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Interview: Janean Christine Mariani Opens Up About “Red Number 5”

Janean Christine Mariani
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Interview: Janean Christine Mariani Opens Up About “Red Number 5”

Americana singer-songwriter Janean Christian Mariani recently released the lyric video, “Red Number 5,” a song about escaping a toxic relationship and never looking back.

Right off the get-go, know this: Janean Christin Mariani has one of those earworm voices that you can’t shake loose from. It’s twangy, vivacious, dynamic, and hella addictive.

Just as she did on the 2020 re-recording of fan-favorite “She Said She’s Leaving,” Mariani collaborates on “Red Number 5” with John Reilly of Sheffield, UK pop-rock band Boy On A Dolphin. Reilly’s production is excellent and provides the sonic matrix for Mariani to strut her grand voice, along with a dazzling guitar solo and a lusciously braying organ.

The video, created by Rob Fitzgerald and Mike Kundrath, and produced by Andy Gesner, tells the visual tale of a young woman who has had enough. When her cheating beau comes home drunk, she packs up and leaves, traveling through Mississippi to Memphis.

Muzique Magazine spoke with Janean Christine Mariani to discover more about the person behind the music, her influences, her inspiration, and the advice she has for young women entering the world of music.

What three things can’t you live without?

My notebooks. I’ll forever love the feel of a notebook in my hands along with favorite pencils {which I also can’t live without} to scribble down my thoughts, stories, poems, and songs before putting them into typed form. I have a notebook to journal screenplays and stories, a notebook to journal poems and songs, a notebook to journal dreams and goals. You name it, I’ve got a notebook to scribble about it. For some reason, I’ve just always been like that. I need to write things down by hand first; then I’m able to compose them in any necessary structured format on my laptop.

My Greven guitar. One of my favorite guitar sounds in all the world is Mary Chapin Carpenter’s number one Greven. She has a couple Grevens but for some reason, to me, the sound of that particular guitar is exceptionally beautiful. Several years ago my husband asked me what I would want for my 50th birthday. I’m not someone who’s into a lot of fancy material things so it was really hard for me to think of some “thing”. I eventually came upon a thought that, one day I’d like to have a beautiful sounding guitar like MCC’s that I could one day leave to our child. {At that time I still believed there was hope for me to be a mom}. So, I sent an email message to John Greven with a picture of my favorite MCC guitar to ask him if a regular person like me could request for him to custom build a guitar like hers for my birthday? Mr. Greven was so kind to me, he sent a lovely reply saying that the picture had brought back so many happy memories for him and that he’d be delighted to build one for me. I put down a deposit to lock in the price at that time and made payments to Mr. Greven so that I’d have it paid for by the time I turned fifty. But my husband and my mom and dad were so incredibly sweet, they all surprised me and pitched in to help me pay off the guitar a couple of years ahead of my 50th birthday so I could have it to play out at my gigs.  I requested a few differences between MCC’s guitar and mine, that make my guitar uniquely special to me and my family – one of my other songwriting heroes is Rosanne Cash…I love that her family name Cash is inlaid at the 20th fret of her signature Martin…so I wanted to pay homage and incorporate my respect for her in my guitar, too, and that’s what inspired me to have my initials on my guitar to be able to leave to our child that I’d hoped we’d have – there are a few other subtle differences I preferred and requested, though my Greven does look very similar to MCC’s; and though no guitar will ever sound exactly like Mary Chapin’s, hers is a precious gem and there’s not another in the world like it, mine does have a kindred warmth similar to that sound that my heart and ears have so long treasured. I do almost all of my songwriting with my Greven and I look forward to hearing its voice grow more beautiful through the years as its wood ages.  In so many ways, for so many reasons, my Greven guitar is a beloved gift I’ll forever be grateful for.

Peanut butter. Especially a good creamy lightly salted, though I’m not gonna kick a good crunchy unsalted to the curb. I just love peanut butter. I’m pretty sure it’s one of my spirit animals.

What inspired your new single/music video “Red Number 5?”

“Red Number 5” is a work of fiction and was so much fun to write! I used to collect coins with my grandma and grandpa when I was little. I remember sitting on my knees around the coffee table with them, helping to put old Indian head pennies and buffalo nickels and Mercury head dimes into the mint-date slots of their big blue coin books while Lawrence Welk or the Carol Burnett Show, or some episode of The Rockford Files or Columbo would be playing on the tv in the background. I still have those old blue coin books and I still like collecting old coins here and there. I happened to be browsing through the books and sifting through coins in an old glass piggybank one day when a wheat-back penny actually fell tails-up on the hardwood floor at my feet. I bent down to pick it up and that’s literally where the first line of the song and chorus arose. From there it was a fun fictional adventure discovering where that lucky penny was going to take her. I hope folks have as much fun listening to the song as I did writing it and singing it for them!

What’s your songwriting process? Melody first, or lyrics?

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. Tucked away in a cardboard box of my childhood things somewhere at my mom’s house, she’s kept stories and poems and pictures that I’d write and draw, and the collections of writings I’d make into books made of binder paper and yarn when I was little. So for me, more often than not, it’s always been the words – the lyrics – that fall into place first. Though every now and again I’ll be messing around with a certain chord progression or picking pattern and, from seemingly out of nowhere, to my surprise a melody sneaks up on me and takes shape ahead of the words.

What do you hope your fans/listeners take away with them when they listen to your music?

I hope listeners feel honesty and connection when they listen to my songs. Whether polished Americana pop singles like “Red Number 5” and “She Said She’s Leaving” or stripped-down bare-bones acoustic tracks like “I Held You In My Arms” and “The View From Her Window” – we all experience love and loss in various forms and varying levels throughout our lives; when I write or sing songs reflecting my own life experiences or observations of lives lived around me, whether works of fiction or non-fiction, I hope listeners feel less alone in whatever circumstances they may be finding their way through – I hope that sense of connection transcends into comfort and strength, reminding ourselves and one another…you are not alone…no matter what you’re going through, it may take some time, but you’re going to get through this. Feel the hands on your back. We’re all in this together.

How did you get started in music? What’s the backstory there?

I’ve always loved singing. In elementary school, I sang in Mrs. Tso’s class choir and in junior high I sang in our church choir. But it wasn’t until high school – I think it was my sophomore or junior year – my dad snuck me into a country music nightclub so I could ask the house band if they’d let me sing a couple of songs with them. I don’t recall the band’s name but they were all so sweet to a little teenage girl with big dreams – they invited me up and I remember they played a couple of Judd’s songs that were topping the charts at the time – I’ll never forget the look and feel of bright lights for the first time and the way it felt looking into people’s eyes and smiling faces, singing to the crowd as they two-stepped past the stage. And that was it. I knew I wanted to sing for people for the rest of my life. But my life had a number of twists and turns in store for me between then and now. I lost so many years of my life – time I’ll never get back – from profound grief and deep depression following two separate losses. We lost our daughter Christine who was born on Christmas Eve and lived only six days. And we lost our second baby after an unexpected miscarriage. Their deaths left me heartbroken. It was through those years of finding my way through deep depression and profound grief that I reached out for two important things: counseling because I desperately needed professional help to find my way through the darkness; and my old Yamaha guitar that my husband would never let me sell because music was something that always brought me joy, even if I couldn’t remember what joy felt like at that time. I bought a chord book to teach myself how to play my guitar, and I’d just play and sing in my little office studio for hours each day. It was around that time my husband saw a sign in a café window advertising an open mic at a little venue in town. He kept asking me to, “Please go sing, even if just once, just for me, and if you don’t like it you never have to do it again. But please try just once”.  I promised him I would. But I didn’t know how I was going to make it through a song – I’d felt broken and worthless and hopeless for so many years, I’d stopped believing in myself, I couldn’t remember what it felt like to believe in myself or my dreams – to add to my weight of brokenness, I’d never had to play and accompany myself before, so it took a lot of courage to keep that promise. But I’m so very glad I did. The warmth of the bright lights again, and the warmth from the crowd – looking into the eyes of folks while singing to them – took me back as though no time had passed and helped me to realize that my dreams hadn’t died inside me. From that point forward I started dusting off my rusty wings and worked really hard to try to rebuild my self-confidence – I played as many open mics as I could around town, and eventually throughout Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area – which eventually led to gigs at small cafés and quaint wine bars. And that’s how it all began all over again. I’m well aware that I’m now a much older person in a young person’s game – I have more years behind me than I do ahead of me; yet I’m still that same little singer-songwriter with big dreams inside me – and I’ll keep working as hard as I can, giving all that I can, to fulfill as many of those dreams as possible with whatever time I’m blessed to have on this earth. I feel incredibly grateful and blessed to be able to sing my songs to sold-out crowds in my hometown, and to so many folks elsewhere here and there throughout my travels. No matter how large or small the venue, no matter how large or small the crowd, singing and playing music for people is a precious gift. A gift I cherish and I’ll never take for granted. And I’ll always be eternally grateful to my husband for encouraging me and always believing in me, even when I’d stopped believing in myself. I know it may sound corny and cliché, but it’s true.

Which musicians/vocalists influenced you the most?

As a writer, Kye Fleming, Rosanne Cash, Mary Chapin Carpenter – the remarkably wonderful screenwriter, the late Nora Ephron – and Brandy Clark, have each influenced my songwriting the most. Yet the person who has made the greatest impact on my life professionally, as an artist and as a human being, is Barbara Mandrell. When I was a little girl and young teenager I’d ask my parents and my grandma and grandpa if they’d take me to see her live shows. I was in absolute awe of her gorgeous powerful voice, and unparalleled talent and stage presence – she upholds her family values and faith; she’s a wise businesswoman; a phenomenal entertainer; and most importantly, to me, she’s an incredibly gracious and kind human being above all else – I felt like a little sponge wanting to soak up everything I could possibly learn from her. She’s long been retired for many years now, but I treasure so many things I learned from her and apply them to my life and artistic endeavors to this very day.

Which artists in your opinion are killing it right now?

Any artists who are working hard with integrity, giving their very best one day at a time, to reach their goals – whether they’ve been making music for a few days or a few decades; whether recording a song or an album or a video in a studio or in their room at home; whether playing to two people in a small café or twenty thousand people in a stadium – those artists, pursuing their passions with their whole heart each day, focusing on learning and growing and savoring their own unique process and path, in my opinion, those are the artists who are killing it.

Do you have a guilty music and/or entertainment pleasure?

Oh my gosh, yes! I feel like I have three guilty pleasures – two entertainment, and one music: I have a guilty pleasure for classic films. I absolutely love old black and white movies. Motion pictures from the golden age of cinema are among my favorites. Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Donna Reed, Grace Kelly, Gregory Peck, Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Stewart, Paul Newman Sidney Poitier – Casablanca, Cool Hand Luke, It’s A Wonderful Life, Roman Holiday, To Sir With Love, The Wizard Of Oz – I can’t count how many times I’ve seen those actresses and actors and films…no matter how many times I see them, I laugh and cry every single time, as though seeing them for the very first time. I have a guilty pleasure for the original Magnum P.I. series. I gotta confess, when I was in seventh grade I wanted to grow up to marry Tom Selleck! I laugh when I think about that now, but in all sincerity, I could binge watch those old reruns for hours – “Home From The Sea” and “Going Home” and “Limbo” and “Infinity And Jelly Doughnuts” are among my favorites in the history of episodic television from that era – I imagine that entire cast and crew must feel so proud of the work they put out over eight seasons…the cast gelled so tightly and the writing was excellent. I also have a guilty pleasure for a bit of jazzy hip-hop music. I’m a fan of all styles and genres of music – though I’m a little singer-songwriter who writes and sings songs most often categorized as country/Americana/folk music – the truth is I just love good music… Classical, Jazz, Hip Hop, Rap, Rock. You name it. If it’s good music, I love it. And I definitely love some hip hop with heavy jazz influence – bands like Arrested Development, the Diggable Planets, A Tribe Called Quest, Us3 – I can go down rabbit holes for hours chasing beats like that!

Any advice for young female artists just getting started?

Be yourself. Be true to yourself. Be kind to yourself. And be kind to others. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Don’t worry about who likes you and who doesn’t. Don’t get hung up on numbers and algorithms. And don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Learn from the moments you fly. Learn from the moments you fall. And learn from artists you respect who’ve already traveled the road ahead of you. Focus on your dreams. Focus on your visions. Focus on your goals. And focus on giving your very best each day. Believe in yourself and have faith – one day at a time, all those days add up to a lifetime – know that through all those days of your learning and growing and hard work and determination, you will get to where you are going.

Why do you make music?

I make music because, for me, music is the place where so many of the pieces that make up the whole me come together. Stories, songs, screenwriting, sketches, photography, poems – all of the artistic passions I treasure and chisel away at in my little world – seem to all come together in one way or another through music. And it’s at that intersection of music where those feelings of connection that I was mentioning earlier – that hope I feel for others to feel less alone in whatever circumstances they may be finding their way through in life when they hear my songs – that feeling of connection is the very gift I receive, myself, through making music. It’s a precious gift I’ll remain eternally grateful for.

What can your fans expect in the next six months? New music? Live gigs?

I’m super excited for all that the new year 2022 holds in store! Musically, I’m looking forward to heading back into the studio again to record my next single “Pink Cadillac” – another super sassy kicked-up polished-pop Americana number – and I’m genuinely looking forward to returning to my simple roots working on a really special stripped-down bare-bones acoustic EP project. As for live gigs, I’m so looking forward to returning to the stage again for my Girls With Guitars shows. I began producing these shows a few years back. I wanted to capture a taste of Nashville tradition, similar to a Bluebird Café vibe, while at the same time I wanted to empower female artists – and I wanted to bring that combined magic to California audiences – the result was Girls With Guitars songwriters in-the-round. The lineups are so much fun to put together, and it’s truly an honor to share the stage with fellow artists I admire and respect. The house is packed – GWG shows sell out pretty quickly, so it’s good for folks to get their tickets early if possible – and they’re absolutely magical intimate evenings of songs and the stories behind them, shared between the audience and us on stage. As our world continues to navigate its way through a global pandemic, I’ll always turn to science to guide moving forward booking gigs and shows, so as long as it’s safe for audiences, the venue staff and crew, and we artists to return to share live music together…I can hardly wait…I look forward to sharing stories and songs with as many folks as possible, live in person, safely on the other side of this crazy chapter of life.

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Tinker Talavera is a music lover, author, entrepreneur, and philanthropist.


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