Janiva Magness — From the Heart

Janiva Magness (Photo by Margaret Malandruccolo)

If Janiva Magness sounds like she’s still getting better with every album, you’re not hearing things and that’s not by accident. Yet despite the success of her latest, Love Is An Army, it wasn’t an easy process to get to this point in her career.

“I feel like I have more command of my instrument and my craft than I ever have,” Magness said. “I also have less anxiety about it. I spent years and years very privately knowing eventually that there was going to be an official guy with an official jacket and an official badge and an official megaphone showing up and standing up in the room and pronouncing, ‘This has all been a huge mistake, step away from the microphone. You don’t belong here.’”

She laughs, with that joke being an example of how confident and comfortable in her skin Magness is. And why shouldn’t she be? Always a commanding singer, she’s been adding songwriting to her repertoire over the last several years, and with Love Is An Army, she’s using that voice to make an impact far beyond what happens on the charts.

“My producer, Dave Darling, and I had a real sense of urgency on this particular record,” she said. “And I’m old enough where I’ve never been inclined to go quietly into the night, but I’m even less inclined now. (Laughs) I had a heavy moment of that when I turned 40. I had another heavy moment of that when I turned 50. Now I’m 61, and screw ya…so to speak. I’m doing it.”

And few are doing it better. It’s heartfelt, real, and to the point. Yet, at the same time, it’s not preaching, and walking that line was very important to the Detroit native.

“It is difficult to not get on a soapbox with some of these situations and a lot of these things that are going down in the world today,” she said. “It gets tricky because I’ve got the mic. Don’t hassle the woman with the microphone, it won’t go well for you. (Laughs) But I think the safest place is with the heart, so speaking from the heart is the best safety zone from preaching that there is. Obviously there is inherent risk because I’m putting myself out there in a way that is pretty vulnerable. But again, at 61, I say consider the alternative. What’s the alternative? Hiding? Making the same record twice? Both of those things are of no interest to me. None whatsoever.”

So does life begin at 61?

“I think it’s better because there’s a depth of experience that is not in the realm of 25,” Magness said. “And nothing against 25-year-olds — there’s some heavy duty 25-year-olds out there as far as I’m concerned. But there’s also somebody with a different purpose, and that purpose is ‘Baby, baby, baby, baby. Oh baby, baby, baby. (Laughs) And there’s room for that and some people need that. That’s never been the case with me in terms of music, but it makes me different from some other folks, that’s all. But I do feel that I’m better at it now. Do I feel the physical limitations more than I used to? Absolutely. Being on the road is like being flogged, so it’s hard work and it’s hard physically and it’s hard mentally and emotionally after a while. There’s also the balance of that, which is the security that comes from the audience, the beauty that comes through the music, the exchange that occurs between the audience and the artist. That tends to charge the battery.”

And as Magness heads into New York City for a Sunday show at The Iridium, she’s charged up and ready to deliver. Just like always.

“I get to do what I love, I travel around the world, people frequently applaud, somebody hands me money, usually in U.S. currency,” she said of the musician’s life. “I am rich in love, I am rich in joy, and I am rich in friends. I consider that a huge debt because it didn’t have to go that way. It doesn’t go that way for a lot of people. I could be sleeping in a cardboard box right now. I’m not, and I’m acutely aware of that. Therefore I have an obligation to speak what is in my heart so that others understand the journey in that. I have a responsibility to people that are struggling in their journey, because we all struggle.”

Janiva Magness plays The Iridium in NYC on Sunday, April 22. For more information, click here

For more information on Janiva Magness, click here