“If I want people to know me for anything, I want them to know that I play music,” says Chris Janson ’16, a bass player who has been actively rebranding himself lately as the singer-songwriter he’s always wanted to be.
Since returning from study abroad in Japan last fall, Janson has used his musical talents in myriad performances and styles. He was an accompanist in the performance of the student opera workshop Winter Study course and covered a set of 10 love songs in a house concert with Fernanda Lai ’17. Last Friday, Janson also hosted his own acoustic concert in Perry Library, “Airborn: Audio-Visual Experience.” These gigs are the first of many for Janson, who has big plans for the coming years.
Janson has been a musician for most of his life – he first picked up a bass guitar at nine and never looked back. Once in middle school, he learned guitar and piano. In sixth grade, he played in his first band, dubbed Happy Hour, which Janson describes as “your typical garage cover band.” In high school and college, he has played in student bands and dabbled in school orchestra and jazz band.
While Janson has previously dedicated a lot of time to playing bass for school ensembles, this year he’s been more focused on personal creative needs. This has necessarily involved more guitar playing and less involvement with the College music department.
“I’ve had so much fun just jamming with friends and putting things together. Part of the trap at Williams is that people get so busy that it’s hard for that to happen,” Janson says, nailing the source behind the dearth of organic student music-making at the College that has frustrated many in the past.
In addition to branching out from music department ensembles, Janson is also transitioning from regularly playing bass to playing guitar in bands and orchestras that he participates in. Janson also refers to himself as “a closeted songwriter” – he’s always written songs but until now never quite had the confidence or the resources to perform them.
On his musical inspirations, Janson says he looks up to styles that accomplish his own goal – entertaining others while still enjoying the music-making himself. He confesses that he’s always been a sucker for pop and the songs that he loved in middle school. He also loves ’70s bands like Blondie (think “One Way or Another”) and music from the ’20s and ’30s, which he interprets as pop music of sorts from a bygone era.
These influences from were quite evident at “Airborn” last Friday, when Janson played a mix of original songs and covers that he’d been working on for years, developed on both the guitar and the piano. His original songs were a mix of pieces. Some he wrote over Winter Study this year and others he’s had on the burner since middle school.
His haunting cover of Franz Ferdinand’s “Come On Home” was paired with a projection of a scene from [Winnie the] Pooh’s Grand Adventure, one of his favorite movies as a child. His dynamism and creativity paid off; many of his pieces resonated with the audience even more thanks to the visuals, especially when words that were sung in a foreign language.
While it’s been tough for Janson to balance his musical commitments, he credits much of personal growth as a musician the other students he’s worked with at the College. “My ambition is to play loud, happy music that people can dance to, and that dream is coming true with Josh Torres [’15],” Janson says. “He has an idea of what something should look and sound like, and then he just goes and does it, and doesn’t let anything or anybody slow him down.”
Torres and Janson have been collaborating a lot – in addition to singing a song together at Janson’s concert this past weekend, the duo will perform at the 10,000 Candles Student Music Festival this coming Saturday at 8:30 p.m. in Greylock, and they have plenty of ideas for possible future performances.
With three semesters left at the College, Janson wants to keep experimenting musically and to engage the College community in his music. “I have lots of ideas for shows,” he says. “I want to get something together with the dance groups, I want to have there be a show where classical pianists just play. It could be anything.” Most importantly, Janson wants to continue to make his ideas a concrete reality by continuing to write songs and actually perform them.
And just like any other aspiring musician, Janson’s goal is always to get a crowd to watch his shows – a crowd composed of more than just people he’s personally invited. “I’m just glad that people that I didn’t necessarily tell in person or invite on Facebook had heard [about it] or mentioned it,” Janson says of his most recent concert. “Hopefully, if I keep on doing it, people will catch on.”