the mary janes

The Indianapolis Star, Indianapolis, IN
February 20, 2001
David Lindquist

Passion fuels the Mary Janes' Flame

The exquisite Mary Janes call their new album Flame -- an accurate title for 14 songs that glow with passion.

"Divine passion," specifies band leader Janas Hoyt. "Passion that's from another place. Passion that we are inspired by, that overtakes us. Not passion that comes from us."

If Hoyt doesn't consider herself the source, she's certainly an impressive conduit. The persistent singer-songwriter willed Flame into existence, much as she did 1999's Record No. 1.

In short, Hoyt is rich with ideas and low on cash. The Bloomington-based Mary Janes played more than 80 shows across the Midwest in 2000, and Hoyt says she didn't make a dime. The band's lineup is a revolving cast of players who believe in Hoyt's vision but frequently move on to more reliable paydays.

This dilemma isn't unique. The Why Store, central Indiana's most popular rock group, disbanded last year when high-paying gigs dried up. Jake Smith and Freda Love downsized the Mysteries of Life to a duo after the Bloomington band lost its deal with RCA Records.

"Musicians used to play in bands because they wanted to play in bands," Hoyt says. "Most of the people I know now play music because that's their profession. That's reasonable, but it makes it hard for me because I don't have the kind of income to support that."

Twelve musicians played during recording sessions for Record No. 1; the roster for Flame is 18. Hoyt is the only member of the Mary Janes' current performance unit to appear on both albums. At the same time, her work attracts high-caliber guests. Singer-songwriters Jason Wilber and Jim Roll play on Flame, as do Toby Myers (former bass player in John Mellencamp's band) and Matt Speake (Vulgar Boatmen guitarist).

"Art has moved cultures forward and toward one another; it's a religion to me," Hoyt says. "It's the way the spirit speaks. That's what I love about Shakespeare or any great art: I'm seeing something that came from God. I think it's really a human language and it's very easy to take it for granted."

Hoyt, who doesn't squander her dual gifts of passion and talent, isn't a performer to be overlooked. She's a rarity, because plenty of so-so musicians aggressively chase their dreams. And just as many great musicians lack the hustle that's needed to break through.

When listening to Flame or Record No. 1, you don't hear the struggles that went into their production. You hear an artist who knows how to put a record together.

"I do work really hard, and sometimes I do it in the dark," Hoyt says. "I'm not quite certain of where I'm going. I trust my instincts a lot of the time. That's what I have."

While Flame isn't a concept album, the recording does follow a story arc of caution, optimism, tragedy and liberation. There's a strong element of women's advocacy throughout, highlighted in the harrowing tracks Bruises and Breaks and Subtract the Night.

"The same bully boy hits the same unwitting girl," Hoyt sings in Subtract the Night. "Women cry and women fall. You might as well be the cause of it all."

"I'm a pretty idealistic person, and I think my expectations are very high," she says. "I expect a lot of humanity and myself and the people I'm involved with."

Flame concludes on a note of redemption -- a rousing cover of Tom Petty's Free Girl Now.

"That's really the answer," Hoyt says. "If there isn't that, then life's pretty hopeless. You've got to be able to emerge victorious in some respect."

In a wave of positive press that followed the release of Record No. 1, Hoyt found herself being compared to Lou Reed, Keith Richards, Bruce Springsteen and the original Hank Williams. She's also a worthy peer of Lucinda Williams and PJ Harvey.

Hoyt's music, which sparkles with rootsy acoustic accents, is best classified as Americana.

"Underneath it all, I just think it's rock 'n' roll," says Hoyt, who grew up in Indianapolis and graduated from North Central High School.

Regardless of labels, her ethereal voice is usually heard in the context of strings. Violin player Heather Craig has been a recent constant in this equation.

"She hasn't lost sight of our purpose," Hoyt says of Craig. "She's certain that she'll be around, and those kinds of musicians are really hard to come by these days."

Megan Weeder, a five-string violin player and the newest member of the band, will be on hand Saturday for a 4 p.m. in-store performance at Luna Music (1521 W. 86th St.) and a full evening show at the Melody Inn (3826 N. Illinois St.).

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