I first met Layah Jane in the lobby of the Hudson Valley Resort in Kerhonkson, New York at the NERFA (North East Regional Folk Alliance) conference. John Platt (Director of Communications and Sunday Breakfast host on WFUV) made the introduction and informed me that Layah was a goddess. That’s not a word to be tossed around lightly—so I just had to pay attention! I can vouch that all the rave reviews about Layah Jane are true. She’s a potpourri of musical genres and she excels at all of them.
To learn more about this musical chameleon, visit her website.
Check out this video of “Find You Gone.”
Layah Jane and Oliver Johnson will be playing at the me&thee in Marblehead, MA on Friday, October 18.
Do you feel that your education at an alternative school like the one you attended helped lead you toward life as an artist?
Yes, my schooling definitely supported me to take my artistic callings, music and dance, seriously. I think almost more importantly though, Waldorf education encouraged me to pursue the arts and sciences hand in hand…Not to drop one over the other; not to choose one over the other. It supported me in valuing intellectual study, artistic expression, and practical smarts too. Even though there aren’t many role-models who follow the kind of varied career path I have, of music, dance, and alternative medicine, it feels natural for me.
Who are the musicians who have been the most influential to you? You’ve been labeled as a soul/folk artist but you’ve also played at jazz festival so the verdict seems to be out as to what genre of music you play. Does your body of work progress in any particular way or has your style been eclectic since Day One?
I have always had eclectic influences – Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones, Bruce Cockburn, Zap Mama, Sarah Mclachlan, Ani Difranco, Sade, to name a few – however I think that my music started to sound more eclectic after an injury I had in 2003, that forced me to put down my guitar and focus on singing. When I broke my arm and couldn’t play guitar for a few months, I began to co-write with (my now husband) Oliver Johnson. I would bring lyrics and melodies to him, and instead of the guitar parts being influenced by my simple folk-y strumming, he added his Blues, Soul, Jazz and Funk background to the mix. I discovered new ways of playing with my voice and phrasing, that then stuck, even after my arm healed and I could play guitar again.
Tell us about how your latest CD “Honey” and what you’ve been doing to help save bees!
While making our latest CD, “Honey”, I began doing some research into human’s connection to honey bees. Almost a third of the food we eat, depends on insect pollination, largely by honey bees, and bees have been disappearing at a very alarming rate due to decrease in habitat, pesticide-use, and some factors that are still a mystery as well. When I found this out, we decided to donate partial proceeds from the sale of our Honey Bee T-shirts to the Canadian Honey Council’s Save Our Bees fund.
Oliver Johnson has produced and collaborated on all your recordings. Is it true that you’ve known him since you were nine years old? The story of your friendship sounds like a musical fairy tale. Do you both approach music in similar ways or do you bring out the best in each other?
Yes, it is true that I’ve known him since I was nine 🙂 We met after my parents put an ad in a local newspaper to start a weekly meditation circle, and his parents answered the ad! Our families became close, celebrating Thanksgivings, etc. together. I had to grow up a little though, before we would start to feel like peers, as he is 7 years older. When I was eighteen, and had been writing songs for a few years, I decided I wanted to record my first demo. I got a recording grant from an organization here in Canada called FACTOR (Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent on Recordings), and Oli was the only one I knew with a recording studio! He agreed to work with me, and our creative relationship was born. Over the years, my childhood crush grew into one of the most influential relationships of my life. We’ve been creative and personal partners since 2003, have made 3 full-length records, 1 remix record, and 1 EP so far together, and we got married last year!
We approach music in similar ways, but coming from different musical backgrounds. We both tend towards a fluid, intuitive approach to music creation – if it feels good, it probably is good! I bring my Folk/Roots influences, and he brings his Blues influences, and previous experience playing with Soul and Funk bands. I feel we definitely do bring out the best in each other, but that’s not to say that it doesn’t sometimes involve butting heads! We have deep creative respect for each other, and are inspired by each other. That’s at the foundation.
You’re a certified homeopathic practitioner. Do you still work in this area at all?
Yes, I graduated from the Canadian College of Homeopathic Medicine, and I do still keep clinic hours. It has always felt like a great honour to sit with people who are suffering and offer my support towards their healing. There are certain months, when we’re touring, or when I’m studying dance, or teaching a lot, when my other career paths take precedence over my involvement in holistic healthcare, but I am still engaged with it to some degree.
Do you have any personal dreams that you hope to fulfill one day?
I’m in the midst of a year-long teacher training, for a form of movement meditation/dance therapy called 5Rhythms that I am so excited to begin offering once I’m certified next year. This is a big personal dream of mine – to bring together my love of music and dance, with my passion for helping people heal. I am thrilled and feel so blessed to be able to add this to the mix of my offerings to the world.
Photo by Emma Lee.