The booklet Ian Janes created to accompany his latest album, Episode 5, isn’t just a nostalgic nod to the times when album cover art and liner notes were essential accessories for the listening experience. It’s also a way to circumvent the pandemic’s impact by engaging isolated and distanced fans more deeply with his music.
The lush 36-page “companion book” contains photos of Janes and the other musicians, lyrics, and insights on the songs’ genesis. “I think it captures something I love about old records, but in a different way,” he says. “Without artwork, chances are it’s a soundtrack to checking Instagram, which doesn’t build connection to the music. People get more deeply involved with songs when they know about how they were made – they get inside them. It’s all about finding ways to do my best in this era of floating attention spans.”
“Genre is the production and the artist, not the song. Great songs are great songs.”
In a way, the idea for including the songs’ back stories in a booklet came from the Nova Scotia singer-songwriter’s experiences working in a Nashville songwriting style. “Eddie Schwartz, the songwriter and SOCAN Nashville rep, told me that everyone in that town does what they call ‘Writing from a title,’ and most of my writing there has been done that way,” says Janes. “You go into a session and everybody‘s got a list of titles, and ways to spin a story around the title. And the beauty of it is that often another person will have a completely different idea that can be inspirational and change everything. That’s happened to me.”
Janes has had notable country music successes, including the co-write “Can’t Remember Never Loving You” being featured in the show Nashville, and another with singer Kylie Frey, “I Do Thing,” topping Texas radio charts. While you couldn’t call Episode 5 country – it’s more like soulful pop-rock – the opening song, “Amnesia,” grew from its title, in true Nashville style.
“I stumbled across that word, and I write groove-based music, so something rhythmic that feels good to sing is what I gravitate to,” he explains. “I realized that ‘Amnesia’ was a great title, and because of those great Nashville writers who got me writing with a title, I started to think about what the song could be.
“The record starts and ends with songs that refer to emotional states as if they’re characters. I’m speaking to amnesia as if it’s an old friend I need to help me forget this heartache. And in the last song, ‘Sleepless,’ [co-writer] Stone Aielli and I speak about someone – me – who’s having trouble sleeping ‘cause he misses home, and he wakes up in a hotel room and says, ‘Hello, 3 a.m., looks like it’s you and me again. Don’t take this personally, but you ain’t who I want to see.’ Being able to talk about the story you’re going to tell has been a welcome asset to my ability to notice those things, and develop them into songs.”
The sounds on Episode 5, which Janes produced at his Dartmouth home, are rich and varied, reflecting his upbringing listening to genre-benders like Ray Charles, Joni Mitchell, and Quincy Jones. Some songs have guitars, keyboards, horns, and background vocals, recorded separately in each musician’s studio; some are sparse; and there are echoes of everyone from Chet Baker to Justin Timberlake.
“Genre is the production and the artist, not the song,” he says. “Great songs are great songs. If you put horns and Hammond organ on them, they’re soul, but if you use fiddle and steel guitar, they’re country. It’s like in the jazz era, when Broadway songs were interpreted by jazz musicians. John Coltrane doing ‘My Favorite Things’ was different from Julie Andrews’ version – and Ariana Grande’s. They all had career songs with it, because it’s a great song.”
Janes is hoping to play his songs live when venues open up, and keep writing for himself, and others. “Sometimes I sing them and sometimes other people do,” he says. “I’ll continue to balance my career as a writer and an artist. It’s one and the same to me.”