Dialogue with Bulletin writer inspires song for CD, S.F. show

When Janine Rae's mom first heard her CD, "Stop, I'm Conscious," released last year, she said, "That's nice dear, but it's not Frank Sinatra."

Now she's a big fan, Rae says. "She listened to it in her car, started listening to the words. She got past those stylistic differences that she had."

The 30-year-old San Francisco resident sang, played guitar and wrote the songs on "Stop, I'm Conscious." (One song was co-written with Matthew Montfort.) Rae's rich, clear voice and moody music make for a lush listening experience.

She'll be performing Wednesday, Aug. 26 at the CoCo club in San Francisco.

On songs like "We'll Be Sages" and "Darkness Keeps the Holy Man Sane" she explores spirituality.

"We'll Be Sages" was inspired by dialogues with a Jewish Bulletin reporter. When Rae moved to San Francisco from the East Coast in 1990, she worked in the Bulletin's graphics department.

"I liked it there because it definitely had that neurotic family feeling. The Jewish part, I wasn't sure how I felt about that."

She used to argue with a reporter who was an ardent socialist.

"I was talking about being humanitarian and how identifying yourself as Jewish was excluding yourself as part of the human race. We got into a thing with each other. It made us high to think we had all the answers."

In "We'll Be Sages," she describes, "spinning our words like prayer/quoting each other/our castles in the air."

Reflecting on those conversations, she says, "You can feel elevated by your beliefs, but it can turn into arrogance."

Rae says "it took getting away from strict, religious doctrines" to achieve a deeper understanding of her beliefs. "In Hebrew school you're not really taught to explore the spiritual side."

Spirituality, she says, means "admitting the unknown, that there are things a lot larger than you. To stand in awe of it is what being spiritual is about."

Rae used to dub her music "alternative folk rock" but now feels the label doesn't fit.

"I was trying to fit it into a label that already existed…but I think we're a little bit more progressive."

Alternative can bring to mind the simple three-chord rock of bands like Green Day. Rae uses jazz chords and more complex harmonic structures, more like such early '70s bands as Yes and Genesis.

Rae says she's unimpressed by the current buzz about "women in rock."

"You don't sit there and say, `Robert Plant is a male musician.' People should be inspired just by what the artist is delivering."

Rae, who grew up in Philadelphia, has been playing piano since she was 5. She played keyboards in a rock band when she was 15. It wasn't until 1992 that she studied guitar seriously.

Two years later, Rae quit her job at a multimedia company to pursue music, a less practical but more soul-satisfying career.

Now she's studying musicianship and harmony at U.C. Berkeley and piano and voice privately. She's also revamping the band, as the original group broke up.

The Jewish religion remains problematic for her.

"Judaism is still based on patriarchy and a lot of stories. I don't think the lessons are applicable today, to me, anyway."

Yet she finds that ancient Jewish rituals connect her with her family in a powerful way.

"I was brought up Jewish and this is part of my feelings of `This is home' — the rituals and food, the symbols. Every time that I see those things I feel like I'm reconnecting with my home where I grew up with my family 3,000 miles away. I don't want to lose it entirely, but I haven't found a way to connect that doesn't make me feel hypocritical."