- Leah Nelson
Janine the Machine, Jamaican Sugar Spice
Janine the Machine is an enticing and intimidating package. Her hyper stylized street chic vibe, long blonde dreads, perfect bone structure, and gorgeous brown skin demand attention. And her music is unapologetic. With style and sound somewhere between Missy Elliott, The Spice Girls and Katy Perry pop, Janine the Machine has her finger on the trend pulse across the spectrum. It’s not a copy cat scene with Janine the Machine, but rather one that is clearly in touch with real artist identity. Her goal is to authentically represent the variety of cultural influences that meld together to create her art. The music she writes, produces and performs isn’t strictly pop, R&B or hip hop. It’s a melody made from the vast span of musical genres, somehow perfect for listening to on commutes, in cycle class or at your favorite bar with lyrics you won’t soon forget.
Where does the name Janine the Machine come from?
"I write all my music, engineer the tracks, record and perform them all. I do everything, hence the machine. And Janine is my middle name."
Who are your biggest musical influences?
"Missy Elliott, Santigold, Gwen Stefani, Aaliyah and the Spice Girls. I grew up watching Missy and Aaliyah videos, so a lot of the swag and attitude in my music comes from that. I relate to both Santigold and Gwen because they both have that quirky rockstar thing going. And I love to do ten million vocal stacks in the studio and sound like I’m having a huge party, so I definitely borrowed that aspect from the Spice Girls."
I have to ask you the age old question: if you had to pick a Spice girl to be, who are you?
"Scary Spice because of Black Girl Magic:)"
What’s your family background and how has it affected you?
"I was born in Detroit, Michigan. My mom is from Jamaica, so I spent a lot of my childhood there. I traveled a lot growing up. My mom and my brother took me all around the world to experience different cultures and different music, so my sound is internationally influenced. My mom is a computer engineer and my father served in the Army, so my brother and I are total opposites of them. My brother is a producer and artist in LA. He’s been a big source of inspiration for me. My mother is still involved in our careers. She helps coordinate our finances and businesses, so she’s involved in that aspect. It’s become a family music affair."
Since your parents aren’t in the industry, how did you get started in music?
"I started playing the piano as a kid, probably when I was about ten years old and later picked up the guitar. Eventually, I started writing songs for TV shows for other people to record but never considered myself a singer. I would sing the songs to demo, but it wasn’t until I was demoing different tracks in Atlanta that my now producer Tricky Stewart was like, “You are an artist.” A lot of people had told me that before, but I innately trusted Tricky. He’s so in tune with the music, so I could see he understood my musical vision. He is now my executive producer, and we’re doing a record label together. I’m the first artist on the label and have control over the whole process. All together, working with Tricky has been an amazing experience and he is a fantastic producer.” Tricky is no newbie to the music scene - he produced Beyonce’s "Single Ladies," "Umbrella" for Rihanna, and "Baby" for Justin Bieber, as well as tracks for Michael Jackson and other big names.
How did you two get connected?
"My friend Raja introduced us. Raja is one of my best friends…We met a few years back in a writing session. We do a lot of co-writing together. About a month or so after my dad passed away, Raja was in Atlanta working with Tricky Stewart on her album. She knew I was feeling down and needed a mental break, so she invited me to Atlanta to work on her project. For me, making music is one of the best forms of therapy, so I decided to come. Within a few days of working with Tricky, he told me he wanted me to move to Atlanta and work with him. I moved in about two weeks."
The life of a burgeoning pop star is in constant flux. The music world has changed so much from the days of the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, even from Britney Spears’s early days. Everything has to be lived through social media and be visually curated. Some of the mystique and glamour perpetuated in the music scene of the ’60s,’70s and ’80s has faded. How do you think that has affected you as an artist?
"I think social media is a gift and a curse. It’s amazing that it gives upcoming artists the opportunity to get their music or brand out there. It’s cool because it kinda puts the power back in the hands of the fans. They can choose the music they want instead of being force fed the same ten songs from the radio. I can’t lie, though. I’m a huge fan of keeping some mystery in your persona and not putting it all out there, but that’s just me! I say whatever works for you, go for it!"
Style is clearly so important to you. People look at you and get a definite vibe. Do you do that intentionally?
"My internal image of myself style-wise is as a very lazy person. I like to be very comfortable in my clothing, but still, want to be cute. So, I would say I’m tomboyish mixed with a little sexy - still wanting to be comfortable. My more provocative clothing takes a lot of confidence to wear and isn’t my natural go to, but I like pushing the limits a bit here and there."
What vibe do you look for musically? How do you want people to feel when they listen to your music? Tell us a little bit about your creative process.
"I want people to feel good. So much of the music out right now is so dark and so emotionally intense — that music is great and necessary, but with my music, I sometimes will get a little more emotional, and introspective, but overall I want people to walk away feeling good.
I have a powerful urge to express myself. When I created the album, the idea that people are multi-dimensional became a fundamental theme to me. A lot of times people put artists in a box, where I believe women feel EVERY emotion. Nobody is just a party girl or just a dark, moody instrumentalist. My music tries to be representative of that — some songs are party, turn-up, some are more intense and introspective."
How do you distinguish between Colby, which is your actual name, and Janine the Machine?
"Colby and Janine the Machine — in a weird way I'm more comfortable in my Janine the Machine role because my music is an exaggerated version of my life. I feel most comfortable in the studio recording because I can express myself. In normal life I struggle to express myself and come up with the right words but when I’m recording it feels natural. The words and ideas just flow."
You’ve lived in LA, and your brother still produces and works in LA, but you’re here in Atlanta. What draws you to the Atlanta music scene?
"People in Atlanta are here to be creative, to work and to create original and exciting music. The swag is in Atlanta. By the time you’ve heard a dope song in LA, it’s been playing for months and months in Atlanta. So then you're late as a creator. By the time you hear that vibe in LA, it’s changed. The new sh*t is in Atlanta. There’s a lot of similarities and talented people in both places, but for me, Atlanta is where I need to be."
The movie industry is booming in Atlanta, is that affecting you?
"I think whenever one part of the entertainment world expands, it encourages growth in other areas. Having so many creative people in one space only promotes growth in the surrounding creative industries. So I would say overall the movie/film industry is encouraging booming creative growth in Atlanta in general."
Tell me about your upcoming single. What should we expect when we listen to it?
"“Tetris” is my second official single. “High Places” was the first. I say “official” because I’ve written a ton of songs for TV shows in the past (shows on MTV, VH1, BET, NBC, Oxygen, etc.). But I don’t consider them my songs since I wrote them in a more generic style to work on TV. This EP is the first time I’m releasing music that feels like my own and I’m super excited!"
What was the inspiration behind this song?
"“Tetris” is one of the songs that kinda wrote itself. I’d just finished shooting my second music video for a song called “Snatched,” and me and a few friends went out for drinks to celebrate. I was with Roshon (a dope actor/artist. We have a song on my EP together), Tricky (my producer) and his wife, Keda. We were having such a great time, the vibes were so perfect, and Roshon said “I love this group, everyone fits together like Tetris.” Whenever someone says something amazing like that, I always write it down on my phone so I can remember it later. (And I told Roshon I was stealing that to write a song, so it’s all good). But that’s where the title came from. When I got in the studio, I kept the title and wrote the song about this guy I had a lot of chemistry with… We had a really dope connection and flirtatious moments, but neither of us made a move. We almost fit together the way tetris blocks do, so the song plays with the idea of “what if we had matched the pieces together”… "