by Tom Craig

SFL Music: How are you?

Janis Ian: How’s Fort Lauderdale?

SFL Music: Warm today.

Ian: Ah lucky you, I’m in Santa Fe. It’s freezing.

SFL Music: I know you just started your tour. I’m sure the weather’s been a little chilly out there.

Ian: Just a little bit. Yeah, it was 19 this morning.

SFL Music: How’s the tour going so far?

Ian: Well we started off at a venue that’s owned by the Author, George R.R Martin. And it’s funny because we opened the venue years ago, and then now we’re closing it because they’re going to be renovating. So we had three nights to kind of work in the set and everything, and then yesterday to remember what I teach when I do a master class. So it’s good so far, we’ve got a lot of sold out shows. It’s exciting. I mean it’s my last time around, so we’re all hoping that everything sells out, and the audiences are as friendly as they’ve been.

SFL Music: I hope so too. Well, we’re sure looking forward to having you down here. And so you know SFL also has two sister publications; one in Ohio and one in Pennsylvania. So this interview is going to go to those markets as well.

Ian: Oh great. Because I know we’ve got a bunch of dates in Pennsylvania, and we’ve got Akron and Columbus coming up in Ohio.

SFL Music: Yap. And Cincinnati too, I believe.

Ian: Yes. Cincinnati. Yeah, I’ve played that venue a couple of times. A beautiful venue.

SFL Music: Have you?

Ian: Yeah, Yeah. Haven’t been to Fort Lauderdale in a few years. It’s been a while.

SFL Music: Yes it has. Well, they recently re-did The Parker, and they did an amazing job with it. Keeping to the integrity of the original building, but modernizing it, and updating it. I think you’ll really be in pressed with it when you get down here.

Ian: Yeah, and it’ll be great for me. My wife’s coming. We’re going to drive. It’s a lot more relaxed than this leg of the tour where it’s pretty much slam, slam, slam. Now I’m looking forward to it now, and I love being on that coast.

SFL Music: Yeah. Well you got three good venues. You’re over there at Ruth Eckerd in Clearwater. And then you do a solo show there, and then you do one at The Lyric in Stuart-

Ian: Yeah. I remember the Lyric when they were just starting to get together the money to redo it. And my friend John Lesser was spearheading the bake sales, and all of that stuff. And boy, that was great. I played there maybe half a dozen times. I think the last two times ago I played with Richie Havens just before he stopped working on stage. It’s a great theater, great town. Just fun. I just really like the east coast there. You know, my friend Arlo Guthrie was living there for the longest time and I’d go back and forth visiting.

SFL Music: When did “The Light At The End of the Tunnel” start to come together for you? Can you tell me about that?

Ian: The album was really a working process. It started with a song called “I’m Still Standing” that I wrote about 10 years ago. And the last song on it was written literally two weeks before we went to Mastering, I ducked into a friend’s studio and did it. So it was, it was really a combination of years. And then of course COVID changed everything.

SFL Music: Yeah.

Ian: And we all had to stop whatever we were doing. And in a way it was really good for the album because I wound up not being able to obsess on everything and try and make it perfect. You know, one of the things that I really love about this album is that most of it is, all of it, actually is first take except for one song, which is “Wherever Good Dreams Go.” That song was actually a live version that a friend of mine found among his things.

He had taped it off the studio board while I was doing a concert, I think in Minneapolis. So it’s all first takes. It’s all very, I don’t know what the word is, but natural maybe. Deeply affected by COVID because couldn’t get into a studio.

SFL Music: Right.

Ian: Couldn’t get together a bunch of musicians. You know, nobody was traveling at the time. So everything had to be done either locally in the Bradenton area, which is where I live or it had to be an older work tape that I had done a couple of years before when I was still in Nashville.

SFL Music: Hmm. Do you, do you find it harder when you have to work with other musicians remotely like that versus all being together in the studio at once?

Ian: Tom, I think it’s apples and oranges really? Because there, there are good points and bad points. I mean, I loved being in the studio, the last album, people like Steve Gadd and Victor Krause, amazing players. And there’s something about looking at another player while they’re playing and then watching them light up when they hit a particularly good note or you sing a particularly good note, that’s one thing. But when I was doing “Resist” and I was doing, sorry, I just blanked on the opening cut of my own album. When I was doing “Resist” with Randy Leago or “Better Times Will Come.” I could never have put together “Better Times Will Come” with people like Vince Gill who was already on the road with the Eagles or Andrea Zonn who was out with James Taylor. I couldn’t have put that all together in the studio. So in that sense, it really worked for me. And there’s, there’s something to be said about.

I don’t want to make too much of my age but being of an age where you realize that you need to get out of your own way, you know, not being in the studio to tell the musicians what you think they should be playing.

SFL Music: Right.

Ian: When you’ve got somebody, the caliber of a Vince Gill, you just say to them, play what you think that you should play and let him rip. It’s a lot easier long distance because when Vince is sitting there and he’s one of the nicest people on earth, you just want to say Vince man, but could you try this? Could you try that? Could you try this or that? And he’ll do it.

SFL Music: Right.

Ian: But it’s probably not what he would do on his own.

SFL Music: Versus when he does it on his own and sends it back to you, it’s kind of like, oh wow.

Ian: Yeah, exactly. It was, oh wow. He turned it in two days before we had to mix it. And it was, oh, wow. That’s perfect. That totally sets the tone of the song.

SFL Music: You know, you just brought something up that I heard in an interview I just did a couple weeks ago about obsessing over things. And I did an interview with Colin Blunstone from the Zombies.

Ian: Sure.

SFL Music: And he talked about that same thing that at, you know, an older age, he finds himself obsessing over things more than he did when he was young. You feel the same way?

Ian: Oh, that poor guy. No, I obsess a lot less. I think when I was young, I actually thought that it was possible to make something perfect. And now, now I realize there’s no such thing, so why worry about it? Why bother?

SFL Music: Oh, so you’re just the opposite. Then you obsess less.

Ian: I am exactly the opposite. Yes. I think, you know, I’ve hit, I’ve hit a point where I think it’s different if you’re in a band too, I’m a solo artist. So I’m the only one who is really dealing with my mistakes. You know, I don’t have anybody else to blame them on. And when I look at it that way, a lot of my early work, I was so worried about something being absolutely perfect in every single note. And sometimes you take the heart out of things that way, sometimes it’s easy to lose the freshness and the immediacy, which is why going back to what we were talking about earlier, why I really like the immediacy on this album because it’s as close to live as I’m going to get without actually being live. And if it’s going to be my last album, I want it to feel like I’m right there.

SFL Music: Right. Well, it certainly does have that feel. I have to ask, do you think you’ve ever put together 12 more cohesive songs on one disc before?

Ian: Oh, good question. No, I think for me, you know, I was, I was lucky enough to be born with a lot of talent and the right family and culture and country for that talent to flourish and to be allowed to flourish. My grandparents were immigrants from Russia and I would never have been allowed to be what I am had they stayed. So there was a lot of luck to it and I’ve spent my entire life trying to live up to, first of all, the second generation immigrants dream of some kind of success.

You know, proving that it was worth them dodging bullet it’s to get here. Right. But also to live up to the talent that I was born with and that people like Leonard Bernstein celebrated. And I feel like with this album, it’s the first time that I’ve managed to do it with all the songs. I said the other day to someone I think I can probably do as well, but I don’t think I will be able to do better. I mean, I, you know, Tom, I’ve been writing songs since I was 12.

SFL Music: Right.

Ian: As a published writer. So I’m 70 now. That’s, that’s a long time to have a lot of experience.

SFL Music: Yes, absolutely. It’s and it’s a long and great career. On the light, do you think that it’s some of your most intense and honest work?

Ian: I think it’s the more that I thought about it as I was putting it together, the more I realized that what I was doing was saying a goodbye in a good way. You know, the people in my age group and older than me like Baez and Dylan, or younger than me, like a Joan Armatrading, we’re really writing a map of how to gracefully finish up a career or finish up that portion of your career. So there’s a huge difference between me saying right now, I’m not doing any more solo studio albums. I’m not going to tour anymore. And me saying I’ve stopped being creative because that is not correct but we’re writing a map of how to do it so that the audience can understand it too.

Audiences tend to think that if you’re not out touring and making records you are not being creative, when quite the opposite is true, if you’re a writer, the record spring from the writing and the writing is not something you can do usually, or I know Billy Joel, can’t write on tour, Elton doesn’t write on tour. Most of us when we’re on tour, our job is to be on tour, you know?

SFL Music: Right.

Ian: So, so seeing it as an opportunity rather than an ending.

SFL Music: Did you ever, did you ever imagine that two of your biggest songs “Society’s Child” and “At 17” would still be as relevant as they were when you wrote them?

Ian: Oh gosh, no, gosh, no. I didn’t think anybody would be playing them. I mean, who would think that a song like “17” would still be so relevant to radio it’s astonishing? I, it’s sad that “Society’s Child” has still has relevance. I would’ve hoped we were past that, but I think the “At 17” thing, as I’ve watched it become international is something that all adolescents go through pretty much, regardless of culture, you know, it’s just a horribly awkward age, scary age. I don’t think that’ll end.

SFL Music: No. And with, it seems like with social media and all that, it’s even harder now than it was when we were growing up.

Ian: Yeah. I think in a lot of respects, I think it’s much harder right now,

SFL Music: You know, we had

Ian: In everything. Yeah.

SFL Music: After, after your tour is finished next year in Europe and everything, what’s the next chapter for you? I’ve read that you I’ve read that you want to do some writing.

Ian: I do. I’ve got a bunch of writing projects that I’ve been sitting on some as long as 15, 20 years. I’ve got some friends that want to do recording projects, but really if I’m honest, I would like just a month or two where I’m not on email every day. I’m not on the phone every day. And I could take a walk on the beach that’s, I would really like that. And after that, I’ll figure it out.

SFL Music: That’s certainly a lofty goal.

Ian: Thank you. Well, you know, as someone who lives close to the water knows there’s nothing like it.

SFL Music: There is not, I’m five minutes from it on this coast and I have to go over there just to make sure they haven’t moved it every couple of days.

Ian: Yeah. Well, if they have moved it, you know, run for the highest ground.

SFL Music: Yeah. One last one, given all we’ve been through in the past two years, “Better Times Will Come,” is sure a wonderful song of hope. How did that come about?

Ian: You know, John Prine died and it hit me much harder than I expected. I didn’t. I knew John. I, we known each other since we were kids in the early seventies we met at, I think in 71 or 72, but we were never close, close friends. Still, I had just seen him at the Cambridge Folk Festival where we were both headlining, and we had stopped and talked for 10 minutes and he was a writer that I very much admired. He, he has an act for simplicity that I’ve, that I’ve never had. And the song started running around in my head while I was doing laundry. And thinking about John and honest to God, I’ve never been able to write a three-chord song in my life. And this is the, this is the only three chord song I’ve ever been able to write.

And I have to think without getting into metaphysics or whether you believe in an afterlife or whatever, I have to think that was somehow John’s influence because to me it’s a very John Prine song. It’s very straightforward, very simple, very, very catchy, which I don’t do very well either. And it was at a low point for me in COVID. None of us knew what was going to happen next. It was terrifying. And I just kept thinking there’s got to be something, there’s got to be some hope. Because one thing John did was there was always hope in the songs it’s like it was like Billy Holiday’s songs. There’s always an element of hope.

SFL Music: Right? Yeah.

Ian: So I, Yeah.

SFL Music: There certainly is. And it’s a beautiful song. It is.

Ian: Thank you. Appreciate it Tom. And it’s probably my favorite on the album.

SFL Music: Yeah. Well, I, you know, it’s interesting in going through your, your albums again, how you never shy away from putting a strong, powerful song is the first song on the album. “Society’s Child,” the opener on this album, which I just blanked on too, “I’m Still Standing”

Ian: Yeah. “I’m Still Standing.” Yeah. Yeah. And then followed by “Resist.” Yeah. There’s a lot of, there’s a lot of slap you upside the head, pay attention to those songs.

SFL Music: Yeah. It’s wake up when it comes on.

Ian: That’s a good, that’s a good way to put it, wake up. But I think that that’s part of an artist’s job when you’re the kind of artist I am. It’s to say wake up things are happening, wake up. Yeah. And provide solace, you know, provide some optimism with songs. Like “Better Times Will Come.” I’m going to have to go in about a minute. I’m sorry. I’m enjoying myself so

SFL Music: Real quick. I just, I just wanted to ask you what you’d like to say to our readers and your fans that are going to be coming to these shows in the three states real quick,

Ian: You know, the show because it’s my last shows. I’m trying to make sure that people hear the songs that they want to hear like “At 17” and “Society’s Child” and also get exposed to some of the new material. I’m trying to make the show a celebration rather than something sad, because I think it’s celebratory at this point in my life to be this age and to still have an audience.

SFL Music: Absolutely.

Ian: And I’m grateful. I’m just grateful.

SFL Music: Well, we’re grateful for you.

Share It!