Written by Molly Gorman
Stockholm born and based soul-singer and actress Janice Kavander is one of my favourite interviewees to date. She’s just made her acting debut in Nordic Netflix’s The Playlist, a docu-drama miniseries which fictionalises the founding of media and streaming service Spotify, and follows its extraordinary revolution of the music industry.
Janice plays Bobbi Thomasson, an aspiring musician and long-time school friend of Daniel Ek, the protagonist, based on the real co-founder and CEO of Spotify. When I spoke to Janice, the series had just claimed the number one spot on Netflix Sweden. She’s been doing a lot of promotion for the show, including a performance on Swedish Idol where she sang the lead single from the EP created for the show’s soundtrack, My Kind of Woman.
‘It’s quite a special show,’ Janice said. ‘It’s a different type of drama series than we’re used to seeing, so I’m very glad and happy that people have received it so well.’ Fittingly, Bobbi’s journey in the series reflects the experiences of many artists on streaming services, with many protesting against unreasonable royalties and compensation for artists and their respective teams. Some of the most streamed artists in the world including Taylor Swift, notable for breaking global streaming records, alongside others such as Jay-Z, have taken the decision of removing their music from Spotify.
Since her debut single was released in 2016 with an album following two years later, it was a fulfilling experience for Janice to play a character affected by issues of piracy and streaming in the music industry, while facing them as an advocate herself. Acquiring over 228,000 monthly listeners on Spotify across Europe and the UK, Janice has also dabbled in musical theatre, starring in Jesus Christ Superstar earlier this year. First and foremost a musician, Janice doesn’t explicitly state that she prefers either singing or acting, but on the latter, she said, ‘I really, really love it. I hope to do it again and again. Next time, I would really like to challenge myself.’
Discussing the two creative professions and their similarities, Janice views them as the same at their core, but different in their form of expression. I wonder if performing ties the two together – if an artist is having a bad day, but they have to go on stage and present the best version of themself, it must feel like they’re putting on an act. Janice agrees, ‘I think I can learn from both acting and singing. I’ve always felt that I’ve been myself when writing and performing my music – I’m very personal yet not too private. You do get into a type of ‘role’ when you’re on stage. When people meet me after a show or elsewhere, they always say ‘you’re so nice and so cute!’ so when I’m on stage, I guess I’m evolving to someone else.’
For readers who may not have heard Janice’s music yet, she wants you to feel something from listening to it. Inspired by gospel music, it’s a smooth mix of soul and r’n’b. As she puts it herself: ‘Hopefully it’s music that touches your soul, with the expression of my voice and the melodies I choose to have in my songs.’
Janice grew up in Stockholm, and was raised by parents who lived and breathed music, with a sister who was a dancer and her brother interested in DJing and experimenting with drum and bass. Her first fond music memories are Sunday mornings with her mum playing a CD and dancing, while her dad was singing.
In her teenage years, Janice joined a music school and the famous Tensta choir, which has hosted a roster of successful alumni including Lykke Li. Janice credits the choir as being a catalyst for her in finding her voice and learning how to express herself, as well as providing her with a place where she could feel safe.
Janice’s dad sadly passed away when she was 16, so figuring out what she wanted to say through her music was a necessary exploratory journey. Drawing inspiration from Maria Carey, Toni Braxton and Brandy throughout her upbringing, Janice tried to sound like them, rather than focusing on her own individual voice and tone. When the leader [of Tensta] asked her what her own sound was like, she said, ‘it was almost like a slap in the face.’
She went on to say, ‘I don’t know who I’d be without gospel. – it formed me so much as a person and as the artist I am today. It is just singing that matters to me, and I think it’s important to really be grounded in what you sound like and how you want to make people feel.’
Making My Kind of Woman was both fun and inspiring for Janice. Her vocal talent is extraordinary – her voice is powerful with a uniquely deep, raspy, and beautiful tone. In episode one of The Playlist, Janice performs My Kind of Woman on stage in front of a crowd of a couple of hundred people. The scene took around 42 takes in total to film, and she sang every single take live, and she noted that the wonderful extras were hyping her up throughout. The song carries a strong message of women empowerment, “Imperfection, raw aggression, shape or size” and success, “She got it made / Got ambition, grindin’ with it / Night and day”. Serendipitously timed, Janice was filming The Playlist and juggling a music career when the song was brought to her by renowned producer Robin Hannibal and songwriter Sarah Aarons. She says, ‘I felt like I was blooming in some ways that I haven’t before. I wish I wrote it myself, but I think I made it my own!’
The EP fell into place naturally, with each of the four tracks brought to life as almost different characters. Despite being proud of all the songs on the EP, Don’t Lay It All On Me came the easiest. The show’s director, Per-Olav Sørensen, wanted a vulnerable song that could not only represent Bobbi’s journey, but Daniel’s too. Janice wrote the song while they were shooting the series, and it ended up being more personal to her own life but a perfect fit for the show too – it’s a moving, emotional ballad that can resonate with listeners, the show’s viewers and beyond. It particularly accentuates Bobbi’s complexity and depth, and make sure you listen to the piano version for an extra tug on the heartstrings.
Welcoming a busy spell of creative work post-pandemic, Janice is excited to get back in the studio to work on an album. I think we’ll be hearing a lot more from her in the next few years and I can’t wait to see what’s next for her.
Head over to Janice’s Spotify page to hear more of her amazing tracks.