By Jaymie L. White
Special to Wreckhouse Press
STEPHENVILLE – Janet Cull has had a significant impact on the music scene in Newfoundland and Labrador since she burst into the spotlight in the late nineties. Originally from St. Anthony Bight, Cull was introduced to music at an early age.
“My father, Pierce Cull, is a musician and he had records out in the 70’s, so I was always around music my whole life and I also grew up Salvation Army. So I was immersed in music from the time I was four. It was just a huge part of my life.”
Even though music was so significant in Cull’s life, becoming a musician actually happened by chance.
“I didn’t really decide to be a musician. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do when I got out of high school. I went to study jazz because I thought, why not study music, and my grandfather died while I was at St. FX, and I sang at his funeral. And my uncle Henry, who hadn’t heard me sing since I was about 10, knew a gentleman who owned a studio in St. John’s. So he was like, ‘I want you to meet this guy.’ So I did and I made a demo, and that summer I was on tour.”
Cull’s first tour was opening for Celtic Connection during Soiree ‘99 and her first album, The Janet Cull Band, which won three Music NL awards – Album of the Year, Group of the Year, and CBC Galaxy Rising Star Award – was released in the early 2000’s.
“It was wild. It was so exciting because you’re so green when you’re young and you’re just starting out as a musician. I didn’t know anything. I remember going to my first rehearsal with pro musicians in ‘99 and not knowing what the form of the song meant. They’re like ‘So what’s the form of the song?’ and I’m like, ‘What do you mean form of the song?’ It was just verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, and I had no idea. So to receive those awards, and they’re voted by your peers, and I’m such a fan of so many musicians in Newfoundland. So it was cool, just really exciting, and it kind-of makes you realize that okay, this is what I should do. I’m on the right path. It’s validating.”
Cull received a lot of support and had amazing influences that helped to guide her in her career.
“I was lucky enough that I landed a gig with Music NL as the assistant to Dennis Parker, so I learned so much so quickly because I was in the industry side of things. I think it would’ve taken me 10 years as a musician to learn what I did learn working there the first year, working under someone like Dennis Parker who is a legend, so he really was a huge part of it.”
One memorable experience was when Cull was picked to open for k.d. lang.
“She was doing a tour in every province. She was getting a local to open, so Music NL were sending her different artists and she just went through them and I got chosen. It was amazing,” said Cull. “Just to watch her after, from side stage with her band. They were amazing.”
The inspiration for Cull’s music differs 23 years ago with her first album to her current album, ‘Hear It.’
“The first record was more based on, we were making up characters, whereas the last record ‘Hear It’ is based on personal experiences. I was going through a breakup at the time, a really bad relationship ending, so that’s what the record is totally about. I like to write from what I know, which is my own life, because those songs came without me really knowing that I was writing songs because I would just record on my phone, and I’d go back to it a couple of weeks later and go ‘Oh God, there’s a song here.’ It was really just all of my thoughts, what I was thinking, the anguish I was going through, and just getting it all out. It was all on the spot. It wasn’t like sitting down with a pen and paper and writing a tune.”
Cull said real life and what you’re going through is what inspires art.
“It helps you put something aware. It’s like closure and I’m just so in love with this new album. My goal as an artist and a songwriter is just to love what I’m creating and to be able to look back and listen to it 20 years from now and still be proud of it.”
As much as she loves music, putting herself out there in that way is also terrifying.
“I knew when I was getting ready to put this album out – because it’s not just about me, it’s about who I was with at the time – I’m not just putting my own life out there. It’s obvious who it’s about. I mean I was married to him, so that’s what I was really nervous about, I think, with the record. But to get on stage and perform the songs, that’s where it’s at for me. I just love performing.”
Songwriting and performing are both equally important.
“You don’t really have one without the other. You write it and put it out so you can perform it. So I love both. I really do. I love the studio and I just love being on stage and being on stage with other musicians, and connecting with the audience. It’s the best. It really is.”
The effects of COVID-19 are still being felt across the province, and Cull said ticket sales are a bit lower as a result.
“I completely get it. It’s hard times for everybody and people are still worried about going out, and I find original music, honestly, people, they’re not as quick to buy a ticket to see original music as they are if it was a tribute show. That’s something I’ve noticed over the years. I’ve done so many tribute shows at the Arts and Culture Centre over the years, tons, but it’s a completely different thing. What I want to tell listeners is, if you think I’m good in a tribute show, I feel I am at my best when I’m performing my own music, so they won’t be disappointed.”
Cull has learned so much over the years during the progression of her career, but there is one important lesson that sticks with her.
“I’ve learned that this is who I am. It’s my career, but it literally is who I am. I don’t think I could do anything else. I can’t imagine I feel like I’m going to be singing until I’m 80. I’m never going to stop.”
Cull began her current tour at Arts and Culture Centers across the province in St. John’s on Apr. 14, and it will conclude on Apr. 30 in Labrador West; however, she can be seen in Stephenville on Apr. 22 at the Arts and Culture Centre and tickets can be purchased online at email@example.com.