Music & concerts

Closer to home: Janne Schra

After het succesful career with the jazz-pop formation ‘Room Eleven’, in 2010 Janne Schra went solo. She recently released her new album. “Making this album was like falling in love: don’t try too hard, don’t let your imagination run away with you, just let it happen.”

text: Machiel Coehorst
photography: Sophie Schra

Janne and her previous band had a very successful Dutch jazz album: In de Regen. The title of her latest release is The Heart Is Asymmetrical, and it’s an English pop album. ‘I often work this way,’ says the singer. ‘I create something that’s the exact opposite of what I did the last time.’

Do you prefer singing in English or Dutch?
‘I think I prefer the way English sounds. Dutch can sound so hard, with all those Ks and Ts. And it’s difficult to get the R right. Singing in English is much more pleasing. On the other hand, the listeners tend to miss the subtlety of the lyrics. In that respect, Dutch is better.’

What’s the thinking behind the slightly mysterious title of your album?
‘We’re all so obsessed with success, possessions, losing weight, scrolling, having kids, getting rich, working harder, etc; with having a ‘‘better life’’. But is it ever good enough? Isn’t this constant search for something better actually a means of escape, an attempt to avoid the present and not face up to your imperfections? Maybe because it’s too painful to admit, or because you’re not special enough? And what would happen to you if you just accepted it? Children learn to draw perfectly symmetrical hearts as a time-worn symbol of love. But the heart isn’t a symmetrical organ – and perhaps that’s the clue. If you want to find love, forget all those stereotyped ideas of how it should be and look at the reality.’

It’s a theme that fits in well with your last CD, In de Regen: a plea for embracing imperfection and doubt.
‘Yes, except that these songs are about listening to your intuition, your gut feeling, your heart, as well as about pushing through. It’s not good to over-analyse everything, talk things to death. It’s good to have doubts, but sometimes you have to make tough decisions.’

How did the new songs come about?
‘Adam [Bar, producer who used to work with Benny Sings, ed.] and I got together during the pandemic but we were at a loose end.
So we started writing for fun. I wanted to go with the flow and give my subconscious free rein. In other words, snuggle into the sofa, play a few chords or a melody and let my soul tell me what I wanted to sing about. To make it up as I went along, without a clear goal. I never planned to make a whole album. And funnily enough, that became the central theme of the album: intuition, allowing yourself to be guided from within. Don’t force anything, just let it happen. Like falling in love. Don’t try too hard, don’t let your imagination run away with you, just let it happen.’

You enjoyed worldwide success with Room Eleven. How do you look back on that period?
‘Ambivalent. On the one hand, it was amazing. I saw so much of the world, played enormous venues, performed at festivals in South-Africa and Canada, recorded an album in New York. But what I mainly learned is that success brings stress, and that I wasn’t built for stress. I’d rather have stayed in Japan for a month, for example, rather than a week with three shows in three days and three interviews in three days. I saw Mount Fuji in passing from the train. Still magical, but such a pity!’

Commenting on your previous album, you said: ‘Singing in Dutch is an advantage if you don’t like performing abroad: it limits your horizon.’ Do you feel differently now?
‘I’m not itching to play abroad, if that’s what you mean, apart from in Belgium. And I don’t enjoy doing too many gigs. Since the pandemic, I’ve worked out what makes me thrive. It’s being close to home, tending the community gardens, clearing my mind, painting, writing songs, spending time with family and friends, and most of all: being with my child. Performing may be the icing on the cake, but I’m not looking for an iced cake.’

Janne Schra performs live with Daniel Eskens (bass), Jelte Heringa (keyboard), Laurens Radstake (guitar) and Nicky Hustinx (drums).

9 June 2023 , TivoliVredenburg,

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