Hi Janna, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?
– Good these days, I’m Jewish but I’m in the Christmas Spirit.
Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Favorite Customer”?
– It’s a song about human interaction in everything from a business transaction to a service provider/client to any kind of relationship, really. It comes from the point of view of the “customer” in the relationship, asking themselves what makes them special, more special than the others.
Did any event in particular inspired you to write this song?
– I actually wrote it back in Gainesville, Florida where I recorded my first album, “Shameless Self-Promotion.” I had forgotten about it until recently, when I was going through my old voice memos in my iTunes library and found it. I wrote the song after the album was done, about the producer/musician relationship, and about realizing that it’s a producer’s job to kind of stroke your ego in a way, because their job is at stake too. It’s in their best interest to tell you, “Doesn’t this sound AMAZING?!” But I’d always leave the studio asking myself, “I wonder if they really like my music. I wonder if this is truly something they’re very proud of.”
The single comes off your new album Key Change – how did you come up with the idea for a concept album?
– I am a huge David Byrne/Talking Heads fan and I was inspired by his book, How Music Works. A big focus of the book is on how music has changed due to the architectural spaces it is designed to be performed in, so I decided to take that idea and apply it to my instrument, the keyboard. The pipe organ was built for the churches with their high ceilings, then harpsichords were invented when they wanted a smaller practice instrument for private concerts in the home, but then the harpsichord was too soft and the piano was invented… but it wasn’t just like that, it had to evolve, and it just kept growing and now we have all kinds of amazing synthesizers and sounds!
So the whole album is influenced only on David Byrne’s How Music Works? Where else did you find the inspiration for this record?
– The overarching concept is all How Music Works, but the songwriting was inspired most strongly by my Dad, and my lifelong friend, former boyfriend and bassist, Patrick Wanninkhof, both of whom died within a year of each other this past year. My Dad had a rare blood cancer called MDS, also known as pre-Leukemia, and Patrick was killed by a texting driver while he was biking across the US on Bike and Build to raise money for affordable housing for underprivileged families. A lot of the songs are about life and death, but they are not sad songs. They are ‘make the most of your life because you don’t know when it will end’ songs. Certain songs were also inspired by different musicians – for example, the song I did on the Steinway was influenced by Billy Joel’s song, “Vienna Waits For You,” and the Wurlitzer song was done in a Paul Simon “Graceland” style.
Pretty curious on why did you decided to use different keyboards for each song? What draw you to do this?
– I wanted it to be authentic. I didn’t want to just use the sampled sounds of a pipe organ, a harpsichord, a harmonium, etc. It was really important to me to actually use the real instruments, because they are all so different in terms of how they are played. The keys feel different, they are different sizes, different shapes, different strengths, some are even tuned differently – and so they need to be played differently, too. I wrote all of the songs initially on the piano, but what works on a piano doesn’t necessarily work on all the other different keyboard instruments. It was definitely a learning experience. Plus, I wanted an excuse to rent out a church and play the pipe organ!
What’s the story behind the title?
– I love puns and double entendres, and when people think of a “key change” in music they think of changing the key of the melody. But my “Key Change” is a play on words – the physical keys themselves are actually changing.
How was the recording and writing process?
– The recording process was crazy. It was like a musical scavenger hunt. We would go to all of these random locations to find these old keyboard instruments, and my producer would bring his recording gear and we’d do these guerilla recordings. We were in a woman’s house in Park Slope for the harpsichord, a church in Union Square for the organ, up in Harlem for the Steinway Grand piano, and borrowed more synthesizers than I can remember. The hardest thing to find was a Mozart era Viennese style piano, and we were waiting like a month before it could be tuned and ready for recording. I don’t think I knew what I was getting into. But it was totally worth it. The writing process was much less time-constrained, I wrote all of the songs the year prior, the hardest year of my life so far.
Starting as a classical artist – how was the transition from this style to modern?
– It was pretty gradual. I started playing piano when I was 6, and went to high school for a piano magnet program. But after graduating high school I realized I still wanted to play piano, but didn’t want to major in it. I went to the University of Florida for advertising but continued to play with a band and started writing my own songs and playing all over the place. Gainesville is an amazing music town.
Would you say your classical background still influence your current sound?
– Definitely. I write pop music now but I definitely have more classically influenced chord progressions than most pop music. And I’ll always throw a dissonant note in there just for fun.
Any plans to hit the road?
– Thinking about it. I may take my car and drive it up from Miami, my hometown, stop along the way land back in New York when the tour is over. And if it really is as terrible of an idea to have a car in NYC as they say it is, I’ll drive back down!
What else is happening next in Janna Pelle’s world?
– I am planning to shoot a music video for “Favorite Customer,” we already have a concept and I am really excited for it. I’m also already thinking about my next album. I want it to be called “Single,” and every song on it is going to be a single – I’ll release 1 a month and by the end of the year I’ll have a full album. I’m also going to try and stay single for the whole year.