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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 18, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 12
Introducing Janis Joplin!

An interview with Kacee Clanton
Arts & Entertainment
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Introducing Janis Joplin!

An interview with Kacee Clanton

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

A NIGHT WITH JANIS JOPLIN
THE 5TH AVENUE THEATRE
March 25 - April 17


Janis Joplin is hailed as Rock 'n' Roll Royalty and for very good reasons. Her voice, style and sheer vibrant personality broke barriers of the male dominated world, propelling her life into a fast-paced stardom, which included her performance at the famous Woodstock Festival. The 5th Avenue Theatre is presenting the acclaimed Broadway musical, A Night With Janis Joplin, and the Seattle Gay News was thrilled to interview Kacee Clanton, the singer and actress playing the legend.

Eric Andrews-Katz: Who were your earliest influences in becoming a performer?

Kacee Clanton: Wow, there are so many! Nat King Cole, Etta James, Mahalia Jackson, Nina Simone&. I think they really introduced me to [music]; but on the other side of that coin, I was listening a lot to Karen Carpenter, Barbra Streisand, Joni Mitchell, and a lot of more 'folky' white singers. I grew up in a Christian home that was full of a lot of Gospel Music like the Edwin Hawkins Chorus. They sang that song 'Oh Happy Day.' My Mom was into black Gospel Choir Music, and I think that gave me my really soulful side. I was a little white girl in a country town, but we listened to a whole different thing in my house. It really taught me a lot musically speaking; it was organic and all rhythm-based. To this day when I arrange vocals on a record, they always end up sounding like the Edwin Hawkins Chorus.

Andrews-Katz: How did you first get introduced to Janis Joplin?

Clanton: They kind of came for me. I was a singer and someone approached me about this theatre doing a show called 'Love, Janis.' They thought I'd be great at it, but I wasn't an actor. They persisted, saying that I reminded them of Janis. I went to the audition (never having done theatre) and got this huge role - Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Get a Theatre Education. Ignorance was bliss for me. It wasn't the firecracker show that this one [A Night With Janis Joplin] is, but it gave me a foundation for who Janis was as a person. When this show came along, I got a call saying they wanted me to audition. I thought, 'Still with the Janis, thing?' and thought that it wouldn't happen again. I knew that it was going to be a fireball of a show and thought 'OK, I have to do this.' This show may go on to Broadway, and it did! It chased me, more than I chased it, but I've been lucky that it happened at all.

Andrews-Katz: What is the most challenging thing about evoking the spirit of Janis Joplin?

Clanton: Being truthful every second. That's an easy question. She was just raw, and she told the truth all the time. We - as actors - are told not to imitate, but to emulate who she was. None of us sound like her, or look like her; it's all about telling the truth. I think you have to be very vulnerable to do what she did in front of 1,000 people a night. That is the most challenging thing, spiritually speaking, beyond the physical work.

Andrews-Katz: What is it that makes Janis Joplin such an influential personality?

Clanton: To a lot of people she was this Chick that screamed. She changed the world of music for white women; we didn't sing the Blues before then. I know for me, as a Blues singer, if it wasn't for Janis blazing the trail in that man's world, I don't know where I'd be today.

Andrews-Katz: Was Janis a tragic figure or did she have tragic things befall her?

Clanton: I actually don't see her as either. I don't see her as a tragic figure. She threw her life away because of drugs and alcohol, and that is always a tragedy. She was an evolving woman that died at 27, and at 27 years of age, you are just starting to learn about yourself. She once said, 'I have to do all of my learning in front of everybody' that was just her path. I don't know if tragic things happened to her, everybody has shit happening to them, but like all of us, she was treated poorly by a lot of people. Some of it she triggered and it was done cruelly. When she was at Boston University she was voted 'Most Ugliest MAN on Campus,' and that is a tragedy when people put you down that way. It's difficult to recover from that. On the other hand, if she hadn't gone through those experiences, she wouldn't have had that core strength. She could always say, 'Fuck You' because she had been through all of that. I see it more as a triumph in a lot of ways.

Andrews-Katz: When asked what she thought about while singing, Janis answered: 'I'm not really thinking much, just sort of, trying to feel.' What do you think she meant by that?

Clanton: That's all about telling the truth and being in that story, whatever song you are singing is the story. It's not just a bunch of notes on paper. Musicians see notes on paper and singers feel the rhythm. We have to feel the storyline and understand the emotions behind the lyrics, and what emotions are evoked from what particular groove that band is playing. She was trying not to overthink. The only way to perform was for her to wear her emotions on her sleeve. That made it truthful for her and allowed her to become one with the groove. She would become one with the song without fear or concern for what people thought of her.

Andrews-Katz: If Janis were alive today she would only be 73 years old. What do you think her life would have been like?

Clanton: People really really want to know that. I think people ask that because she had such a huge impact for a career lasting only three and a half years. She changed the rules of Rock 'n' Roll and paid the dues for women. It's hard for me to imagine her being alive, but honestly, I don't think she would be much different. I think she would still be telling the truth all the time. I think she'd still be a Bohemian Gypsy of sorts, and she'd still be all about the 'feel' and still on that track trying to figure out the truth. That was her thing. I like to picture her - like I picture myself - in an African moo-moo, on a beach somewhere with my long grey hair down to my knees, sitting there, feeling the sunset. That's how I see her and myself.

Andrews-Katz: If you could play any role - regardless of any limitations - what would it be and why?

Clanton: That probably changes for me, depending on the moment. I would love to be Maleficent [Clanton inserts an evil laugh]. I want to play the rock version of Maleficent. One of my goals is to get investors and make a musical. Maleficent was a Bad Ass! She was part fairy and part Harley Davidson driver! She's that Biker Fairy that means well, gets her wings clipped because of some Dude, and then goes on a rampage. In the end she is good at her core. Yeah. I want to wear those damned horns! My Kingdom for some Ram Horns!

Kacee Clanton has appeared as background vocalist for Joe Cocker and Luis Miguel among others. After her 2001 performance in 'Love, Janis,' Ms. Clanton continued on to join the Broadway cast of A Night With Janis Joplin (as the alternate lead) in 2013.

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Seattle Men's Chorus presents Everything Broadway

The definitive guide to show tunes!

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Introducing Janis Joplin!

An interview with Kacee Clanton

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