Janna Pelle
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Janna Pelle

Brooklyn, New York, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2012 | SELF

Brooklyn, New York, United States | SELF
Established on Jan, 2012
Band Pop Alternative




"Illness, Death of Father Musically Inspires Power-Pop's Janna Pelle"

by Greg Allard

Less than three weeks after the death of her beloved father, Tony Pelle, from MDS at the young age of 58, alternative-pop singer Janna Pelle graciously agreed to talk with me about how her father’s diagnosis and struggle with the disease inspired her recent music, and how his love and example will continue to inspire her for the rest of her life.

Gargs: Janna, I suspect the questions I am about to ask to be very personal and emotional, so please let me know at any time if you think I am stepping over my bounds. How long were you living in New York before your dad’s diagnosis?

Janna: I moved to NY in January 2013 and my Dad was diagnosed October 2013. I remember the phone call – my brother was visiting in New York and my Dad called us and told us on speakerphone. We were concerned, but we had no idea what we were in for. My Dad said he had “MDS” – he didn’t even use the word Cancer. It was not until we researched it and found out on our own.

Gargs: What is MDS?

Janna: It stands for Myelodisplastic Syndrome – also known as “pre-leukemia,” and it is rare bone marrow disorder. It is very varied in terms of what kind of MDS you can have – my Dad was diagnosed with a high-risk MDS. We have certain amounts of young cells called “blasts” – average people have less than 1% blasts. MDS is characterized by having up to 3 – 20% blasts, and leukemia is 20% or more. The only treatment option for MDS is to get a bone marrow transplant, which has its own set of risks and complications, which was ultimately my Dad’s problem, not the cancer itself. However it is the only option for a shot at a long life. The doctors told my Dad that if he did not go to transplant, he had 18 months at most to live. If the transplant was not done, the MDS would turn into leukemia, which is much worse.

Gargs: In an interview I did with you last summer you mentioned both of your parents as being huge positive influences in your life. Could you tell us more about your relationship with your father and what he means to you?

Janna: My Dad means everything to me. So many people knew and loved him, but to have him as a father is truly the most incredible gift. No one has influenced me or taught me more than he has. I owe my personality, interests, skills, talents, sense of humor, general enthusiasm for life, and understanding of what loving a woman truly looks like to him. He is also my biggest fan. I always knew that, but it wasn’t until after he died that his sister (my aunt) told me that he once had a conversation with her where he told her he wanted me to know he was completely supportive of my musical journey because he had wanted to give me the support their parents didn’t give my aunt – she was a dancer.

Gargs: When you first heard the news of the diagnosis, how concerned/scared were you? Did you think it could be life threatening?

Janna: None of us knew what we were in for. I was concerned because I knew he would have to go through chemo and it would be a rough road to recovery, but the thought of death never entered my mind. My Dad is a superhero – he’s been hit by cars in both running and cycling accidents, had severe back injuries and a herniated disc, and been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. In addition, he had a 10/10 match for the transplant – all of the statistics of the transplant being effective were in his favor. He was also young, and the healthiest he could have possibly been – he was a marathon runner, triathlete, scuba diver, skier, and so, so passionate about his work and his religion. He is the most adventurous, enthusiastic, positive person who is just so thrilled to be alive – and how could someone who loves life so much ever have it cut short?

Gargs: I know creative people are often inspired by adversity. Could you explain how your dad’s situation inspired you in that way — what you were feeling, what your fears, hopes and concerns were, how did you internalize and deal with it both philosophically and as a musician and songwriter?

Janna: My Dad has always inspired me, it didn’t take a disease to make that happen. But the songs on “The Show Must Go On” take people through a journey of the range of emotions experienced throughout the course of a serious diagnosis, ranging from hopefulness to anger to sadness to acceptance. Though I sing about it, I’m still working on that last one myself. But I know one day it will happen because he gave me the strength to make it happen.

Gargs: That’s intense. The fear of losing someone so close can be devastating – I know because I went through it with my mom when I was 14 and I have been reminded of it with my dad recently dying. Could you talk about how you took shelter of music to help you get through this time of your life?

Janna: I made “The Show Must Go On” pretty immediately. And as it turned out, the album was not only for myself, but for my family – it was like our own personalized music therapy. I know it helped my parents throughout their journey of dealing with the disease. When I was published in the MDS Foundation’s newsletter for an article on the album, I got lots of emails from people who could relate to the music – from wives, to relatives, to daughters, saying that it helped them cope. I have also raised over $3000 for the MDS Foundation through album sales, which will go towards MDS research.

But when my aunt told me that she listened to “Kick It In” every morning with her cup of coffee, and my brother was constantly singing the chorus of “One Day At A Time” around the house, there was nothing better than knowing I was helping my own family with my music. I have never felt more fulfilled with my music career than I do now.

Gargs: If we truly believe our loved one is going to a better place then the lamentation becomes more the separation than something “bad” happening to them. Would you agree with that and if so why?

Janna: I’m not sure what I believe in terms of what “better place” my Dad is in, but I do know that he is no longer suffering. So regardless, he is in a better place because he it at peace. The only thing more difficult than him dying would be to watch him continue to suffer. Of course I wish he could have just been cured – or that this would have never happened in the first place. I already miss him so terribly, but I don’t really think of it as “separation” – I still feel him so present in my world even now, in some ways even stronger than before. I just miss his hug and his voice.

Gargs: Do you believe that everything happens for a reason? I mean, there’s fate and there’s free will. Sometimes it seems our choices are more limited. How do you deal with things that you can’t change? I mean obviously some people “beat” a disease and some people don’t. But sometimes things seem to be out of our hands. How do you feel about that?

Janna: I am really glad you brought up the terminology of “beating” a disease, because I actually hate that. It’s like, when people say they “beat” cancer, they get all sorts of these congratulatory statements from people. Not that they don’t deserve to be congratulated or acknowledged, but the reality is, they had very little to do with it. If anyone was able to “beat” their disease, it would be my dad – he lived healthy, ate healthy, was a marathon runner and very athletic his whole life, didn’t smoke or anything. He was also the most emotionally and mentally healthy person I knew. But even for the healthiest, “strongest” people, whether they survive or not is more on a cellular level than anything else. And “beat” also implies that if you don’t survive, you “lose.” And my dad certainly didn’t “lose.”

As for whether or not everything happens for a reason… on one hand, if anyone’s karma cycle would have been complete it would be my dad’s – he has achieved more happiness and love and fulfillment than most people do who live a long lifetime. But on the other hand, I question why anyone’s life would end early “for a reason” if they enjoyed it so much and didn’t take a single moment for granted.

Gargs: Tell us about the music that was inspired by your dad’s illness and the music that you were lead to do as a natural progression. I believe the album is called “Key Change.” Could you tell us something about “Kick It In” and “The Show Must Go On”?

Janna: “The Show Must Go On” is a 6-track EP dedicated to my Dad. I released it pretty quickly after my dad was diagnosed. The first track on the album, “Kick It In,” was inspired by a common phrase among runners – we used to yell it at the end of marathons when my Dad would be approaching the finish line. My dad’s always been a fan of running metaphors, so I wrote the song comparing his battle with MDS to just another race he has to run. I wrote it to motivate him to reach this new and different kind of finish line, and to let him know we were all rooting for him. At first, I just intended to write this one song, but pretty soon I had enough for an album.

The last piece on the record, called “Dedicated,” is the most personal song on the album. In it, I thank my Dad for everything he has ever done for me or taught me, and how much I love him. But it is also a song reassuring him that he has given me the strength to deal with life’s most difficult times, that I will be ok if anything were to happen to him: “But if the time has come, and it’s no longer in our hands/I know that I will curse the sky, but I will come to understand.” The song also tells him that he is the reason I will be able to find happiness and fulfillment in life – because he showed me what that is.

But now that the album is done, I find I still can’t stop writing about events inspired by my dad – whether about his battle with MDS, his influence on me, or exploring my own beliefs about what happens after you die. Some of these songs will appear on my upcoming album, “Key Change” – a concept album that is the evolution of the keyboard through history – from harpsichord to synthesizer. And some I will save for later. But I probably won’t ever stop writing about how my Dad inspires me in some way, shape or form for as long as I live.

Gargs: Did you play any of it to your dad and what was his response?

Janna: Yes – I played “Kick It In” to my Dad on the morning of his bone-marrow transplant, and the expression on his face was something I will never forget. I know he listened to it many times afterwards and it was a source of positivity and strength. My Dad listened to “The Show Must Go On” in its entirety many times too – though it made him cry – especially “Dedicated.” I’m sure it was very bittersweet for him to listen to, but they were things he needed to hear, and I know he is glad I was able to express them.

I was even able to sing him the chorus of my newest song, “One Day At A Time” the day before he died: “If my love could save you, you’d be cured/ still the luckiest girl in the world/ if my tears could heal you, you’d be fine/ still we take it one day at a time” – my brother sang along too. He smiled so genuinely and said, “That was so beautiful.” I am so grateful for the opportunity to have that moment.

Gargs: What was your father’s feeling about his mortality on this earth? Everybody has to face it sometime but it is particularly hard when we feel that someone doesn’t live at least an average lifespan.

Janna: Once his situation got more serious and the complications of the transplant worsened, we would have family talks that my Dad would lead, where he would share his thoughts with us and address possibilities the future might bring. He would say things like, “As far as I’m concerned, you and Michael [my 20 year old brother] are launched. You guys are well on your way. And I know you’re going to do fantastic.” I also know that he felt that he led a completely fulfilling life – and that he had already achieved what many people do not achieve in their whole lives – not just in terms of experiences, but family, love, and happiness. He would talk about children and young people, who were diagnosed with a serious illness and never got the chance to live out any of their dreams. My cousin, Harry, was one of those people. He died when he was 20 of Osteosarcoma. He constantly talked about how grateful he was that this was happening to him and not to any of us.

My dad connected with his Judaism later in life – he became very active in Torah study and in the community of the temple, and he had his Bar Mitzvah in 2011 at the age of 55. His relationship with God became very close throughout the years, and became deeper once he was diagnosed. I remember he once said that he was angry that he had this illness, but then stopped being angry about it because that would mean he was angry at God. And he constantly thanked God for giving him a life with such a phenomenal caretaker, my Mom, who he called his Angel.

Though I do believe that he made peace with it, I know he wanted so badly to be here for a much longer time, and to see us through so many milestones and accomplishments of the future.

Gargs: Could you tell us about your encounter with Robin Roberts, who also had MDS?

Janna: I met her at a book signing in New York at Barnes & Noble in Times Square – which I found out about last minute via one of her Twitter posts. I was in Union Square at a café working on my computer and I immediately packed everything up and jetted over to get a copy of her book, “Everybody’s Got Something” – my plan was to get a signed copy for my Dad. I ran to the store, and I was the last person in line before they closed the velvet rope. This turned out to be great because I got to talk to her for a while, tell her about my Dad, and got her blessing that she would tweet about my MDS benefit event when it happened! She also posed in a photo with me giving a thumbs up to show my Dad, and told me to tell him she said “Kick It In!” When I gave the book to my Dad, he was so proud. It was the only book my Dad mustered up the ability to read during his journey.

Gargs: What is “Lottery” about?

Janna: This song was actually based on something my Dad said when he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer [at age 52]. He said it was the “Lottery of cancer” because it was not life threatening and could be treated with relatively mild chemotherapy and with the removal of your thyroid gland. When he was diagnosed with MDS, I really started thinking about how seemingly random life is – not only in terms of his disease, but in terms of the family relationships and opportunities you’re born into. I started thinking about human existence in terms of numbers – at a hospital patient, we’re a number. We base all of our decisions on numbers – whether it be timing, probability, the amount of calories we consume, or the amount of white blood cells you have and so on. I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be “lucky” – I don’t know if I believe in luck. I believe good things happen to those who work for it, and some things are just out of our control. But I don’t really like the word “lucky.” It seems to trivialize positive experiences. And, in the context of a lottery, it is so unlikely to be “lucky.” To rely on luck is not a good thing.

Gargs: “One Day At A Time?”

Janna: I wrote the chorus of this song in the hospital while watching my Dad sleep.. or try to sleep, at least. I started crying to myself, and feeling so helpless. I started thinking, wishing my tears and love could cure him. The song is also about patience, and staying positive, because that’s really all you can do. It also touches on not trying to predict the future and appreciating every present moment.

Gargs: “You Better Dance?”

Janna: This song I actually wrote in Gainesville after being influenced by the Hare Krishnas. Though I am Jewish, I do relate to the idea that prayer is song and dance, rather than sitting in one place in a seat in formal clothing. Since the song was going to be on my album, “Key Change,” I had a HK musician play the harmonium as this track’s featured keyboard instrument, and also incorporated the mrdanga, kartals, and auxiliary percussion. We had a mini-kirtan in the studio! The lyrics of the song are written from God’s perspective, telling people, “You better dance to my song,” and “you better sing along… as long as you do you know that you can’t do no wrong.” But it’s also about God telling people you better go with the flow, learn how to dance to whatever “song” life plays you. The verses are also kind of irreverent – like God is calling out people on the surface interpretations we have of what God is.

Gargs: Thanks so much for opening up about something so personal, Janna. - TuneGroover


We're pretty well aware that we play a fairly insignificant role in the grand scheme of things here at FADED GLAMOUR. But it was rather nice to hear that we helped introduce Brooklyn's Janna Pelle to Mancunian experimentalists boxboxbox - subsequently combining to create a remix of Pelle's 'Living A Lie'. Listen to the original and the new version below.

Pelle came across boxboxbox after we covered their ace take on Andrew WK's 'I Get Wet', which the great man himself even tweeted about. boxboxbox turn the funkier piano-led 'Living A Lie' upside down, opting for a more distant and downtempo sound - before the sparkling electro starts to emerge. Download the remix for free from Bandcamp. - Faded Glamour

"Janna Pelle's Shameless Self-Promotion"

Interview: Janna Pelle

Excerpts of this interview were originally published in the now defunct INsite Magazine.

By Greg Allard

About half a year ago, Janna Pelle stepped out of the Half-Steps and reinvented herself with a more contemporary pop sound. She released a brand new album called “Shameless Self-Promotion,” and her first single off the LP, “Machine,” received rave reviews. Next, she made a series of Makeshift Popstar videos on practically no money that underscored her sky-is-the-limit potential if she had sufficient backing. Most recently, she also decided to take her new sound to New York after getting advice from Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer Billy Joel. Just prior to her departure from Gainesville to the Big Apple, I got a chance to talk to Janna about her roots, her new sound, her new album, and her new plans.

Gargs: I really like the sound of your new single “Machine” a lot–the lyrics are witty–and the vocals are more center stage than they seemed to be with the Half-Steps. Very catchy–very poppy but not just veneer. All the “hahahaha’s” are a nice touch, and I like the swag of the song.

Janna: Thank you! What a great review.

Gargs: If the whole album turns out like this you will pull off being marketable and quality at the same time–not an easy feat these days.

Janna: Oh, it’s a lot of similar stuff. I can’t wait until it’s out!

Gargs: When are you projecting the release date to be?

Janna: August-ish? Like late August.

G: Wow—that’s pretty fast. How many tracks will it have?

J: Nine. I’m done recording. We’re just mixing now.

G: Cool. Who’s producing it?

J: Skylab and me.

G: By the sound of the first track, it seems like the planets are aligning for you.

J: Thank you! I sure hope so—I’m feeling great about it.

G: Do you have a sense of destiny?

J: Pretty much always, yes. I feel like everything in life has lined up so well to make this a good decision.

G: How do you deal with that feeling?

J: It makes me super confident—like I really believe everything happens for a reason. Since I’m an advertising major, failure is not an option. If music doesn’t work out, I am building my portfolio in the process—either way.

G: So–how do you think that confidence manifests? I mean in one sense, the cream rises to the top but in another sense, sometimes more talented people give up –and who knows how close they might have been.

J: Well, my parents really helped. They’re incredibly inspiring people and to have them be completely supportive of me. My mother is a doctor and my father is a lawyer, so it means a lot. I don’t feel any pressure to follow in their footsteps and work behind a desk, and they know I’m good. More importantly, they know what I’m doing has commercial value and want to help me to take the necessary steps to get it heard.

How would you say they have specifically helped?

J: They trust me. They know I’m smart and they know I know what I’m doing. They have always been encouraging of my music. They even drove up to Gainesville [from South Florida] to see me play my first show ever in my freshman year.

G: How do you compare the Half-Steps sound compared to your new sound?

J: Janna Pelle and the Half Steps was a blues/funk/rock band with a pop sensibility. What I call my genre now is “classical pop.” I still have really soulful vocals and rock influences, but the stuff I’m doing now is much more pop – and it’s danceable. What I’m doing now is writing really catchy hooks that get stuck in your head so easily that you can’t figure out whether you love them or hate them. My new stuff is influenced more by classical music and pop–it’s not really influenced by JPHS at all. And to elaborate on that, I’m trying to operate within the confines of pop music but have more interesting chord progressions.

G: Are any members of the Half-Steps on the new record?

J: Patrick [Wanninkhof] is– he played bass on the record and wrote all of the bass lines. David Moore was my studio drummer. We used his drum pads to trigger the sounds, but they are all electronic drums.

G: In that same vein–I’ve heard Tom Petty say that he keeps the solos to a minimum and tries to have a hook in his songs.

J: True, and on that note, I want to say that one of the things I learned with JPHS is that not every song needs to sound like it does live on the record– so saving solos for live sets is really better anyway. You don’t want to do the exact same thing on the CD that you do live. You want an element of surprise. Also, though, the type of music I’m playing now doesn’t really require elaborate solos. I always feel like I’ve had to make a compromise between being a performer and a musician, but with my new music I am finding ways to be both. And if I had to choose, I’d rather put on a good show than play all the right notes.

G: What would you say your musical influences are?

J: My influences are Lady Gaga and No Doubt. I discovered Lily Allen after I had written all of these songs, and realized how much like her I am and I LOVE HER.

G: Could you say something about a different song on your new album?

J: There’s one song I recorded with the Half Steps called “Universal Law of Gravitation,” but the one on this album is the original version. The Half Steps version isn’t the original. I wrote it with different chords and different melody—same lyrics—but it wasn’t fit for the Half Steps. Now, I’m realizing that the original was really good, and now that I’m changing genres it’s appropriate.

G: Cool, look forward to hearing it. Funny how things work that way sometimes.

J: Well, I wrote it during freshman year of college—summer B. I was separated from my boyfriend at that time and we were going to separate states in college. I was also taking an astronomy class and learning about the universal law of gravitation. How increasing the distance between two objects weakens the force of gravity. The chorus goes “we’ve been pulled apart.” And there’s nothing we could do about it—the gravitational pull just wasn’t as strong anymore.

G: So, does absence make the heart grow fonder or grow fungus?

J: (Laughs) Oh man—that’s a good one—love it.

G: I was there at the Phillips Center when you asked Billy Joel about moving to New York. I was amazed that you were even able to ask a question with all those people there. Can you tell us a little bit about what happened?

J: As you can imagine, it was a shit show trying to get Billy Joel’s attention in an audience of around 1,800 people. I wanted so badly to ask him a question about advice he would give an aspiring musician in New York today, and I was devising ways of getting his attention with the friends I was sitting with – telling them to all raise their hands and then pass their question off to me, having them all point at me, having my boyfriend, Patrick take his headband off and wave his extremely recognizable hair around, etc. I even played a Billy Joel song from my phone on loud and raised it up to try to get his attention, and one of my friends sitting next to me said, “Don’t do that!” I turned it off and asked, “Why?” she said, “I don’t know…. I think that normally they don’t like it when people draw attention to themselves….” So I defeatedly looked at Patrick and said, “I’m never gonna ask him my question..”

With that, Patrick stood up, raised his hand, and yelled, “MUSIC IS MY CAREER,” to which Billy Joel responded, “Oh, you then.” One of the moderators came over to give the mic to Patrick, but he passed the question off to me. I was still in shock from what had just happened, but I did my best to ask the question, “So I went to high school for piano, but then thought I wanted to do something else in college, but now that I’m graduating, I realize that I want to do music…. I am moving to New York but I’ve heard that New York isn’t the best town for a musician to start in, so I was wondering what what is your advice is for a musician in New York today?”

“Well, I don’t think that’s true..” he began, “Brooklyn has a great music scene, but what kind of music are you trying to pursue? Do you play in a band now?” with that, I proceeded to point out all of my Half-Steps sitting near me, and told him that ideally I would want to be famous, be at the Grammy’s, meet Lady Gaga, etc. He responded, “Well you can definitely make a living playing music in New York – play everything, bars, bar mitzvahs, weddings, covers, originals, you know, but do it for you – you’re gonna have a lot of people telling you not to do it, or that you can’t do it, but I say do it, go for it…. the Grammy’s and all that stuff will come later, but do it for you, and if it doesn’t work out and you’re not happy don’t blame it on me.”

Everyone in the audience applauded and laughed, while I sunk in my chair and cried from being overwhelmed with joy. Then, right after answering my question, he proceeded to play “Vienna.” Oh. My. God.

When the session ended, Patrick and I were walking to the car and I thanked him so much for what he did. “You’re the louder voice I never had,” I told him, to which he responded, “That was too easy, people are just scared,” he said.

That conversation was more influential than anything Billy Joel could have told me. I realized that people, my friends, even, who usually give me good advice, are just scared. Maybe people don’t like it “when other people draw attention to themselves,” but in the end, it gets their attention, doesn’t it?

G: Hahaha. It was so nice of Patrick to do that for you. So, how long are you staying in Gainesville and when are you moving to New York? In other words, what are your plans for conquering the world?

J: Not to conquer the world.–I want to grow as a musician, be inspired by the culture and life in the city. But I know New York is oversaturated with musicians, and if i’m looking to ‘make it’ in New York–that’s somewhat unrealistic. But this album does have commercial value, and if it gets into the right hands, but I could be in Gainesville, or India. Itt just needs to get into the right hands–where I am is irrelevant.

G: But when do you surmise this learning experience [moving to New York] will start?

J: I made my deadline November. I still have to finish the album and get a good amount of stuff together before I make the move. I’m also just really going to miss Gainesville, and I’m not in a hurry to leave.

G: What has Gainesville meant to you and how have you grown here compared to South Florida.

J: Oh, my God, don’t get me started. You spoke earlier about destiny– I could not have been placed in a better environment than Gainesville. It allowed me to grow as a musician, to form a band, get experience performing in front of people, and meet other musicians in the local scene. However, I’ve always known that this was not MY scene. Janna Pelle & the Half-Steps wasn’t indie enough for Gainesville, but it was too indie for radio. - TuneGroover/INsite Magazine

"Review: Shameless Self-Promotion"

In this new age of internet sharing and basement-artist technology, thousands of singer/songwriters and indie bands are making and putting out records on their own, and as it turns out, pop stars can too.

One of my best friends and local artists, Janna Pelle, is what you might call a DIY pop star.

She just put her record Shameless Self-Promotion out on Bandcamp and it is a testament to the imaginative homegrown music and projects that can come out of having friends support one’s dreams and ambitions.
In many ways, Janna exemplifies every aspect of what Radio Road is about: making the pop music of the future even if it starts out local.

Janna is a classically trained pianist who has been playing since she was a young child. You can hear these early influences in her music, which she’s deemed “classical pop”.

She wrote the album toward the end of her time at UF as an advertising major. The album doubles as an advertising portfolio of sorts in which she herself is the product she is selling, thus Shameless Self-Promotion.
I’ve been there for the stories behind all the songs, and I’m still so impressed with and proud of the final product, from the songs and recording itself, to the cover art, to the merch that goes with it.

Sometimes writers need to shut up and get to the point so here it is: if you like accessible pop hooks you’ll like this record. If you’re into more confessional singer/songwriter music, you’ll probably still like this record. Pop stars often get confused and think that making catchy music necessarily means sacrificing depth. Thankfully, this is not the case here.

“Crazy” and “Machine” will make you dance off anyone who’s doubted or shrugged off your dreams while you’re working towards them. “Universal Law” and “Down and Up” will speak to that relationship in your twenties that you wish would last forever but you know won’t. And “Purgatory” is all about the confusion and self-doubt that results from this age of trial-and-error.

None of us, Janna’s friends, know what will become of this record, but we all contributed directly and indirectly to the final product, so it is in some ways a community project. Some of us inspired lyrics, some of us provided musical suggestions, our friend Chris shot the cover photo (shown above), I wrote the artist bio for her website, her friend designed said website, etc. She also commissioned another friend to create fashionable merch using Janna’s self-designed logo and we helped her create some music videos for the songs on the album. The video for “Machine” is shown above and more are forthcoming.

There is no immediate reward for any of us other than wanting to help our friend create what she wants to put out into the world. We all do this for each other.

In the process our delusions become reality. Janna is an aspiring pop star and I’m an aspiring music writer. Even if her stage is her bedroom and my platform is my blog, we’re somehow getting to do what we want to do. Don’t tell us we’re "Crazy". - Radio Road

"Janna Pelle and the Half-Steps: Disaster Turned Dance-Party"

In attempts to create and shape her own rock n’ roll mythology, Lady Gaga has often recounted her artistic birth story. At one of the many bars she played at on the Lower East Side in New York City, back when she had to lug her own gear around, she sat at the piano while everyone talked and no one listened. Feeling frustrated and in need to get her audience’s attention, Gaga decided to take her clothes off and played at the piano in her skivvies. A straight up singer/songwriter/pianist was dead and an all around pop performance artist was born. And people listened.

Those in the audience at 1982 on Saturday night did not get to see Janna Pelle and her Half-Steps take their clothes off, but they got to witness what may have been Janna Pelle’s artistic birth moment as a full fledged performer.

Janna Pelle is a singer/songwriter/pianist and lead singer of Janna Pelle and the Half-Steps, a tight and talented young band that makes piano-driven pop/rock songs with influences as diverse as Lady Gaga, Rachmaninoff, Iron Butterfly, and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.

Minutes before they were to go on stage, Janna Pelle approached me and calmly told me, “My piano’s not turning on. I don’t know what we’re going to do.” Then she walked on stage.

This would be interesting.

Pelle started the show with full disclosure, telling the audience that her piano was out of commission and that they were going to make up the set as they went along. I expected at least some kind of mild exodus, but the audience was intrigued.

The set started off with an a capella version of the show tune “It’s All the Same” from Man From La Mancha, the song with which Pelle said she first discovered she could sing. She sang the song while her bassist Patrick Wanninkhof did an interpretative dance and rolled around on stage like Madonna at the VMAs. They continued with original songs like “Sand In My Eyes” and “Rules” which feature prominent piano solos. Pelle belted her songs and danced around onstage, feeling out this new frontwoman role, and sometimes mimed or even sang what would have been her piano solos.

Some songs worked better than others under the circumstances. Quieter numbers like “Don’t Cry Wolf”, a slower song with a bossa nova vibe that is sometimes out-shined by showier numbers during regular sets became more vibrant in this alternate setting.

This is a credit to Janna Pelle’s Half-Steps: Andrew Penick on guitar, Mike Thomas on drums, and Wanninkhof on bass. The rhythm section kept the show’s momentum going at times where it seemed as if it might collapse. Penick provided his signature blistering solos as worthy extended placeholders for Pelle’s missing piano parts. Pelle clearly shares the admiration for their talents. At one point she joined the audience and just watched her band play, and another time she sat in the corner of the stage drinking a beer and listening.

Pelle did not need to pull a Gaga to gain and maintain her audience’s attention. By the end of the show everyone was so thrilled at the spontaneity that came of what could have been a disastrous, anti-climactic gig on a Saturday night, that a few members of the audience jumped onstage and joined Pelle in dancing along to the music of her Half-Steps (or as they were referred to throughout the night: The Whole Steps).

Every band has a story about that show that went horribly. Saturday night could have been that show for Janna Pelle and the Half-Steps, but instead they showed what musical pros they were and kept the music going. And people listened. - Rock104.com


Shameless Self-Promotion, 2012



As a classically trained pianist who grew up in the age of 90s club music, it's no wonder Janna Pelle combines elements of pop, rock, and soul with danceability so effectively.

Originally from MIami, Florida, Janna was enrolled in piano lessons at the age of 6 because of anatomical abnormalities in her hands. Janna's parents told her piano teacher, Rachel Currea, that they didn't care if Janna learned to play a single piece by the end of the year, it was just important for her to exercise her hands. Janna has been playing piano ever since, and could not imagine her life without it. "People always ask me if my hands make it difficult for me to play piano, but they're actually the reason I play piano," Janna says.

After four years at the University of Florida, Janna accomplished a tremendous amount academically and musically. She started a band, Janna Pelle and the Half-Steps, a four-piece blues/funk/soul group with a pop sensibility. They played frequently in venues around Gainesville, recorded two studio albums, and were the house band for many University of Florida events. With a major in creative advertising, Janna graduated with the experience and confidence to enter the music world and attempt the hardest sell of all - herself.

Janna now lives in Brooklyn, New York, and recently released her album, "Shameless Self-Promotion," an alternative-pop album filled with catchy hooks, danceable beats and clever lyrics. A fearless performer, Janna never fails to captivate the crowd with her piano playing, dancing, and new and inventive surprises that are both seductive and sarcastic. Her blog, appropriately titled, "Know Your Audience," discusses the relationship between music, advertising, and combining the two effectively in order to achieve a connection between the artist and those that will appreciate them most. Janna has also directed her very own Makeshift Popstar music videos - a series of low-budget yet high-creativity music videos homemade for YouTube - making Janna the world's first ever DIY pop star.

Band Members