On the heels of her most commercially successful release to date, Janita returns with her highly anticipated new album, Haunted. The latest in an already acclaimed discography, Haunted is helmed by an artist with the courage and determination to evolve--not only out of artistic desire, but personal necessity.
"What do we learn?" Janita (YA-nee-tuh) asks in the album's opening song, serving as a wry set-up for the answer she provides again and again with each charged moment of Haunted. Undeniably, she's learned a lot. With its expanded emotional canvas for her melodic songwriting--framed by lush, electrified arrangements and her trademark vocals--Haunted is proof that this is an artist who has truly come into her own.
"The great artists aren't afraid to grow while retaining what was unique about them in the first place," says Janita from her Brooklyn home. "Those are the artists I've always admired. So with this album, I felt I had to raise the stakes for myself, regardless of the risks." Risks that, in the end, proved to be as much personal as musical.
Before moving to Brooklyn as a seventeen-year old, Janita had already been a superstar outside of the United States. In her native Finland she was a national icon, the premiere recording artist on radio and television, awash with awards, constant touring and commercial success: a historic and pioneering career, all while still a teenager. She was quickly signed by Sony after moving to New York, capitalizing on her international celebrity. Her eponymous debut was followed by 2001's I'll Be Fine and 2006's Seasons Of Life, the latter scoring her two Top-40 hits on the US Charts. But throughout, Janita saw her own musical vision often being pushed aside for what she was told would be "safer" and in everyone's best interest.
It was another artist, it turns out, who became the catalyst for the changes ahead. "I remember Meshell Ndegeocello came over. She exposed me to music I hadn't explored before. I loved it. Totally devoured it. I moved into Keane, Tom Waits, Radiohead, Smashing Pumpkins, Hole, and PJ Harvey. A natural progression. Until soon I couldn't find enough depth solely in the music I'd been inhabiting. Until I couldn't express myself solely with the tools I'd been using anymore." Bucking the conventional "wisdom" of her advisors and extricating herself from her label, she began inventing a different, defiant future for herself and her music.
Haunted's title track describes the ensuing transformation, akin to Dorothy stepping into color in The Wizard of Oz ("Coming from my hidden world / Through doors that I've closed / Across bridges I've burned, 'Haunted'"). In "House On Fragile Terrain," Janita declares "I can't be who you'd like me to be," with the understanding that no transformation comes without cost. Timeless string arrangements in "Hopelessly Hopeful" and "Believe Me I Know" meet cutting-edge electronic elements in "Martian" and "Last Chance To Run And Hide," each track teeming with Janita's soulful vocal wattage. "All along," smiles Janita, "it's been music that's kept me sane, from the very beginning of my life…and it continues to do so."
At its core, Haunted embodies the journey of an artist focused not on the ghosts of her past, but on the possibilities of her future. One of her own fashioning. One that for the first time now belongs to her. A future of hope and promise, and she invites her listeners to join her.
So, how do you describe your music to people, Janita?
I call my music Alternative Soul. It is a mixture of all my influences, and I listen to and love quite a variety of music genres. My instinct is to opt for anything with a lot of heart and gravitas; something I can sink my teeth into... And I strive to make such music myself.
I grew up listening to a lot of soul, R&B and hip hop, and discovered alternative a little later in life. It is all melding in my singing, in my songwriting and my musicianship.
Tell me about how you originally got into your craft.
I learned how to sing before I learned how to talk, and got my own little Casio when I was 3. It was one of those crappy little 80's electric pianos with crappy drum tracks... But I loved it! I was just enthralled by music straight away. It seemed like it was in my blood and came very natural to me always.
I started writing my own songs on the piano at 5 years old. Throughout my childhood I sang, played, danced and performed, encouraged by my mom especially... And then I got my first record deal at 13. The following year, I was already a big star in my native Finland, and by 17 I moved to New York to really pursue my dreams in music. As you can see, all of it began when I was very young.
What is your favorite thing to do in the whole wide world?
The answer to this tends to change depending on where I am in my life... Right now, my favorite thing is to hang out in parks reading, listening to music, watching the sunset and having deep conversations with people I admire and love.
Perhaps later on in the future I would site raucous sex and drinking scotch, ha. Damn, that sounds pretty good actually too.... Life keeps flowing and changing.
What is your biggest challenge when it comes to running your business?
Ambition means something different to me now, than what it used to. I have way more ambition towards having an enjoyable, balanced life now, than I have towards the business side of music. I am not an artist dead-set on making connections, conquering the world and promoting myself at every opportunity. In all honesty, I feel slightly awkward socially, and am way more interested in making good music than schmoozing. In that way, my biggest challenge in running my business is me. I'd rather just sing and do my thing, than try to be pleasing to people.
When you were a kid, what did you think you were going to be when you grew up?
I thought I was going to be a pianist or a ballerina. I was never trained in singing... Instead I was studying both classical piano and ballet in esteemed national institutions, so it looked like one of those would become my craft. But singing naturally grew to be my forte...
In what way has your community impacted your development as a musician?
Finland is not known for it's passionate people—rather, we are known to be introverted, quiet and unassuming. That does not mean that passion isn't within us though. It's just that the culture does a very good job at suppressing it.
I certainly struggled with that and ended up becoming quite compulsive about expressing myself anyway, in a way that was accepted. The culture put me into a situation where the only outlet for my emotions was music and art, so I dove very deep into them. In the end, I think I'm better for it. I think it's given me a lot of depth.
What other artists out there do you love?
For the same reason as I love the Russian author Dostoyevsky, I love Radiohead. I feel like they both express my innermost workings painfully well. However, there are times in one's life when both Dostoyevsky and Radiohead are too heavy... So, I also love Death Cab for Cutie, Patty Griffin, Neil Young, Milton Nascimento, to name just a few.
What does your future hold?
Less inhibitions, less worry, more work, more play... and a lot of love. Connections with a few important people (and I mean this mostly in the non-business-sense), and a strengthened connection with the world. Yeah.