Vancouver-born, Montreal-based artist Janette King bravely faces the future. The multitalented electro/R&B songwriter-producer-DJ-vocalist recently signed to Hot Tramp Records and released a new single, “Mars,” from her debut LP, due for release in early 2021. The song’s laid-back grooves beckon listeners into a state of suspended sensory delight, an ethereal cosmos where skin becomes stardust. “Take me to your spaceship and beam me up,” King cajoles, showing off a voice of otherworldly passion and grace. The accompanying black-and-white music video, directed and edited by King, shows the artist and a group of her friends in a state of seductive ecstasy, dancing in the creative territory between personal bliss and communal satisfaction.

I was thrilled to chat with King on the phone about the process of making the new album during a pandemic, the practice of listening to one’s own soul and—as a delightful bonus—the brilliance of Alicia Keys. She spoke humbly and insightfully, opening up about the complexity of her work and the willingness to embrace a plurality of genre, reality and perspective.

How’s everything been going?

Everything’s going well. Just slowly chipping away at music and trying to stay healthy.

Congrats on the new video for “Mars.” It makes for a really mesmerizing viewing experience.

It was really fun to make for sure.

What was it like to make the video and embark on the new project amid the chaos of Covid-19?

It was definitely difficult. Luckily, all of my friends are really careful in their own ways. We were really cautious about it and made sure to do it outside and have hand sanitizer readily available. We talked about it beforehand, but it was definitely interesting. We couldn’t just go out to a restaurant afterwards or go to a bar.

I feel like that’s such an important part of the process.

Yeah, the celebration afterwards!

The locations in the video are one-of-a-kind. Are they all in Montreal?

It was filmed in a sculpture garden at the Canadian Centre for Architecture. It’s a super cool space—nobody really knows about it. Montreal is really fun: in normal times, there’s lots to do here, especially in the summertime.

It must have been a bummer to not have a real summer in Montreal this time around.

We’re basically operating at 35 percent. We’re known for our festivals and our art, so we’re trying our best to keep some sense of normalcy, but it’s definitely weird.

Do you go back to forth from Montreal to Vancouver quite a bit, or are you mostly based in Montreal at this point?

I do go back and forth here and there. I go a few times a year. The whole family’s there, and I have a lot of friends there and play a lot of music there. A lot of the producers I work with live there.

You also directed and edited the “Mars” video. Was that your first time doing that kind of work?

I directed and edited my video for “Starlight” as well. I used to be in a film program when I was in high school, so I learned how to edit and stuff during that time. I always loved editing film, and working with film is really fun. I like that side of the creative process.

Do movies play into your artistic process at all?

Definitely. I’m a hopeless romantic really. I think that film and cinema really informs that: watching movies and being all mesmerized by the love scenes. The way things are edited together can really make you see things in a certain way and direct how the audience experiences the film.

You did a great job with the video of communicating a fun, laid-back but sensual atmosphere.

Thanks! That’s exactly what I was going for.

How does “Mars” fit into your bigger picture or conception of the upcoming album?

It’s a new direction for me. I don’t normally sing about sexy times, but I wanted to experiment more with lyrical content with this album and have a bit more openness and fun. “Mars” is a taste of what’s to come with the album for sure. Working with Jonny Tobin, the producer, was really cool because his style is so him. I hear one of his beats and immediately know, ‘That’s Jonny Tobin.’ He adds a really cool element to the songs we work on together. There’s two more from him on the album—I’m excited!

The album as a whole is going to be based on loss in different ways. I write primarily about love, and you can look at that from a lot of different angles. This album in particular is going to be like that, like you kind of lose your mind when you lose somebody—lose them in the sense that they’re no longer living. The album will be about how that feels.

On the one hand, you’re exploring new concepts in terms of sexual elements but then still thinking about the sad elements of love that are on the other side of that.

You’re definitely going to feel the contrast. I haven’t really written about mental health, so that was definitely an avenue that I wanted to explore: how it’s affected my life and those that I love.

“Mars” has an outer-space, sci-fi element. Will other songs be exploring those kinds of cosmic elements?

A few, but the album really varies. There are more ‘90s-R&B sounding songs that are a bit more acoustic and stripped, and there are songs that are futuristic and very produced. You’re gonna get a whole variety.

A lot of great albums bring together many disparate strands and somehow, miraculously almost, make it one thing.

Yeah, totally! It’s cool to hear an artist do many different genres, too, because you can hear many different sides of them.

I like both: I like it when an artist has a sound and stays within that sound, but I also like it when it’s switched up a bit, and you can hear what they sound like with different soundscapes driving them.

Is there a particular album that jumps among styles you especially admire or that might have influenced the new album?

Writing-wise, I really drew from Alicia Keys’ Songs in A Minor, in terms of writing about losing somebody you love. Not all of the songs on that album are super R&B or ballads. Some of them are really hip-hop, and some of them have a kind of grungy feeling to them.

I admire that about Alicia Keys: she’s such a talented, multi-faceted artist and seems so comfortable in so many different environments.

Also, she’s a musician: she understands music theory and really knows how to play an instrument. She can really open you up.

You’re also a DJ. Have you had time to make any new mixes recently, or have you put that to the side while working on the album?

Really I’ve just been focusing on songwriting. I have had a few DJ gigs, and I have been working on a new mix that blends house music with calypso and dancehall. Those are my roots. Being Serbian, the music that I want to listen to is always going to have some kind of Afro beat to it. But the music I make is very R&B and electronic.

It’s interesting. I love dancing, but the music that I make isn’t really music to go to the club and go hard on. Still, I would love to write music that people can dance to.

How do you discover new music or find new ways of listening to old music?

I really like going over to my friends’ house and sharing songs with them. Then you can find the artists your friends listen to and dig deep. I also use Spotify and then rely on Google from there. YouTube is a good way to get lost in an artist’s rabbit hole, too. When you’re seeing someone perform, you get a different feeling from when you’re just hearing it.

You’ve talked about the importance of listening to your soul as part of the process of personal and artistic growth. What kinds of daily practices help you quiet the outside world?

Normally, I meditate every morning: I wake up and think about what I’m grateful for. That helps me connect with a feeling of happiness. I find that it’s really easy for me to reach for my phone and go on Instagram or whatever. It’s nice to take a few seconds to re-collect because I’m also a very vivid dreamer, and sometimes I need to take a second to come back into this world. It helps me connect to that feeling of happiness to think about what I’m grateful for and what I appreciate in my life as it is in this moment.

That moment of gratitude is like a mini-meditation for me. In my room, I have a little altar of stones and things that matter to me—things I want to focus on. And I have a little pillow underneath it that I sit on and take 10 minutes in the day to quiet my mind and center myself. It helps me connect to my inner being, to what I’m really feeling. Because when I sit down at my piano to make a song I have to tap into that same place. The more I tap into it, the easier it gets every time.

Tell me about your collaborative process. How has that developed or changed during Covid and after signing to the new label.

I’ve always been a work-alone type of person anyways, so I don’t really like going over to people’s houses to work on a song together. I would much rather them send me an idea and then work on it alone in my room and send it back to them. I’m like that with most people, except for one of my best friends, [composer and producer] Jordan Esau. When we get together, it’s always in the same room: we write together, and it’s seamless. We’ll write a song within minutes. He’s the only person I’ve ever worked well with in that way.

When Covid hit, people said they would send me what they’re working on: you can work on it at your house and send it back. So I’m like, “Sweet, that’s what I do anyways!” For me, I haven’t felt like things have really changed or gotten more difficult since I always work in that way. But for people who really need that energy exchange in the room, it’s a lot harder.

It’s great you’ve been so productive and focused during the pandemic!

Totally. Taking that time to be alone has been really good for me, but I know that Covid has been a nightmare for a lot of people. Two realities can exist at once.

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