INTERVIEW AND LIVE PHOTOS BY MARKO SYRJALA
Vixen is an all-female hard rock band formed in Los Angeles in 1981. The classic line-up of Janet Gardner (lead vocals), Jan Kuehnemund (lead guitar), Share Pedersen (bass), and Roxy Petrucci (drums) worked hard in the L.A./Hollywood club scene before signing with EMI in 1987. Vixen’s self-titled debut album came out in 1988, and the CD sold millions with the help of smash hit singles “Edge of A Broken Heart” and “Crying.” The band’s second album, REV IT UP, was released in 1990, but it failed to reach its predecessor’s success, and soon the band was without a label. One thing led to another, and in mid-1991, the band broke up. It wasn’t until 1998 before the band recorded a third album, TANGERINE. The line-up included Gardner, Petrucci, and a new guitarist Gina Stile. The comeback was short-lived and ended up splitting less than one year later. After that, Vixen was put together several times in many different forms. At the end of 2012, Kuehnemund was planning to reunite the classic Vixen line-up. However, in January 2013, just days before they were about to announce their reunion, Kuehnemund was diagnosed with cancer. The cancer diagnosis forced the band to delay the announcement indefinitely until possibly when she was fully recovered and cancer-free. Unfortunately, plans for a full-fledged reunion became impossible as on October 10, 2013, after nine months of battling cancer, Kuehnemund died at the age of 51. The three surviving classic line-up members of the band decided to carry on under the Vixen name in honor of the late guitarist.
Since then, the band has toured a lot in the US, Canada, and Europe. The current line-up also includes guitarist Britt Lightning, who joined the group in 2017. In January of 2018, Janet Gardner was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery to remove blood clots in her brain, a condition known as a subdural hematoma. Fortunately, it seems now that Janet will have a full recovery, and she’s been back on the road for a while already. And there’s a lot of things happening in the Vixen world. The band will release its first-ever live album, LIVE FIRE, in July 2018, and there’s also been a lot of talk about a new Vixen studio album. I was lucky enough to meet the ladies at Sweden Rock, and here they are Janet, Share, and Britt. You’re welcome!
First of all, I have to say that I saw you last in 1991, in Helsinki, with Deep Purple. It’s great to see you again. Time flies!
Share Ross: Thank you. That was the gig where we climbed the curtains! “Laughs”
Janet Gardner: We did. We were totally… I think it was the last night, or there was a break or something. So, we all went nuts. At the hotel, not at the gig. We closed the bar, and it never closed actually.
Share Ross: They kicked us out, I think.
Janet Gardner: We were climbing the curtains, yeah. That was a big mess.
Share Ross: We had a lot of fun that night.
Janet Gardner: Good memories of Helsinki.
THE CURRENT THINGS IN VIXEN CAMP
The very first thing I have to ask is, how are you doing, Janet?
Janet Gardner: Everything is good now. Yeah. I had a CAT scan in the middle of May and went to the neurologist, and I was discharged. Said, “You’re fine, good to go.” It will take two years for my skull to go back to normal completely. Then he said, “For all intents and purposes, you can do whatever you want.”
That’s scary stuff.
Janet Gardner: It is scary. I feel incredibly fortunate that I really have no after effect. I’m 100% myself.
Share Ross: We’re very, very grateful.
Share, how was your reaction when you first heard the news?
Share Ross: Terrified, terrified. You just can’t believe that it’s your friend, that it’s your bandmate. You think this can’t be true. This must be wrong information. This isn’t happening.
Janet Gardner: There were rumors, too, so you might have heard something worse.
Share Ross: Yeah. The first thing I heard was way worse than what it was.
Janet Gardner: I’m just glad that you reached out to Justin and found what it really was and that it’s bad, but it could be worse.
Share Ross: Yeah. We heard horrible things. But we’re just extremely grateful that she’s out rocking. She’s not any crazier or less crazy than she was before.
Janet Gardner: That’s the polite way to put it. I’m starting to get kind of crazy anyway.
But after all, it wasn’t a lobotomy surgery “Laughs.”
Share Ross: No. There was no lobotomy “Laughs.”
Janet Gardner: I have something to blame, yeah. I got brain surgery.
NEW LIVE ALBUM
You have a new live album coming up in July.
Janet Gardner: Yes, we do.
If I remember correctly, Vixen has never put out a live album before, even in the ’80s, right?
Share Ross: No, never.
Janet Gardner: We have lots of really good live recordings from TV shows and different things, but we never owned the masters to them. We didn’t know how to get any of that. Now we’re not playing a lot, and we just performed a night in Chicago. It came out great, and then with Michael Wagener, he mixed the live album, and then we did a new song from the “old-new” songs. It’s one that we used to play live, but we never recorded it.
Share Ross: I learned it when I joined the band. It was a part of my audition.
Janet Gardner: It’s that old. Oh my God! We were really happy that that came out. We hope you all love it as much as we do.
Share Ross: For the record, I have to add that I have a secret live recording. It’s really good, and it’s a video. It’s a three-camera video from the Musicians Institute in Hollywood. This is right before our first album came out. I think it’s like the spring of 1987. We do have something in the vault. I do have it all digitized.
Janet Gardner: That one show which we did in Germany, that’s on YouTube a lot. It looks kind of goofy because the lighting was just like…, but it sounds amazing.
Share Ross: Yeah, it would be good if we could get our hands on that. Many live things are floating around, but we needed something to represent with our new guitarist Britt. We wanted to get something out of there.
Speaking about Britt, how did you end up in this band?
Share Ross: We found her on the pony. There was a magic pony in the park here. We had good adventures “Laughs.”
Britt Lightning: I was playing in a band in L.A, I had just moved to L.A, and I think the manager Larry was at one of the gigs and saw me. I think just a couple of other people recommended me or something like that as well. Then we got together, and I auditioned down at Share’s house, and it just kind of went from there.
Share Ross: It was one long audition.
Britt Lightning: It was a long audition. I think it was like three days.
Share Ross: I think my audition was three days as well now that I think about it.
Janet Gardner: No. It was like three notes. You’re hired.
Share Ross: It was not. You guys made me wait.
Janet Gardner: She’s awesome. You’re hired.
Britt Lightning: Did they make you wait?
Share Ross: They did. She’s lying. They made me wait.
THE GLORIOUS 80’S
Next, I want to ask a few things about the glorious life in L.A. in the ’80s. You were battling the same audience as the bands like Dokken, Ratt, Motley Crue, Warrant, but you were girls. How was it actually to be a girl in that crew? Was it easier or harder?
Janet Gardner: At that point, it wasn’t that different because we were doing the same thing everybody else was. We were trying to promote our shows, play a lot of shows. Get a crowd out there, get something going. So, at that point, I didn’t think it felt all that different. When we were trying to get to the next level, that’s when…
Share Ross: That’s when it changed.
Janet Gardner: That’s when it started to change. Because we could get people to come to see us play because we’re good, that didn’t feel any different, but when we were trying to get a deal and get to the next level, that’s when we felt a lot of resistance because we were females, right.
Share Ross: The music business did not like us. That was hard.
Jan Kuehnemund formed the very first version of the band, but Janet joined the group in 1983, and the classic line-up of Vixen came together around 1986-87.
Janet Gardner: Yeah, I joined ’83, I think.
In the beginning, how much did the other all-female bands, like The Runaways, influence you?
Janet Gardner: Sort of. There was Fanny, and there were other girl-bands. But musically, I think we didn’t… I don’t know about you guys, but we didn’t really look for girls per se. We were just musicians, like being as hard as musicians. It didn’t matter that they were female or not. For me, as a vocalist, there were female vocalists that I really loved. And you can’t tell the difference between Share playing bass and if a dude were playing bass.
Share Ross: Thank you. I think that was kind of the thing, was like Roxy and me and Jan. Like Jan’s favorite guitar player was probably Jimmy Page. My favorite bass player was John Paul Jones; there was a lot of Led Zeppelin things going on there. No. We never said I’m only going to look up for female players or anything like that. The posters on my wall were Aerosmith and Cheap Trick, and Led Zeppelin because I wanted to be in the band. I didn’t want to be only a fan of the bands; I wanted to be in the band.
Janet Gardner: That inspired me to be the best that you can be as a musician. Male, female, whatever.
At that time, many female bands were coming from the UK, like Girlschool and Rock Goddess. Were you familiar with those bands?
Janet Gardner: We knew about Girlschool and Rock Goddess; we knew about them too. I do. They were just like a trio, right?
Janet Gardner: Yeah. There were lots of girl bands in L.A. too; there was: Precious Metal, Poison Dollys, Phantom Blue. There were a lot of bands.
And Femme Fatale?
Janet Gardner: Femme Fatale. They were a boy-girl band. It was just Lorraine and then a bunch of guys back then.
RECORDING THE FIRST VIXEN ALBUM
In 1986 you got a deal with EMI, and it was a huge thing at the time. They were one of the biggest labels at the time. When you put out the first album, most of the songs were written by outsiders. Was it something that the record company pushed you to do?
Share Ross: Pretty much. They didn’t want to sign us in the first place. They were like the third or fourth company, who finally came around to sign us. The first one said if you were more pop, we’d sign you, and the second one said if you sound like the Bangles or the Go-Go’s, we will sign you. Then EMI finally said, maybe. Sort of, kind of. I don’t know. Chicks were playing rock. That was a hard one.
Janet Gardner: The guy that signed us wasn’t even a rock guy. He was more of like an R&B, AOR guy, and our manager just kind of beat him up and made him do it. Of course, some producers were involved in making those decisions.
Share Ross: There was a lot of back and forth and arguing and screaming and yelling.
Janet Gardner: There was a lot of crying. Damn it! This is our album! Because it meant a lot to us. We might sound like babies, but it was our first album.
Share Ross: There were ultimatums. Either you do these songs, or the deal is gone. If you have noticed, the second album we co-wrote for like everything obviously to see what happens.
I always noticed that, and I think that the songs are much better on that one.
Share Ross: Thank you. I think so too. They sound more like us.
Janet Gardner: There was more continuity on that album too. It’s more cohesive. The first album was a little zigzag. Even though there was some great stuff, I’m really proud of that album too.
Share Ross: There are some great songs.
Maybe the problem with REV IT UP was the timing because the whole industry started to change?
Share Ross: The timing of it and our record label had a huge fight with our manager at the beginning of that album. It didn’t go to any stores. They stopped shipping it because they were mad at him. We were around touring, and nobody could buy our record.
Janet Gardner: We were here. We were in Europe with Deep Purple, thinking that our record was more available in the US, but when we got home, surprise. No, it wasn’t.
Share Ross: It had nothing to do with the music, the band, or what the fans wanted. It was all about egos outside the band. The band did not have big egos. Managers and record labels. That’s where the big egos are.
What I’ve learned is that usually, female bands don’t last because of egos. But that’s only my opinion.
Share Ross: I think that’s true with guidance, too. “Laughs.”
Janet Gardner: We may have a little bit different way of dealing with each other than male bands. But I think the most important thing is to get everything out in the open. How you feel about everything, if you’re feeling funny about something or if it feels like something is going on. Get it out in the open and then sort maybe solve it.
Share Ross: Life lesson from Janet Gardner right there “Laughs.”
LIFE AFTER VIXEN
The band split up in 1991. What did you do after that for the next couple of years? A family life, staying home, doing something else?
Janet Gardner: No. We were all still working on music. I think Jan and Roxy worked with a couple of different singers, and we did some recording and a few things like that. Share and I worked together on a different band with a couple of dudes called…
Share Ross: Clown. Do you know Clown is dead?
Janet Gardner: I know. It’s unbelievable. We talked to different record companies, and we were trying to get different things going.
What I’ve also learned is that if you had played with a hard rock band in the ’80s and you wanted to have a new deal in the ’90s, that was almost impossible. The labels said: “Because you’re from that era, we don’t want to sign you. We want the fresh guys”. Did you face the same kind of things during the ’90s?
Share Ross: Yeah, for sure.
Janet Gardner: Definitely. They sort of branded us hair metal or glam or whatever you’re going to call it.
Share Ross: I ended up playing bass for Garry Myrick, the Texas guitar player. He’s a Blues guy, and he was in the band called Havana 3 AM, with The Clash bass player called Paul Simonon. Gary called me up and said, “Do you want to play bass for me?” I was like, okay. I went and auditioned for that and ended up playing with him. Then we were playing all over Hollywood, and so it’s me and these two dudes and people come in. It’s called Havana at 3 AM; they’re expecting to see the guy from the Clash. Yeah, that was interesting. They would be pissed off, and they walked in and saw me. I would not tell them what band I was playing before, and then after the first song, they were like, “Holy shit! You’re okay. You’re cool. We dig you; you’re all right.” It was like all over again, and I had to win them over in a different way for a different reason. It was really funny. Yeah, I would never tell them. I would never go like, “I’m from Vixen.” It was funny.
Tell something about the third Vixen album, TANGERINE?
Janet Gardner: That was in the mid-’90s. I kind of remember. Roxy actually called me and said, “I know this guitar player, and I think you would dig her, and she lives in your area.” She lived on Long Island, and I was in Connecticut, Gina Stile. I went over to her house, and we started writing, and we didn’t know what we were going to do. We didn’t know. We just started writing like crazy. We had written about 30 songs together. Then, of course, people were like, “Why don’t you make this Vixen?” We contacted Share, she respectfully declined. We contacted Jan, and she said she wanted to be involved in this. We got a letter back that said she was consciously interested or something like that. Then we never heard from her again, and I tried to reach out to her a couple more times, but she didn’t respond. Then we got a deal, and we released it and then toured a little bit to support it.
After that, you did come back now and then and with different line-ups, and finally, in 2004, you did a reunion show with all original members. What is the key thing that, after all these years and things happened, that you still wanted to keep the band going? Is Vixen something which is a part of your life forever you want it or not?
Janet Gardner: Yeah. Pretty much. I think… We’ve probably been through a lot together, and it’s a sisterhood kind of thing. The road has been bumpy now and then, like life in general. Yeah. There is this certain magic that never goes away.
Share Ross: I think as we’ve gotten older, there is more appreciation for that magic.
Janet Gardner: Absolutely.
Share Ross: There is more appreciation for like, “Holy Shit! I don’t have this feeling that I have with these other women.” I don’t have that in any of the situations. The fact that we’ve been through these bizarre situations together is something that as I’ve gotten older, I realize like, “Wow! I can’t share this with anybody else.” There is nobody else who gets this stuff. There is definitely an exclusive membership into this club, and we’ve earned it. I think there is a really big appreciation around that for all of us now. It doesn’t hurt that when you say I am in Vixen, people don’t like scoff and like a cough and try to look the other way. They’re like, “Really?” I’m not going to lie like that’s influential as well. It’s become as things have come back around. Nobody hates us because we’re fucking Vixen anymore.
Janet Gardner: I like it too when they’re like “from the legendary band Vixen.” The legendary! I never thought I would hear that.
Share Ross: Tell that to my husband when I’m in trouble.
But at a festival like this, you are one of the legends for sure “Laughs.”
Janet Gardner: We’re all legends. We don’t mind.
Share Ross: I also want to say as well, there is something really important as well. When we decided to reunite, we planned that reunion with Jan. Then because she got sick, but right before she let us know that she was really, really ill. We had a press release written and ready to go. We were like, this is it. We’re back, and it’s all original. Then like three days before that press release, we got the phone call. We had to redo our plans, and blah, blah. She wanted to be very private about that. That’s why nobody knew. That was the big reason why we kept going now.
I remember that she put out a statement when she was diagnosed, and it went like, “No worries, I’m fine, and I’ll be back soon.” It seemed that up until the actual moment that she died, she believed she was coming back.
Janet Gardner: That’s how she was in general. She never wanted any kind of sympathy ever for anything. She never wanted. She was just strong like a bull. She was very…
Share Ross: Very stoic.
Janet Gardner: Yeah. We didn’t even know how serious it was for a while. Because she was like, “Yeah, I got this little thing going on. I got to look at something, check. But don’t worry, I’ll let you know next week what’s happening.” I think she knew how bad it was.
Share Ross: Yeah. I think she did.
NEW VIXEN MUSIC?
The last question, and then I set you free. I think it was 2014 when it was announced that there would be a new Vixen album of all original material, including a song dedicated to Jan’s memory. It’s been four years, but the album is still not here, so what’s the state of that?
Share Ross: It’s not here yet. It’s coming. It really is.
Janet Gardner: We’ve had some…
Share Ross: We got a new guitar player.
Janet Gardner: That has changed things. We’re crazy busy this summer with shows and then will get to it.
Do you have a label at the moment?
Janet Gardner: The live album is with Rat Pak Records. I don’t know where the studio album will end up. Rat Pak Records has been great with us, so maybe they’ll do the studio album as well?
Share Ross: Michael Wagener did the live album. We’re hoping he’ll do the studio album too. Did you hear that, Michael!!!
I think that he can’t refuse now. “Laughs.”
Share Ross: No, he loves us.
We’ll see how it goes. Thank you for the interview, girls!