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Janita Takes Control with Her New Album, Sound and Musician's Rights Activism: Interview

by Carolyn Menyes   Nov 5, 2015 14:20 PM EST

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Janita is an artist in control. Once Finland's biggest teen pop sensation, the now 36-year-old singer-songwriter has reinvented herself at least twice. Now, she's a confident, self-assured performer with an androgynous look and tunes that are so cool and unique that she is truly one-of-a-kind. Though, it all took some time.

"I actually started my career when I was 13 years old in Finland, and you know, I think from early on I got into a dynamic with the people I worked with that I kind of followed their lead, because I was so young at the time. That's basically what kids do they just follow the leader," she said. "So, a lot of the choices I was making musically for that time there were sort of being imposed on me and the whole alternative thing just came as a rebellion towards the later part of our working together."

And though she started her transition to an R&B artist with her own soul in the 2000s, those records feel like a world away from the innovative R&B/alt-rock hybrid of Didn't You My Dear?, her new album. Those other records are more coffee house R&B, with what feels like a very heavy Sade influence. But, the hints of something more alternative was in there. On the U.S. version of Spotify, her most-streamed song is a cover of the Depeche Mode classic "Enjoy the Silence." And that seemed like a groundwork for what was to come.

"You know there's a saying that Tom Waits has that, 'Anything you absorb you will eventually secrete,' and that's very true for me. I think there's a lot of people in this world who are particularly interested in one genre and that's pretty much where they stay in in terms of their interests for their whole lives and I've never been like that," Janita revealed, hinting that her newly developed sound was always boiling under.

"I've always gravitated towards whatever spoke to me at any given time and I originally started listening to like a lot of R&B and a lot of soul music when I was growing up and hip-hop. I kind of got into alternative much later in life. It's all kind of been just mixed up in there, I haven't particularly aimed for a niche or a genre and so I ended up doing what felt honest and what felt real to me."

The result in Didn't You My Dear? is an OK Computer-infused, PBR&B record that doesn't sound like much of listeners will hear on any mainstream channel. At the same time, the music is accessible, with the sort of gripping lyrical contents about inner turmoil and struggling with a how to function in a relationship.

A true highlight of the record is "Traces Upon Your Face," which Janita is promoting with an innovative new music video.

"See it's really special piece of work from my perspective and it really grows the more you see it because there are a lot of little details that you can sort of see after seeing it for a few times and yeah I think the message is powerful and clearly goes with the message that I've been pushing out through the album I wrote as well," she said about the video itself.

Filmed by a small team over the span of four days in Barcelona, Janita took on the task of doing some of the puppetry herself for "Traces Upon Your Face," adding yet another personal element to the clip. Though it was filmed on a small table, the clip is shockingly filled with detail, down to the tremble of a hand.

"It was surprisingly uncomplicated when you got the help of somebody that knew what they were doing," Janita said about the video making process. "It was really wonderful to see firsthand how a world like that comes together and how small it can actually be in size when it looks so big on screen. It looks very intricate and then it all fits on that table."

Janita is clearly a passionate musician - talk to her for more than 30 seconds and that becomes immediately clear. But, her passions are not just self-contained. Like high-profile artists such as Taylor swift, Janita is also fighting for musician royalties in the United States. Though, her battle isn't the streaming juggernaut. It's at once more broad and more narrowly defined.

She is a key figure in the I Respect Music campaign, a hashtag and movement that fights for artists' rights. Though I Respect Music's goals are to help continue the musician career as a viable lifestyle for "middle class" artists, the main legislative goal at the moment is an old technological one: artist payment for radio play.

"I think this is not particularly sexy issue. People tend to go for streaming because it's so current, but this is an important issue and it really does need to be talked about and I know what I'm missing so I know why I'm fighting," Janita said.

Janita knows what she's missing because the United States is just one a few handful of countries that don't pay artists for over-the-air radio play. Other countries on this list? North Korea, Iran, Rwanda, Vietnam and China. So, as a native Finnish artist (and new American resident), Janita is aware that there is money to be made here.

"I think a lot of people don't know a lot of American artists don't know what they are missing, and that's why I find I have a particular responsibility in speaking about this. I mean at one point or another this royalty has been three-fourths of my income so it's a big deal," she said. "The fact that we don't have this is a form of trade embargo because what happens is that when Justin Timberlake, who's an American artist gets played in the U.K., the U.K. doesn't pay him. Like if everybody else gets paid for their work artists need to get paid too."

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