Planet Janet

California Surf Meets New York City Strut

Planet Janet digs deep into rock's past and may become a band of its future. Their glittery rock star anthems get to the point and stick in the mind.

Their songs build off jumpy, mood-swinging drumbeats that sit under powerful, crunchy guitar chords and earthy, relatable lyrics. The band uses abrupt tempo changes to make vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Sarah Fire's songs meaningful and picturesque.

Instrumentally, the band gives off a vibe combining California surf and New York strut, many times within the same song. Surf-like, boppy guitar riffs and drumbeats give way to chords that would sound right at home in CBGBs. The shift in moods complements the ups and downs of Fire's lyrics.

Fire's sunny vocals grab much attention on their CD "Nice Socks". She digs deep into her vocal chords, and emotional palette, to create a variety of musical styles. The guitar play between her and Jared Sousa is unrestrained and raw. Sousa's glides slick, grimy arpeggios into a two-guitar chord attack with Fire. Bassist Jason Nixon and drummer Miranda Taylor keep a sensible but spontaneous rhythm section. Taylor drums with authority and thought, while Nixon adds feel and color. The band has worked to create its own sound, stamping itself to uniquely-structured songs.

Fire mixes terrestrial verses with outer-space bridges invoking the spirit of both 60's psychedelic and 70's glam rock. Though still a new band, Planet Janet has what it takes to create with maturity and awareness of each other's musical abilities. The band writes, practices and plays out together with a sincerity that only can lead to positive results.

Planet Janet spoke to Chorus and Verse at a band rehearsal in Red Bank, New Jersey on June 23, 2002.

First off, a little bit of background. How did you guys form and what year?

Sarah Fire: Miranda and I started playing acoustically in '98. So, it was just acoustic for a while and [then] Jared joined. We didn't really become this band that you see until Jay joined, about a year ago.

Jason Nixon: [I joined] last February, so it was a year and a couple of months.

Jared Sousa: I was on bass, until Jay joined, and then I moved to guitar.

What kind of music were you listening to?

Sarah: I think everybody was into different things.

Miranda Taylor: I think Led Zeppelin is what I was listening to the most.

Sarah: I was listening to Weezer a lot.

Jason: When I joined, last year, I was listening to Devo.

So there's kind of a common denominator?

Sarah: And the Pixies...

Jared: The Pixies is probably the biggest common influence that we all have, and the Beatles.

So, other than punk, do you have a lot of straight-ahead rock influences?

Sarah: I think straight-ahead rock is probably the closest. Because, I feel like saying punk is like a little, too ... that's just Jared, like Jared listened to a lot of the Ramones. But, I never really listened to a lot of punk rock. I was always into a lot of classic, the Beatles. Then, more Weezer, they're not very punk rock.

Jason: And, of course, Zeppelin.

Sarah: (Laughs.) Of course, Zeppelin.

How do you meld those styles together? Have your styles changed since you first started out?

Jared: I had gotten more into artists like Weezer and Radiohead than I had been before. And that's kind of cool, actually, how they make guitar parts and such and try to supply it to the song. Plus, using what I like about rock 'n' roll music, Johnny Thunders and the Ramones do the same thing. That's at least how I do it with my instrument.

Sarah: I think a lot of the bands I was listening to then have matured themselves. Like Radiohead, to go from "Pablo Honey" to, like, fucking "Amnesiac" or something. I mean, that is, like they're two different bands you know. They are my favorite band. I definitely saw them progress. I think I was influenced by aspiring towards more than just a three-chord pop song.

But, of course, that's something that I'll always like and it's something you still can get away with, if you're smart about it.

It's an aspiration. When you see Thom Yorke as a songwriter, I did at least. He's always been my idol.

How has your music changed and developed?

Jared: It's matured a lot, and Sarah always wrote good pop songs. Then it gradually went to stuff that got more complex. And then we finally melded the more complex, interesting songs with the pure pop songs. Until [you get] what we have now.

Jason: We have, like, epic rock. (Laughter.) Epic rock anthems.

Jared: We try to meld together our two advancing techniques. We're not necessarily super advanced musicians. But, we think, arrangement-wise, we've advanced a lot.

Sarah. And I think the emphasis on energy and like just rocking as hard as we can has come into play more often now than it used to. We used to be, like, how in tune are we? (Laughter.)

We used to suck so hard. Like, we sucked for so long. In fact, right now is the only time I would be proud of how we play live. We always had the ideas and the songs, but not live. We sucked and being in tune was very important, because it was about the only thing we could depend on. (Laughter.)

Miranda: We've been more comfortably lately. Comfortable on stage, so that the rock element can shine through.

Sarah: Our music has changed in that what Miranda and I were doing was much more ... stripped down, very minimalist, very melodically-based stuff. Now we're more interested in being a rock band, utilizing four people. I mean, I play keyboard and guitar and it's like we're really trying to get as much sound in the songs as possible.

Do you put riffs in the newer songs you write?

Jared: Yeah. The two guitars never play the same thing anymore. Not that they were ever.

Sarah: We added another guitar and we were still playing the same stuff. And then we were like, 'Ok, if it's two guitars, lets make sure that we're not both playing the same thing.'

How do you decide who's going to play what in the guitar parts?

Sarah: It depends on how the song is written. Because, I'll write a riff sometimes, like on "Heart". I'll write a guitar part, a riff or whatever and then Jared will usually write a solo or write a part that goes with that. It's very collaborative.

Jared: We very often work together on the songs, me and Sarah, and go over them. Sort of like, get the whole structure down, and bring them to practice. At least recently, that's what we've been doing. It works better that way. Rather than trying to come together with the whole band, all trying to figure out parts at once.

Who writes most of the material, the actual words and the song itself?

Sarah: I write the words, the music and the guitar parts. Which is what I've heard a lot of bands do. Like Thom Yorke does that. I bring it to the band and then we make a song.

How do the songs change from when you're first playing them on acoustic guitar? How do they sound when the band takes them?

Sarah: Sometimes, they don't change very much and sometimes they change completely. Lately, and I think this speaks for the maturity of the band, they've been changing a lot. Not so much that I wrote a crappy song and we made it good. There's a song structure and we take it from A to Z and make it into a real song. The tempo changes, we pay attention to the parts of the song in a much more conscientious way. And the result is, I think everyone feels like they put something into the song, where it's not just me going, 'These are the chords, this is how you should play it, that's it.' That's never how it is.

Jason: It definitely speaks for song structure maturity when a song changes from when you just have the basis, when Sarah writes it, to when you have the full band a lot. Because it's, like, when you have a simple pop song and you bring it to the band, it's not going to change a lot. It doesn't make it a bad song. But when it has its own complexities and everyone has a different take on it, it's just open to more interpretation when you have just more complex arrangements.

What do you guys try to add when you get the songs?

Jared: Sometimes me and Sarah go and sit on a bed and play over it and I'll just try to come up with stuff. Or, I'll just get a tape of it down and do it by myself. I usually do everything in a five or 10-minute period.

Sarah: Its always Miranda who makes it, because she's the drummer. So, it takes it from being an acoustic song, to a rock song. So when she starts playing for me, when I write sometimes I go like this (plays drum beat on her leg) and that's how I write often. I just sing and I'll just tap on a desk. Make a rhythm, because that's what makes it a rock song to me. Miranda, for me, really starts to help me take a song to a realm of where I'm like, 'Ok, I can hear this song being played as a rock song.' You know, because you're singing and playing an acoustic guitar, it really doesn't sound like a rock song.

Jason: It really does help when you guys have it worked out ahead of time. So that I have a solid guitar part to go off of. Instead, of you [Sarah] come in a Jared's just learning.

Do you guys play more for the song or more just to add something musically to it?

Miranda: I usually think about what the song reminds me of and try to rip off that drummer. (Laughter.)

Sarah: And that usually works pretty well. No one seems to notice.

Jason: I try to accent both Miranda and the guitars. Do a middleman thing where it's like I am trying to complement both the melody and the rhythm, which is my job as a bass player.

What do you write about lyrically?

Sarah: I usually write about relationships, which is boring. I write about whatever is happening to me in my life. I write [partly] about becoming rock stars. Usually things that I feel passionately about. I never sat down to write a song and said, 'Sure, I want to write a song about driving.' (Laughter.)

I've never been one to sit down and write a song for the sole purpose of writing a song. It's usually really a function of, if I'm in a bad mood, I usually write.

Usually, it's a melodic thing with me. It's not a chord-change thing. It's like a melody that I want to use.

Then you put the chords after that?

Sarah: Yeah. Sometimes, like on the piano, I write with chords.

When do the lyrics come? Do they come last?

Sarah: Usually, it's together. And, then I have to write more lyrics for the second or third verse.

Josh Davidson

Josh Davidson has written music feature articles for Jersey Style and served as the Jersey Shore rock columnist for Steppin' Out Magazine. Other music writing credits include Aquarian Weekly, Jersey Beat, Backstreets and He has written free-lance for the Asbury Park Press' Community Sports section and has written featured articles for its news section, as well as covering campus news and sports weekly for the Signal, the College of New Jersey's (formerly Trenton State College) student newspaper. He has worked as a staff writer for The Independent, and his work for Greater Media Newspapers has also been published in the News Transcript. He is a former beat reporter for the Ocean County Observer who presently is a news writer for Symbolic Systems Inc. supporting the US Army's Knowledge Center. His music writing covers a vast range of topics, from the current cover band craze, highs and lows of the original scene, to the early days of the Jersey Shore rock scene in Asbury Park. He is also a musician, having written hundreds of songs as a singer/songwriter, and playing them out as a solo/acoustic artist. He has also played with cover bands, including It Doesn't Matter, and several original bands, including as the guitarist for the solo project of singer/songwriter Dave Eric. He continues to work on solo material and is presently the guitar player for Jersey Breeze.