Kate Robertson talks to R&B singer Janine (now without ‘the Mixtape’) about leaving New Zealand and becoming bigger, better and stronger.
Even the most novice American Idol viewer learns during the audition rounds that controlling a big voice isn’t easy. When you can belt it out like Mariah why would you bother with the smaller notes? The patron saint of manufactured pop groups, Simon Cowell, says such control is the mark of a well-trained musician. In this case, the well-trained musician is R&B singer, songwriter and producer Janine, whose debut album 99 was released last month.
It’s been six years since Janine, formerly known as Janine and the Mixtape, left Auckland for the United States. Signed to Atlantic Records in the US and Warner Music here in New Zealand, the steady climb to her debut album can be clearly traced through her back catalogue, each tweak in production and strengthening of her voice serving as another rung on the ladder. In what might be one of the most hard yakka Kiwi success stories we’ve heard in recent times, Janine wasn’t scooped up and branded by a label on day dot. She’s simply worked hard, and is now, amidst her first headline tour and debut album, receiving dividends.
With soulful pipes and smooth, seductive melodies that’ll have you reminiscing on the genre’s early-noughties stars, 99 is yet another step in the right direction for an artist determined to be bigger than the local scene.
First things first, what prompted you to drop ‘and the Mixtape’ from your name?
When I first came up with ‘and the Mixtape’ I felt like I needed a bigger name to make me feel bigger, sound bigger or be more interesting. I feel like I don’t have to do that anymore. I’ve grown so much as an artist and as a person, so I wanted a name to really grow with, that fully suits me, and is as honest as the songs themselves.
Having ‘and the Mixtape’ definitely helped in the beginning. When people hear the name Janine Foster they expect a girl with an acoustic guitar. Janine and the Mixtape got people to pay attention for a while. It was very polarising.
R&B is having a real moment right now. As someone making music in that sphere are you noticing an upturn in interest?
Not necessarily because of my music, but I do think people are wanting to hear real voices more and more. I think it’s starting to make a turn back. Real singers are cutting through. I’m definitely getting more attention, but I think that’s me as well. I’m presenting myself in a different way. This album’s definitely coming from a stronger, sassier point of view. I’m more fiery, I’ve grown in my confidence, and I’m unapologetic for what I’m saying.
Do you think that confidence has come with growing up as well as growing into your career?
Of course. I finished my album two years ago and it’s only coming out now, so that was really hard to stomach, but it’s about taking responsibility. I should’ve taken more responsibility, I could’ve put out more mixtapes. I guess I’ve been through a lot, and every time I’ve broken down, I’ve learned more about myself. As I get older I also self-analyse a lot more. I ask myself ‘Why? and usually can fix it within myself. I become bigger, better and stronger.
I also think the more you get hurt, the less you care. You can even see it in what I wear now. I would be the last person to ever wear a diamante bralette, because you don’t really do that when you’re from New Zealand. You don’t want to shine. You don’t want to stand out because we’re such a humble country. It’s taken me a really long time to fit into a star mentality, but if I don’t present myself in the same way bigger artists are, how do I expect to be treated as bigger? That’s a really difficult thing coming from New Zealand, to build up our worth.
Coming from what you call a humble country, were there other things you struggled with while breaking into the US market?
Definitely learning when to believe Americans. I remember when I did my first shows in New York and this band performing were like, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re going to love us. You know you’re going to love us!’. I’d never heard that before. In New Zealand, if you’re good at something you’re like, ‘I suck’, and if you’re amazing at something you’re like, ‘I’m alright’. My thing was like, if these people are telling me they’re good they must be like, off this planet. It turns out they were just off this planet in a really bad way.
I think people can get a little delusional over here and think they’re further ahead than they actually are, but they sell it. You’ve gotta be able to believe in yourself and how you present yourself. How you walk into a room and how you carry yourself is how people treat you. I notice the difference. If I’m feeling shy people will overpower me, but if I walk in the room knowing I belong there, I don’t even have to say anything. Having that mentality makes the difference
On the flipside of that, is there anything you’ve taken over with you from your more reserved New Zealand upbringing that has benefited you overseas?
I think being humble makes a big difference. I just did my first headlining tour around the States, and we’re just cool with everyone. Those experiences and the way people talk about you make a big difference. You never know when that stuff comes back around. Being humble and the way we’re able to make fun of ourselves is how we connect with people. Everyone likes New Zealanders over here too. That definitely helps.
As someone who has been grinding away and improving ever since you moved, do you have any advice for artists here in New Zealand who are struggling to reach that next milestone? Who have maybe released and EP or two, but are wondering where to go next?
First off you have to love this. You have to want to do it regardless of whether you become super famous or not. That’s the only way you’re gonna be able to get through. Things aren’t going to be easy, but it’s worth it. If I wasn’t getting where I’m getting now I’d still be creating music. You can’t be in it for money or fame, you just have to love it. For New Zealand I think this is really important. Don’t have your goal to be a big fish in a little pond. Stretch yourself and always be around people who are better than you, and stop caring so much. I definitely think one of the biggest issues, and I noticed it when I came back, is that we’re so focused on the little things that happen in New Zealand. Just push through, do you, and you never know what might happen. Your gut is usually right. Anytime I’ve gone against my gut it hasn’t worked out.
I remember being so sad when bFM and local radio stations wouldn’t play me. One time I was really excited to go with EMI Records in New Zealand and, I can say it now, I don’t care anymore: they were jerks. It didn’t end up going through and I remember being like ‘No, my shot is ruined!’ If I’d signed that deal it would’ve been the worst thing that has ever happened to me. They don’t even exist anymore. It would’ve been really bad, and to be honest, I’d forgotten that label even existed. The things you think you’re being rejected from always lead you to something better. A lot of times it’s the things you care about that you forget about. I swear there are all of these people that have upset me or been mean to me, or didn’t book me for shows, and at the time I wasn’t good enough or I didn’t know myself enough, but you forget those people. It’s the best.
I used to care so much about the New Zealand music industry. I love New Zealand and I want the independent people who work in the industry to love me, but more importantly, I want people to love me.
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