June 1, 2014 ~ The ‘ukulele world is always buzzing with gossip and questions about this ‘ukulele player or that ‘ukulele player. They seldom talk about awesome sidekick cello players. Anne Janelle might be turning that all around with her strong role in a duo with one of the hottest topics around, Mr. James Hill. For the past few years, Janelle and Hill have been kicking it all around the world with exciting and fun live performances along with thoughtful workshops and classes that show the depth of their experience and knowledge.
I asked Anne a while back about doing an ‘ukulele interview from a cellist’s perspective and she responded with enthusiasm.
Brad Bordessa: We know you kill it on the cello, but I have to ask, do you play ANY ‘ukulele?
Anne Janelle: I can play the requisite three chords. Between the fact that the cello keeps me busy (I am still learning new things about this incredible instrument even after having played it for 25 years!) and the fact that I live with James Hill, I’m not too motivated to learn much more!
BB: Tell us a little about how you found yourself in company with one of the ‘ukulele’s pioneering players.
AJ: Totally by accident. We went to music school together at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, B.C. I knew him first as a violin player, then a viola player and it was only once we became friends that I found out about the ukulele. And only when we became more than friends that we started playing music together!
BB: Describe your role in an ‘ukulele/cello duo. Are you mostly performing standard cello/bass duties or are you busier, taking up more of the slack that James can’t cover?
AJ: Ha! I wouldn’t say there is much “standard” in the way that I play in the duo! Of course my classical training is always with me and has a significant role in how I play the cello. Having said that, I am exploring all kinds of new territory on the instrument, often playing it like a bass. The cello is so versatile that it can offer a lot in a duo setting. As a complement to the ukulele, it has the low range (which is why I am usually in the role of “bass player” in the duo) but it also has the bow which can offer beautiful long tones and singing melodies.
BB: You just got off from touring Europe, I believe. How was that?
AJ: Yes, we’ve had two tours of Europe this spring to promote my latest album, So Long at the Fair. It has been very busy! The first was to England, and the second to Germany and the Netherlands. Both were wonderful. It has been lovely to see different parts of the world and to experience a warm reception to my music and my hat is off to all the ukulele players who have supported me in my solo project. A generous bunch!
BB: Compared to your formal training, ‘ukulele players must seem like a pretty free-spirited crowd! From your sort-of “backseat” view, what kinds of things do you think ‘ukulele players – in general – can work on to improve their musicality?
AJ: Interesting question! To dodge it a little bit, I find that there are so many different styles of playing the ukulele that it is hard to comment on. With cello, there is pretty much one accepted way to play and we all go through the ropes of learning it, whereas with the uke (either because of its young history, or maybe just because of the instrument itself) there is a lot more room for people to develop their own, unique personal ways of playing. I love the creativity and expressiveness in that.
My advice to any musician is to listen. Really listen. Sounds simple, but I find that listening to the sound that you’re making while playing it is one of the most challenging things to do. And, then, you can expand that listening to your band, to the room, to your audience. One of the most compelling things about music is that you can touch people, but only if you are listening to what is connecting with you and with them.
BB: Your song, “A Good Lover” from So Long at the Fair is really fun. How did that tune come together? Did you imagine the strong rhythmic riff from the beginning or did that come in later? At what point did you tell James “Learn this!”?
AJ: I was reading an interview by Paul Simon where he talked about something that was novel to me in songwriting. Not starting with the words, or music, but with a specific rhythmic feel. I love his song “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” and was certainly inspired by the feel of that song when I wrote “A Good Lover.” Once we got into the studio, a good friend and guitar player from Nova Scotia, Jeff Torbert, came up with the “riff part” all on his own. He came into the studio, played it and said: “What do you think?” I loved it. For the live version, James plays this (beautifully, I might add) on the ukulele and it fits so well since it was originally written in the upper range of the guitar. Accidentally a perfect ukulele riff! James has also added foot tapping which helps to give it some of the rhythmic drive from the recording and to infuse the arrangement with a little Canadian folkiness.
BB: What kinds of plans do you have for the future?
AJ: I am writing all the time and still very smitten with songwriting. I will be recording a new single in Nova Scotia this fall and cultivating a new sound for my music. Depending on how that goes, it will turn into an EP or full-length recording when I go back into the studio in January. Definitely next year I will release a recording of some kind! I am thinking that the tour for this release will have a bigger sound, a quartet, maybe, with more of a pop influence. Maybe even a synthesizer, who knows?! Lots to be excited about.
BB: Thanks, Anne!