33 Things We Love About Janet English As Spiderbait Honour Their Bassist With New Compilation Album 'Sounds In The Key Of J'

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  • Wednesday, 27 July 2022 14:53
Published in Music  
Spiderbait's new album is a double compilation celebrating the songwriting of the group's bassist Janet English. Spiderbait's new album is a double compilation celebrating the songwriting of the group's bassist Janet English.

In the A-Z of Australian rock, J is for Janet English.

As the bassist, co-songwriter for Spiderbait, Janet has made an incredible contribution to the essential Australian rock songbook.

Spiderbait's latest album 'Sounds In The Key Of J' is a celebratory compilation of Janet's work over the past 30 years. "It's very humbling and it's an honour," Janet says.

"It came about probably because of the pandemic because we had that time to go back and dig into the vaults. It was really at the instigation of Kram looking back at all of my stuff and wanting to focus on that as a particular contribution.

"It was still collaborative – we still all write together – but singling out my contribution specifically, which is really humbling."

Spiderbait have also been on the road for their accompanying 'Tour In The Key Of J' in support of the album, the band's first live run since their anniversary tour for 'Ivy And The Big Apples' in 2017.

"I look at songwriting as an incredible privilege – what an amazing experience, to live a creative life. I'm very lucky." - Janet English

"Initially I wasn't in the space to be interested in being the focus of attention at all, but these shows have been so joyous, and I've loved learning the songs again," Janet says. "I had to Google some of the lyrics because I had no idea," she adds with a laugh.

With Kram curating the album like a playlist charting Janet's journey with Spiderbait, Janet says even she was surprised by some of the treasures he managed to unearth.

"I guess it was just such a frenzy in that late '90s period; we were recording so much that for Kram to dig up a couple of tracks that we didn't even release, and I have no memory of recording them, they were nuggets of gold for us."

Among the album's 33 tracks are several that Janet says were important in defining her role in Spiderbait and allowed her to find her voice as a songwriter.

"The first song that I ever recorded singing was 'Footy', and that was clearly my input and told from my point of view in a lyrical sense. It was very much about growing up in the small town we'd grown up in and how it was a pretty macho, just bigoted place," she explains.

"Football ran the whole show and girls didn't play football, girls had no contribution whatsoever other than to stand back and be in awe of the men who played football. It offended me on every level.

"That was one of the first moments I felt like I could name call some of the people in our childhood and have a voice about some of the things from when we were kids, and never expecting that anyone would hear it.

"Then there were people in the town who cornered me in the supermarket and said: 'I'm in your song, aren't I?'," she laughs, "which was interesting.

"I think I spoke for half of the town when I wrote that. In the punk scene we were in, it became a popular song live and I guess that was a big moment for me, realising I could write songs."

Then there's 'Calypso', perhaps Spiderbait's most enduring original song next to 'Buy Me A Pony'. Janet reveals how 'Calypso' came together from two vastly different songs as a response to the unruly crowds the band were starting to attract.

"We went through this phase of trying to frustrate the crowds because they were getting really aggro," she explains.

"So, we would play something soft and sweet, and that song was a combination of a very pretty, little acoustic song and a heavy bit to confuse the crowd. I don't know what we were hoping to do other than just slow everyone down, because the crowds were getting big and aggro, and it wasn't much fun."

The unexpected hit helped rocket Spiderbait into the limelight in the mid-'90s and earned them a slice of Hollywood immortality when it was included on the soundtrack for '10 Things I Hate About You'.

Janet believes it was a confluence of various evolving factors within the Australian music industry at the time that saw Spiderbait – an unassuming trio of friends from country New South Wales – graduate to Aussie rock heavyweights and national festival favourites.

"'Calypso' goes for less than two minutes, we never expected that to fit into any kind of radio format," she says.

"I think we were in the right place at the right time with triple j. We came from community radio and triple j became this beast nationally and suddenly people knew who we were in all these regional areas that had never heard of us before.

"Then the alternative music scene just exploded and that was as much about Nirvana, Pearl Jam and those kinds of bands. Suddenly all these little bands like us were in the forefront.

"It was quite unexpected; it was an unusual time, and we were lucky. There was also the Big Day Out that became this monster [where] people were exposed to bands that normally you'd see at The Tote or The Zoo. It just kind of exploded."

'Sounds In The Key Of J' bursts with all the raw, frenetic joy Janet imbues across the majority of her songwriting, presenting a definitive retrospective of what she has achieved alongside bandmates Kram and Whitt.

"I didn't expect those songs to gather the steam they have, and I'm thrilled they have," Janet says. "They were such pure joy and energy when we made them. We did them in one or two takes and didn't dwell on them or perfect them in any way."

The legacy of Spiderbait owes as much to the contributions of Janet as it does their vast legion of fans. For Janet, it's been the ride of a lifetime since having a bass guitar thrust into her hands all those years ago.

"I never expected to be playing music, and for 30 years to have done that as the thing I do in my life, I'm so thrilled," she says. "I look at songwriting as an incredible privilege – what an amazing experience, to live a creative life. I'm very lucky."

Spiderbait 2022 Tour Dates

Fri 5 Aug - Princess Theatre (Brisbane)
Fri 19 Aug - Metropolis (Fremantle)
Fri 9 Sep - Drifters Wharf (Central Coast)
Sat 10 Sep - Valleyways Festival (Camden, NSW)
Sat 15 Oct - Uni Bar (Hobart)
Fri 21 Oct - Hindley St Music Hall (Adelaide)

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