Stephanie Jansen Risky Interview
Singer songwriter and 2012 Toyota Starmaker finalist Stephanie Jansen is no stranger to country music, or the music scene in general for that matter. She's been performing around the traps alongside other artists as a backing singer and session player for years, honing her craft and making sure she was ready to take the step forward with her own solo career. Pulling together these years of experience, Stephanie has emerged with an incredible first offering, her debut EP Risky which showcases her diversity as a songwriter and performer.
While she's been writing her own material for as long as she can remember, Stephanie didn't make a conscious effort to create her style into one specific genre, rather, she wanted to create music that enabled her to express herself. She focused on being herself and making the best music she could, and Risky is certainly a stunning example of this. "I think the country style of my music has emerged as a natural result of my desire to capture honesty," she says. "Songwriting for me has always been an exercise in exploring my own opinions, fears and boundaries. It is a constant process of self-discovery and that's why I love it so much. What I love about country music is that it captures what it is to be human in a way that is quite unique. It celebrates things like family and the daily struggle of the working person."
Releasing Risky, and the first single of the same name, wasn't a quick process. Stephanie could easily have released the EP three or four years ago, but took the approach that she wanted to be 100% happy with the product before sharing it with the public. She admits that she didn't feel 'ready' to be an artist and wanted to feel comfortable in her own skin first. She used her session work as an apprenticeship, as such, to get her ready for releasing her own material. "I've been able to see what it takes to be successful in this business, and how much authenticity and strength of character is required to stay strong amidst the various pressures," she explains. "Now I can honestly say that I'm so glad I waited before recording, and I feel so lucky that other artists have given me these opportunities to hone my skills. I feel that I've finally reached a point where I can proudly stand beside the work I've created, because I know it's 'me'… or at least, me at this point in my life."
Risky is certainly an honest and open look into Stephanie's life. The five tracks are penned about things that Stephanie cares about the most, has experienced and is inspired by. She admits that the sparks of ideas behind the songs all start off as a 'jumble of thoughts that wander around in my head on a daily basis.' "I tend to mull over things a lot, there are so many problems and paradoxes in the world and I guess songwriting is my way of trying to make sense of them," she says. "Themes like self-empowerment, the pressure to conform and growing up tend to appear in many of my songs. I suppose that's because they are the things that are within my realm of experience, as a 22-year-old trying to find her own road."
The first single from the EP, the title track Risky, is all about finding her feet and finding her own direction in life. Stephanie admits the song is the essence of her as a person and what she is all about. "I've always been a straight shooter and I don't think I've made the most obvious choices in my life, or followed that conventional success narrative that we're encouraged to aspire to," she says. "I was a studious kid at school and I think that many of my classmates were surprised when I dropped out of law and decided to get a degree in philosophy instead. I certainly never thought I'd create music for a living, even though I've always enjoyed it. But I think that the things I'm drawn to in life are the things that challenge me to push my boundaries and rock the boat. I love that squeamish and slightly sickening feeling that I get when I'm outside my comfort zone, because I know that I find out what I'm really made of in those situations."
Interview with Stephanie JansenQuestion:
How does it feel to be a Toyota Starmaker 2012 finalist? Stephanie Jansen
: That was awesome, there were only 20 finalists from hundreds of applicants and to make it that far was really cool. It was a big performance, on a big stage in front of thousands of people with a great band - even to perform my songs on that stage was a rush! Question:
How did it feel to hear your song played from the CD? Stephanie Jansen
: It was wonderful, so cool. It was something that took me a while to do really, because I didn't feel I was ready to do it. It was quiet a surreal experience to sit back and listen to my songs come to life, I was there throughout the different stages of the recording process including putting the layers on as we added more and more to the tracks. There was that moment when we finished mastering Risky and I was cranking it up, in the car, on the way home from the studio and at the point I couldn't believe we had accomplished it.Question:
Why did you decide to call the EP Risky? Stephanie Jansen
: Risky is the title of my debut EP and single. When I set out to write Risky I was looking to write a song that captures my philosophy of life and the way I like to live my life. One of the things that is pretty important to me is getting out of my comfort zone and pushing the boundaries; I love the feeling of being on the edge because I fulfill my potential in those situations where I feel uncomfortable. That feeling is one of the things that drew me to music, that feeling of putting yourself out there and being vulnerable to rejection and those things that make you stronger. Question:
Do you write your own songs? What's your inspiration? Stephanie Jansen
: Yes. Inspiration, for me, doesn't happen at any particular moment, I will have an idea, thought, question or even a problem and I'll let it brew in my head for a little while because I live in my own head, a lot, I am a pensive person. Depending on whether I am co-writing or writing by myself I will pull out one of those threads because I really feel like making something of that, on the particular day. If I am co-writing and the other writer is on the same page as my thoughts we'll make it into a song. Question:
Shoes is my favourite track, how did you go about writing that? Stephanie Jansen
: Shoes is a song I wrote with Allan Caswell, Allan looks like Santa Claus, his an older man who lives in the Blue Mountains and I happened to meet him and I wanted to write with him. Shoes came to me when I was cleaning out an old house, that we were moving out of and I was literally cleaning out the shoe cupboard and we'd been in the house for about 12 or 13 years so I had so many pairs of shoes, it was a history of my childhood in that cupboard. I found shoes from when I took up Hockey, for a season and those shoes were covered in cobwebs and next to them were my first pair of school shoes and the shoes I wore to my debutant ball (which are mentioned in the song). At that point I thought shoes were a beautiful way of capturing growing up because that's what growing up is. When you first put on a pair of new shoes they're almost uncomfortable and eventually you get used to wearing them and the moment they feel comfortable they start falling apart! Question:
Why did you not make a conscious effort to have your EP 'fit' a specific genre? Stephanie Jansen
: I didn't make a conscious effort to do anything, even though I know I am most well suited to the country genre, I have always been a believer that music should be bigger than genres. A genre is a handy way of deciding which shelf something goes on, in the store, it doesn't mean anything about the music and it shouldn't necessarily decide the music. My songs begin on an acoustic guitar and they tell me where they want to go. Question:
What music/artists do you listen to when you are not playing your own? Stephanie Jansen
: All sorts of music! I love Dolly Parton and Bonnie Raitt (a blues singer). For inspiration for my own writing, I tend to look at my favourite artists and I look at the writers who have written their songs and I seek out these incredible songwriters albums, often they are older men from Texas and not many people know about them, I seek out that music. Question:
Was there a moment you contemplated throwing in the towel? Stephanie Jansen
: Yes, to be honest there have been a few of those moments; I am starting to recognise now they are just episodes or the troths of the journey and I try not to let them get me down, too much. The moment I stop enjoying what I do, I will stop doing it. I try and focus on the great parts of the job because I get paid to do so many incredible things. I love the feeling of performance and the feeling I get when I finish a cracker of a song - they are the moments I focus on when I'm not feeling so positive about the industry. Question:
Do you prefer performing live or recording? Stephanie Jansen
: To be honest I haven't recorded all that much, yet so I don't feel necessarily qualified to make the choice. I love both performing live and recording in different ways and I liken recording to going to the gym (laughing), you don't necessarily enjoy it, at the time because it can be quiet grueling (singing the same line, fifty times) but I love that feeling, the creative element and seeing it all come together.
There is nothing like performing for me, I perform to connect with people and obviously I can't see who I am connecting with when I am recording; when I am performing I can see and feel the people in front of me.Question:
What/who was your inspiration to go into the music industry? Stephanie Jansen
: It was something that happened quiet accidentally, for me. I was lucky my parents have always nurtured music and thought it was an important thing for me to be involved in although neither of them is necessarily musical however my dad did teach me how to play guitar. I was always involved in musicals, I had music lessons and music was always a part of my life. I started giging and getting up performing one or two songs at family functions and then it gradually went on from there and I thought 'If I could get paid to do gigs at the local pub that would be unreal and better than waiting tables'. I started singing at the pub to get myself through University and I realised how much of a gift it was to be able to do it and it went from that point. Question:
If you could collaborate with another artist, who would it be? Stephanie Jansen
: I would love to collaborate with Don Schlitz, he wrote The Gambler, he is an amazing songwriter and I'd love to sing with Dolly Parton, that would be a rush! Question:
Do you have a website fans can visit? Stephanie Jansen