Jan Hellriegel interview

by Sarah Barnett / 17 October, 2009
This month, Auckland's Civic Theatre welcomes singer-songwriter Jan Hellriegel. "My grandfather helped build it," Hellriegel says, but she's never played there. Her first album in 12 years hits stores the same day, after percolating for the past few years - while she built a marketing career and had two boys: "I've still got to do the walking bus."




When did you decide the time was right? It's always been on my mind, but something snapped in my head and I thought, I'm going to start the journey 'cause I've got to make this album. I don't know how, but I'm going to start. So I had a dinner party, and I said, "This dinner is to celebrate this album I'm going to make." Wayne Bell was there and I said, "You are going to produce the album, if you like the songs, and -I'm putting a stake in the sand, I'm going to start this journey."

Had you already written much of it? I wanted to write an album - I didn't want to write singles. I didn't want to write for any other reason other than wanting to put a body of work together. So I'm not releasing singles, because I want people to hear the album first. By the time I got to thinking I'd make an album, there were 10 of them, ready to go.

It's been 12 years – how has that affected your material? The album's called All Grown Up, and it's a representation of the people I've met over the last 12 years. I played the album to a few friends, and there were tears; one of them was just, "Damn it, Hellriegel! You're singing what I feel!"

And you've sourced the vinyl from Nashville? We thought we could release this album in a jewel case, put some lyrics and pretty pictures in, but then we thought we could make a collector's edition. Even my mum's bought one, and I've bought my own ones for my kids. It's a vinyl and a CD of the album and then a lovely little pictorial booklet, with some of my favourite artists and some of my poems, 'cause it's my collector's edition. We made the vinyls in Nashville, 'cause it's the best place to make them.

Did you record the album live? We worked at Roundhead Studios [in Auckland] with Wayne Bell producing, and Neil Baldock engineering. We worked on it all summer long; I went to Wayne's apartment and we nutted out how the songs were going to sound and then we did demos of them all. So by the time we got to the studio, the band knew the songs exactly. The ending of a song is quite an unusual thing, but because we were all so well-rehearsed, by the end of it the songs were recorded mostly live, and all the endings are natural endings - we haven't cut any songs, shortened any songs or faded any songs.

Is your crew people you've worked with before? I've known Wayne since It's My Sin, the first album. We've been friends ever since. I met Neil Baldock doing It's My Sin - he was the junior, work-for-no-pay sort of guy, and he ended up being the chief engineer at Roundhead.

So he's all grown up now, too? Yeah! It all went very, very well. I think Wayne and I just had one minor disagreement over something, but of course I won that – it was so small, I can't even remember what it was.

Is this the first of more albums? I can't stop writing! I've had all these ideas in my head, and I've downloaded them so the memory's clean, and so now I can fill it up with more stuff. I've written three songs in the last few months.

But you're still working full-time? Yep. But I love work, so I'm not going to stop that in a hurry. Now I'm working full-time, I'm a mum full-time, I'm a musician full-time and, you know, I've got a life as well – though I haven't got one at the moment.

Have your kids heard the album? They haven't heard it a lot. They've heard it in the car driving back from the studio before mixing. There's something about hearing them sing along in the back seat – that was a proud moment.

ALL GROWN UP, by Jan Hellriegel (Blind Date Records).
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