Last year Janet Gardner, Share Ross and Roxy Petrucci, the singer, bassist and drummer behind MTV darlings VIXEN caused a nice stir by announcing they had re-grouped along with talented lead guitarist Gina Stile to perform the hits of their classic band they way fans remember them. There has been a little adjustment period concerning the name of the group since they initially reformed under the name VXN and they are now going by Janet, Share, Roxy, Gina or “JSRG” for short. The ladies are extremely excited to be playing the Monsters Of Rock cruise this March along with some other select dates in 2013 including the M3 Festival and are also preparing an EP of all-new music. If you watch the clip from their “unofficial” first gig together in Amityville, New York (posted below) you will see the band is scary tight and sounds fantastic. I, like most teenage boys (and girls!) watching Headbanger’s Ball, paid very close attention to Vixen and have continued to follow the girls’ careers since the classic era so I was friggin stoked to find myself on the phone with lead singer Janet Gardner who filled us in on exactly what’s going on and what to expect. Read on….
Legendary Rock Interviews: Thanks for calling me Janet, I know you, Roxy and Share got ahold of me last year after reading our interview with Jan Kuehnemund where Jan said she wasn’t closing the door completely to a reunion of the MTV era Vixen lineup. You guys put out a statement that you’d love to “Rev it Up” again, but that didn’t happen. Was re-forming that lineup your initial goal before the communication broke down?
Janet: Well yeah, for the last few years we’ve been trying to do this and we’ve been trying to get Jan on board and sort of coax her into doing this with the four of us, the classic lineup of Vixen. So…..we kinda waited and each year the festival season would come up and we’d all try to get her interested and we had an agent looking into other gigs and stuff. She would say “No” so we just waited and waited until the next season would come around and we’d try and approach her again and one time she almost said yes. She said “Okay, maybe we can try doing a few reunion dates” and then she’d change her mind. So then we thought last year, “Ok, you know what….let’s make one last attempt to get Jan onboard” and we did make one last attempt and again she said no. We were like “Well, we just wanna play, we wanna play together” and we got Gina Stiles on board because Roxy and I had worked with her before on the “Tangerine” album and tour and she’s awesome and she was totally into doing it so from there we were just off and running.
LRI: You’re going to be doing all of those high profile gigs like M3 and Monsters of Rock Cruise and getting the fans stirred up. What is the plan going forward as far as recording another new album with Gina?
Janet: We are gonna do it absolutely. That’s something we’ve been talking about from the moment we realized we wanted to get back out there and play and we’re planning on doing just that. We are all songwriters, all four of us, good songwriters. Gina and I wrote probably 50 songs for the last album so we have a good thing going there and Share and I used to write a lot back in the day. So, yeah, we are definitely coming up with new material and the plan is to keep it to something like a really strong EP or something along those lines.
LRI: Jan was super sweet to me when I talked to her and every time I’ve talked to her since but when I asked her what went wrong during the last attempt at a reunion she didn’t really seem comfortable giving me a direct answer. So, I want to ask you how you guys see it, what went wrong? Was it just the demands of the road or that particular tour or was it a personality issue?
Janet: No, it wasn’t personal. No, not on our part at least and I don’t think it was on Jan’s part either. There was a problem with that tour (Voices of Metal). It just started to fall apart. Jan kind of makes it out to be…..she doesn’t lie, but she just says “Things got kind of rough on the tour and they deserted me in the middle of the tour and forced me to find replacements” which isn’t entirely true. The truth is, the tour started to fall apart and we wanted to sort of get it together and restructure things because it got to the point where the manager had called me and said, “You have to do the rest of the tour for free”.
LRI: I think a lot of fans have the wrong idea about how well planned and efficient some of these tours are.
Janet: Yeah, and I mean at that point I said to our manager “Look, I would love to be able to do that but I just can’t. I have responsibilities, I have a mortgage and car payments and stuff I have to pay for so why don’t we just restructure the tour and do some weekend warrior type stuff. I’ll go home and get my job back and work the beginning of the week and we can go do shows on the weekends because nobody is looking to book you on Monday or Tuesday anyway, those are just hard dates to sell. Let’s go home and work during the week and still do the dates on the weekends, that way we can still make some money and still play the dates.” I said that and that was so that we could continue to do dates but still be able to live, we could still survive (laughs). The manager didn’t want to do that and he responded by saying “Nope, either you go out and you play these dates for free or we replace you” and I said “No, I can’t” so they replaced me. I would have done it if I could have but I am a grown up, hello, I am not 18 years old and I have responsibilities. I can’t just drop all my stuff on my parents and go out on the road (laughs). So, that’s what happened. There were some safety issues and stuff too with having all of us crammed into this minivan. I mean there was literally like a Marshall head wedged behind my head. If we had an accident, any kind of accident, that would have smashed my head and neck in. I also talked to our manager about that and was like “Look, this is not safe. I love being out here playing and I love the music but this is not worth risking my life, we gotta fix some things and come up with a different approach” and he just got mad, he was like “This is MY thing and I put this together and I know what I’m doing and I know what needs to be done to get this band up and running again and blah, blah, blah” and I was like “Ohhhh brother”.
LRI: This has happened to sooooo many bands, this fragmentation, there have been or currently are two versions of L.A. Guns, Great White, Queensryche and on and on. On one hand, a fan could say that Jan is being stubborn or controlling and more power to the three of you for trying to move forward. On the other, they could say that she started the band and has invested time with these new members and doesn’t want to give that up in order to reunite. Do you think the fans are at all being torn or do you see it that way?
Janet: No, I don’t think they are being torn. I hope not. It’s a big world and there are a lot of stages to play on, nobody has to pick sides. Go see them, if you like it, great. Go see us, if you like us, great! I don’t see why people would have to choose sides or start drama, you could like either band, both bands or neither band but the bottom line is we wanna play. We wanna play for people and we wanna play the songs that we helped make popular, that I sang on the original versions (laughs) and just get out there again. That’s all, we just wanna play and I’m sure Jan would say the same thing so fine, more power to them, more power to us.
LRI: I know big things are happening for you guys with the cruise and the reunion and M3, I would have to imagine if fans WERE forced to make a decision it would be hard to turn down seeing Roxy, Share and you and that might make it difficult for promoters. Have you heard anything from Jan or her camp other than the whole issue over the use of the name?
Janet: No, we haven’t heard anything. We have a couple of friends who have forwarded a couple of comments here or there that have been made on their facebook page but that’s about it. We had an issue over the name and we’re going with our first names just so everyone knows who it is. I made a stupid move in giving up the rights to the name so quickly, I probably shouldn’t have done that but I did, so…..
LRI: You were in one of the earlier incarnations of VIXEN, before the MTV lineup. That was when the band had relocated to Hollywood in the mid-80s right??
Janet: Yeah, I joined the band in 1983. I played with the original, original drummer Laurie Hedlund and Tammy Ivanov was playing rhythm guitar and Liza Carbe was on bass at that point. Then Liza left and Steve Vai’s wife Pia Maiocco joined. Then we got Roxy on drums and then Share took over on bass. All of that was within a couple of years (laughs).
LRI: Was the music that VIXEN made back in 84-86 stylistically different than the material you made later on?
Janet: When I first joined the band it was pretty lightweight stuff, very, very poppy keyboard type stuff. Then we kind of got a little heavier and then we really got heavier and trying different things and just having fun. Then we kind of went back and went halfway in between the pop and the hard rock by the time we were actually ready to record (laughs). By that time we had reached a point where we balanced the melodic, commercial appeal in a way that it was still rocking enough.
LRI: Were those early days before the record deal kind of a fun time for you?
Janet: Oh my god, yes. We had a BLAST back then and it was really easy and worry free. Nobody had a care in the world, we were just playing and writing and enjoying being around each other. We really were having a great time back then. As things became more successful they also became more complicated and it started to drive a wedge in some respects. Even though it was really exciting to be recording a record and making videos and doing big tours it also meant there were more people involved and more demands and more different types of demands. It kind of changed the dynamic and made everything more complicated. It became harder to sort of stay united but those early years were different and it was definitely a fun, fun time back then. I mean, we were poor (laughs) but we didn’t even care because we were so young and we were having that good of a time.
LRI: Things kind of started turning around and the band changed managers and was showcasing for labels or was it always just EMI who was interested?
Janet: Well, when I first joined the band they still had their original manager from Minnesota and then he stepped down because he said “You know, there’s just nothing more I can do for you guys” and that’s when Alan Kovac and Left Bank Management got involved. He later of course became this huge, huge manager for Motley Crue and others now but at the time the only artists he really had were Richard Marx and Jeff Lorber. Back then, Alan really wasn’t that big of a deal and we just went to his house and he said all the right things and we went and recorded a demo. He took it around and it did not take very long and we only did a couple of showcases. There was one for MCA and then I remember the one for EMI because I was sick, OF COURSE! It was the gig of my life and I could barely talk but we somehow managed and I choked out a few songs and they went for it and signed us.
LRI: You must have looked FANTASTIC that night!
Janet: (laughs hard) I guess, maybe it wasn’t that bad. Realistically, you’re always your own worst critic and I probably had a little extra rasp in my voice so when it comes time to sing something just sort of happens and you go with it. I have had that happen before where I am not feeling that well and thinking I can’t croak out a note but when you get up onstage you just sort of use a different part of your voice than you do all day and it can sometimes surprise you.
LRI: I know the whole band didn’t make it into Penelope Spheeris classic movie “The Decline of Western Civilization” but you did. Were you having fun or were you just thinking “What the hell is going on?”
Janet: (laughs) Well, we didn’t spend a lot of time doing it. It was being done right while we were in the middle of working on the first record and we didn’t really know what it was or at all what it was going to end up being. We just had a publicist who was like “You gotta go do these interviews”. So we showed up and I can only vaguely remember shooting the interview pieces but we didn’t really get to meet anyone else who was doing it or anything like that. It could have been more fun if we were hanging out a little or meeting the other bands that were in it. At the time it was just another interview that we did. You never know what’s gonna catch on or become a cult classic or anything like that (laughs).
LRI: In retrospect, when you watch “The Metal Years” the funniest thing is that you guys look pretty damn normal compared to some of the dudes in the movie!
Janet: I know!!!! (laughs) we definitely, definitely wore less makeup than some of those bands. I remember, I remember walking up and down Sunset Strip and thinking I looked tame compared to some of these guys. I was thinking “My hair’s not big enough, I don’t have enough eyeliner on”. Sometimes I almost wanted to go home and re-make myself after looking at some of those glam dudes (laughs).
LRI: I was thinking the other day about exactly how big Vixen’s star got at one point and how many tours, videos, photoshoots and interviews or appearances you must have made during that era. Every girl wants to look good and dress nice and stuff but did it ever get to feel like it was a bit too much or a bit overwhelming constantly having a camera in your face?
Janet: No, it was always pretty cool. I was always pretty much pinching myself like “Is this really happening?” Some of it is kind of a blur now because a lot of that all happened pretty quickly but to answer your question, No. I don’t ever remember thinking “This is not good or this is too much”. It was always like “WOW, this is cool, this is awesome, I am living the dream and I am loving it”. We worked hard of course but I really enjoyed it all, everything that came with it.
LRI: It was pretty easy for people to try and take shots at a band like yours and say you’re not “metal” enough or think you’re some pre-fabricated “girl” band but to me those people never saw the band live. MTV Unplugged was also one of those moments where it was clear just how talented you guys were. How did the “Unplugged” taping come to be?
Janet: I really don’t remember exactly how it happened but I remember that they invited us and we were of course like “Yeah”!! I remember that we were in the middle of a tour and Roxy and I missed our flight so I do remember that being a little bit of pressure and I was like “Oh my god, we haven’t slept!”. We had to take a redeye flight cause we missed our flight and I remember looking horrible (laughs). I remember looking in the mirror and thinking “oh my god I don’t have enough time to get ready” because I know we literally had to go run and do it and feeling really unprepared.
LRI: But yet, just like your showcase moment, you delivered the goods. That performance was an amazing moment for all four of you, especially “Love Is A Killer”.
Janet: It’s weird. That was the only time that we got a favorable review in Rolling Stone magazine, although it was kind of a backhanded compliment. They said something like “Surprisingly strong vocals from singer Janet Gardner and Roxy gamely banged on her congas” or something. I guess Rolling Stone just loved to ignore hair bands back then but they actually gave us a pretty good review for “Unplugged” and it made me think that maybe there was something to that. Maybe it was for the best that I didn’t have time to sit and stress over it, I just went out there and sang.
LRI: One of the other moments that has been repeatedly bootlegged was the big outdoor Fort Lauderdale gig that Vixen did. Are those festival type shows always just a lot of fun for you personally?
Janet: They are and you know what I have to say also is that a lot of people think that we fixed a lot of that stuff on those videos and I swear to god not one thing is fixed. Every note that we played and every note that we sang was done live, just for the record so everyone knows. A lot of people like to say “Oh, they obviously fixed that” or “They were lip synching” but it’s not true. What you see and hear on those tapes is exactly as it was played, including the Arsenio appearance. We played and sing on every bit of that. I have to say that because there are a couple of things out there that I will admit were taped TV things and were not live, we did this New Years Bash thing and there was a thing on Japanese TV where there was either not enough time to set everyone up live or the producers just prefer not to use live performance but those are the only things on Youtube that are not live.
LRI: How much of a chance did you get to tour outside the country?
Janet: Oh tons. Much more than we were able to tour here in the United States.
LRI: Some bands complain about the strangeness or the living conditions did you enjoy it?
Janet: Oh it was phenomenal. I mean, it is different overseas, the hotels were less ritzy, the buses were really creaky and battleworn and not nearly the comfort level of the really nice tourbuses here in the States so it was a little different but it was totally awesome. We got to open up for Deep Purple for crying out loud, it was AMAZING!! That’s a tough gig, those are classic rock audiences and we really had to work to win them over which wasn’t easy. European fans are different in many ways, they’re extremely loyal and not quite as trendy or fickle as some other audiences or markets can be, they’re really old school and loyal and they were absolutely looking at us like “Who are these chicks???” but by the end of it we had pretty much won them over. The Scorpions tour was incredible and that was our first arena tour too, opening up for the Scorpions in Europe. Another big challenge but it was amazing!
LRI: Historically, bands have said that it could be challenging opening for KISS too, how did that go for you ??
Janet: Actually that went fine, we didn’t do a whole lot of dates with them. I think we filled in for Slaughter on a run of dates there on the Hot In The Shade tour but it went well, the audiences weren’t that challenging, they were right on board and rocking. I had always looked up to KISS just for the sheer spectacle and the presentation they always bring to the table. I did actually see them when I was really young and I do remember thinking that the whole thing just looked like so much fun. I was only a little girl but I remember thinking, “Man, I wanna do THAT!”
LRI: Speaking of fun…..have you been in any other movies other than “The Metal Years” and the Cinemax classic “HARDBODIES”???
Janet: (laughs hard) Oh man….you did your homework (laughs). I can’t get ANYTHING past you!!!! Oh, I am trying to think, not really any other movie appearances other than those but I remember we did some TV appearances on shows like Cagney and Lacey, remember that one? Also we did a couple other appearances on shows for just little scenes where they needed a “band in the background of the club shot” for some reason (laughs).
LRI: Some other members of the band have mentioned your second album, “Rev it Up” as their favorite, often times citing the fact that you were really feeling the freedom of being able to write and get your own material on the album more than the previous album. “Tangerine” is easily the heaviest of all of the albums. Do you have a favorite yourself ?
Janet: Oh, I don’t know if I could say that I have a favorite among them all. As far as like, production and sound quality we definitely hit a home run on “Rev It Up” because we had Mike Shipley mixing it and he is like a sonic genius so I would agree that “Rev It Up” sounds the best and probably has the best continuity and that is probably due to the fact that Randy Nicklaus who was a friend of ours did a really good job on the production and worked with us to make sure it had that the songs were presented as good as they could be. I also think I had gotten better as a singer and some of my best vocal performances were on that album. At the same time, I think we would all agree there were some really special moments on the debut album and some of those tracks have a certain magic to them.
LRI: I had heard on more than one occasion that recording the debut for EMI was a difficult process but you know better than anyone that it just brings back good memories for the fans who identify with it.
Janet: Right and myself, personally I thought that the recording of “Edge of A Broken Heart” was really a magic moment. It was and is still one of my favorite musical experiences. I remember listening back to it on the big speakers in the studio at the time, they had left the room for a while and I was hearing a rough mix with the vocals and I was getting major goosebumps. I just KNEW right then that it was going to be a hit, it just felt soooo right that I was like “This is it!” and I remember everyone else was very excited about it. The first time I heard it on the radio, I had to pull over because I was just freaking out, my whole body was reacting and I was like “Oh my GOD, it’s us, it’s us”. I called my mom, I pulled up to the nearest payphone, this was before everyone had cellphones, oh my God I sound so old! There are definitely some magic moments on that first album, “Cryin”, “Love Made Me” and even the song “Desperate” I think was pretty awesome.
LRI: I have grown to appreciate all of your songs a lot more as I’ve gotten older. I am always kind of annoyed when Vixen gets lumped in with other bands as a “One Hit Wonder” because I really don’t hear the catalog that way.
Janet: Thank you, and technically, they’re not correct in saying that. “Cryin” actually charted higher than “Edge Of A Broken Heart” on the Top 40 charts. “Cryin” charted at 22 and “Edge Of A Broken Heart” reached 24 so technically that whole tag is incorrect to begin with.
LRI: You also had to deal with the “What’s it like being a girl in the macho hard rock….blah, blah” question to the point of insanity back then. I get a ton of interview opportunities and half of the bands have females or female singers so the times really have changed A LOT. Obviously there was Heart and the Runaways and others but looking back now, do you see yourself or your band as trailblazers at all?
Janet: I don’t know. Me being the singer there were always lots and lots of female vocalists who had obviously come before me and so many people that I was so inspired by, Heart being one of them. When I got the first Heart record I was like “Oh My GOD” and there was always Janis Joplin and even Etta James were rocking so it goes back a loooong way as far as female vocalists. That’s not to mention Grace Slick or Pat Benatar or any other singers so to me, I was never really that trailblazing or unique or personally held back or persecuted. That said, as a BAND it was tough because no matter what, people were wanting to find faults in what we were doing at every turn. We were always looked at a little differently as compared to just a band full of guys because they wanted to categorize us or label us as a novelty, they want us to be “not real”. You know how people are, you’re just looked at a little differently and viewed more through a microscope and yeah it was tougher than just being a guy band because we would never be able to get away with the things that guys in bands would get away with. They could get drunk and fall down onstage or miss a note and nobody would say anything, they would be seen as “Cool”. If we did that it would be the living end, it would be “They SUCK, they’re a joke….blah, blah, blah” so that is kind of why we were very conscientious that every time we went onstage we were always going to be in top form because the same rules didn’t apply to us.
LRI: I am super excited to hear you guys with Gina and think she is a great writer and player but I have to ask the obvious question. If Jan were to stop and think about the entire situation and come to a different conclusion and want to work with you guys again, would you all be open to it or is there too much water under the bridge?
Janet: No, we would still do it, of course. As far as I know we would all be on board for that.
LRI: That’s the weirdest thing is that you all sound so overwhelmingly positive and level headed about it that it is just hard for any of us fans to understand it. Even Jan, like I said, she was very kind in her comments about you guys and maintained that it was nothing of a personal nature.
Janet: No, it isn’t. I mean, you’ve talked with Jan, she’s so nice and so easy to be around that it’s not even funny. I mean that’s the truth and I really don’t know what to say but I would totally be open to working with Jan or dealing with Jan. At the same time, Gina is wonderful and a kickass guitar player too so we really have to be careful as far as how we treat and deal with her. I mean, at this point we have plans with Gina and we’re not just gonna kick her aside which is I’m sure how Jan feels about her lineup as well. I totally understand her loyalty to who she’s working with and for the record we were very, very sensitive about that when we approached her about reuniting. We were like, “Hey, you don’t HAVE to throw them out or cast them aside, we can just do a couple shows with the original members as reunion shows and that could be it, a few reunion shows and you go back to them and keep your lineup”. We made it clear that it didn’t have to be all or nothing in terms of a Vixen reunion and we made it clear that we would be okay with that too. We were like “Whatever you wanna do, we can do”.
LRI: The clips of you guys playing in Amityville are great and are being seen on youtube (even if they’re incorrectly labeled as “Vixen”) and there are a lot of people chomping at the bit to see you at M3 and of course on the Monsters of Rock Cruise. They’re going to be excited beyond that after seeing you so my last question is, what can we expect going forward or are you kind of playing it by ear?
Janet: We are so beyond excited about doing Monsters and M3 and getting back out there in such a high profile way. We are really happy about this band and can’t wait for people to hear JSRG and hear what we really sound like. We are are kind of playing it a little bit by ear but we are all really excited about the possibilities and we are excited about the EP we will be releasing. Putting together new music and being in the studio is my favorite part of the whole thing to be honest. I love performing and all the fun that comes with that but I love the whole creative process of writing and working in the studio. I cannot overemphasize that and I am SO up for that at this point in my life. We’re gonna take it from there, I have some solo stuff that I am also working on with Neil Zaza who I have also worked with on some Scrap Metal stuff. We just hit it off and I really excited about my solo stuff, we will have to talk about that when that’s ready to go. I am really happy and excited to just get back into all of this. My son is old enough now to where he’s kind of a little more independent and doesn’t need mom so much so I have a little more time to kind of devote to music and that kind of stuff. As for Monsters of Rock?? All I can say is get ready! That cruise looks like SUCH a blast, I’ve seen all the highlights from last year and we are really looking forward to hanging out, playing some music, meeting some people and hanging out on the beach!! Life is good!
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