Janine and the Mixtape‘s ‘Dark Mind’ EP is a beautiful snapshot of what feels like just a fraction of the talent she possesses. It’s lush and eerie and layered with a classic R&B vocal that she’s confident enough in to let lay back in the cut if one song calls for it, and talented enough to unleash it full blast in the next. ‘Dark Mind’ is a powerful piece of work, as she explained when releasing it six months ago, ‘it’s about taking something horrible, and turning it into something beautiful’. I don’t think I’ve heard anyone else in this country make the kind of music she’s making, or doing it as well – moody, atmospheric, cool people R&B type shit. Her sound is a layering and blending of what she loves – her influences ranging from Mariah Carey, Aaliyah and Ashanti to the textures and sounds of Sigur Ros and Bon Iver.
As well as being nominated here for the Critics Choice Award at the NZ Music Awards, she’s had some massive looks on Billboard.com, Complex and VIBE. I was excited that after spending a year in Brooklyn, New York, Janine and the Mixtape is back in New Zealand for the summer, and has allowed me to pick her brain about the EP in person, which was followed by a fun day shooting her in some fave Winter 2014 pieces with the A-team. I’m sure you’ll agree, she slays in every picture. I couldn’t have asked for a better interview to start the year off with. She was amazing to talk to, honest and open and utterly inspiring. If you haven’t listened yet, click play on the ‘Dark Mind’ EP as you read through, and I hope she inspires you as much as she did me.
Lani Says : ‘Dark Mind’ – I feel like that title is a perfect summation of the record. It’s really dark and heavy, but it’s also about hope and survival and strength.
Janine and the Mixtape : “The whole writing was a bit of a process, I knew that before I was going to put out anything else, I really had to address my past and my thought process. That kind of sums up my life from say, 14 years old to about now, and the change in attitude of going through different emotions, of feeling very hard done by and sorry for myself and depressed. I even changed some of the lyrics later on, it got to a point where I was actually grateful for the pain and the things I went through, because I realized it was part of my purpose, and without it I wouldn’t be the woman I am. So the whole thing that sums up ‘Dark Mind’ is just being really messed up, but having those elements of hope and strength, and realizing I wouldn’t change it, and that’s how that kind of came about.”
Is that record your journey into coming to realize that you’re happy? Like, did you know that you were thankful before you started the record?
“Actually, I think in some ways I was coming to terms with it, but I wasn’t quite there. The lyrics of ‘Dark Mind’ started with, ‘I’m a fighter cos’ I’ve got nothing to lose’, and I revisited and I changed it to, ‘I’m gonna love, but I can fight’, I also added into the second verse, ‘even though it hurts I wouldn’t change anything, I’m grateful for each day, even with the pain it brings,.’ I came back to that, and I thought, you know what? I have a lot to lose, we often feel like that, but I’m lucky, I have a family, I have a roof over my head, I have so much to be grateful for and these experiences have made me the woman I am so I have to love that pain, in a certain kind of way.”
You were talking about how, before you could go on to create more, this is something that you needed to get out of you. Why did you feel that?
“I think because my story is quite a lot about pain and growing, and there are certain things that as we become a woman, that we might want to talk about. Love, or something more sexual or, I guess being empowering within your own right, and then I might be wanting to talk about stuff that’s not as serious. I think in order to get a grounding for why I do the things I do, I felt like I needed to address the past. And I felt if I decided that I wanted to write a song that’s more about love or relationships, or more in a sexual nature, in my own sophisticated way, I want it to be known that this is an empowering thing, rather than being, I guess, submissive. I guess just to show, women who have been through certain things, can still be normal women. That’s more the message that I wanted it to be. No matter what someone has done to you, it doesn’t give anyone the right to take away your sexuality, or your strength, and you shouldn’t have to change that. If I was to maybe just put out a song like that, then people would just be like oh…”
There’d be no context.
“Yeah, and that doesn’t necessarily mean I want to put out like a Trey Songz type song, but if I do, then I have the right to. And that’s not for anybody else, other than myself or the people that I care about that want to hear this type of music. Anything I do has to be real, and without the background, I don’t think I would be able to do it without a peace of mind.”
Do you think perhaps you didn’t feel like you’d be completely honest, without addressing that as well?
“Yeah, definitely. The whole thing of the EP, you don’t really think about talking about it when you write, to be honest, I haven’t really gone too much into depth about anything to be honest, but when I wrote it, it’s just healing, it’s honest. I can only write what is real, and what I’m feeling, and that was something that has taken over my entire life and in order to move forward, and to be strong and a better woman I realized I have responsibilities with that, and this was all tied into that purpose of taking something horrible and making something beautiful with it.”
Yeah, because when I listened to ‘Dark Mind’ and there were those specific lyrics, of, ‘I had my childhood stolen one night’, and that sort of thing, I was like, shit, I don’t know how to address this with you. I’m like, do I go there, and if I do go there, I’m not sure how much you want to elaborate on that anyway, but I did feel like it does kind of form the basis of your E.P.
“Yeah, even putting that in there, when that came out, that one was the Billboard premiere that I did. You write something and when you think about it, I’m like, shit, I really said that. But you almost forget, it becomes a song, and you get so caught up with all the promotion, once it’s done you actually forget, and it wasn’t until I sent it to them and I realized it was coming out in an hour and I was sitting there like, this is really happening. Most people don’t really click, which is kind of also nice, some people do as well, but it’s definitely a scary thing, honesty can be kind of tough.”
Yeah, but you actually said, ‘the truth ain’t pretty, but neither is self pity’ which I think was really cool.
“That was another turning point, those lines, like ‘don’t tell me it will go away, I won’t be the same, but I can be better.’ Because often people are like, ‘don’t worry, it’ll be fine’. It’s not gonna be fine, it’s never gonna be fine, but if I can use it in the right way, then it becomes a tool for good, and that’s the only way you’re gonna win all round. You’re kind of pulling the finger to anyone that hurt you, really, but at the same time you feel so good that you’re not even focusing on that, you’re just focusing on you and the positive things that you’re doing. The self-pity thing, that’s a recipe for disaster. Especially as artists we get into quite a lot when some things don’t go our way, it’s quite easy for us to slip into that mindset.”
I also like how you say, you acknowledge it, but you’re not gonna dwell on it anymore.
“And that’s the whole basis of the EP as well, it’s just that kind of mentality, and for someone, anybody floating around in that kind of ‘dark mind’ misery zone, that wants to be good, and wants happiness. A lot of the time I’ve found, especially for myself, I’ve definitely suffered from getting very depressed at times, and again I think a lot of artists and creative people do. We all have a history and we all have a lot of stuff and bad things that have happened. But often when you’re really depressed, part of you doesn’t want to be happy, you just want to sit in it. I think what makes great people great, is that ability to fight past that, and fight for happiness. Because happiness doesn’t just come. It’s a solid state of mind, and I’m not saying I’m good all the time, I’m really not, you just have to change your mindset, because if you think positively, then positive things come, and the longer you dwell, really bad stuff comes. But it’s not easy, it’s like a muscle, it’s like dragging yourself out on a rainy cold day for a run with sore muscles, it’s not easy. You have to make that switch and think, how bad do you want happiness?”
In ‘Little Bit’, who or what are you waiting on? Is that happiness, or is that a person you’re waiting on?
“That’s actually a great question. I think about this, because the chorus sounds more like a relationship, whereas the verses aren’t so much about that. I didn’t write that specifically about a person, and I don’t know where that came from. I think it really is just waiting on something. We’re always waiting for something to change to be better. You can be a person, or an action, or just some form of satisfaction. I don’t know why I haven’t thought about it.”
You also ask, if I tell you the darkest things on my mind, will you stay? Is there that worry that people will [or won’t] stick around?
“Actually, I think I’ve always been quite intuitive, it’s just whether I’ve trusted that. The worst experiences I’ve ever been through are things that I actually foresaw in a certain sense. Not like to the full extent, but things I knew, like certain people aren’t really good news. So I think now the people that I put trust in, I know that they have me. We all have to have a certain, I guess security bubble, where I’m not even gonna let that get in. And people as well. I guess that’s what’s great about developing, and being where I’m at. It’s funny, because my network has expanded so many times, but my tight circle has just become so much smaller. I just don’t have time for that anymore.
I got together, for the first time ever, there’s a group for women who have been through sexual abuse and things, and it was the first time where I had ever spoken to women who had been through things that could just understand you. We spoke about things like, if a scene comes up on television, or your friends make these jokes, what do you do? And there’s no right or wrong answer, but this is something that everyone who has been through abuse thinks about, but doesn’t have an answer to, and that other people don’t understand.”
If other people haven’t gone through it, they don’t have the answers, only you guys have the answers.
“Yeah, and we don’t even have the answers but we understand. And there are certain things like, oh do we tell them, or do I walk away? There is no right or wrong, but the fact that everyone has that feeling, where they just get this stabbing feeling in their throat and they don’t know how to react, do they leave, or do they make it obvious? Because you also don’t want the people you care about to feel uncomfortable. People make jokes about things, and they don’t realize what they’re saying. Intention is always important.
And other things as well, like strong women that might love sex, and they’ve been through stuff, and they’re feeling guilty for that. And we all feel guilty for being like, ‘I want this’. You know, you should never feel guilty for wanting that, but again, it’s not until you get with a group of women that have been through certain experiences, that just get it, that you’re like, wow, you don’t feel alone. That was really it, for the first time in my life, when I was in Brooklyn, that was the first time since I was 14 that I didn’t feel alone anymore, and that’s just a really nice feeling.”
That must have been really hard, to carry for that many years, and to finally be like, ‘these are my people’.
“Yeah and these women, I lived in a pretty bad, well people say bad, I loved it, a neighbourhood I was in East New York, Bed Stuy/Bushwick, and these women have been through everything. Someone’s worst nightmare, times it by ten, that’s what these women have been through, and yet they’re still standing there smiling. They put my story, there shouldn’t be judgments of levels of it, but I listen and I’m like, why was I upset? These people are amazing, they’re standing here smiling and that makes me think, if you guys can do this, anybody in the world can do anything. People have survived, and they’re happy and inspiring. I find it difficult when people talk to me about really trivial matters, I’m like you guys have no idea. You hear their stories and you feel yourself literally welling up, it’s so hard to hear. Every time a new woman would turn up and open up, they came back a different person.
There was one woman who came in and her head was down, she couldn’t look up, she was so soft spoken and she couldn’t really talk, she was a wreck, and then the next week she came in with her head up, she was smiling, she had made an effort with her appearance. We’d talked about, ‘what do you wanna do in life? You could do anything’, and she was like, yeah I’ve done this, I’ve enrolled for this, I wanna start travelling, and she was just glowing. Those are the types of things where you’re like, there must be a greater purpose for all the shit I’ve been through, because if I’m here, and this thing has happened, it’s like I owe it to the world, because I was a part of that. And that’s just one person. I’ve had the most amazing messages from women and men, and partners, I’ve had a guy who said, I heard your song and I had to go and hold my woman because I didn’t want her to go through what she’s going through alone. And that’s also, to hear other people are not only inspired for themselves but to be good for others, that makes me feel so amazing. It feels like life has a purpose when those things happen.”
“You have to be able to love others, before you can love yourself as well. I was in a five year relationship before I went to New York and that person is amazing, we’re not together, but I was never OK by myself. For me, I really needed to learn that I could be good. That was tough. I went through the worst time of my life in New York, and the best. There was 6 months there where it was so hard, and I went to these things and started sorting myself out, and I had the house to myself 2 months at a time, and I was really, ALONE, alone. I got to the point where I was good alone, and now I’m ready for, if that relationship situation was around, if it’s right, I don’t need it, it will be an enhancement, but I’m good by myself. I can see the value in everything. Like relationships and family, just went to a whole nother level now, and I can love them on a whole nother level, and they seem to be loving me on a whole nother level, now that I’m good by myself, or good within myself.”
Because it gets reciprocated ay, what you put out there, comes back, right?
“Exactly, and a lot of people don’t realize that energy and that tension that they hold within themselves is actually affecting their future, and other people. That’s what I mean by, it comes back to that whole wallowing. If you’ve been wallowing, you’re gonna keep on that same track. Sometimes you have to make yourself, like if it gets really bad, sometimes I’ll put on some ridiculous music and force myself to dance. Try dancing to ‘Ja Rule – Living It Up’, and not be happy.”
You can’t not be happy listening to Ja Rule, right?
“I say to people, you wait, something good is gonna happen. That’s why when you’re on a roll, you’re on a roll. When you’re down, you’re down. We don’t realize how much control we have over that. There’s always tests, and it’s how you take those tests, which kind of fork in the road you go.”
Have you been working with specific people while you’ve been in New York?
“Not really. I’ve seen a lot of friends work, and great people, and that’s been really good and eye-opening. One of the greatest things I’ve ever seen is, I was in the studio with Marsha Ambrosius, from Floetry, and she’s been really big in co-signing my stuff. I met her at 106 & Park backstage. Someone I was working with knows her, and they listened to my music and loved it, so I got to hang out with her and drink at S.O.B’s and we went to the studio after. Watching her record was like, man, I need to step my game up. She’s so chill she just walks in, does a couple of takes perfect, and just layers it, she does some trumpet things with her voice, and it was so cool. She totally changed my perception. Watching her live, there’s a lot of things I see in her that I see in myself, things that she is so much more developed on. It definitely made me think, if you kill it in those takes in the studio, you don’t need to be psycho and over-analyse everything that you do. Watching that, completely changed the way that I work and I record, and it made me free.
When I recorded the EP, I did so many takes, and it took so long to just get to my normal self. I did the vocals at Roundhead studios just before I left, I felt so sorry for those guys, I did so many takes, I was so pedantic. The last time when I was in New York, I did a session just before I left, and I was good, I was ready, and I just did it in a few takes.”
You talked before about not being OK alone, did you also go to New York, just to make yourself be alone?
“I think I needed a change, I think musically as well. When I went there, I was very well perceived by the audience. I played my first show and I was mobbed by people, I couldn’t pack up because everyone was trying to talk to me. You know how people are really honest there, they’ll say, you look nice today or, you’re really good, or you’re really shit. They’re gonna tell you. I thought, I think this is where I need to be at the moment, and it helped me grow. It’s pretty amazing, ‘Dark Mind’ got put on ‘Black Ink Crew’, a VH1 show about a tattoo store in Harlem. That got me 100 thousand plays in a week. My messages have just been mental, so crazy, it’s amazing to be just a little girl from West Auckland, that can be so acknowledged by that community in New York, and the states, and all over the world. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, if your soul connects with the genre, and your personality, there’s something about me that literally connects really well over there, you can’t fake that.”
I guess it goes back, to putting stuff out there, if it feels fake, then other people will feel that too.
“It’s a beautiful thing that people can see that. If it is, it means you’re on the right track, I always feel like if something is real, it’s timeless. That will prevail over time, real artists, even with someone like David Dallas, it’s been a long road, but from what I can see, he’s always been real. In the States, I’ll play him to all the dudes, Hip Hop artists in the States, and they love it, because they can see, it’s cool, and it’s fresh, and it’s different, but it’s honest, and it doesn’t matter that it’s a dude from NZ that raps, it’s still Hip Hop, they’re like, this is dope, and it’s nice to see that real will translate all over the world.”
It must be encouraging ay.
“Of course it is, because it’s a world where you see so much fake stuff doing well, and that’s always gonna do well. Everyone has their time, but it’s not really lasting, whereas real artists pave out a career forever. I can still be 50 or 60 singing. I’m not gonna be wearing my crop-tops and chains, I hope I’m not, but because I write, and I produce and I develop, and I’m a real artist, and I’m a real singer, I can be singing ballads or doing whatever I wanna do. I don’t know where I’m gonna be, but I’m going to keep going and develop. That’s worth it to me, is having that lifelong career with respect, and changing peoples lives, and being able to continue to do it forever, than to have a pop hit that’s fake and have to live with that, and then try to change again. It doesn’t bother me, seeing that, I’m always happy for people doing well. I get an extra kind of satisfaction from seeing people who are real, it eventually paying off.”
*Janine is wearing outfits from the Georgia Alice, Juliette Hogan, Zambesi, Salasai, HYDE & twenty-seven names Winter 2014 ranges, which are due in stores from February/March. The jewellery is available now.