The Januariez came together in 2011 with a goal to deliver something special: a female-led punk rock band with meaning and depth. This Seattle-based band features vocalist, rhythm guitar player and songwriter J-kNee, bassist Tony Rivera and drummer Reno. These three passionate and longtime musicians mix punk, funk and blues to create an eclectic sound.
Innocent Words sat down with the band at their favorite hangout, the Tin Hat Bar and Grill, a few blocks from their Seattle practice space to talk about the new album Authentic, produced by the legendary Jack Endino, and how the pieces fell in to place to create this power trio.
Innocent Words: Give us a little back story on the Januariez. When did the band get started, and how did you three meet?
J-kNee January: Well, do you want the whole story? It’s a long one; this is the 20th anniversary of my first move to the Northwest from Arkansas. In 1992, I met a band called My Name (CZ Records) while they were on tour. We had a ton of mutual friends and we hit it off, and so they suggested I move to Washington. Now I had planned and saved enough money for nursing school, but when I didn’t get in, I bought a one-way bus ticket to Tacoma instead. I busted ass for a few years, was in and out of bands, and bartending at the Swiss, and I looked up one day and thought to myself,” I have got to get outta here or I’ll be stuck forever.”
I ended up back in Little Rock and took seven years off from music to have babies and clean myself up. My guy got transferred back to the Seattle area, and I went back to school and got a degree in creative writing from the UW. Writing jobs were drying up, and the only good paying gig I found was in porn.
At the end of that 7 years, I got to thinking about how much I missed playing music, so I started cruising the Craig’slist musician section. I stumbled across an ad for a guitar teacher/mentor for girls at the School of Rock, and so contacted them about volunteering, They gave me a paying job instead! (I think they were desperate.) Anyway, I taught with Laura Viers, who is just amazingly level headed and so open and inclusive. Working with her and helping those girls learn to play inspired me to stop being so scared and fed up, and to start writing and to be up front on lead guitar and vocals, not just the bass guitarist in the back of the band.
In 2007 I started the Nancy Frieko project, and after meeting Tony, his band Mofius backed me up for my first show in seven years. The whole band never played together again, but he and I worked together on and off for the next couple years.”
IW: How did you find Reno?
J-kNee: Well, I was playing open mics as a duo with this girl Holly on lead guitar, and we were at Darrell’s. Reno had sat in on drums for some girl on the keyboard, and I was totally blown away, so we asked him to join us for a set. I was looking for players, but didn’t want to go the whole Craigslist route. Anyway, he jumped in, and I knew right off, “this drummer is actually intuiting my music!” Now we have worked so hard together, and he has been my collaborator, re-writing all the songs and helping them to grow. They wouldn’t be the same without him.
Reno: I came in, and she said “play what you feel,” so I just listened to her and played my interpretation of where the songs could go, just tried to find the feel and natural flow. She had all the songs written and a solo EP out, so we had to come up with a set list and rehearse them, but she allowed us to let the tunes become something new and find where they wanted to go. I was busy at the time with Sic End and another band, but The Januariez let me explore new techniques and go down new roads in my playing. I’m like a wood chipper, feed me the energy, and I’ll give it back to you in a new and shredded up groove.
IW: Okay, let’s talk about the new album, Authentic. How do you describe the sound?
Tony Rivera: Okay, you start with the obvious late ’90s alternative indie rock element mixed with classic rock ’n’ roll and add the intense, guttural but introspective lyrics, as if creating a punk rock singer-songwriter vibe. It’s like if Henry Rollins was a girl, it would be J-kNee.
IW: If Henry Rollins was a girl? Are you sure you want to say that? Don’t you mean woman?
Tony: Oh yeah, woman! Henry would have my head if he heard that.
IW: And how did you hook up with Jack Endino?
J-kNee: Back when he had his phone number and email posted right up on his web site. I just emailed him, just like that. He emailed me back real quick, and we talked about recording Nancy Frieko. But the band broke up, and so the discussion stopped. I had never met him until our mutual friend, Amy Denio, got us together for coffee. When it came time to record the album, it just fell into place.
Tony; Amazing what happens when you just ask.
J-kNee: I told him what I had for songs and a budget, and he said “Oh shit, it’s an indie rock record—we can do that in two days.” And that is what we did. We recorded last July for two and half days and mixed for two more days. Boom.
Reno: Jack is an awesome, yet weird dude. His process lent itself to the music; he is so quick and efficient but let us express ourselves. We needed someone who could capture that thing we do, and he did. It would be tough to find someone better.
J-kNee: We went into Sound House studios, and he quickly became a part of the band. He dug the songs and told me some of the stuff sounded evil.
Reno: With just one playback he can catch all the mistakes, if a vocal is flat or a guitar is sharp, he’d point it out, and we would fix it quick and easy. He wasn’t mean about it, just very matter of fact, like a true producer.
J-kNee: Yeah, he’d say [in a droll voice] “Don’t ever do that again.”
IW: He is like Yoda
Reno: YES HE IS! Exactly.
J-kNee: When I did the vocals, he was like, “WOW! You can sing! I need to change some stuff here.” If I got pitchy belting it out, and I was all worried about it, he’d say something like, “Let it go, don’t kill the soul, this is rock and roll, everyone’s pitchy,” or some other similar sentiment.
Reno: Dude knows his studio and how to get great sounds; he put a mic down the hallway from the drums to get the big room sound.
J-kNee: He put the bass in the bathroom and we borrowed a Lucky 13 from Mike Soldano, Jack said, “Don’t get the SLO, it’s too metal for you,’ so we used that and my Marshall. I played through both at the same time instead of multi tracking guitar parts.
IW: So it was intentional to get this big late’90s sound?
Reno: Oh yeah, we wanted that Jack Endino sound. There is a reason his discography is as big as it is.
J-Knee: Yeah, I met some guy who helped Rob Zombie get started and played him the 16,’91 EP, and he said he liked the songs but the production sucked, so this time we had to do it right.
IW: So the theme of the album seems to be “Self Empowerment”—is that about you or to help others?
J-kNee: Both! If I can save someone else from going through all the BS I have, then it’s a win-win. I’ve been through a lot of shit. I was diagnosed with PTSD, and my family growing up was just like that show Hoarders.
IW: So that is where a song like “16” comes from?
J-kNee: Yeah, now after getting sober and growing up, I can write from a distance about heavy stuff from my past. When I started writing again I wrote all the parts out, to make sure I said what was needed and the music would support it. Not like it is all “poor me.” I’ll stand by my fuck ups.
IW: “Shut Up and Listen” is a very classic punk song.
J-kNee: Yes. There is so much bullshit going on today, we just had to say “Hey, shut up and listen!