JANAURY Lee Thompson was born in Los Angeles…
and began playing music from a very early age. A classically-trained musician, she was raised by a concert pianist mother and that influence - and the hours of music that filled the wall - made a huge impact on the young singer. By the early-'00s, January began collaborating with different British D.J.s and immersing herself in the London underground Electronic scene. I was excited to discover more about a young woman with a huge musical talent.
Her latest single, Too Soon, looks at a relationship that is, in her words, a “so-close-but-so-far-away kind of scenario”. The U.S. star is planning her next single (Whelmed is out in April) and discusses the album of the same name. In addition, January talks about the differences between L.A. and London; being compared with Kate Bush and what the rest of 2017 holds.
Hi January. How are you? How has your week been?
Hello! I’m well, Thank you for asking. It’s been a great week. The support for the release of Whelmed has felt wonderful. It almost overshadowed all of the negative political news. I also spent my birthday in Japan: a magical place; I really resonate with the culture.
For anyone new to your work can you introduce yourself to us, please?
Yes, of course, it would be my pleasure:
My name is January Thompson. I grew up in household saturated with music as my mother is a classical pianist. I’ve always loved and wanted to be a part of the world of sound and one way was through singing which has led me on the road less travelled: collaborating and working with different Electronic producers and D.J.s - and now, in releasing my first album, it has quite a bit of Classical influence mixed with subtle Electronic overtones.
Too Soon is your latest single. Can you reveal a bit about its origin and inspiration?
The inspiration came from the feeling of a relationship coming but having to wait for it because it’s too soon.
“What’s too soon for us, too soon to find we’re not alone/we echo in time/I’ve questioned why It’s later/isn't this our time and place?” So it’s a so-close-but-so-far-away kind of scenario.
Your next single, Whelmed, is out in April. Will you be performing anywhere to promote it?
We are just putting the finishing touches to the video now. Yes, myself (sic.) and the producers are in the process of planning the upcoming live shows to promote the album. The shows will be in Copenhagen to start as all of the musicians and producers are based there.
To be announced…
I know you were born in L.A. but are based in the U.K. What compelled the move from America and what are the main differences between the music scenes here and there?
I still consider Los Angeles my home but I started working with different producers/D.J.s in the U.K. when I started out; because I loved the music that came out of the UK: Portishead, Massive Attack; Everything but the Girl etc.
In doing that, I created a base of friends and working relationships that I love very much; so started spending most of my time there. It’s just my perspective, but I found the music scene in the States, particularly Los Angeles (where I’m from), more Pop-driven. I felt very boxed into what would sell there and I was more free (sic.) to work outside of the box in regards to my sound and lyrics in the U.K.
In making this album in Copenhagen, I have felt the same: that I was allowed to think outside any formula for what would be most popular or sellable and now I feel I have a family of musicians there too. That makes it like another home. The life of a musician I suppose: many places we can call home.
You have worked with a range of underground D.J.s and producers. Who has been the most memorable person you have worked with?
They all have been memorable in different ways as far as what I’ve learned and the time spent working with them; some not so good.
But, I’d have to say the producers on this album, Steffen Aaskoven and Thor Finland would be (the most memorable). They’ve really pushed and expanded my capabilities vocally and lyrically and brought a depth to my sound and more continuity in how I work. I consider them dear friends.
I’m very lucky. Working relationships don’t always turn out that way in the funny world of music biz.
Whelmed is your new album. Aside from its unique title, what else can you reveal about the themes and issues explored?
The title is an old sea term for when a ship would capsize. In this sense, the album is very much about being immersed in feelings. Each song has a very distinct emotional correlation to an event or person in my life.
A lot of your songs deal with longing and love. How important are relationships to your music and how easy is it writing about relationships? Have any bad relationships ever inspired a song?
My world is built on my relationships with other people. Every time I start writing it is with someone in mind: not always romantic, but mostly, of course (it is).
Romantic love always has highs and lows and twists and turns that need to be expressed; to better understand. Music and writing songs have always been cathartic for me in dealing with the good, and yes, some bad - or I’d like to say challenging relationships. Romantic love is never easy :)
Your voice has been compared with the likes of Kate Bush and Björk. Are they artists you grew up listening to and how important are they to you?
I didn't discover Kate Bush until I started spending time in the U.K. Everyone is familiar with her there and would say I sounded like her. I take it as a great compliment of course; I am a fan now.
Björk, on the other hand, I have always loved and (she) has been very important in inspiring me to think out of the box. Everything about her vocal style, music and visuals are groundbreaking - one-of-a-kind.
Looking back at your career to date, what have been the fondest memories?
It’s all such an uphill battle it would have to be the moments when I feel like I get to some sort of precipice - whether in business, like when I got signed to my first record label, Quango (which was a dream). Or, creatively: being able to work with certain musicians; seeing songs materialise into something beautiful. They are living things. That’s always a magical process. Some of them can take you on a tremendous journey.
This year has just begun and (obviously) new music is afoot. What are your aims for 2017 and can we expect a January tour?
Yes, I’ve just been meeting with the producers in Copenhagen about just that. New music and (I’m) starting a January tour.
If you had to narrow down the three albums that have meant the most to you which would they be and why?
That’s tough. So many albums mean so much to me but I guess - most meaningful to my sound that I still love listening to - it would be…
Arthur Rubinstein – Chopin’s Nocturnes. I grew up listening to my mother play ‘Nocturnes and this album.They really express the sentiment of my heart and inspired me learning the piano.
Björk - Homogenic. The Electronic elements blew my mind and she managed to mix in Classical instrumentation with great songs in a way no one had before that. Groundbreaking. Set the musical bar for me.
Linda Ronstadt - Greatest Hits. Another one my mother would play all of the time when I was a little girl - through her split with my father. We would sing it at the top of our lungs. I think it’s safe to say Linda taught me to sing: “Love is a rose but you never can pick it, only grows when it’s on the vine/Handfull of thorns and you know you’ve missed it/Lose your love when you say the word mine.”
Are there any upcoming artists you’d recommend we check out?
London Grammar is good - great lead singer.
FKA twigs: great style.
Ólafur Arnalds: beautiful music.
What advice would you give to new songwriters coming through?
Just keep writing what’s in your heart.
It’s good to learn and borrow sometimes from the giants before us - but try to stay as true as you can to your vision and your sound.
Never give up…ever.
Finally, and for being a good sport, you can select any song you like (rather than your own as I’ll do that) and I’ll play it here.
Hyperballard by Björk.