Discovering a mixture of her old recordings on cassette and DAT tape in the garage, out of curiosity Jan Hellriegel decided to have them digitally transferred. Pleased and surprised by the quality of songs, she decided they needed to be released. The result is ‘Lost Songs’, an 18-track collection that documents a lengthy period of her creativity during the ’90s and comes with liner notes revealing the genesis and meaning of each track. Jan talked with Natalie Pease about gaining perspective on her own history.
Currently the NZ General Manager of Australasian music publisher Native Tongue, Jan Hellriegel is a gifted and highly regarded figure in Kiwi rock and pop music. Releasing the albums ‘It’s My Sin’ (with big singles The Way I Feel and No Idea) in 1992 and 1995’s ‘Tremble’, she was almost a lone female presence in the male-dominated, testosterone-filled landscape of the time.
Self-parodying radio single Westy Gals was another hit, but becoming disillusioned with the music business and frustrated at being branded just a ‘rock-chick’, she stepped away from music, after 1998’s 5-track EP/single ‘Melusine’. Having started a family, Hellriegel re-emerged a full decade later with the critically acclaimed album ‘All Grown Up’. Now she is releasing ‘Lost Songs’ which, as the name again candidly indicates, is a collection of un-released material, demos and live tracks written and recorded between 1990 and 2003.
It’s an intriguing and rather assured collection of songs that provide a picture of Hellriegel’s evolution as a songwriter and musician.
“I literally found this box of old tapes and it was out in this garage, covered in spiders and dust. We knocked down that garage so I brought this box inside and I thought it’d be really lovely to hear these songs again. I couldn’t even remember what they sounded like. I didn’t know if it would work or not, but it did, and then I listened to them and I thought actually these are really good, I quite like them. And then they got mastered up [by engineer Steve McGough in LA] and they sounded really good.
The recordings feature a stellar set of musicians, many of who remain active and familiar names. Drummer Wayne Bell (who produced ‘All Grown Up’), guitarist (and regular NZM writer) Mark Bell and bass player Tony Lumsden, form the core group that feature on the majority of songs.
“I didn’t really understand how clever he was, until I heard these tracks,” she says of guitarist Mark Bell. “I sort of always knew, [but] I didn’t realise the extent of it. All of them are amazing. So it’s lovely to have them out, these recordings, with these guys on them. ‘Cos they’re very good, that’s a very good band.”
The album is a complex, sonic mixture, with a combination of straight rock (opener Venus Is Dead and Decline The Offer), the gentle and ethereal (Pure Pleasure), folk-tinged beauty (Burger Generation) and beat-heavy dance remixes, (Geraldine, remixed by Tom Blaxland and Trent Williamson) and Heaven, composed and remixed by Jan and Rock Male.
“There’s a lot of pain, and blood, sweat and tears in there, and a lot of growing and learning. It’s nice to be able to stand by the songs now, because I understand them a lot more, and the person that I was, doesn’t really exist anymore, but the songs still do. It’s just my history really. What I’m singing about is still relevant. Except maybe one song which I probably wouldn’t agree with anymore, Blissfully Aware. I wrote in the liner notes that I didn’t quite understand what that actually meant, but I do now. Other than that, I think everything else still sounds good.”
She put considerable effort in crafting the liner notes, with ‘biographies’ of the songs themselves, explaining their meaning, genesis and the reason for their inclusion on the album.
“I hope that people read the liner notes, because if they don’t read the notes, then it’s not going to make any sense.”
The album is a behemoth, 18 tracks long, which she acknowledges is not something she would have normally conceived releasing.
“A proper album, unless you’ve got something really exceptional to say, should be reduced to 10 to 12 songs. My perspective is that I like to make a body of work, it needs to be cohesive for me to release that as an album. ‘All Grown Up’, to me, is a cohesive piece of work. It has a sound to it, but this, it’s too many songs to listen to it as an album. It’s cohesive in the sense that it sounds like me, but it’s not cohesive in the types of songs that it is, and what I’m singing about. And sound-wise, sonically, they’re all different. So yeah, I probably would have sliced and diced. But I didn’t need to, because I wasn’t trying to make an album. I think they’re pretty complete.
“Your Mind Is Amazed is one song I would probably cut a little bit. It’s too long. I believe a song shouldn’t go over what it’s meant to say melodically and word-wise. If they go on for a long time, there’s gotta be a really good reason, and I think, in that song, I probably could have cut a verse out, and maybe some of the middle bits. But then again, it’s a great live recording. It’s sort of like a lot bigger than an album, a lot of tracks to get through. An album is a cohesive piece of work. (This is) just a bunch of things I quite like, and I couldn’t cut any out, that’s why there’s so many.”