the mary janes

Nuvo Newsweekly, Indianapolis, IN
February 21, 2001
Steve Hammer

The Mary Janes' emotional realism,
New CD's songs sear with drama

Good, honest American music is what the Mary Janes are all about. Solid songwriting. Earnest performances. More-than-competent playing. Bittersweet, if not melancholy, lyrics.

The band, fronted by honey-voiced singer Janas Hoyt, is another distinguished branch of the family tree that includes both John Mellencamp and the Vulgar Boatmen, each of which Hoyt has worked with, as well as the Mysteries of Life.

They'll be returning to Indianapolis for an album release show at the Melody Inn on Saturday, Feb. 24. They'll also make a brief in-store acoustic appearance at 4 p.m. Saturday at Luna Music, 1521 W. 86th St.

With Flame, the group's second album, Hoyt and her partner, violinist Heather Craig, have made a drastic leap forward. The songs, whether they're in a jaunty Velvet Underground style or a laidback Mellencamp mode, have distinctive identities and a strong, almost fierce viewpoint. The mandolins and occasional banjos only enhance the music's self-assuredness.

Some of the songs, especially the aptly named "Bruises and Breaks," in which Hoyt tells the story of an abused woman who flees her home with her baby and "a six-gun on her back," sear with their images. The woman moves on from her abusive relationship, moves to Tennessee and cuts her hair hoping she won't look the same as she used to. She tries to settle down, only to be confronted again, a few years later, by her tormentor.

She crumbles, shackled by economics, but escapes once again. "Subtract the Night" covers the same territory, in even more gripping fashion.

"If I could I would
"erase your memory
"cut out your fists from me
"as it stands, all over the world
"the same bully boy hits the same unwitting girl
"women cry and women fall
"and you might as well be the cause of it all."
-"Subtract the Night"

It's the dark side of the idyllic Midwestern life chronicled so often by Mellencamp, the Vulgar Boatmen and their contemporaries. In terms of scope, at least, it aspires to the same ground that Carl Sandburg plowed.

"I don't know why some peoples' lives go by without a hitch and other peoples' lives don't," Hoyt says in an interview from her Bloomington home. "I'm sure that there are many people that are experiencing many worse things than I am. Everybody struggles with something. Some of us, it's our job to talk about it. Everybody has a job; I just happen to have this one. Everybody's pain is real; these just happen to be my pains.

"I have a tendency to be an open book and I probably shouldn't be as open as I am. I'm compelled to be honest when I speak, so you can often get an answer out of me that is just nobody's business, because I just talk.

"I'm not enough of a song crafter, a folk artist, that I can sit down and write stories. I don't have the schedule to be able to spend time at my workbench, crafting a song," she says. "The way that I make songs and make music is a direct response to a personal need. It's a creative outlet for me and it's come to this now. I used to be a painter. I used to be an actress."

It's not all doom-and-gloom on Flame, however. The title track, among many others, is upbeat and optimistic about beating back the demons. It could be the source of confusion for some listeners. At the end of the day, does Hoyt see herself as a happy person?

"I'd like to see myself that way," she says. "If I could see myself that way then I really would have accomplished something. If I can see myself that way, it's only for one moment at a time.

"I mean, I believe in being that way, but I struggle every day. I think a lot of times, artists appear to be much stronger than they are, and that's why they write. When you're writing, you're idealizing, you're hoping to interpret your emotions in some sort of light that will help you make sense of things and that will give you strength."

Hoyt's built a substantial fan base over the years from being a onetime member of the Vulgar Boatmen and from her other projects. A steady stream of e-mails and postings on the band's Web site ( show that her honesty and passion have moved many people.

"I don't really write music with the intention of getting people to like it, but it's always a tremendous thing when people say they really relate to it. If the men are relating to it, that's awesome. The work stands in its own human way. And there are men who have dismissed it. Of course, you don't read anything by them because they've dismissed it."

A highlight of the album is the Mary Janes' all-out version of Tom Petty's "Free Girl Now." It's another great rock and roll song about a woman gaining her freedom, but it's somewhat of a surprise choice.

"I like to sing songs that rock, songs that are kind of emancipating," Hoyt says. "I think that women need to see themselves as free and I think men do, too. Men need to see women as being as free as they are It's a really exciting song.

"It wasn't that long ago that women weren't even allowed to own property. Freedom is an age-old quest but we've only recently enjoyed the freedoms that we have and we live in a very privileged country. There are a lot of places where people, especially women, are not free at all."

While the life of a musician is somewhat free, of course it isn't really free at all, given the economics of everyday life and especially the music business.

Hoyt's not surprised that so-called "pop" music has reached the sorry stage it has, especially the stage it has created for female voices. "It's just like any other market," she says. "It's very fad-based. And once something has been there for a little while, it has to be replaced. And a lot of really great artists get overlooked like that. Other times, they continue, they just don't care, that's not their domain anyway. They just happened to get sucked up into it because of their marketability. But I think some of those really strong women continue to make music anyway and create their own fan bases. The market is just so incredibly weird and people, in general, accept it, just like they do TV. And that's one of the things that I think is sad. People don't understand that when an artist comes to their town, that artist is really putting themselves out.

"People just want to be serviced. They just don't know any better. People will like what they tell them to like. And I think it'll come around again. There'll be a backlash. In the early '90s, there were a lot of people that went out to go see live music just because there was live music to go see. And that was a great form of entertainment and communication. It seems to happen every 10 years or so."

Two years have passed since Record No. 1, the band's debut album, came out. In that time, the Mary Janes have passed through at least four bassists and drummers and a record label. They're now at what would appear to be their natural home, Flat Earth Records.

"Time. Time. Time went by and got out of hand," Hoyt says. "It takes a long time to get records out. I don't know of very many bands who are able to stick to a performance schedule like we do and survive. You know, there's really not much money to be had right now in live music unless you get some radio support."

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