Graham Reid | | 4 min read
For far too long Jan Hellriegel was known by the shorthand of "Westie singer" which might have been literally true -- she lived in West Auckland, she sang -- but rather diminished her songwriting skills and the power of her delivery.
You often read more about how she worked in her dad's panelbeaters than the quality of her songs on albums like her impressive debut album It's My Sin and the follow-up Tremble.
Pleasingly though, she was acknowldged by her peers with a number of Music Award gongs, although there was a long hiatus between Tremble (1995) and the acclaimed All Grown Up (2009, which also came as an impressive vinyl issue in a gatefold sleeve).
Although she moved into the business side of the music industry (at Native Tongue Music Publishing) she has also remained visible when encouraging younger musicians. But a new album is long overdue . . . however her latest Lost and Found doesn't quite fit that description.
A collection of often raw demos and unreleased studio sessions (and a couple of remixes) covering the period 1990-2003 it provides an interesting insight into the ones that got away . . . and many of these songs really deserved release because they bristle with energy, and in many instances sound as contemporary now as they might have at the time.
It's also a courageous artist who is prepared to put out such a collection and let it be judged, and her liner notes have a candour which has been the hallmark of her career. It is a much stronger collection than you might expect given the product description.
So time for Jan Hellriegel to answer the Famous Elsewhere Questionnaire.
The first piece of music which really affected you was . . .
There are two biggies" Wagner’s Das Rhiengold from The Ring Cycle. We studied this at school and I remember thinking how inspiring it was to learn about the way Wagner used motifs (leitmotifs)
The Who - Quadrophenia: My brother won the album “Quadrophenia” by the Who as well as tickets to the movie. Because no one else wanted to go he took me along. I remember I was underage at this R18 movie and it all felt very grown up. Going to the movie and hearing the soundtrack was one of the defining moments of my musical life.
Your first (possibly embarrassing) role models in music were . . .
I still like music I listened to when I was younger. Michael Jackson and loads of disco performers like Donna Summer, Michael Jackson, Heatwave and Earth Wind and Fire. At the same time I was listening to Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, The Doors, Yes and Neil Young and I still love listening to them too.
Lennon or Jagger, Ramones or Nirvana, Madonna or Gaga, Jacko or Jay-Z?
Lennon/Jagger (both tied equal – I can’t choose between the two) Nirvana, Madonna, Jay-Z
If music was denied you, your other career choice would be . . .
Well it sort of was denied as a living – so what I did is studied business, sales and marketing so I could make a living while continuing my passion for song writing. Now I can release music ‘until my heart’s content’. I am not dependent on any one or any organisation and that makes me feel very ‘free’ to pursue what ever I like creatively.
The three songs (yours, or by others) you would love everyone to hear are . . .
Well because “it’s all about me” and there are songs I am particularly proud of that haven’t had a lot of airing – 3 songs I would love people to hear are
Goodbye Adieu (on All Grown Up)
Only One Option (Tremble)
On Ice (Lost Songs)
Any interesting, valuable or just plain strange musical memorabilia at home?
I have back stage band passes to the Melbourne and Sydney Jeff Buckley concerts which I supported – and they are signed.
The best book on music or musicians you have read is . . .
Simon Sweetman’s ‘On Song’ released last year.
If you could get on stage with anyone it would be . . . (And you would play?)
Burt Bacharach and I would be singing.
The three films you'd insist anybody watch because they might understand you better are . . .
When Harry Met Sally
The Sound of Music
The last CD or vinyl album you bought was . . . (And your most recent downloads include . . .)
The Veils – Time Stays we Go
The Phoenix Foundation - Fandango
One song, royalties for life, never have to work again. The song by anyone, yourself included, which wouldn't embarrass you in that case would be . . .
To be honest - any of my songs would be AOK with me. I am not embarrassed easily when it comes to my tunes. I know how much work I put in to them and I would be super happy if one of them became a runaway success. Bring it on. Pretty please.
The poster, album cover or piece of art could you live with on your bedroom forever would be . . .
I don’t have any artwork or prints in my bedroom – just white walls and curtains. All of the action is in the lounge and all of my artwork, apart from a stencil by Component (The Lost Songs cover) are by artists that I know or have met one day. Lang Leav, Ulrich Tillmann, Christine Webster, and Delia Wooodham
You are allowed just one tattoo, and it is of . . .
A transparent piece of glass.
David Bowie sang, “Five years, that's all we've got . . .” You would spend them where, doing . . .?
I would be doing exactly what I am doing now. I love what I do and love my life. I have two wonderful sons who are growing up fast and I don’t want to miss a thing. Very happy in the now.
And finally, in the nature of press conferences in Japan, “Can you tell me please why this is your best album ever?”
It’s my best album ever because it’s my latest release. Someone, I know not who, once said – “you are only as relevant as your last release” – so I am going to keep releasing new music until I can’t any more. And my next album is lining up to be my best album ever – again.