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Band on the brink of fame
Janah brings a world of rhythm to the Fox
by Pamela White


If you can listen to Janah without feeling compelled to wiggle your ass, dial 911. You’re probably dead.

The Atlanta-based band offers up a mesmerizing blend of world music and rock that is jubilant and sensual enough to thaw nuclear winter. Perhaps best described as U2 meets Afro-Celtic Soundsystem meets Dead Can Dance, Janah combines strong vocals, upbeat harmonies and unique instrumentation with a strong spiritual vibe.

The group’s first single, "Leavened Heart (I Tumble Down)," has been picked up by key radio stations across the country, while concerts have been bringing out the inner belly dancers and drummers of concertgoers from New York to California. This summer, the band had the honor of opening for Alanis Morrisette at the On The Bricks Festival. Touring on the heels of their first CD, World that Surrounds You, Janah brings their supercharged show to the Fox Theatre on Nov. 13 in a co-bill with locals Newcomers Home.

This will be the band’s third appearance in the Boulder area. Janah performed at the Festival of the Mabon near Lyons in September, leaving the audience amazed and crying for more. The crowd was so fervent that promoter Pat McCullough of Celtic Events and Entertainment felt he’d better bring Janah back.

"It’s like batting a thousand. Everyone I’ve played the CD for says, ‘Who is that?’" McCullough says. "There’s something uplifting about Janah’s music, which, God knows, we can use in 2002."

World traveler

Listening to Janah, it’s strange to think the band’s spirited and stirring music has its roots in artistic ennui. But the story of Janah starts with the mid-1990s breakup of an Atlanta band called Jacob’s Trouble–a breakup brought about by stagnation and boredom.

"You reach a point where it’s, ‘What else is there to play, and what else is there to say?’" says Keith Johnston, 31, Janah lead vocalist/guitarist and former member of Jacob’s Trouble. "When that band broke up, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do."

Having gotten a taste of the world outside Atlanta while on tour with Jacob’s Trouble, Johnston, who grew up in the Atlanta area, decided it was time to travel. He made his way through the Mediterranean region, where new instruments, rhythms and styles of music tantalized his ears.

"I fell in love with music all over again," Johnston says.

Running low on cash, he stayed in Israel for a time, working on a kibbutz and a moshav. Laboring from 5 in the morning till noon and again from mid-afternoon until about 7 in the evening, he listened to Israeli music over a radio attached to the back of a tractor. At night the same radio was able to pick up Arabic stations from Jordan.

It was in Israel that Johnston was inspired to write music again. And while farm work didn’t yield enough shekels to keep him traveling for long, it did provide a harvest of songs. He returned to Georgia after six months, and continued his musical world tour–at the library.

"That’s when I started falling in love with classical Indian music and African music," Johnston says. "I would highly recommend the library to people."

Not often do you hear that from a budding rock star.

What started out as an interest in Middle Eastern music soon spanned the globe.

"It’s become an obsession," Johnston says.

But what do you do when you have songs and a head full of music but no band?

Johnston got in touch with Ron Cochran, 37, a drummer and a long-time friend who’d also been in Jacob’s Trouble. Cochran had recently opened a recording studio and was fascinated with the kind of music and the instruments Johnston was working with.

"It appealed to me from a recording aspect," Cochran says.

In April 1996, the two put together a demo CD, which Johnston sent to a songwriting competition. That fall, he got a phone call telling him he was a finalist–and was supposed to perform live in two weeks. What Johnston and Cochran had accomplished in the studio couldn’t be done live on a stage with just two guys. They contacted Steve Atwell, 32, a bass guitarist who’d also been in Jacob’s Trouble, and other friends: Brad Chestnut, 32, a talented keyboardist Keith had known since second grade; Bill Douglass, who plays a wide array of instruments from sitar to mizmar; and Rick Shoemaker, 34, a percussionist.

Johnston says the guys agreed to rehearse intensely for two weeks and perform with him during the final competition. However, they made it clear they couldn’t commit to anything and didn’t intend to play together long-term.

They’ve been playing together ever since.

A working band

The first time Barney Kilpatrick, founder of Rattlesby Records, heard Janah, he’d gone to watch Deep Banana Blackout play. Janah opened, and long after the concert ended, Kilpatrick found himself thinking of their performance.

"The more I thought about it after the show, I thought, ‘This band is really different,’" says Kilpatrick, a former senior executive from Warner Bros. Records who has worked with acts such R.E.M., Madonna, Prince, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Loreena McKennitt and Seal. "I felt they were so compelling."

He signed Janah in 2001 and set about breaking them out of Atlanta.

"It’s been a great deal of fun all the way through, not only because I really like their music, but also because they’re kind and gentlemanly," he says.

You could say Janah is the alternative to the hippie jam band. The group of 30-somethings knows they have a window of opportunity and are working hard to make it through that window before it closes, Kilpatrick says.

"The maturity level here is really a big plus," he says. "They’re workaholics."

Kilpatrick says band members have been willing to do whatever he’s asked them to do, holding down a grueling tour schedule that has included flaming RV engines, a bus breakdown on the way to Mabon and three days in a truck-stop parking lot.

"It’s more hard work than most people think," Cochran says.

But unlike many bands that have trouble making it through the difficulties of touring without wanting to kill one another–or that are dropping $7,000 a pop for "band therapy" made popular by Incubus–members of Janah actually get along. That cohesion makes the travails easier.

"When you’re on the road and bad things are happening, this is the only consolation," Cochran says. "I think, ‘OK, I’m here with these guys.’ I trust these guys with my life."

Johnston’s positive attitude is at least some of the glue that keeps the operation together.

"Keith is probably the most positive person I’ve ever known, which is the thing that draws me and the other guys involved in the project," Cochran says.

Still, sometimes it’s impossible to maintain perspective.

"Sometimes everything becomes this metal tube that you’re traveling around in," Douglass says.

The music and the reaction of audiences keep them going.

"We have a real desire to get out and say something with the music," Cochran says. "We’re a little too old to be singing about picking up chicks in bars."

Kilpatrick says he’s seen concertgoers moved to tears during Janah performances. Being the catalyst for such emotional transformations is a high for the band–one that won’t land them in rehab when the tour’s over.

"I’ve seen people just light up," Cochran says. "I think that is the moment when you’re like, ‘This is exactly why we’re here.’ These are those moments when it’s all worth it."

Elements of spirit

There’s no way around it. Johnston’s voice sounds so much like U2’s Bono that someone could be forgiven for hearing "Leavened Heart" on the radio and mistaking it for a Bono side project. And, like U2, Janah’s music is replete with spirituality. But where U2 is direct in their references to the Almighty, Janah’s spiritual themes are subtler, painted in tones of daily human experience and lacking U2’s political edge.

"I think there’s an element of spirit in everything that happens, whether people acknowledge that or not," says Johnston, who wrote the lyrics to all the songs on World that Surrounds You.

And while some bands hope simply to entertain, others to make their audiences think, Janah seems to put a big emphasis on making people feel.

"Sometimes I think words get in the way," Johnston says. "People tend to analyze a lot, and sometimes you just need to feel."

Like Lisa Gerrard, of Gladiator soundtrack and Dead Can Dance fame, Johnston occasionally dispenses with real words altogether. A number of tracks on World contain syllables and phrases that are part of no language but help drive the emotion and the rhythm of the songs, such as in the opening track, "Oil on My Head."


There are also plenty of words for those who feel compelled to look for meaning.

"Peace holds a part/Of every sun that escapes/The lives of us all/Wind down in the wake of the sun," Johnston sings in the addictive "Wake of the Sun."

Johnston feels comfortable with people interpreting his lyrics–and sounds–as they choose. While one person might see "Leavened Heart" as a song about spiritual striving, another could see it as a fun song about climbing trees. (The song is about getting through and enjoying life, despite the challenges, Johnston says.)

"That’s the cool thing about music," he says. "Wherever they are in life, that is where they interpret it. It’s part of that interactive creativeness, which is really cool."

While Janah’s lyrics satisfy, its music is what inspires. Exotic, primal and moving, it hits you in the solar plexus and yanks you to your feet. But don’t try to compliment band members on their musicianship. They’ll tell you you’re crazy.

"None of us are real shredders, but we’ve been in the business a long time, and we’re very comfortable doing what we do," Douglass says.

While press materials refer to Douglass as a multi-instrumentalist–he plays sitar, bamboo flute, mizmar, penny whistle, bodhran, C-bass, and chanter as well as supplying most of the baritone vocals–most of the band’s members play multiple instruments, as well as sing.

"We have a joke that you write a new song, learn a new instrument," Johnston says. "It keeps us always learning."

The band is more than ready to head back into the studio to record its second CD.

"We’re chomping at the bit," Douglass says. "We’ve had new material for a while."

For Janah, the process of developing a new song is organic. It generally starts with Keith creating a demo tape that captures the sound he has in mind. Band members take that home and listen to it to get their own creative juices flowing.

"Then everyone can chomp onto it, get a piece of it," Douglass says. "At some point, we come together to rehearse, and everybody does their own thing."

The result is what Douglass calls "complex landscapes of sound."

"We take our time," says Cochran. "What we do is so different, you kind of need to let the songs become what they want to become. It’s not like we get together and just lay down a groove."

Together they play better than they do alone, Johnston says. "When we’re together, we complement each other really well."

As for the band’s future, Johnston says anything is possible.

"I am excited purely for just being able to play and share something," he says. "We all really enjoy playing, singing and performing. Hopefully something that we’re doing is something people want to hear."

Is there more to it than that?

"To say that we’re not ambitious would be a lie," Cochran says. "We definitely want to take it as far as we want to take it–as long as we feel what we’re doing is the best we can do."

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com


Janah's website www.janah.org    Janah on tour NOW


© 2002 Boulder Weekly. All Rights Reserved.


Janah moving up!!

Janah have been booked to play at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Casino on 18th Sept 2002.

Live Review of Janah


OMG I have just returned with Robert from a live radio show with JANAH . Its nearly 1am now and I am completely knocked out. They played for 2 hours and 10 mins. One hour was recorded live for the radio show the Dunhams who are two local disc jockeys for Z.93 in Atlanta. I have seen Janah now at least a dozen or more times but this one was just AWESOME......I cannot wait to play the recording back tonight of the live show I attended. I'll never get to bed, but I cannot go to sleep without hearing the whole show again.

I suppose you have gathered I think a lot of this band. Well yes I do .......This band is my no. 2 band with PR of course being my no. 1 .........For those of you who know me well, after my back accident in Feb 2001, I thought I would never be able to move freely again , but with the help of JANAH's music being so damm good. I get a fantastic workout each time I see them. I just can't stop moving my whole body to the sound of the charismatic sound of Janah

Each member of the band just facinates me. The singer is just delightful to watch and sings with his whole body, the way he performs blows me away. The bass play plays like no other............His playing is so aggressive its impressive, all the members of the band are so unique. I love each one of them This show gets a 9.0 for just giving us as much as they can. Well done guys !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! If you want to catch a JANAH show live , see if they are coming to a town near you.

Life on the Road with Janah

This story comes from some friends of ours in an Atlanta band called Janah.

Only 36 Hours to NOT Play Nashville

11:30 AM June 2, 2002 - Janah meets at our home base: Sycamore Recording Studios in Roswell, GA. All of us exchange salutations and prepare to begin our journey to Nashville, America’s Music Mecca, by boarding the Eye Hope. Named by its original owner, the Eye Hope (appearing as <O> Hope on the rear spare tire cover) is a 38 foot 1983 Holiday Rambler Recreational Vehicle. Most of the Eye Hope’s components are much newer than that, as necessity has dictated over her life of 90,000+ miles. She’s carried Janah to cities and towns all over the Southeast, up the East coast, down through the Midwest, and across the crest of the Gulf of Mexico and back. And Janah’s carried her to every RV mechanic in the Metro Atlanta area.

12:00 Noon - Janah sets sail.

1:00 PM - Janah stops at exit 290 on I-75 to pick up Soundman/Road Manager Brad Nash and fill up the Eye Hope’s 70 gallon gas tank.

1:20 PM - The journey to Nashville continues, with Bill at the helm. The predominant recreation on this recreational vehicle is conversation. With eight educated guys, conversation topics can vary as widely as books in a library – from history to film, to food, to current events, to engineering, to literature, to technology, to etymology, to theology, to psychology, to chicks, two chicks, and of course every aspect of music – all discussed to exhaustion.

Another favorite recreation, born out of necessity, is sleeping. Life on the road requires that certain opportunities never be missed, lest they be long lost:

  • eating
  • bathing
  • sleeping

2:15 PM - With Keith, Ron, Steve and Brett sleeping, and Rick and myself working on songs, Bill relinquishes the helm to Brad, so that Bill can help Rick and me work out parts for the new Janah song “The Wheel”.

~3:00 PM - The Eye Hope is making her way down the west side of the Smokey Mountains on I-24. Mixed in with the road noise and bouncing squeaks from the walls in the RV’s sleeping quarters, Brett hears the faint horn of a passing car. As he conscientiously makes his way out of the bunk to alert Brad that there may be a problem somewhere on the exterior of the vessel, he along with everyone else inside and out on the highway is rocked by an LOUD explosion – one of the Eye Hope’s eight tires has blown-out.

Brad brings the RV to a rapid but controlled stop in the emergency lane. Rick and Bill, being the least engulfed in headphones, bedclothes, or steering wheels, step out of the side door to inspect the damage. As the rest of us situate ourselves to step out and do the same, the panicked word comes back, “FIRE! Everybody OUT! The RV’s on fire!”

The decision on how much clothing to wear while sleeping in the RV is a personal choice – understood by all and rarely discussed. Some group members choose to exercise more freedom in that area than others. Those members are faced with the eternal conflict of freedom vs. security – the freedom to be comfortable while sleeping vs. the security of knowing that when you are invited to evacuate the RV NOW! DAMN-IT! you’ll not be underdressed for the occasion.

~3:00:01 - As Bill and I stand 200 yards up the highway embankment observing our brothers barreling out the door in various stages of dress with a backdrop of towering black smoke and white steam, we hear our own Brad Nash (a.k.a. high risk rescue firemen for Cobb County Fire Department) yelling for more water from the other side of the vehicle. Bill and I rush back up to the side door and join Keith, Brett, Steve, Rick and Ron tossing our water reserve jugs in a fireman’s line from next to the bathroom, out the door, around the back and up to the left rear wheel. The left rear wheel is 10 inches from the RV’s sewage tank, 18 inches from the gas tank. A trucker has stopped and is running towards the wheel with a fire extinguisher. A fire extinguisher – we have one of those! ….somewhere.

Scrambling his way out, after checking that all the bunks are empty, Steve has the presence of mind to open the door to the bathroom, realizing it sits above the left rear wheel well. The room is black with smoke. He hits the fan switch, but nothing happens. The trucker reaches the wheel and extinguishes the flames on the tire. Steve re-enters the bathroom, where the guitars are stored, hits the fan, which starts this time, and begins passing the smoldering guitar and sitar cases down the line. Outside, we use a wet towel to put out the tiny lingering embers. We’re safe, the RV’s safe, the instruments are fine. “We’ve got a new story” Bill smiles and says to me.

~3:04 PM - Six hours later, the fire truck arrives. We begin to theorize that the brakes had caught fire on the way down the last 4-mile grade, causing the tire to explode. With the help of the firemen, and a waning audience of stopped cars, we change the tire and limp up to the next exit, maybe ¼ mile away.

3:45 PM - Parking at a Stuckey’s, we disassemble the wheel and assess the damage. The area is scorched. The wheel well cover is melted. The brakes are dust. The back plate for the drum is warped. The rear bearings have taken a shape similar to the remnants of a box of Raisinettes. Grease? What grease?

4:00 PM - Slowly widening our focus, we realize that we still have a job to do. We have a show to perform, in Nashville, at a club, to a live radio audience. Ron, being the most responsible in Janah’s logistical maters, and therefore the most often abused among us, has been in touch with the Record Label, Radio Station, and Club Manager to inform everyone of the situation. Clichéd bottom line and Janah’s position: the show must go on.

4:30 PM - Ron and Brad do an excellent job of fielding the influx of phone calls attempting to manage the crisis. Steve, Bill, Brett and Rick continue to assess the damage and attempt to define a fix for the scorched wheel. With no car rental stores open on Sunday, Keith and I place calls to friends in the area, in search of a saint with available resources – a truck to haul a trailer, and at least six musicians, to Nashville, 90 miles away, America’s Music Mecca, to address the masses in a live radio broadcast of a Janah show…in 4 and ½ hours.

That saint is Scott Keniley – friend of Janah, musicians’ advocate, Nashville resident, entertainment attorney, and proud owner of a one-year-old Chevrolet Tahoe, which had just traversed the same stretch of I-24 between Chattanooga and Nashville less than two hours prior. Within minutes, Scott was back on the highway, driving 90 miles at the drop of a hat to do what he could to help. The show might go on.

5:45 PM - Scott arrives. The radio station has laid down their law – if we can’t be there by 6:15 to do a sound check, no broadcast. So, no broadcast. Now it’s the club’s turn. Maybe we can still salvage a paying gig from the ruins. After much capitulation on their part, and much ingratiation on Ron and Brad ’s part, the club offers their verdict: don’t bother. But The Show MUST….. uh, whatever, dude, we wanna go home early.

6:15 PM - With the kind assistance of several local folks, we’ve learned that there’s a garage that can service RV’s 15 miles up I-24. Steve reassembles the wheel as best he can, minus brakes, minus rear bearings, and with a warped back plate. The expectation is that the Eye Hope will slowly wobble her way to the garage, Scott following with the trailer, and we’ll park there and sleep until Monday morning when the garage opens.

7:30 PM - 100 yards on to I-24’s emergency lane, it is discovered that applying several thousand pounds and driving on a wheel minus rear bearings creates an interesting sound and light. While I’ve never seen a speeding freight train lock up it’s brakes on the tracks, from the passenger seat of Scott’s SUV, I believe I learned what that piercing metal-on-metal shriek and subsequent orange rooster tail of sparks would look like.

Because the wheel well cover had melted in the fire, the RV’s bathroom sported a glass-bottom-boat-type view of the light show. Apparently, at that point Ron thought to begin dumping water through the hole onto the wheel creating a trail of steam. With years of experience in rock show presentation, Ron quickly recalled that any good light show needs smoke.

7:55 PM - Janah arrives at a rest stop to replenish the water supply, look at a map and discover that the RV shop is the other way on I-24 (not that traveling 15 miles in any direction was really an option now). But there IS a truck stop with a 24-hour garage two more exits up in the same direction.

8:30 PM - Scott and I arrive at the Mont eagle Truck Stop, having left the rest of Janah to manage the Chinese New Year Parade alone. I step into the service department’s office to apprise the team of mechanical experts of the situation and our dire circumstance. The depth of their concern reveals itself in their eyes the moment they look up at me – about 45 seconds after I start talking.

We do manage to establish that the one mechanic who might give a…. um, be able to help, will be in at 7:00 AM. And that I should leave.

9:00 PM - We park the Eye Hope and her trailer on the truck stop’s older out-of-commission scales in the rear of the campus.

9:15 PM - We offer overt thanks to Scott, to which he graciously answers, “A lot of people have had a much worse day than we have today. Don’t mention it. Pay it forward” – a movie, and attitude, worth remembering.

After Scott leaves, some of us drink a beer, all watch Shrek, and marvel at Brad’s digital recordings on his laptop from the previous Janah show in Columbus, and sleep.

7:00 AM June 3, 2002 - We pull the RV around to the open garage bay and Mont eagle’s team of grade-A mechanics races into action with all the enthusiasm and attentiveness of a herd of turtles.

7:30 AM - A mechanic removes a lug nut from the wheel.

8:05 AM - Another mechanic removes another lug nut from the wheel.

8:15 AM - Realizing that at this pace we do indeed have time for breakfast, the eight of us mosey into the truck stop restaurant. The scene might have been best described in the words of Bob Seager’s “Turn The Page” – “…sometimes you can ’t hear ‘em, other times you can, all the same old clichés, is that a woman or a man…”, but the level of contempt felt through the eyes of our fellow customers comes with much less tact and discretion than depicted in that song.

Little do they know that this band of seemingly heathen hippies holds a place in their heart and in their history for these good folks and their way of life. The walls are decorated with pictures of bald eagles, American landscapes, and country music legends. The game begins – who can name the highest number and/or most obscure country artist on the wall – Conway Twitty, Barbara Mandrel, Walon Jennings, Alabama, Johnny Cash, C.W. McCall, each name ushers in a footnote about the artist’s production, career highlights, and sung lines from their hits – all with admiration and respect. Before breakfast is over, that admiration and respect has come full circle, and the eves-dropping brows that beat us on the way in, are raised and cordial on our way out.

11:15 AM - Scott calls to check on us, and to pass along a message – when he reached home the night before, he turned on the television. The movie on the channel on the television as it warmed? Pay It Forward.

11:30 AM - All awaiting word from the mechanics, engaged in the art of doing nothing, I receive a call from a friend simply saying hi. I tell the story. Enter saint number two: Billy Bryan. He volunteers to drive 2+ hours from Euharley, GA to Mont eagle, TN to pick up our trailer, and a few people and deliver them back to Acworth, GA. From there, we arrange passage back to the studio via saint number three: Nancy Galbraith.

12:00 Noon - So who will ride with Billy? With status of the repairs unknown, and the time to completion uncertain, individual priorities are analyzed. Bill needs to pick up Janah’s newest member Tom at the airport at 12:30 this evening. Keith’s wife has just been evacuated from the nuclear hot bed of India, as ordered by our president, and they have not seen one another in 7 weeks. Brad has consulting contracts pending and shifts to cover at the fire station. Brett has a trip scheduled at 9:00 AM the next day. Billy stipulates that he ain’t comin’ unless I fish with him in the morning. Obligation’s a bitch.

1:00 PM - Billy’s en route.

Steve is now making significant headway with the mechanics. Lines of communication are open and flowing. Parts are not. Fred at the parts counter begins to sprout mitre and staff and line up to become saint number four. He places calls to parts distributors in Cumming, Cartersville, Chattanooga, and who knows where else, in search of bearings, races and a seal for the Eye Hope’s wheel. I place a call to Billy to wait up if he can, his commission may be expanded.

In the mean time, Janah’s signing posters for the mechanics, and exchanging well wishes. You never know.

1:20 PM - Fred dons cape, mitre and staff and finds parts in Chattanooga. Billy agrees to stop there on his way in and pick them up – a task that will prove to be as trying as playing a show in Nashville.

3:30 PM - Billy calls to announce his arrival as Janah sits down for lunch back in the restaurant to the tunes of “Old Time Rock and Roll” and “Great Balls of Fire” playing on the jukebox… twice. “Where are you?” I ask. Billy replies in typical Billy fashion “standin’ in front of this RV piece o’ sure enough Keith and find him there by the garage bay, all smiles.

4:00 PM - We finish lunch.

The mechanics finish the wheel.

We hook the trailer to Billy’s truck to lighten the Eye Hope’s load for the journey home.

We get the bill for repairs. 20 hours at the truck stop. 9 taking up one of their bays. Numerous phone calls for parts. Hours of diagnosis and labor. 100 dollars. Halos beam.

5:00 PM - Janah settles up and sets sail.

8:00 PM - We drop Brad off at exit 290 on I-75.

8:30 PM - We arrive at Steve’s home in Acworth basking in the shining faces of his three daughters, wife, and Keith’s wife – a glorious sight for sore, smelly, tired eyes.

8:45 PM - Saint Nancy arrives with transportation for five sore, smelly, tired guys.

9:15 PM - A solid line of bright red taillights form a wall across I-75’s southbound lanes. A tractor-trailer has wrecked. All lanes are blocked.

11:30 PM June 3, 2002 We arrive at our home base: Sycamore Recording Studios in Roswell, GA. We exchange salutations and go home… and eat… and bath… and sleep.

Accreditation is mostly overrated. But friendship is invaluable, whether discovered or newly created. Words of thanks are too small, and so it may often go without saying entirely, but hopefully always with complete understanding.

To borrow a sign off from legendary good ole’ boy and talk show host Ludlow Porch, “No matter what else you do today, you find somebody to be nice to.” And pay it forward.