Wednesday, 15 August 2012 12:27
The latest buzz in the Gainesville music scene is that Janna Pelle has stepped out of her popular band, Janne Pelle and the Half Steps, and is reinventing herself with a more poppy sound.
The advertising major is set to release a brand-new album, Shameless Self-Promotion later this month, and her first single off the nine-track LP, "Machine," has been leaked to rave reviews.
The lyrics are witty and the vocals are more center-stage, and if the whole album turns out similarly, Janna will pull off being marketable and provide quality at the same time—not an easy feat.
Janna will take her new sound to New York after getting advice from Rock and Roll Hall-of-Famer Billy Joel. We got a chance to talk to Janna about her roots, new sound, her new album and her new plans.
By Greg Allard
By the sound of "Machine," it seems like the planets are aligning for you.
Thank you! I sure hope so—I'm feeling great about it.
Do you have a sense of destiny?
Pretty much always, yes. I feel like everything in life has lined up so well to make this a good decision.
So, how do you think that confidence manifests?
My parents really helped. They're incredibly inspiring and completely supportive. I don't feel any pressure to work behind a desk, and they know I'm good. More importantly, they know what I'm doing has commercial value, and they want to help me to take the necessary steps to get it heard.
How do you compare the Half Steps' sound to your new sound?
Janna Pelle and the Half Steps was a blues/funk/rock band with a pop sensibility. What I call my genre now is "classical pop." I still have really soulful vocals and rock influences, but the stuff I'm doing now is much more pop—and it's danceable.
I'm writing catchy hooks that get stuck in your head so easily that you can't figure out whether you love them or hate them. My new stuff is influenced by classical music and pop—it's not influenced by JPHS at all.
What are your musical influences?
Lady Gaga and No Doubt. I discovered Lily Allen after I had written these songs, and realized how much like her I am and I LOVE HER.
Could you say something about another song on your new album?
There's one song I recorded with the Half Steps called "Universal Law of Gravitation," but the one on this album is the original version. The Half Steps' version isn't the original. I wrote it with different chords and different melody—
same lyrics—but it wasn't fit for the Half Steps. Now, I'm realizing that the original was really good, and now that I'm changing genres, it's appropriate.
I wrote it during freshman year. I was separated from my boyfriend, and we were going to separate states. I was taking an astronomy class and learning about the universal law of gravitation. How increasing the distance between two objects weakens the force of gravity. And there's nothing we could do about it—the gravitational pull just wasn't as strong anymore.
I was at the Phillips Center when you asked Billy Joel about moving to New York. Can you tell us what happened?
As you can imagine, it was a shit show trying to get Billy Joel's attention in an audience of 1,800. I wanted so badly to ask advice, and I was devising ways of getting his attention—telling friends to all raise their hands and then pass their question off to me; having them all point at me; having my boyfriend take his headband off and wave his extremely recognizable hair around, etc.
Defeated, I looked at Patrick and said, "I'm never gonna ask him my question."
With that, Patrick stood up, raised his hand, and yelled, "MUSIC IS MY CAREER!," to which Billy Joel responded, "Oh, you then." The moderator gave the mic to Patrick, but he passed the question to me. I was in shock, but I did my best to ask: "I went to high school for piano, but then thought I wanted to do something else in college, but now that I'm graduating, I realize that I want to do music. I am moving to New York, but I've heard that New York isn't the best town for a musician, so what is your advice is for a musician in New York?"
"Well, I don't think that's true," he began. "Brooklyn has a great music scene, but what kind of music are you trying to pursue? Do you play in a band now?" I pointed out all of my Half Steps sitting near me, and told him that ideally I would want to be famous, be at the Grammy's, meet Lady Gaga, etc. He responded, "Well, you can definitely make a living playing music in New York—play everything: bars, bar mitzvahs, weddings, covers, originals, you know, but do it for you—you're gonna have a lot of people telling you not to do it, or that you can't do it, but I say, go for it. The Grammy's and all that will come later, but do it for you, and if it doesn't work out and you're not happy, don't blame it on me."
Everyone in the audience applauded and laughed, while I sunk in my chair and cried from being overwhelmed with joy. Then, right after answering my question, he proceeded to play "Vienna." Oh. My. God.
When the session ended, I thanked Patrick so much for what he did. "You're the louder voice I never had," I told him, to which he responded, "That was too easy, people are just scared."
That conversation was more influential than anything Billy Joel could have told me. I realized that people who usually give me good advice are just scared. Maybe people don't like it when other people draw attention to themselves, but in the end, it gets their attention, doesn't it?
When are you moving to New York?
I want to grow as a musician, be inspired by the culture and life in the city. I know New York is oversaturated with musicians, and if I'm looking to make it, that's somewhat unrealistic. But this album does have commercial value, and if it gets into the right hands, I could be in Gainesville or India. It just needs to get into the right hands—where I am is irrelevant.
I made my deadline November. I'm really going to miss Gainesville, and I'm not in a hurry to leave.
What has Gainesville meant to you?
You spoke earlier about destiny—I could not have been placed in a better environment than Gainesville. It allowed me to grow as a musician, to form a band, get experience performing in front of people and meet other musicians in the local scene. However, I've always known that this was not my scene. Janna Pelle and the Half Steps wasn't indie enough for Gainesville, but it was too indie for radio.
Favorite Gainesville band: Morningbell.
Favorite place to eat: Flacos!
Sleeping and waking: Set alarm an hour before I need to be anywhere, tea and Greek yogurt.
Main food staple: Cinnamon Quaker Oat Meal Squares Cereal.
Best movie you've seen this year: Antz