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Interview with rock ‘n’ roll outfit Jane Lee Hooker.

Every so often there is nothing quite like the rush of discovering a new band to further fuel your passion for music. American rock ’n’ roll outfit Jane Lee Hooker is one of only a handful of bands this year to leave me buzzing and excited for more. This happens with music, especially when a band finds their one true and inherent passion. Even the band name suggests something special. And while its roots are found drenched with its  revivalist spirit make no mistake Jane Lee Hooker is a band with an eye on the present.

Jane Lee Hooker was formed in New York in 2015, with band members – Vocalist Dana “Danger” Athens, guitarist Tracy Hightop, guitarist Tina “T-Bone” Gorin, bassist Hail Mary Z, and drummer Lightnin Ron Salvo – coming from all sorts of experiences, mostly having spent time playing in bands like Nashville Pussy, Bad Wizard, Helldorado and Lez Zeppelin to name a few.  It’s easy to hear their blend of rock, blues, punk, R&B and soul and how seemingly infectious and playfully rowdy it is. They live for the road and touring has seen them jet set across the US and Europe in recent years. Onstage, and while I have yet to see them live, I’m told they are the nearest thing to an ultimate rock show. With two knock out albums already under their belt, a collection of new tracks – Jericho, Drive and All Good Things – hint of a new album on the horizon in 2022. 

I recently had the chance to reach out to the members of Jane Lee Hooker. Here is some of what we talked about. Enjoy!

The last five years has been kind of wild for Jane Lee Hooker. What were your expectations in those early days, say compared to now? 

Mary: Initial expectations were to have fun playing with friends and play a few local shows, but it blew up way beyond that. 

Dana: Honestly, in the early days, I had no concrete expectations. I was just so happy to playing with this band. We have always had such a great time together, on stage and off. That hasn’t changed at all. And that’s all I can hope for our future.

Tracy: The pandemic was a complete mind fuck. We had just added Lightnin’ Ron to the band and had started to really gel as a next level rock band and we were all so so so super excited playing together. Basically we told Ron “make sure your passport is valid” and then all of our tours were pushed back to 2022.  In retrospect, it was a great way for the 5 of us to work together as organically as possible and solidify our bonds and love of playing together, so that was a positive.  We wrote a lot, completed Rollin’ and had just as much fun as anyone can have during a global pandemic.  It was hard but I can honestly say I’ve never loved my bandmates more because it was really hard and really sucked but I still loved them.  The other extreme positive is that we finally met the right manager for us and our souls.  Not sure we would have made it throughout this global shit show without the calm and gentle love of our manager Gregg Bell (of Wanted Management). I am forever grateful to him.  

Tina: I think we’ve always wanted to share the fun we have together, as friends playing music we love. It sounds like a corny thing to say but it’s true. Early on, at the very least we expected to turn ourselves into a great band and meet our own expectations of sounding as good as all of our heroes. I think we still are expecting that from ourselves and each other.

What’s your proudest accomplishment thus far? 

Tracy: Honestly, there hasn’t been a moment: a show, an interview, a meet and greet that I haven’t been proud of this band.  But I have to pick a moment where I am most proud it was probably dealing with the loss of our first drummer (Melissa “Cool Whip” Houston) and being in the studio with Ron and realizing everything happens for a reason.  We were able to really intelligently and professionally work through that loss and make choices that fueled the band forward tenfold.  I am really proud of how we worked through the chaos to make the best decision for our longevity.  I think a lot of bands would have crumbled but we were strong and the universe was on our side. Viva Lightnin’ Ron!

Tina: For me, doing Rockpalast. It felt like JLH had really achieved something on a legendary scale. That show is just iconic.

Mary: I was proudest, in the literal sense, playing across the street from my home at Tompkins Square Park, NYC in front of all my beloved neighbors and friends. But proudest accomplishment for me with JLH would be touring Europe. 

Dana: Well, I’m not sure about proudest as I am very proud of all that we’ve accomplished, and we aim to do so much more. But it was definitely an honor to be invited to play ROCKPALAST on German TV. And now, I am extremely proud of our upcoming record.

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I’ve read your music described as 100% proof Brooklyn rock ’n’ roll, even blues with a rock n roll attitude. That said, what I like about Jane Lee Hooker is how you use a wide range of musical styles. How did the band develop its wide range of sounds?

Tracy: I think we all have one thing in common and that is that we are aggressive New Yorkers.  Most of us grew up in a rock scene that was really NYC based-CBGBs, Continental, Coney Island, Don Hills so we know and embrace angst.  And then separately we all have our love of a bunch of very different styles of music.  Tbone and I love Skynyrd.  Mary and I love X and Seven Seconds.  We all love the Rolling Stones.  We all love music and all styles of music but our power comes from living in NYC. 

Tina: Can totally see why people catch the vibes that we are from a big city. Regardless of our varied personal tastes, we each came out of a scene where almost every band played their brains out. NYC was and still is an energy factory.

Mary: I see us coming from punk rock roots, some of us just passing through it, and some of us still very entrenched in it (me). 

Dana: We all come in with our different skillsets and tastes and we just lay it all out and see what happens. Sometimes things work, sometimes they don’t. We just take the pieces we have and try to figure it all out – kind of like a puzzle. That’s really all we’ve ever done. 

I haven’t seen you live yet (here’s hoping you make it to Melbourne, Australia one day), but I have seen videos of your shows and it’s quite lively. How much does showmanship play in who you are as a band? 

Tina: It plays a big part because it’s authentic. It’s how we behave when we’re feeling good. Lets face it, playing rock n roll is fun, playing it with your buddies is a fucking blast!

Tracy: I think this is a band where every single member lives for playing live.  That’s why this pandemic has been so difficult.  We are excited and ecstatic on stage and love the whole experience of performing and then interacting with the audience during and after the show.

Mary: We get pretty nuts in our practice space too, some jams we really get lost in ourselves. So I’d say showmanship is us being us, and it happens anywhere. 

Dana: We would love to tour Australia one day! Yes, please! So, the word showmanship is strange to me because with JLH, what you see on stage is who we all sincerely are – we are not putting on an act. I’ve always said that when JLH plays a show, we are actually having our own party. Others are welcome to come join the party, but that’s not necessary for us to have a blast. No offense to audience members – we love you all – but at the end of the day, when we are playing our set, everything that viewers see is about us, JLH, being ourselves and having the best time together doing what we love to do most.

Are there things that emerged in the writing of your latest track All Good Things that surprised you?

Tracy: I wrote the music for the song as a solemn hangover ridden anthem basically to cheer myself up.  I recorded the music and some very basic vocals and sent it to Dana who immediately finished it.  When we first tried it I was concerned—it was unlike anything we had done before and I couldn’t figure out how to not have a jangly and lame guitar part.  I remember figuring out the guitar part and texting Tbone “I have cracked the code.”  I love the guitar part— it’s so fun to play and the song is so fun to listen to.  It totally does cheer me up and I hope it cheers other people up too!

Dana: Yes, indeed! Tracy! When I heard the initial beginnings of “All Good Things,” a voice memo of just Tracy strumming an acoustic guitar and lightly humming some lyrics here and there, I was floored. The song immediately resonated. She made my job really easy. The rest of the song came together rather effortlessly.

Tina: This song is so uplifting to me. Learning how to properly serve a song with a positive message like that in just the right way was important to us. I think we did it.

Have you had much time to reflect on how All Good Things has been received since its release?

Tracy: I’m not sure, it was just released! 

Tina: I think when we play it on tour we will have a better sense of that. I don’t think a song has been truly out in the world until it’s been played on the road. Really can’t wait for that.

Dana: Not too much time to reflect. I do know that we had a great time at the video release party/show a few weeks back. The song and video have been received very well so far. And it’s really fun to film and play live!

With this latest release and your work over the years, do you feel like you have finally honed the direction you are wanting to take Jane Lee Hooker in?

Tina: The direction has really evolved into a kind of freedom and trust that we can write a song and it will sound like us.

Dana: I think we were just “rollin’ with the punches” here. We didn’t set out writing this record with any specific creative plans. What’s more, because of the pandemic, this record was written in a completely different fashion then we would normally approach writing – socially distant in my backyard was not ideal rock & roll writing conditions. However, I do think it had positive effects on us and the record as a whole. At the end of the day, we rose to an enormous challenge and came out the other side. “Rollin’” came into being against all odds. I’m just so grateful anything positive could have come from such a crazy time of isolation and uncertainty. 

Tracy: In all honestly, I think we have just started.  Its nuts that we have been together and for almost a decade and saying we are just beginning but I think it’s true.  The addition of Ron took us to a place where we are writing and performing at the next level.  In my mind, I am always of the opinion that things should get better with time instead of worse.     

How important is it that the lyrics remain as powerful as the music in all your songs?

Tina: So important. I’m so proud of the lyrics Dana writes. I always tell her my favorite lines of hers, there are so many. Dana is a very intelligent, deep and thoughtful person. She knows how to paint a picture. She’s an artist and a storyteller.

Dana: For me, it’s everything. I always prefer to mean or at least relate to what I say, write, and sing. Every single word. Otherwise, what’s the point? Where’s the heart?

One of my main takeaways from Jane Lee Hooker is Dana’s incredible vocals. What is it about Dana’s versatility that makes her such a perfect fit?

Tracy: There aren’t enough letters is the alphabet or words in the English language to adequately describe Dana’s level of talent.  I’ve been playing music since I was five and playing in bands since I was 13.  There is nothing that compares to the level of musical genius that is Dana.  This is someone who can write a melody and vocal part over any riff, at any time on the spot.  She always invents the hook and knows where to put it within 60 seconds.  It’s remarkable.  As far as vocally performing, I’ve been on stage beside her 30 nights in a row performing at peak without fatigue.  It’s unimaginable.  When I lose faith in the business and the lifestyle it is the overwhelming talent of Dana that sets me right and keeps me going.  

Tina: It”s her versatility that makes her a perfect fit for anyone lucky enough to work with her. There’s quite literally nothing she can’t do. Her extremely high level of talent makes the whole band work harder. Her vocals feed our creativity and make the rest of us feel like anything is possible musically.

Jericho is another great track that came out this year. Did you go into it with big ideas?

Tracy: We always loved the melody Dana was signing and we tried to play it on tour for about a year.  But something was always not perfect about it.  We had a lot of back and forth with our former drummer who thought it should have a more syncopated beat which really took all of the balls out of the song.  After she quit we recorded the demo with Ron who nailed it on the first take (we used his first tracks on the single, btw) and it became a rock song again in the vein of “That Smell” by Skynyrd.  I am beyond proud of the performance. 

Tina: We went into it like “lets rock this one hard!” Classic FM radio rock. Skynyrd’s “That Smell” was kind of a guide for that song as far as vibe goes. We are so proud of how it turned out.

Dana: When I wrote “Jericho,” it was a couple of years before I brought it to the band. (Sometimes a song comes back at the time exact time it needs to.) 

When the band started working on “Jericho,’ I knew they were going to take it to a whole new level. But it was really when we first started playing it live – pre-pandemic, before we ever recorded it – that I knew we had a great tune on our hands. The crowd response was just incredible.

Jane Lee Hooker songs have a lot of drama. Maybe the word I’m better looking for is soul. Does a lot of that come from the way the guitars in the band interact between Tracy, Tina and Mary?

Dana: That is definitely a huge part of it. When Tina and Tracy start sinking into their dueling, complementary guitar parts they take off to another dimension. And of course, with Mary holding it down and Ron on the drums, everything just clicks. 

Tina: We are fans of soul and drama!  I think the guitars like to show up for the party.

Tracy: This band is at the highest level when on stage and playing together side by side.  The pandemic and how we had to write and record Rollin’ really messed with me from a personal standpoint. For the first time I felt very alone in my guitar parts and that was only b/c Tbone and I were not recording together as we always had.  Dana and Matt Chiaravalle our producer were able to make it all seamless but from a personal standpoint I always want to be standing together in a space and making this music.  Next time, for sure. 

It’s hard to escape the fact that Ron is a big part of your sound and has seemingly appeared behind you forever. How has his style influenced your overall sound?

Tracy: Yes!  It is important to note that we have all known and loved Ron for more than 20 years.  He was the first and best drummer in Helldorado with Tina and I, and he was in Bad Wizard with Tbone.  I am a great drummer and he IS my favorite drummer.  So Tina, Mary and I knew Ron for decades before this band.  When our first drummer quit I was so stressed out.  Do we have to get a female drummer?  Ugh- I only know one great one and she lives in California…why do we need a female drummer? So i texted Ron at 6 a.m. to ask him to at least do the demos we were scheduled to record a few days before our first drummer quit.  He responded within 10 minutes with “I am there-whatever you need!”  It was so loving—and coming at such a time where I was having ZERO love from our previous drummer-quite the opposite in fact – so I immediately felt a sense of calm.  And 2 days later we recorded Jericho and Lucky and the band was transformed into a working piece of rock machinery.  He saved us.  And I hope we saved him.  

Mary: HE IS THE BEST DRUMMER and friend. As the bass player I am SO thankful he came (back) into our lives. It’s been a joy. He’s brought JLH up to the next level. He makes me a better bass player, and it is effortless to lock in and jam with him.

Tina: Ron is a super talented cat with an amazing attitude and approach. He’s so tasteful and always keeps it fresh. With Tracey and I sharing a musical and friendship history with him, it makes it family having him on board now. He’s just a pleasure to play with and he adds so much.

Dana: Ron’s drumming has definitely had an impact on our overall sound. Honestly, I’m floored by his talent. He plays these fills and parts that are just so tasty, showcasing his expertise. The rhythm section is definitely stronger than ever.

Ron, there is so much love for you here! In your own words how was it joining the band?  Who did you know and who had you played with prior to joining?

Ron: Oh man. Speaking for myself, it’s a perfect fit and the timing was uncanny. I was itching to do something new and tour again…I think they read my mind!  I’ve known Tina, Tracy and Mary for about 25 years and played and toured extensively with both Tina and Tracy. I was in Helldorado with both, Bad Wizard with Tina and a Plasmatics offshoot band with Tracy. 

Finally, I can’t let you go without asking you about one of my favourite tracks at the moment – Drive. Can you tell us something surprising about how it came to life?

Tracy: Dana wrote this and played it for us in her backyard at the height of the pandemic.  We would go to her back yard and social distance.  Ron played drums on recycle cans.  When I heard it i thought this is the greatest song ever and I still feel the same way now.  The lyrics hit so hard “I really wish that I could see you my friend”.  It really sums up all of the lock down for me. 

Tina: During lockdown, Dana had this amazing outdoor space for us to get together with guitars and small amps, Ron hitting upside down garbage cans. Dana had a keyboard and played the outline for the song and it was very moving and poignant for the times. We had all been missing each other so much. I feel that song was born out of the longing for connection. I’ll always think of those writing sessions when I hear the song.

Dana: “Drive” kind of just came out one day. Socially distancing in my backyard, I was playing this portable YamusicMaha keyboard which, a few summers back, I had painted all the keys rainbow for some reason. A little bit of crazy magic. That’s how it all started. I just randomly plunked out those seven notes of the opening piano riff. The rest of the song just fell in place and took off on a journey. It was one of those songs where, as it’s being written you think, “OK, there may be something here. Have I heard this before?” No, we hadn’t heard it before. It was familiar to us, and we got to bring “Drive” to life. 

Even though it was during lockdown in New York, I did not write the song about the pandemic and being unable to see loved ones during this time. These lyrics are specifically about one of my best friends in the whole world who has lived far away from me for a while now. When she moved away, it hit me hard. “Drive” is kind of like a permanent message to her, to let her know she is always on my mind and to remember our longstanding plans: Though life is crazy and uncertain, “the moment that I can,” I’m going to get to her, and then we’ll go on an awesome road trip. I love road trips.

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Jane Lee Hooker has a run of US dates starting in February of 2022, before heading over to Europe for a 6 week tour in April and May. Check out JLH’s website and socials for tour updates. Follow JLH on Facebook | Instagram | Twitter. Listen to JLH on Spotify and Apple Music. Watch on You Tube.

Photo credit: All images courtesy of Rob Carter.

4 comments on “Interview with rock ‘n’ roll outfit Jane Lee Hooker.

  1. A fantastic interview Robert. It’s always a pleasure when an artist or band is so interesting and outgoing, with lots to say.

  2. Great interview, Robert. These ladies rock smokingly hot – and, of course, Ron! 🙂

    I coincidentally caught them live in August 2017 during a free outdoor concert in New Jersey and was, well, hooked immediately. At the time, they still were an all-female group. They really rocked that little park on the Jersey shore!

    I also recall how after the gig the ladies casually hang out next to their van. I easily could have walked up to them to say ‘hello’ but didn’t want to impose. I guess it’s also not my style, though I did engage with members of Southern Avenue, another contemporary band I follow, and had a very positive experience.

    Well, I suppose in case I get another chance to meet Jane Lee Hooker, I’ll introduce myself. Looking forward to their new album!

    Happy New Year!

    • I’m thrilled you had a great experience seeing them live. Here’s hoping they make it to Australia one day. Dana has indicated she would love to tour down under. Happy New Year to you too.

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