Sholin

Dave Sholin: I’ve got to begin with the most obvious: the Jane Child image as reflected by your appearance, especially the nose ring?
Jane Child: Well, let me first say it’s secondary to what I do. I’m a musician first. The way I look is really not that important, but I understand that people want to know about it. I’ve been walking around looking like this for years. This isn’t something that suddenly happened when I got a record deal and I feel very comfortable with it. I suppose I’ve not been inhibited to take different pieces of cultures that I like and just make them my own. Obviously, the cornrows are African. The nose ring and the chains between my nose and my ear are a very old East Indian women’s custom. When women there get married, they get the left side of their nose pierced. On their wedding day and every time their husband goes away, they wear the chain between their nose and ear. They’ve been doing this since the time of Moses - apparently Moses’ wife had one. It’s a very old custom. I’m on the right side because I’m not married, but I think the way it got into Western culture was through the huge Indian population in England where the punk movement started. I think the first introduction into Western culture when the punks adopted it in the seventies. I’ve always had an affinity for Eastern culture due in part to growing up in Toronto where there is a huge Indian population. I’ve been very attracted to the culture and their music, but it’s just not something I think about - it’s something that’s evolved. It feels like me and I’m an individualist. This is just how I look.

DS: Now we’ve got that out of the way (JC: Good) and we can move on to the music. What was your first big break?
JC: It was so gradual. There was a studio in Hamilton, Ontario where I was singing jingles and an engineer there ended up buying the studio. He believed in me, I played him sketches of some of my songs and he promised that if he bought the studio he’d let me record some demos. I cut five songs and from that point on things started moving.

DS: How did growing up in Canada affect your music and listening habits?
JC: I think that Canada - well, Toronto anyway had been and still is to a certain extent a hard rock town. We didn’t then and I think they still don’t have a station dedicated to Black music. There just wasn’t much Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind and Fire that I remember being played in Canada. I got it from the R&B stations coming out of Buffalo, but there was a funk community in Toronto. I’ve never really belonged to any kind of a scene or a clique because I’ve always been pretty much on my own. The closest I could say I’ve ever been to something like that was this club in Toronto that I used to sing at where a small number of R&B enthusiasts used to sing and hang out. I think there’s definitely an audience for it up there. I understand they’re trying to get an Urban station up there now.

DS: So you just gravitated to this kind of music?
JC: There’s so much music that I like - to put it into formats isn’t right. I mean I truly love Randy Travis as much as I love Stevie Wonder as much as I love the Sex Pistols and Led Zeppelin. I think the common denominator is these people have soul and it comes through their soul outside of Soul music. I think that Black music really hit me between the eyes because there was something about the groove and the bass line that was unashamedly sexual. It seemed so real and not out of touch to a normal human being. Much the same way Country music is - it’s really very personal and unashamed of emotion and feeling.

DS: In fact, with Country and Soul, the biggest difference is probably the instrumentation.
JC: Absolutely. I think Country is white people’s funk. It’s the lyrics, the sentiments of the songs that are personal in both Country and Black music.

DS: It seems your affection for people with soul or feeling extends beyond music. Your influences extend to people like Ayn Rand and John Steinbeck and other diverse personalities.
JC: There are many people that I really love and I don’t feel like I have to just like one type of music either. I never have. I didn’t know there was supposed to be formats for somebody’s tastes. I grew up listening to Classical music and that’s still a big part of my life and it’s definitely a big influence. I just never knew that there were certain types of music that I wasn’t supposed to like.

DS: Is there a “Jane Child sound?”
JC: Not that I’m aware of. I really hate any label being slapped on me because I don’t think I fall into any category. I would be the worst person to answer that question because I don’t know how objective I could be - I hear all the different things in it and I think it’s really natural that all those influences come out because they all went in.

DS: You’ve said there is “a light and a dark side to your music.” Is that an extension of the Eastern cultural influence?
JC: I don’t feel apathetic very often-I’m passionate about something that I feel is important enough to write about. I don’t know what it’s like for other people. For me, I’m either ecstatic out of my mind or I want to blow my head off! It’s one of the two.

DS: Do you think not being allowed to listen to Rock ’n Roll as a youngster made you want it that much more?
JC: I guess the “Forbidden Fruit” theory kicked in. That rule didn’t really last that long. I have two brothers so the Led Zeppelin albums found their way into the house. It wasn’t really a moral dilemma that my parents had about the music, it was more about listening to barbaric playing - they thought it would infiltrate my playing and I’d lose my subtle approach to people like Mozart. But it really didn’t last that long. It’s pretty impossible to avoid that music - it’s everywhere.

DS: Parents and teachers will often tell kids to learn the Classics. Has your Classical music background helped you?
JC: I believe that any knowledge pertaining to something you want to do is going to help you. I don’t know how I’d be writing-I have no way of being objective and to know how I’d be if I didn’t have that background. I’ve spoken to singers who have no knowledge of their art - they don’t know any of the theory of it and they tell me they feel lost. They feel like they’re flying by the seat of their pants. For some people that’s great-it would drive me crazy. I’d have to know. So, I think there are great people who’ve never had a moment of theory so it definitely isn’t a pre-requisite. If you have it in you it comes out.

DS: Your family’s reaction since going to number one with your first record must have been something…
JC: They were pretty happy. They’re proud of me. I think my parents, being in the Classical end of it, had some inkling of just how ruthless a business this might be and I think they’re just glad I managed to get through relatively unscathed and unhurt to make the record I wanted to make. The fact that it went to number one is just icing on the cake. They’re happy that I’m happy.

DS: That’s really nice. Now, you write, perform and play all the instruments on this project. Do you see that continuing?
JC: I don’t have a band at this point. I didn’t have a band going into this record. I think there’s a common mistake that happened for a while where you take an artist who has a certain sound, throw them in a studio with a bunch of slick studio cats and out comes this homogenized version - one percent of the essence of what was initially interesting and original about the artist. I had no intention of that happening to me. It was unnatural for me to do it any other way than I did it. I really felt that introducing a studio musician would just diffuse anything original or unique that I could possibly do because I’m not playing on a zillion different records everyday. So, unless I find a band and people that I feel are representative and part of my sound, I’ll continue to do it this way. But because I’m so interested and immersed in Indian music, you could see players of those instruments on the next record.

DS: Do you remember where you were or what you were doing when you wrote “Don’t Wanna Fall In Love?”
JC: I wrote it in L.A. I had just moved there from New York and I wrote it the way I wrote everything. I was playing bass with one hand and pads with the other and I was singing. I had a groove going and I just came up with it and the lyrics followed very closely. I wrote everything but the second verse, which I think was the last thing I did. People are taking it at face value, which is cool. It’s not really a happy love song, though, and you may or may not interpret it being directed at a person. If you so desire, go elsewhere with it, you have my blessing, but “white boy” has a different connotation in Compton. I’m cool with it because if it’s making somebody feel good, which I know it is, that’s all I care about. That’s better than any chart position or any amount of money - better than anything.

DS: Well, it certainly does that.
JC: What else is there? There’s nothing else.

DS: Now, the line that a lot of people mention to me and question is, “You make the knife feel good…”
JC: A lot of people think it’s “night”. Yeah, it’s “knife”. It’s the old Jane radical dichotomy - it’s the pleasure/pain principle that’s so much a part of my life! I’m ecstatic that it became such a big hit.

DS: On “Welcome To The Real World”, there’s a political statement, “Aint no way to run a universe.” What thoughts do you have about sending messages like that in your music?
JC: I tend to be really careful about it. First of all, I don’t know how qualified I am to make political statements - I’m a high school dropout. I tend to try to make them as non-preachy as possible, to make observations and leave the final conclusion to the listener who is probably better qualified than I am. The eighties were so excessive and the nineties seem to be, so far, a lot of accusations and finger-pointing and there are so many things wrong in the world.. there are so many people taking up so many causes that I think you tend to be inundated and music is a wonderful means of communication. There are a lot of artists doing that successfully; I tend to be afraid sometimes that it gets “artless.” I don’t know how poetic you can be when you say “ozone layer” in a melody. There are some artists who are great at it, but I still think that music is a form of escape ad that’s important too.

DS: So “Welcome To The Real World” is..
JC: the naïve observations of a high school drop out.

DS: Can you tell us why you dropped out?
JC: I went on the road when I was fifteen. I joined a Rock ‘n Roll band and left home. Once you’ve been “off the farm” and lived in the adult world and done something you love and discover that this is what you want to do for your life, it’s really hard to go sit with a bunch of kids in school again. As much as I loved school when I was in it, (I really was a good student) once I had been on the road for the summer, there was no possible way I could go back, but to this day I continue to read a lot.

DS: You don’t feel like you missed anything out of that experience?
JC: Well, I’m sure I did. If trigonometry comes into everyday life and I need it, I’m fucked.

DS: Hopefully that won’t happen.
JC: Yes, hopefully. Now I have a business manager so I don’t need it.

DS: When it comes to your age, you just say that you ‘Missed the sixties completely?”
JC: Well, actually I was born in the sixties. The other members of the first band I was in were a lot older than me and they were Deadheads. I felt like I had missed the greatest era that had ever happened. The line was kind of a joke and actually wasn’t meant to go as many places as it did - it was kind of tongue-in-cheek.

DS: So did you really miss the sixties and not being part of that era?
JC: Well, I went back. I’ve connected with Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. The first record I ever had was a Beatles record and I got it by default because my dad had to do an arrangement of “Michelle”, so “Rubber Soul” was in the house and I found it. It’s funny because I know all the words to these Janis Joplin songs and people go “Well, that’s way before your time.” I laugh because you know, Mozart was also before my time, but I found him too! It’s funny-there’s a lot of great music.

DS: I don’t know whether or not you’ve heard this, but a lot of people have tagged you “the female Prince.” Does that surprise you?
JC: Well, I don’t know if I can be compared to anyone, but if I’m going to be, Prince is a very flattering comparison, absolutely. I guess it’s because we’re both kind of control freaks, maybe (laughs). I can say that there’s a pretty strong sexual message on my record. I can think of a lot worse comparisons.

DS: Is writing what you enjoy most?
JC: it is now, but it wasn’t always that way. I started writing because I wanted to sing. All I cared about was singing. I’ve always been able to play - but I wanted to sing. Nobody was handing me songs so I figured I should probably write some. So that’s why I started writing. Now writing - that’s my main thing.

DS: Is it because it’s an outlet for expression?
JC: It’s such a powerful tool. I mean, you can play a certain thing and alter somebody’s mood - that’s powerful AND then you have the lyrics, you can say things. It’s amazing.

DS: When you get set to head out on the road, you’ll have a band, right?
JC: Yes, there will be and again, it won’t be a collection of hot, studio musicians-it will be MY band. I guess I’m looking for my “Revolution”. When I find them and when it’s right, I’ll be out there because the best part of this is performing LIVE.

DS: Are you in the process of looking for these people?
JC: I had planned to make another album before I went out on the road. I really thought that there are just nine songs on this album that anyone knew or cared about, but the demand has been pretty intense, so since the record has been out, people have been sending me information on themselves and there are a couple of musicians I have in the back of my mind who I think would be right. I need some great keyboard players - lots of them!

DS: Maybe this will get a few people to start calling. It sounds like you were really surprised by the success of this project?
JC: It takes so much effort to even get signed by a label - it’s a lot of work. Making the record was a lot of hard work for me. It changed my life. It was validation and I’m happy. I’m more comfortable than I’ve ever been in my life. I feel more like I’ve found a place that I should be in or at than I ever have before.

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