The Jan Hellriegel interview

Last updated 09:16 15/10/2009

On Monday (October 19) you will be able to purchase All Grown Up - the new album by Jan Hellriegel. It is her first release in 12 years. In fact, you can order the special edition from her website/label Blind Date Records by clicking on that link.
Jan Hellriegel: She's Back - All Grown Up

It's an extraordinary album. I was lucky to hear a very early sample of it and from that, immediately, I fell for the record.

The songs on this album will find their way in to your home, they will live with you and you will want to hang out with them. This is an album that has been lovingly created from perfectly crafted tunes. Hellreigel reintroduces herself, reinvents herself, takes risks, pushes boundaries and masters the melodies of mature pop music.

I know that sounds like some company line...but I don't roll that way...and I found that neither does Jan.

But first things first: reintroducing herself? For those catching up, Hellriegel began her musical career in Dunedin and then set up the all-female group, Cassandra's Ears. In the early 1990s she released It's My Sin (1992) and Tremble (1995). She also worked with Straitjacket Fits and The Mutton Birds - here she is singing backing vocals on Nature. Hellriegel also supported Jeff Buckley.

She won New Zealand music awards in 1996-7 and then she started to step back - raised her children, took on a role (several in fact, juggling work with being a mother) and, at one point, sold her guitar, relocated to Melbourne and then back to Auckland.

"It seemed like a good idea", Hellriegel tells me with a laugh when I ask about the decision to release All Grown Up.

"It took 12 years to make the record and there is so much in it; of me and my life; of the people that helped to make it".

She goes on to say that, "as a singer, it is all of my life's experiences - up to this point - poured in to the record. It really took my all, or close to it, to sing the songs on this album".

So much of Jan's life is in this album - in the songs, in the writing as well as the performance - but she won't take the credit for all of the stories.

"I remember other people's stories, so there are songs here that people will listen to and assume are about me but I've written them based on something I've overhead, on a story I've been told. Some of them are my own stories too, sure, but I love listening to stories and using those ideas to help tell my own stories".

Hellriegel says that the record's engineer, Neil Baldock, and producer, Wayne Bell, deserve a lot of credit ("they really did so much") and singles out every musician involved in the project. She is in no rush to form a band and slip down from top billing but, after a conversation with her, you could never see her as being a solo artist - she's too busy praising the work of others.

It serves to highlight not only her character but the character of her songs; the musicians clearly responded well to the bare bones of the tunes, seeing the big picture from the early sketches (you can click here to hear more about that on the EPK). And it's something as a writer she's very proud of; proud of the work and of the bond with a talented crew; which in turn helped the songs from crawling-stage to the step-taking.

When I heard the album for the first time, it sounded like these songs already knew how to run.

"It's just been really special, the whole thing", Hellriegel happily admits.

"And through this whole process I have wondered if I am doing the right thing, if I people will enjoy and accept this work but once I hit the studio I felt invincible. It was an amazing experience. It's been a lot of hard work but the whole process of recording was just a joy - the musicians and Wayne and Neil really helped; they made it easy for me to get right back in to it, but of course you have doubts...I sit looking at the finished package and it mostly feels very good. But I have moments where I...I just wonder...I just have to leave the songs to do what they are going to do now; go out there and be themselves, live outside of me".

She is sending them off in fine style, reintroducing herself and introducing the songs by performing a concert at Auckland's Civic Wintergarden, next Thursday, October 22 (a week today). You can click here for further details.

"I am coming back with a new album and in order to get people to talk about it I need to put on a concert - that was really the thinking behind the gig. I am confident about my voice and, well, I just hope the rest will be right on the night. Most of the people involved in the record will be there to play on the night, so that's very exciting".

Beyond that show Jan has no immediate plans to tour. But this experience of pouring her soul in to another album and working ten hour days to set up her own record label, to record and promote the album has guaranteed one thing: "I will make another record. Definitely. Well, I'd like to anyway...I've started writing more songs already".

All Grown Up really began to take shape about a year ago. Jan says she had dinner with Wayne Bell and "the title really came from that meeting, it was around October, 2008 and I sat with Wayne and just said 'I want you to produce a record for me'; at that time I guess I had about nine songs and probably a couple were half-finished, with a couple more to finish off. It was like it was meant to be. And from that moment on it has just gathered momentum - and has all been very natural, very organic, it's just flowed..."

The album - importantly - feels like an album rather than a collection of songs. It feels like a lot of time was taken to select the order of tracks, to plan and space, to create the flow.

"I always knew what the first song would be - and that is track one on the album. I always knew what the last song would be - and that is the one that has ended up as the last track and I always knew that the song He's Gone would be somewhere in the middle. From there it took shape. It was definitely always an album - I wasn't too interested in picking singles and worrying about what to release, I want it to be heard and experienced as a whole album".

It deserves to be. That track Jan mentioned (He's Gone) is one of the standout pieces for me. A powerful, dramatic piano ballad that drips with darkness; a torch treatment accompanied by the sort of piano phrasing that brings to mind Keith Jarrett; it makes way, only briefly, for a lovely Beatlesque passage, before the piano swells up around the voice and the voice in turn circles the lines from the keyboard.

When I first heard the album there were six or seven songs I saw as highlights. So often you will only find three or four, if that. And now I am at the stage that I am finding new favourites with each listen.

Clearly the idea of this album was to make something special - and for it to be treated that way. As well as the concert Hellriegel has a special edition package which you can check out here - a CD copy that comes numbered, signed, with a nine-track vinyl edition of the album and a 28 page colour booklet.

She says "I just wanted to mark it, to do something special and to tell some of the story that went in to the making of the album, through the musicians and photos, through the song lyrics...basically I just thought 'why not?' It took a bloody long time and was a lot of hard work so I wanted to do something special".

Hellriegel says that in many ways it "made a lot of sense to release it myself and to have control".

And now - well, from Monday - All Grown Up will be yours to sample and purchase; to listen to and loan...to marvel over and to find your own favourites within.

It is a very different album; one that has seen the songs find their own endings essentially, no subtle studio fade-outs, no telegraphed ideas, no obvious structures and repeats. Hellriegel's songs should appeal to a wide range of music listeners - there really feels like there is something for everyone on this album. The guitars rip, the cymbals shimmer, the piano is alternately dark and dreamy and Hellriegel is in fine voice.

Those going to the concert next week will get to hear most (if not all?) of the new album. And there will be some of the older material too. Hellriegel says "It's My Sin is obviously where a lot of connections were made" (here's the song The Way I Feel).

She is at peace with her musical past, saying she still feels "very proud" of her album Tremble ("and I still like some of the songs from It's My Sin too"). She also told me there would be at least one cover played on the night. She would not tell me what it will be. I guess you'll have to head along to find out...

This Saturday morning you will be able to hear Jan talking to Kim Hill on Radio NZ National.

So there you have it: the Jan Hellriegel interview. The return of Jan Hellriegel - with her album All Grown Up. I do hope you check it out - if you are Auckland-based maybe you will go to the gig? And if you do purchase the album, or listen to it, then by all means come back to this post and make a comment, offer your thoughts.

Does it sound like something you'd be interested in? Were you a fan of her earlier work? Will you try this new one?

I can't say enough about this album - I think it's amazing. It's been made with so much love from all involved. It sounds alive; every song has a buzz to it. I really hope people give it a go and find something in it to hold on to and enjoy. I know I have.

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7 comments
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Blair   #1   10:16 am Oct 15 2009

Marketing questions, yes a fan, catch radio probably not, such is life, podcast maybe? attend gig if at venue i like, wintergardens in ak aws, i'm such a wuss or am i normal, who knows, it's all about me isn't it.

Yeti   #2   09:25 pm Oct 15 2009

Welcome back Jan! I will an eye out for the new one

Douglas   #3   01:08 pm Oct 16 2009

I really liked Jans first album, I remember Its my Sin & The way I feel being all over radio in the early nineties-reminds me of the place I was working at at the time. I'll check out the new album for sure

can't wait   #4   01:24 pm Oct 16 2009

I have the collectors edition and it is made with as much love and care as the album, its worth every cent and god its great to hold a proper sized LP cover and read to stories.

"Fill me up" was apparently recorded 'live' in the studio and is sensational. to think she recorded the vocals in one take blows the mind! what an artist.

TC   #5   03:40 am Oct 17 2009

Yay yay yay yay yay - very exciting news. Welcome back Jan!

Shane   #6   07:53 pm Oct 17 2009

I'm another who wants to say welcome back. I have both It's My Sin & tremble with both getting regular play.

I saw her perform at Eden park one night before the rugby and she was fantastic. It will be great to hear a new album and see her perform again.

Champagne Taste   #7   10:45 am Oct 23 2009

Went to the gig and was blown away by Jan's voice, the songs, the setting - had a great vibe to it, guess partly due to friends and family coming out in support. Id' listened to the new album over and over beforehand, enjoyed it more each time - it felt like an old friend if that doesn't sound too naff! The songs were awesome live - Jan's voice is gorgeous (so is her personality) and her performance powerful and beautiful. She was totally in her element, having a ball up there with friends. And to hear one of my favourite songs ever - The Way I Feel - live, was magic! I hope the new album does well (and her earlier ones get new listeners! Can we still buy??). Jan deserves to take her rightful place up there with other top kiwi artists.

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