The 2019 Grammys

Vixen's Janet Gardner Stretches Her Creativity on First Solo Album: Exclusive First Listen

Jon Gregory
Janet Gardner

A solo album wasn't necessarily part of Janet Gardner's master career plan. But a glut of material the Vixen frontwoman wrote with her husband, guitarist/producer Justin James, made her self-titled effort -- coming out Friday (Aug. 18) and premiering in its entirety exclusively below -- inevitable. 

"It sort of happened honestly," Gardner tells Billboard. "We set up a studio in our new house (in Connecticut) and we were both down there fiddling around, and eventually we started to exchange ideas. We probably had written about five songs and thought, 'This is working pretty good. What are we gonna do with this?'" Gardner and James (Staind, Collective Soul, Tyketto) initially thought about another group or duo name. "Then we said let's call it my solo album. Why not? I've never done one. Even though it is a really strong collaboration, let's call it that."

The apprehension began to creep in after that. "If it went wrong it could kind of drive a wedge in our personal relationship, too," Gardner notes. "So we eased into it. But once it got flowing it was great. It did the opposite -- it brought us closer. It worked out beautifully."

The Janet Gardner album has plenty of Vixenesque hard rock but allows the singer to stretch out in other directions, including the industrial, well, grind of "The Grind," the gently melodic "Best Friend" and topical fare such as "Let It Be Over," a rhythmically dynamic anti-war song, and "Rat Hole," inspired by Gardner's frustration with health care insurance companies. 

"It's funny, they both became even more timely now than when we originally thought of them," says Gardner, who works days as a part-time dental hygienist. "With 'Rat Hole,' I didn't realize at the time that (health care) situation would be even more heated now. And 'Let It Be Over' just sort happened; I knew I wanted it to be a positive message involving things I really feel we need to change in the world, so that was something I had never attempted before -- and which I'd probably never do for Vixen."

Vixen, by the way, is alive and well. The group is playing shows and is planning to start work on a new album in the near future. But Gardner sees her partnership with James and her solo career as a going concern, with more to come probably sooner rather than later. 

"Justin and I already have some ideas lined up for the next one," she says. "I've always been the front person/lead singer, so it's not that much different. It has my name on it, but it doesn't feel really different. I suppose if I sat down and thought about it there would be more pressure, but at this point in my life I'm just happy to be doing it and happy to be doing some new music. It's definitely my freedom...to do whatever you want at the time. Whatever comes with it will be gravy."