The beautiful and talented, Blues Music Award winner for Song of the Year in 2013, Janiva Magness took time out of her busy schedule promoting her new album, "Original," which she released on her own label, Fathead, to talk a little bit about the album, upcoming shows, and life behind the scenes.
Alyson: Your past is a central part of who you are as an artist. How do you feel that your past experiences have influenced the new album, "Original?"
Janiva: I think that all of my history informs my craft, you know? In terms of my past experiences informing the current release, I’d say is probably on the level of getting through, and coming out on the other side.
A: What effect does songwriting have when you’re going through those challenging periods in your life?
J: It’s pretty cathartic so far. I mean, it’s hard. It’s challenging for me, but it’s quite cathartic.
A: Do you journal also? Or is songwriting, basically, your journal?
J: I do journal also. I don’t ever read it (laughs).
A: Do you just not want to go back and see what you’ve written?
J: It doesn’t matter to me. It’s more of a dumping ground, if that makes sense.
A: It does. It’s almost like what your brain does when you’re sleeping, why we dream. It doesn’t make sense but you’re just letting it all go. Do you feel that singing the blues is a spiritual experience?
J: It’s absolutely a spiritual experience for me. It’s a spiritual path for me. I’m very grateful that I was set on this path a long time ago.
A: You were very young. Do you feel you were led to sing the blues, or do you feel like you chose it?
J: I think it chose me.
A: Could you imagine singing any other genre?
J: No, nothing else really makes sense to me. Now, having said that, I think it’s absolutely right that the Blues Foundation have categorized me as a contemporary Blues artist. I think that that’s accurate, as opposed to a traditional Blues artist.
A: Your songs are very honest and raw. Do you feel that truth is necessary to be a blues singer?
J: I think it is the nature of the genre to be raw, to be very truthful, speaking the truth of the human experience.
A: On this new album, I can tell that it is Blues with an R & B influence, but I also hear Gospel. Was that intentional?
J: It’s just what the songs called for, do you know what I mean? Not like a calculated move, but it’s definitely what serves the song the best.
A: Are there any new artists that have influenced you?
J: What do you mean by new artists?
A: (Artists) that are currently on the radio? Any artists that are out there today?
J: Oh, sure, but I wouldn’t refer to them as a new artist. They’ve been out there doing it a long time. I do admire Adele quite a bit. I think she’s a very strong young woman, and extremely talented songwriter. Her voice is absolutely stunning. In terms of current influences, we’re probably talking about Mavis Staples and Betty LaVette. They’re at the top of the list.
A: Is there anybody that your fans would be surprised to hear that you are listening to?
J: I don’t know. I don’t think so. Not really.
A: Was it scary starting your own record label?
J: Absolutely terrifying, and completely necessary.
A: How long had you been thinking about doing it?
J: I think it’s part of the natural course of the evolution of things. With the evolution of my career, and the trajectory of my career, this seems to make the most sense. This is a very good time for artists, as far as I’m concerned, to move forward into being more involved in controlling our destiny, and controlling our own songs, and master recordings.
A: How did you get that name (Fathead)?
J: My ex-husband has a publishing company called Tight Shoes Music, and our standard sort of joke was tight shoes, fat head, thin wallet. So, that’s where Fathead came from.
A: Will you be signing other artists on your label?
J: Right now I’m focused on me, but there has been some talk about doing that in the future, so we’ll see what the future holds. We’ll see how well things go for me as a Fathead artist, and how well the music is received.
A: What do you want children in foster care to know?
J: I want youth in care to know that whatever they’ve gone through is not the end of the story, it does not have to be the defining moment. Our fate does not have to be our destiny.
A: What do you want people who are not in foster care, adults, to know about the children who are in foster care?
J: That we are worth it. That you never know when the smallest act of human kindness is going to change the lifetime of a child. I’m living proof of that. It’s really true.
A: Is there anything that you want your fans to know, or that you’d like to get out there?
J: I’d really just like them to make it to the shows that we have in Florida, and I really look forward to their support. We’re playing the whole new record. The band that plays on tour with me is the band that’s on the record. They just sound stellar. They’re really killing it, so it’s very exciting.
Catch Janiva Magness in Florida this month at the following venues:
August 19th, The Paradise Bar 21, Via de Luna Dr., Pensacola Beach, FL 32561
August 23rd, Ringside Café, 16 2nd St N St., Petersburg, FL 33701
August 24th, The High Dive, 210 SW 2nd Ave, Gainesville, FL 32607