Vixen is best known for being the first all-female ‘80s glam-era rock band. Attention from MTV and Headbangers Ball propelled them into the spotlight with worldwide recognition through endless touring. Hits like Edge of a Broken Heart and Cryin’ made them household names in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s. They played to packed arenas with the likes of Ozzy Osbourne, Deep Purple and The Scorpions among others, performing 200 shows a year.
Vocalist Janet Gardner has progressed into the solo realm, recording her debut self-titled album with husband Justin James. James has worked with Staind, Collective Soul and Tyketto, but has devoted all his time to Gardner.
She’s dove headfirst into new, unexplored territory, experimenting with other genre’s spreading electro, industrial and grunge influence over 10 songs while keeping flammable whiffs of Aqua net in ears reach. Pavement Entertainment quickly noticed their hard work, releasing the album on August 18.
From the first song to the last, the record is unapologetically… heavy, “It just happened that way [with] the combination of us working together,” Gardner says. “We didn’t set up to do anything specific. It’s not Vixen. It’s a little more in your face. There’s definitely some ’80s elements in there and some anthemy choruses and stuff. Hopefully people will like it.”
James weighs in, “When we started doing it, none of it was planned or plotted out in advance. It just kinda came to us naturally, you know, it was there.”
They decided to hit between the eyes with a loud opener, “We went back and forth on what should kick off the whole thing and we thought let’s go right in your face with Rat Hole. We were trying to figure out what to open with, something more unexpected or hit’em hard right out of the gate. It was unanimous between us and the record label. Let’s take a chance here and try it,” James says.
A video for Rat Hole came out a week after release, part live performance, part concept.
The record was a team project, playing and doing everything themselves. Outside musicians were considered, but as the record progressed it developed its own sound, “This is what we wanted it to be. It’s a great representation between the two of us,” Gardner says.
Gardner is busy balancing Vixen shows and solo dates, “We’re trying to find spaces for both. It’s working out pretty good. We’re busy, but it’s gonna be great. Can’t wait to get out and play these songs live.”
The live show will include new tunes and classics, “We’ll put a few Vixen surprises in there. I don’t think people would let me leave without playing Edge of a Broken Heart. We’re ready to give it to them.”
Vixen recently recorded a live album in St. Charles, IL due out later this year, “It was stressful because the truck [with] our equipment broke down on the way. I think it was a good show. Everybody played great and put it all out there.”
“I was in the audience and they all killed it, it was fantastic,” James says.
In the early ‘80s a young incognito incarnation of Vixen appeared in the comedy Hardbodies, “I was in L.A. playing some shows and somebody called us and asked us to do it. We said, sure why not. It was fun, it was interesting.”
Their screen name Diaper Rash, was in the script, “Definitely their idea,” Gardner insists laughing, “It was kinda funny. We took the money from that to record some demos. It worked out good.”
Gardner shares memories of The Metal Years and Penelope Spheeris, “We got a call that Spheeris was filming another Decline of Western Civilization. We were in the middle of recording our album. We had just finished a song called [I want you to] Rock Me and went directly over there. We didn’t see any of it, till it came out. That was another interesting experience from the late ‘80s. There was lots of hair in that movie.”
MTV took notice, “MTV grabbed on immediately. We sold about 150,000 copies the first week out because of MTV. Yeah they were right on board with it.” Though they never hosted they were interviewed on Headbangers Ball by Riki Rachtman.
They toured so much Gardner has forgotten some of the places they went, “It’s funny to see some of the footage. I‘m like , ‘where were we?’ It’s fun to see some of the stuff pop up on YouTube now.”
They didn’t struggle much winning over crowds, “No we really didn’t. By the time we got out there most people knew who we were and what they’d be seeing. The toughest crowds were definitely with Deep Purple in Europe. We opened for them for a few months and some of those crowds when we walked out, were like, what is this? By the end, they always came around, we got’em.”
They toured with Ozzy in ‘88, “Ozzy was great, he talked to us a lot, he’d see us in the hallways and he’d stop and chat and gave us advice. He was sober and in really good shape. It was the ‘80s, it was fun. It was a good time for him; he was on top of it. He looked great, sounded great every night, it was a great tour.”
Gardner recalls the Sunset Strip scene, “Everybody was out every night supporting each other. There was so much activity, great bands, bands getting signed, a lot of excitement, people hanging out at the Rainbow, good times. Didn’t get a lot of sleep back then but sure had a lot of fun.”
They were the girl band of the era, preceded by The Go-Go’s and The Runaways in the ‘70s. “Some people were skeptical and thought we were put together by a producer but we started like everyone else. We didn’t pay attention to what people thought about us. We just tried to be the best we could be.”
During her less frequent down time Gardner is a practicing dental hygienist, “Yeah, I’m still licensed, it’s getting more part time as more music filters back into my life, which is a great thing. I’ll always keep my license and do it when I need to or when I feel like it.”
Gardner explains her interest with teeth, “I was gonna run out of money, the local McDonalds didn’t have any openings so, I went back to school. I tried to think of something I could do that was skill oriented and good money for the hours you wanted to work. That fit the bill.”
“It’s funny when people find out, sitting in my dental chair. They’re like, ‘get outta here, the singer from Vixen is cleaning my teeth!’” Gardner hasn’t cleaned any rock star’s teeth yet, including Kip Winger. “I get all normal patients every day. Sometimes people find out and come in, but your average patient has no idea who I am. I’ve had patients for 10 years that have no idea. Word gets around. They’re like, ‘why didn’t you tell me you’re the singer in Vixen?’ Well it never came up in our dental conversations,” she laughs.
Though they’re putting together ideas for new songs, there’s no time table for a new Vixen record, but the St. Charles show will be out later this year and live shows are on the schedule.
James has put all his time and talent into Gardner’s music, “I’m focusing [all] my time on this. Super excited about it.” They met through mutual friends eventually becoming friends. “We talked and realized we had a special connection together. Next thing you know we’re married,” James says.
“We’re really, really happy and I think we have a good chance to die together,” Gardner says.
After the first song, the chemistry flowed and they were open to input, “It went both ways. You have to check your ego at the door in order to get the best results and listen to each other. We really respected each other’s vision. We’re really happy with the way it came out,” Gardner says.
It was her first time in the vocal booth alone. “I was able to reach for things I’d never done before and try some new stuff. I dropped an F-bomb, first time ever. It felt good.”
A Vixen reunion came in ’04 courtesy of the show Bands Reunited, bringing them all into the same room again. “We were really happy to see each other. That was the bottom line. The end result was good and we started communicating more, it was really great!”
With new music out, soon to be played live, the bucket list is being checked off on a daily basis. Gardner’s voice has improved over time and says she’ll keep going until her final days, “I’ll probably be dead before I stop. I sound better than ever now.”
In closing, Gardner acknowledges her longtime fan base, “Thanks for the support all these years, check out the new record, we enjoyed making it for you guys.”