For North Phoenix singer/songwriter Janelle Loes, the joy of music starts with crafting a song lyric by lyric and note by note. Singing to her audiences about her experiences and connecting with them on a more personal level drives her to keep writing and performing.
She’s doing this through her latest effort, “Stranger,” which spawned the single, “Criminal.”
“The new single is about trying to rise above criticism, judgment and stereotypes,” she says. “The album just covers a lot of topics about resilience and trying to discover yourself through tough times.”
The collection took six years to write.
“We took a lot of time with the recording,” Loes says. “It was fun, not having to be in a rush, but I’m excited to finally put it out. Each song has its own individual story.”
Loes’ stories have earned her several awards. She won the 2010 Chicks with Picks female songwriter competition and the 2016 Tucson Folk Festival songwriting competition; was a finalist in Alice Cooper’s Proof is in the Pudding competition; and was in the top 10 in the 2017 Rocky Mountain Music Festival’s songwriting competition.
She was featured at the 2010 Anthem Christmas tree-lighting ceremony.
When the world isn’t quarantining, Loes performs at venues throughout the Valley, including the Queen Creek Olive Mill, Garage-East, Fuego Bistro, Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen, the Desert Botanical Garden, Orpheum Theatre, Crescent Ballroom, Grapeables Wine Bar and Last Exit Live.
The Flagstaff native, who graduated from Horizon High School, has built a following by playing in different spaces in front of varied crowds.
She was interested in music from the time she was a child, starting with the piano and then guitar and violin in elementary school. She says the guitar has always been her favorite instrument because of her passion for songwriting.
“I love guitar, because it is such a great vessel for songwriting,” Loes says.
She comes from a musical family. Her two sisters, Jaspar Lepak and Gina Loes, are also musicians. Loes is self-taught, but she was inspired by and learned from her sisters.
“It was amazing having sisters that played, too, and could help,” Loes says.
Growing up, she listened to ’70s artists such as Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell, as well as contemporary artists such as Anna Nalick, Regina Spektor and Fiona Apple. Ani DiFranco and Rachael Yamagata inspired her to play guitar and write, respectively.
“That kind of songwriting that’s really just super vulnerable, I love songwriters like that. It just made me want to write music,” Loes says.
At age 12, Loes began playing open mics, followed by formal shows at 16. Loes thrives on playing jazz, pop and adult contemporary music.
During live performances, she often plays a mixture of originals and covers by the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Allen Stone, James Bay, the Beatles, the Outfield, the Beach Boys and Adele.
“It’s fun to play songs that people recognize and surprise people by playing songs from different decades. There are so many great songwriters out there. It’s fun to play a little bit of everything,” Loes says.
Through her own music, she is able to express herself in a more personal way.
“I love getting to be vulnerable, and I think the special thing about songwriting is you get to say exactly what you want to say, even if you don’t get to say it in the moment. With songwriting, it’s really amazing to be able to share really personal experiences and then have somebody hear that song and connect it to their own life,” Loes says.
Loes has always loved songwriting, but it is a skill that she has honed over the years.
“The more you write, the more you learn and develop your own craft,” Loes says. “For me, it’s a very therapeutic thing. I feel like I’m pretty introspective. As a person, I love to look back and analyze.”
Her music has made an impact on listeners, including bringing a mother and daughter closer after a divorce.
“You never know what your songs can mean to somebody else. It’s really special when you can write a song and share your personal experience, and that can take on a new life for somebody else and hopefully bring something positive,” Loes says.
Over the years, writing songs has begun to take longer because she is more critical of her music.
She often finds herself up late at night, writing in a fit of inspiration.
She released her debut album, “Here and Now,” in 2011. Part of her prize from her Chicks with Picks win was recording a demo.
She still plays songs from that album, such as “You,” but she views them in a different way now.
“That’s always been fun to take songs I wrote almost a decade ago and be able to apply them to things that are going on right now,” Loes says.