A lot could be said about an artist of magnitude such as Jan Johnston.
A legend within dance music as she has been a part of the dance music phenomena since the beginning!
She’s collaborated with esteemed artists such as Chicane,BT,Paul Oakenfold,Paul Van Dyk,Cosmic Gate and Roger Shah.
Her tracks have been featured in movies such as American Pie and Hackers 2.
She has been admired and loved globally by dance music enthusiasts and artists alike.
Born in Salford, England Jan was only to willing on pleasing her parents,following their wishes and thus attaining a job in the local bank,even though it was evident she was certainly blessed with an undeniable gift in music.
Nevertheless it wasn't long after that she felt the urge to express herself music wise and so formed the duo band JJ which went really well, even achieving success in the music charts not long after the band was signed to Sony.
Not all things last and so the band finally came apart. After the band was broken up and Jan’s departure from Sony was permanent she was signed as a solo artist to record label A&M.
Little did she know this would be the place that would carve her a whole new path within the music world as she was setting forth without her knowledge into the unrippled waters of vocal dance music.
On A& M a number of singles were released including Paris and the acclaimed
album Naked But For Lilies.
Fate was indeed to play a definite role in her life as Brian Transeau (BT) happened to be in the UK and on his brief stay there picked up a vinyl copy of Paris at a second hand record shop in Manchester.
This vinyl included The Prayer (the track that would later become the ultra classic Calling Your Name).After BT finally got around to listening to this record he was immediately stunned by her performance and illustrious voice, making it his mission to track down this unique and gifted songstress. He did in fact and together they set out to record Remember which became a big hit. This was certainly the track that opened doors for her as offers came flooding in from all over, everyone wanting to work with her.
She got down to work pouring in all her emotions and feelings and created amazing tracks such as:
Mercury and Solace (with BT), Love Will Come (with Chicane), Take Me By The Hand (with Submerge) and of course the track that remains an instant classic to this day: Skydive ( I Feel Wonderful) (with Freefall).
On top of all that she was asked to join BT on a sell out 30 date tour of U.s.a. and away she went entertaining fans from San Francisco all the way to Florida.
On the aforementioned tour she attracted the attention of dance music pioneer and legend Paul Oakenfold.
It wasn’t long after that she signed as an artist on the esteemed label Perfecto owned by Paul Oakenfold himself.
She moved to Los Angeles to begin recording her debut album for Perfecto along with US producer Jamie Myerson. The album was entitled Emerging and sadly after it’s completion never saw the light as a whole due to the fact that at the time it wasn’t considered dance music driven enough.
The good news was that some of the tracks did in fact get out there slowly but steadily such as Flesh which was technically the first single of the album.
We all know the success it had in the world of dance music and club culture and so
other singles followed such as Silent Words and Am I On Pause.
Jan certainly was in high demand after the release of each track as the public hungered for more and a vast number of artists wanted to work with this exceptional singer/songwriter whose haunting fairy tale like voice and story telling was unlike no other.
A force to be reckoned with as she literally took the dance music world by storm, releasing anthem after anthem.
Testament to this fact are the vast amount of releases that followed such as:
Calling Your Name (a re-recording of the original by The Thrillseekers),
Love Will Come (with Tomski),Close To You (with Tiesto,featured on his artist album In My Memory),Raging Storm (with dance music duo Cosmic Gate),Venus (Meant To Be Your Lover) (with DJ Cor Fijneman),Kaleidoscope,Homage,Like A Friend,Spellbound and of course the anthem Nothing But You (all with Paul Van Dyk on his artist album Reflections), Beachbreeze (with another mass duo Svenson and Gielen),Communicate (with BT),Transparent (with Serge Devant),Delirium (with Paul Oakenfold,for his album The Club),Waiting (with Leama and Moor, Glimpse OF Heaven (with Balearic maestro Roger Shah) and many more.
Each track was special and unique in its own way.
She has certainly entranced the audience with her heartfelt vocal performances in live shows and on her latest tracks always adding an extra dose of depth and emotion to anything she sets forth to create.
Jan is the original songstress of dance music and there is no wonder why she is still held in such high esteem as every track she creates has its story and the listener is drawn into a world she paints so clear with her enchanting vocals, guiding you along this dreamlike world every step of the way.
For myself it has been an incredible honor to have had the opportunity to take this exclusive interview with the first lady of dance music herself!
Many thanks Jan!!
How did you take your first steps into the world of music?
My first steps were following my father and entering competitions as a child, on holiday camps ect..!!!
Winning and taking all my brothers and sisters (6 of us in total) out for late supper, we loved that feeling of being out of bed and doing something different, always stayed with me and I paid with my winnings. I loved that bit the best.
You happened to be a songstress long before you waded into the dance
music waters. Can you please share with us the story behind you getting involved
in dance music?
Yes I was very involved in the acoustic scene and I was always in London at the writers nights. I’d drive back to Manchester through the night, in the days when you slept in the car or went home because hotels were too expensive.
But I was noticed and signed to A@M and when I wrote the album: Naked But For Lilies songs fell into the hands of the Dance DJ Producer BT.
He called me when he was in Manchester after tracking me down and I met him that very day in a studio in Manchester and wrote Remember. Immediately after that it was a done deal to work together as we clicked.
Paul Oakenfold the renowned DJ/ Producer loved the songs I wrote and after seeing me perform at T in the Park Scotland whispered in my ear: “I want to sign you as an artist to Perfecto” So a dream come true for me.
As we remember dance music started off being an instrumental type of music
Focusing more on hypnotic rhythms and amounts of raw energy.
Slowly but steadily we witnessed the introduction of ethereal melodies as well as
emotional and enchanting vocals. How does it feel to be the first lady of dance music?
I was so new to it but loved the experience in my cans and as I was a writer I followed my own song formula which at that time I wasn't aware that people were not writing songs with stories and full choruses..
So I think I was one of the first as it was 1995 and I was writing “Remember” “Mercury and Solace” and “Flesh”. All full songs with full stories. You could sing these songs stripped down and acoustic, so I think I got that label because of this unaware thing I was doing at that time. Writing songs, not throwing in vocal textures only although my vocals have been used that way also but they have taken them from full songs.
You have worked with a vast amount of artists from the scene with the end result of each of your co-productions together becoming an instant gem
In my opinion, your haunting and unique sounding voice added the perfect element for making all of these tracks instant anthems and regarded as all time classics within the dance music world. I know it may be a hard decision but which of your tracks would you say stands out and holds a special meaning to you?
They are all very special to me but one I always hold onto almost without knowing it until prompted is “Lullaby For Gaia” ,as it was a lullaby to myself. I had just gone through a heart break,always hard when you’re young and think its the only real love you will own!!!
“Blissful Bubbles Let Me Sleep” (because I was finding it hard to sleep)
“Rock Me Gently Don’t Let Me Think Too Deep.”
Studying the tracks you have crafted, they all have an emotional character, a spine tingling element within, like being drawn into a dreamlike world witnessing first hand a heartfelt story unfold while your senses are captivated by the music.
This is what I call the “Jan Johnston formula”
Are your tracks inspired from personal experiences or do you string together words and emotions plucked from your own illustrious imagination as the minstrels of old?
No they definitely come from personal experiences. Even if they are family or close friends. We all seem to ride a similar ride, all hoping for the peace and tranquility at the end of the learning!!!
That’s still my hope cause you do cut yourself off and live in a bubble, when you write and travel and dig into a studio until you've completed stuff ect..
Now I know you have to join in and not let time pass without living it on all levels.
So 2015 I’m going to get crazy but safe!!!
As a singer/songwriter where would you say you draw your influences from and which artists have been an inspiration to you over the years?
You absorb so much without even knowing where you filed it away from but artists I love and admire and would love to emulate are the writers:. Prince, Depeche Mode, Suzanne Vega, George Michael, George Winston (for his beautiful piano melodies) ,Chicane (for their ethereal melodies), Paul Van Dyk (for his creativity in the studio, I had the honor of working very heavily on an album called Reflections with him), Simon and Garfunkel, Adele, Prefab Sprout. Now I have Disclosure on none stop in the car at the moment so it’s very varied just love good music.
As it was stated earlier you have worked with some of the scene’s most known and innovating artists. Which would you say did you most enjoy working with and who would you like to work with in the future?
Every artist you work with or whose music arrives to write to have their own special qualities so it’s hard to choose one and I love Calvin Harris so I think to hook up with a new creative head would be a dream.
You have had the pleasure of appearing at grand events and festivals singing your heart out all over the world.
Which event happens to hold that special place in your heart and why?
I loved Trance Nation this year with Paul Van Dyk. I loved performing with him and catching up. Although we have all been loving and being involved in dance music for 20 years plus none of us are jaded. We are all as fresh and enjoying each gig like it was our first. That’s good music cause it feeds you like nothing else but a fave place is Prague. It was an amazing place to gig and I had a fab love affair there too. In fact it’s still ongoing in its own crazy way. Anyway another story that one!!!!
I know it is something of a dream for us fans to see a release of a Jan Johnston artist album. Be it an anthology of your most precious work to date or stock filled with brand new material.
Are there any plans of something like this becoming a reality in the near future?
Yes this is a must for me. As you can imagine all the music has really been downloaded for free which has really hurt any earning ability for writers unless they are gigging full time like the DJ/Producers you know well and gigs are very few and far between in reality. Why have the artist who wrote the song, (as it’s in the bag to play) No need for the original artist to perform it as well. Budgets!!!
So I'm working on an acoustic album for myself but with a creative edge of dance, but far more linear and transparent so I'm hoping I can join in and learn the ropes to sell online. I'm sure Phil my fave man in the world will help me as he looks after things for me in the virtual world!!!
I have a few projects that I'm working on so it’s an absolute. Yes ,I will have new stuff to hear and buy. Early into 2015 is my hope.
We have recently seen you go back into the studio and release new tracks such as Child Of Forever (with Hemstock and Jennings) and Love Like This (with Obsidian Radio).How have they been received by the public and has the DJ elite been embracing them and supporting them in their sets?
Yes I'm working non stop with new and exciting collabs since returning from living like a pioneer in Patagonia. No running water no electricity, my Irish DNA came to the fore. I missed nothing but my microphone and had masses of songs in my head to come back to work on.
So I've signed around 9 songs including the ones you've mentioned and they have been received in an amazing way like I was never gone really.
Illuminate by DJ Feel is one of the new songs that’s on the best of Trance 2014. I love that!!! Others with DJ Feel are Perfectly and I’m Not Going Back.
Love Like This (with Obsidian Radio) did so well on the charts. Then there is Time Indefinite with Glasses Boys, Dangerous with DJ Nii and his boys, Unmissable on a new album for Blackhole, Angel Of Light with Michael Badal soon to be released in Colorado, As It Should with Tenishia is now having another life with a rapper (Ace Hood) who has used all the chorus and has called the track Supposed To Do, Boom Jink is mixing Sky and it’s going to be released with Elirans label Arrival records very soon..
Then at least another 5 right now with amazing producers I've worked with since returning. It’s ongoing, in fact I forget as I'm so in the moment when I'm on a new song or I'm heavily highlighted and I can’t think straight.
Yes the guys have supported in fact George Acosta did a remix of Dangerous
In the past we saw singers and vocalists in dance music being mentioned usually just in the credits on the sleeve of the single release or album not really getting the credit they rightfully deserved. It was a tremendous shame. Nowadays we finally see them upfront and center mentioned on the track they sung right next to the artist/producer of the track or album. They have finally grasped the spotlight and are doing incredibly well thus getting a ton of more work requests on upcoming tracks, other artists as well as their own gigs and sometimes tours. As a singer/songwriter who was in the scene from early on how does it feel to witness redemption has finally come for all singers/songwriters and vocalists and they are getting the acknowledgement they deserve?
It’s always a freeing experience to have at least equal credit on work going out the door, but I'm happy to see this happening and it makes me happy as we were mentioned , at best as the singer for the DJ’s projects rather than an integral part of the creative process. When the DJ never actually mentioned the song was written by the singer, who was actually the songwriter, with melody, stories and emotion that allowed the producers to create a track to support this new thought in song!!! It was a sad state of affairs.
What did the current year hold for you so far and what happen to be some of your plans for the upcoming year?
My gig with Paul Van Dyk was my happiest one this year, then out to Australia for a gig @ Room 680 and then back and into the studio to do projects for myself and writing collaborations for some of the DJ’s I've mentioned.
Which place would you separate from all others as your favorite to visit and chill out,
perhaps draw inspiration for your upcoming work?
I saw Morocco and stayed in a fab Riad this year. That gave me a strong sense of Ancient past so I'm feeling that for visits and what that evokes as a writing environment..It was a real eye opener for the heat and music, the skin painting, colours, smells. So that’s the place for chilling I’d choose.
Which would you pick as your favorite City in the world you had the pleasure of visiting and which one would you wish to visit in the future?
New York, cause I lived there in and out for over 10 years. Long stays up to six months at a time and its always crazy in a fab way. I have amazing friends there and just outside of New York so that’s my place deffo.
We all are witnesses to the fact that you love music but what other activities or hobbies do you enjoy doing?
Yoga, walking, pursuit of spirituality, good time with friends talking. I love talking and laughing …so its’ a great coffee shop too and trying to cook for friends!@!!!!
Is there a secret ritual or a sort of preparation you undergo before going on stage to perform in front of your loving fans?
Yes I stand on my head so I carry my pillow, I actually do head stands and good breathing . Don’t hold the glass of wine at the same time!!
No I drink water and eat lots good protein nuts!!! (Before any show.)
Wine after the show, just one glass to chill..
Huge hug and thanks Kostas, love to you
Ask me anything anytime.
Jan Johnston xxxxxxxxxxx
(This interview was conducted and written for Generate Project (GR) on 28/10/2014)