Beyond the Surface: Singer-songwriter Janey Street on Living in a Creative Space and Being Thankful Where Her Life Went After Arista

06/13/2017 10:08 pm ET Updated Jun 13, 2017

To be one’s true self is the goal in life. This blog series would not exist if it werent for a reunion with an old friend who had all the makings of a modern-day Mozart. But at a pivotal fork in the road, he chose the path behind a desk, instead of one behind a keyboard, which would’ve honored his gift - like Mozart did. Now, 20 years later, he’s unrecognizable, this friend who once had music radiating from every cell, especially when singing in random bursts of happiness. The years have taken their toll - not just in the added 20 pounds that don’t belong, but in the heaviness that comes when living someone elses life, and not one’s true purpose. The life you came here to live.

As a writer, this inspired me to highlight the special souls who chose to follow their true path. The tougher path, but one that honors and expresses the powerful gift of music they’ve been given. To live the Mozart life. May some of their words help or inspire you to find your true calling in life.

By 19, Janey Street had three record deals. In high school, she was picked up by Warner Bros. and later she joined Capitol Records. After that, Street was on Arista Records, invited by Clive Davis, as one of two new artists that year on the label. The other artist was Whitney Houston. Street’s two singles, “Under the Clock” and “Say Hello To Ronnie” charted on Billboard as she settled into her new house by the ocean in California and then she lost her record deal, but today Street looks back and is thankful her life took the turn it did when she reflects on that time.

When her friend Janis Ian suggested Street come to Nashville, a series of writing and publishing deals followed, in addition to writing for film and TV. Street mentored young writers and conducted workshops, for the Nashville Songwriters Association at their chapters all over the country, while also playing gigs and house concerts, several in support of a cause near to her heart, “Gilda’s Club." In 2015, the Blue Elan label offered her a new record deal. Street will be performing in Nashville at Bluebird Cafe June 14, at Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles on June 20 and the Cutting Room in New York June 28.

Life gives us catalysts, a release valve, which often is our lowest point in life, that allows us to push up to the next, hopefully better chapter. Like a desert, wilderness period in life, that helps raise our consciousness and stay true to yourself and your own path. What was that low point for you that helped you push yourself further, evolve and do better, and what did you do when you had that epiphany?

Boy, I’ve had many low points. Ok, here’s one and it’s recent. I was on Arista records back in ‘85. Whitney Houston and myself were the two new artists on the label. I got dropped and she went on to being a super star. Getting dropped when my record was on the charts and in the top 10 VH-1 videos was pretty heartbreaking. Fast forward to 2012. I’m in Knoxville conducting a workshop for the Knoxville chapter of the Nashville Songwriters Association. There I was teaching my passion, songwriting. I was hanging out with great people and feeling really good about giving back and making some money. That night we all heard about Whitney’s passing. Very tragic. The next day I got in my car and drove back to Nashville and had an interesting revelation. Joni Mitchell’s Blue album playing in my CD player as I drove and I thought for a minute and said to myself, “I’m so glad I lived the life I have been living and look what success did to Whitney and what she did with her success.” I thought, “In the end I was the lucky one out of the two of us.” Interesting moment. I felt very sad for her on one hand and thankful for my fate and the path I ended up going down, at the same time.

How do you find inspiration for the music? Is there somewhere deep within where the inspiration comes from? It’s said that when we’re most connected to our true selves - for example, some of the best songs were written in minutes. What’s your take on that, do you feel that in those inspirational moments you’re most connected to your true self?

I’ve been writing songs for many years almost since I can talk. I’ve written by myself, co-written with my partner for years when we had an act signed to labels, and I have and still co-write here in Nashville because that’s what we do in Nashville. My creative process varies. I wrote “Under The Clock” (which was my hit video and single when I was signed to Clive Davis at Arista) in three minutes sitting in my kitchen in Hermosa Beach. Those songs that just come are great. I get the same thing driving in my car or while I’m washing dishes. Most of the time it’s a hook and a melody. These days I just grab my iPhone and record it immediately because I can't remember anything because of so many ideas in my head and then there’s just living life. Here in Nashville we make writing appointments, You walk into the room with an idea or the other writer has an idea and you roll your sleeves up and two hours later you have a great song. Not always, but most of the time. When you put two or three great writers in a room and someone has a great idea, it’s magic. There’s the craft and there’s the art. I find for myself, no matter if it’s song for me as an artist or a spec write for a film or another artist, it just flows and I’m very spontaneous. I’m usually the idea person and then it just rolls out from there. I just dive in. Not sure why I work that way, but it’s in the air and most of the time either co-writing or writing by myself, I know how to go to that special place in my mind and in my heart. I guess for me, living is inspiring.

Do you have a daily musical process?

I have had publishing deals where I would have four or five co-writes a week. Since I’ve been signed to Blue Elan Records and back to being an artist making records again, I’ve been writing songs that are great for me to sing and that are more poetic, introspective that rock. I just sat down and came up with all my ideas for my records knowing I was going into the studio and brought in all my great co-writers and boom, I had great songs ready to roll. I’ve been taking a break since I recorded my Blue Elan records, but being the creative nut that I am, I ended up writing a play. Writing film, TV and play scripts are another art form I enjoy. I guess the answer is, I just live in a creative space. It’s not daily, it just is.

When did you know you had this gift of music and how did it manifest for you? How did you start to do the human discipline it takes to channel your gift, hone it and bring it forth?

I started singing soon after I started talking at two years old. My parents had a lot of records lying around. Artists that ranged from Billy Holiday, Bessie Smith to Frank Sinatra. That was all I needed to get the addiction. My older brother used to play piano and guitar and did perfect Elvis imitations. He started playing in Greenwich Village, grew up in New York, and by the time I hit the 5th grade, I was playing guitar and singing. My brother and I sang together and started doing gigs. Then I was asked to join a band when I was in the 7th grade. We played blues all around Queens and had work every weekend. Then I went off with the piano player, started a duet and ended up signed to Warner Brothers while still in high school. So, I guess I was driven, discipline, talented and passionate from the start.

There are divine moments of serendipity, where a catalyst opens the door that leads to the path we’re meant to be on, the one where we live out the fullest expression of our true selves, when we are most true to ourselves. What was that moment for you and how did it happen?

I have had many moments. I think the defining moment for me was the class talent show when I was in the 5th grade. I had a hard time in school. Hated it and though I had a lot of friends in the neighborhood, I didn’t have friends in school. I got up with my guitar and broke out with a cool rock song at the time and all of a sudden I became the rock star of grammar school. I loved to play and sing and it seemed like everyone loved me for doing it, so it was a win win. I think it was the moment that I realized I had value. At that age, you don’t really understand the world and where you fit in. At least that’s how I felt, so it was a wonderful thing that lead me down this path I’ve been walking on now for a lifetime.

What inspired this blog series was seeing an old friend who has a special gift of music, but didn’t choose that path, who, 20 years later, isn’t living the life he thought he would live. People who make music and get to travel the world doing so are a rare example of a life where one is able to honor and channel their gift of music. What are your thoughts? And do you feel you’re consciously living the life you thought you would be living?

Besides the struggles that the artistic life brings in regards to making a living, rejection, dealing with shortsighted business people that control the arts a lot of the time, it has been a wonderful life for me and I have no regrets. Nowadays, people that went for security are not secure in the corporate world and that saddens me. Some of those people are like your friend. My parent’s generation did have secure jobs and retirement, but that’s all gone now and it’s tragic. I believe the creative process in whatever way it can come out of you should always be persuaded. Even if you have a 9 to 5 day job, play music on the weekends, write a song, paint a picture, plant flowers. It doesn’t matter. Celebrate life!

I’ve said in that blog post about living the Mozart life, that it may be a tougher road to choose, but you’re fully living your true selves, being most true to yourself. Do you resonate to that? You did not choose the 9 to 5 path.

To tell you the truth, I never even considered 9 to 5 ever. I think I’d end up committing suicide. Not that there’s anything wrong with that life, I just couldn’t do it.

But to embark on this path you chose, was that difficult? You didn’t know you would get here.

Where am I? Only kidding. I never thought I’d be in a record deal at my age, but why not? I’ve worked nonstop on my music and though it’s my passion, it’s still work. I feel proud of what I’ve accomplished with my music and after doing it all these years, I’ve just gotten better and better at it. All of us in the arts know the shoe can drop at any time. I’ve been through a lot of hard times but it comes with the territory. Us artists never feel we are anywhere. We just do our thing and hope we can pay the bills. That’s the way I feel about it.

How did you know that this is your life path, your calling? How does someone know when they’re on the correct path?

I never questioned it. That’s just me, but there are a lot of very talented people that get started later than I did and have had more decisions to make along the way. Perhaps those artistic people struggle with that more than I do.

What is your idea of success, especially on the path you chose?

Success for me is making great music and being able to pay my bills with it. At this point and probably all through my life, I never needed validation. I never got in this to be a star. I just wanted to make great music. Of course I like some recognition. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like that. I just don’t need it and it’s not what drives me.

It’s been a tough time for music, losing many of its legends or those we grew up with whose music was our soundtrack. What are your thoughts on time, how it seems to go by faster each year. Perhaps it’s made you reflect on what you want to achieve in the time we’re given here? Do you think about time much and what you want to achieve in the time we have?

They say time goes faster and faster as you get older. Someone once explained that it’s because our brains fill up with more and more memories or something like that. I think people in my age group feel that for sure. I just put my dog down and have lost a lot of friends and family and it’s strange but with my dog’s death as painful as it’s been, I am starting to really understand how death is a part of life and we are not supposed to be here forever. I’m not religious, but I believe in spirituality. The reason I believe that is through art. If I died tomorrow I feel like I’ve done as much good work as I can do. I’d like to do more and have more success if that’s possible, but I feel good about what I have already achieved and feel like there’s no stopping me if I stay healthy and am able to be creative and work.

Unlike any time in history, we’re in a overwhelming digital era. There is so much detritus, noise and schadenfreude. What’s your view on that, and how do you find quiet in this era? What do you do to connect with your Higher Self, your true self? How do you ground yourself, focus on your own life path and purpose?

Playing with my dog and watching her sit on the porch watching the blue jays and cardinals in my back yard gave me peace of mind. I didn’t need a beach. Now that she’s gone, I guess I will find quiet time. It’s usually in between things I’m working on. I feel in myself enough day to day and it’s really not something I think about. Too busy working and that’s kind of the way it is. Perhaps I’ll get to a beach and forget about all my stuff one of these days. I’m pretty focused and I don’t need anything to be that way. Just enjoy life. I’m really not that complicated.

I’m a firm believer in doing mitzvahs, especially in the tougher times of our lives. To give back, be of service in some way, to use our time most wisely, can only help us in the end. What are your thoughts and do you try to do your own mitzvahs to help others, even in the smallest way?

Yes, I teach songwriting and give back. I help my friends get work and I never shy away from someone’s problems or complaining and always try to tune in and help in any way I can. It’s all relative and some people are threatened by their friend’s problems and feel responsible and that they may have the same sucky situation so they don’t want to hear it and call it ‘negativity,’ but not me. I’m there and I know people need to vent and it’s ok. If I can help, I will, if I can’t, I will just listen and that will help.

What advice do you have for people who have the gift of music, but don’t know how to start channeling it, to develop that gift and bring it out?

My dad was a great visual artist and he used say one thing to me, “Just do it and don’t think about the results.” I live by that and it’s done me well.

What do you do to help pick yourself up when you’re feeling down, and help you stay the course? Is there a song you play that inspires you when you’re needing some inspiration or to pick yourself up?

Nah, that’s not my trip. I let myself get depressed. I usually have a good reason and I think it’s healthy to work through things and let yourself feel what you feel. No one said life is fair and it can suck sometimes and I think people have a right to feel shitty if that’s how they feel. I usually work it out and I feel not beating myself up about it is best for me. That’s just me. I just feel and live, write songs, sing and dig on all the great people I know.

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