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Live From Nashville: Janis Oliver

One half of Sweethearts of the Rodeo talks getting back into the studio, career choices, and a real barnburner.

Illustration: Sam Sisco

Cowboys & Indians: It’s great to hear Sweethearts of the Rodeo — you and your sister, Kristine Arnold — making music together after a 16-year hiatus. The title track on your new Restless CD is a great song. But does the title also reflect your feelings about recording again?

Janis Oliver: That’s absolutely correct. We thought that was the perfect title track for this album once we had all the songs together. Oddly enough, “Restless” was the last one written for the album. I went to my two cowriters on that song — Deanna Walker and Rick Beresford, dear friends of mine — and I told them, “Hey, we need a real barnburner. Something really fun. Let’s just go for it.” And by the time the song was done, it had a playfulness to it — some crazy rhymes in there, and some crazy vocals — that we thought really summed up the attitude we had. Like, “Yeah, we’re just crazy restless to get back out there.”

C&I: So why did you take such a long break from recording and touring?

Janis: I think it was a combination of factors. My sister and I had been on the road nonstop up to that point, working so much. And when things took off for us, when we signed with Columbia Records, it happened so fast. Just boom! Boom! Boom! We had seven Top 10 hits back to back. But, you know, Kristine and I each had a young daughter at the time. And while, in a good way, it kind of pulled the rug out from underneath us, all of a sudden we had all this work. And it came to a point where we got tired of being away from our children. Then Kristine had another child. So we sort of made the decision: Let’s step back; let’s cut back from touring and take care of our kids.

C&I: Was that a difficult decision to make? And did you get any pressure not to make it?

Janis: We did get a lot of flak from our record company. They told us, “Look, your competition is doing the opposite. You’ve got to get out there.” But we sort of made the sacrifice. We said, “Well, we’ll tour when we can. We’ll do what we can. But we’ve got to take care of our kids, and we don’t want to take them on the road.” Because we didn’t feel good about doing that.

C&I: Did this hurt your careers?

Janis: It did hurt our careers in terms of radio and visibility and all that. But we were fine with that. To us, the trade-off of being home with our kids meant much more to us at the time. And then we just got involved in all the other things that come with life. There was a marriage that ended for me and a lot of other stuff going on. Kristine and I operated a clothing store together in Franklin, Tennessee, for about five years. But now we’re back.

C&I: You and Kristine grew up in Los Angeles during the 1960s and ’70s. Back then, LA wasn’t exactly a Mecca for country and bluegrass musicians, was it?

Janis: [Laughs.] I graduated from high school in ’72, and my sister in ’74. And at the time, you’re right, there was virtually no country music around us. We started singing together when she was 7 and I was 9. And at first, we experimented with folk music and church music. But by the time we got to high school, we decided, “Hey, let’s really step away from the crowd — and try country.” Actually, it wasn’t current country, it was vintage country music. But we wanted to be cool and stand out from the crowd. We didn’t want to play rock ’n’ roll and all the other obvious stuff that our friends were listening to.

C&I: And you got hooked?

Janis: That’s right. The more we sang country, the more we felt like there was a natural buzz to it. And it was so easy to sing together. So we figured this was our thing. And a few years after that, Emmylou Harris’ first album came out, and that was a really big deal for us. That, and all these little bluegrass festivals all over Southern California. We found there were all these places you could go and listen to the music and enter those contests. That’s how we learned. And that’s why we’re still making music.

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