Q Magazine

'It's an Intense Life to Choose': Joan Jett on Aging, the Capriciousness of Radio, and Her Upcoming Tour With Alanis Morissette

'It's just gonna be interesting to play rock and roll as an old person. Older person. As a person who's lived many years!'

Source: Joan Jett

Joan Jett will be tearing up stages once again this summer.

Link to FacebookShare to XShare to Email

Few figures embody rock and roll rebellion quite like Joan Jett. From her teenage years tearing it up with the Runaways to her decades fronting the Blackhearts, Jett has carved a unique path, shattering expectations and becoming a symbol of female empowerment in the music industry. With her signature snarl, fierce guitar work, and unapologetic attitude, Jett isn't just a rock star – she's a force of nature who continues to inspire generations of musicians and fans.

Jett's impact goes far beyond her own music. She challenged the male-dominated rock scene of the '70s and '80s, not just with her talent but also with her business savvy. Facing rejection from 23 record labels, she and songwriter/producer Kenny Laguna co-founded Blackheart Records, becoming one of the first women to run her own label. This not only gave her creative control but paved the way for other female artists to take charge of their careers. Jett's fierce independence and unapologetic femininity resonated with the Riot Grrrl movement of the '90s, inspiring young women to raise their voices and challenge societal norms.

Jett's 2023 EP Mindsets – a six-song collection of classic style Blackhearts and country-tinged tunes – will get a deep dive outing when the band heads out this June through August with Alanis Morissette and Morgan Wade on the Triple Moon Tour across North America.

Q sat down via Zoom with Jett to discuss all of the above... somewhere near a coastline.

Article continues below advertisement
Source: Shervin Lainez

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts (left to right): Kenny Laguna, Hal B. Seltzer, Jett, Michael McDermott and Dougie Needles.

Before this tour gets underway, how have you been spending your break, as it were?

I've been really alone, like literally hermit time. Not on purpose. It's just the way things worked out. I live at the beach. I'm sort of away from people. So it's very easy to be isolated if you want to.

Is that sort of the cycle for you, where you're in this bubble of a concert tour and then you stop and realize, "Okay, I'm gonna start gearing up for another!"

You know, usually, I'm traveling a bit more. Going to see family or something. Just this year it worked out that I was alone. So it was different. Interesting.

For a lot of people that started with the pandemic. What effect did that have on you as far as music was concerned?

Well, we tried to figure out a way to stay busy during that time. It didn't always work out the way we wanted it to. We tried to do online concerts where you'd see we were in different places. It was very complicated, but we tried one of those. It went off okay, but it didn't really work for the band or the audience, so we sort of decided to wait until people could go to concerts again.

But you know, we were pretty quiet during that time. And then as things started to gear up, we went into the studio to record and did this EP Mindsets that came out last spring. We toured in 2023 but didn't quite get all the songs in the set. So we'll do that this year, 'cause they're all really, really good songs.

I think that spoke to what the title says. How your mindsets carry you through your difficulties. Like COVID. It just wasn't spelled out. I didn't sing. I'm wearing my mask, walking down the street. It's just how you deal with it really, just by continuing to live. Live your life. But playing live concerts is such a big part of our lives. So, that was kind of scary to wonder if that was ever gonna get back to normal again. And now I mean, things seem pretty normal. So I'm happy that we're doing that again.

Article continues below advertisement
Source: ℗ © Joan Jett, Dougie Needles/Joan Jett & The Blackhearts/YouTube

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts - Shooting Into Space (Official Lyric Video)

There seems to be a recent trend toward the EP format, instead of, "Well, I've got 12 songs. Why aren't I making a full studio album?"

Right? You go in and you make a record, and you work very hard at it. You bare your soul. You get songs that you feel people can relate to. Musicians put anywhere from, I don't know, 12 to 20 songs on an album and it comes out. And if you're lucky, maybe a radio station hones in on one song. Then that's it! Onto the next. I don't know if that's because there's just so many more artists, or things are done differently these days, or what. But you put so much work into it, and then it's barely given a glance.

And it's not just what artists of my stature have, but artists lesser than me are doing the same thing, and I can't say that it's for the exact same reasons. But I would think that's gotta be some of it. There's just so much out there. There's not room for everyone to explore everything. Certainly, for us we didn't want to be writing 12 great songs, and I have 10 or 11 of them ignored. Maybe one just can't glance. Look at it. So it's just a way to cut down the hurt a little bit, I guess, and just focus in on what you can do. You don't have to pick and choose which one of the 12 to play. We can work all 6 songs into our show and play them for the crowd.

If you had a particular one you liked, I think that could also be hard. If somebody told you the single on this EP is supposed to be song X, but you're like "I really think it should be song Y."

You know, you can't dictate to the radio stations what to play. Either they play or they don't play it. And those intangibles. I can't say what they are, but they don't hear what you hear, and they say, "We don't even hear a single." And that's it to all the work you put into it. And now you don't even get a listen. You have to just be satisfied. You have to almost assume that you're not gonna get played on the radio and just be content to play them live. I mean, I'm surprised if things do get a listen, because you know that's the world we grew up in. I was lucky a few times and had big hits.

Article continues below advertisement
Source: ℗ © Finchley Music Corp, Rak Publishing Ltd/Joan Jett & The Blackhearts/YouTube

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts - I Love Rock 'N Roll (Official Video)

I was in a punk rock group that made it big, and after that, you know, I just... I guess I can't explain it. [Thinks a moment] It's good to know there are people out there because it gets harder. People are not nice and like to take shots. So you have to really believe in what you do and care about it, and not really care about what other people think. And it's intense. It's an intense life to choose.

I can imagine a lot of people don't have a plan B when they go into this. With you, right at the beginning you had Kenny coming in and being so dogmatic about his belief in you. Does that even happen anymore?

I don't think so. I think ours was extremely unique. I don't really know of partners who have stuck by each other for this long and don't have animosity or anything. I feel definitely very blessed that we found each other.

Article continues below advertisement
qjoan jett loved working with michael j fox screenshot
Source: Screenshot via Vulture/YouTube

Jett and Kenny Laguna at the Sundance Film Festival during the 'Bad Reputation' documentary screening, 2018.

And you're still continuing on this journey. What keeps you fired up, musically?

I know that it's like an internal clock. When the days start getting longer after December 20th, 21st... The days start getting a minute longer, and then definitely after New Year's, I know spring is coming, which means it's time to work. My stomach starts churning, not in a bad way, and not sort of like with anxiety, but just anxiousness. It's time to move, almost like the plants start stirring in the ground. It's almost time to grow. I feel like a plant is what I'm saying! [Laughs]

So it's not like I can just go "snap" in three days and jump back into it. It's not a workout, but I have to rehearse a little bit longer than I would do in previous years.

Are you thinking "I can't stop at this stage, 'cause I will not be able to move."

Well, yeah, that's a very true statement. No matter what you do, you got to move it or lose it. You don't have to be in a band. I mean, even if I was just sitting around all day, every day I'd have to move. You gotta get out there and do something because if you sit around, your body just falls apart. They say sitting all day is dangerous, like smoking two packs of cigarettes a day.

Article continues below advertisement
Source: Steven Bergman/AFF-USA.COM / MEGA

'It's an interesting thing getting older in rock and roll and trying to figure it out,' Jett says.

Never miss a story — sign up for the Q newsletter for the latest music news on all your favorite artists, all in one place.

Article continues below advertisement

One thing that really stood out on Mindsets was Michael's counting. You kept a lot of those in. I forget how many there were, like four out of six tunes. The first thing you hear is click, click, click, click!

Oh, you know why? Because we do so much of our stuff live. And even where I'll do the basic tracks, and I'll sing the vocal, a lot of it we wind up keeping. I just like the live vibe and that's probably me pushing to keep the counts on.

There are also the environmental sounds in the background. In "Whiskey Goes Good" it sounds like the band is sitting around a campfire...

In fact, to get the bar sounds that are used I think they went to Dougie's local bar, having drinks and just ran the iPhone and got the ambient sounds of drinking with our crew. So it was... what's the word? Personal! I guess it does come across like that and it's a fun song to do. We do that live. And it goes over really well. People love it.

You did an acoustic album [Changeup] not too long ago, right?

Yes, in 2022, a version of a bunch of different songs acoustically. We actually have done a little bit of that live, too. We break for four songs and bring out acoustic guitars for a few songs, songs that people know electrically, and do them in a different way. And it's fun. And people seem to like that, too.

Source: ℗ © Dougie Needles/Joan Jett & The Blackhearts/YouTube

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts - Whiskey Goes Good (Official Audio)

Article continues below advertisement

You'll be touring with Alanis Morissette and Morgan Wade this summer. How did that come about?

I was just asked if I'd like to, if I had any interest in going out with Alanis, and I said I'd love to. It was just a very easy thing that just happened.

Do you ever feel that, with who you are and what you've done, you should be headlining? Or does going into a support position take off the pressure in a way?

I know what you're saying. But I just want to see what's out there. And this was there. I don't have any problem not being the headliner. It's a weird ego thing to me, worrying about that aspect of it. It's just, "What's a good show?" I think Alanis sings brilliant songs. I'd love to see her. I'm excited about it as a fan. So that's why I wanna do it.

How many opportunities have you had like that?

Oh, I've been lucky to play with so many bands I'm a fan of, and been able to then watch them play. Maybe the same festival stage. Might not be the same night, but different nights, different stages, or something like that. It's been pretty much throughout my career. I've been lucky enough to have that.

Source: ℗ © Jett Pack Music Inc/Joan Jett & The Blackhearts/YouTube

"The Muppets." A Tail of Two Piggies (TV Episode 2016)

Article continues below advertisement

Do you think about the old days when you were doing these 62-day tours?

I didn't think about it then, you know. Didn't even didn't bother me at all.

And nowadays it's just like, "I can't believe I did that." Do you think that you're still like that person at all?

No, no, I mean, I believe it. It's just pretty amazing and it's an interesting thing getting older in rock and roll and trying to figure it out. What does that mean? How does that translate? Can you be old and be a rock and roller? Is it just a young thing? And you know these are all questions that have never been answered. There's no definitive book or answer for it. It's what you make it and of course, you can be old, and play rock and roll and sing about it. But you know doing it, I've wanted to try to factor in some of these experiences of the last several years. But also, so much of it's been so insane that I'm not sure you know how to be able to speak to thousands of people and have a song that has a common denominator that doesn't piss everybody off in a different way, if that makes any sense. It's just gonna be interesting to play rock and roll as an old person. Older person. As a person who's lived many years! [Laughs]


Subscribe to our newsletter

your info will be used in accordance with our privacy policy

Read More