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Joan Jett Talks New Album ‘Unvarnished’

Joan Jett
Mark Metcalfe, Getty Images

Joan Jett has been through some dark times over the last 10 years — so many that she refers to it as her ‘decade of death.’ But she’s channeled that grief into a new album, ‘Unvarnished,’ that contains some of her most personal work.

Jett discussed ‘Unvarnished,’ due Oct. 1, during a recent interview with Rolling Stone, conducted after her triumphant Aug. 1 gig at the Sunset Strip Music Festival. Calling it “very refreshing” to come back to the city where “people were laughing at me” during her early years, she delved into the “very different” topics she tackled in her new songs.

“I wrote a lot about what teenagers write about: love, sex and partying and having a good time. As you grow up, things change,” she explained. “You have responsibilities and realize you’ve got to do stuff. I suppose you could run from that, but you’ve got to be there for your family and your friends.”

Jett’s ‘decade of death’ included the loss of both parents, which — as one might expect — proved difficult to cope with. “They made it possible for me to do this. They encouraged me. They got me the guitar,” she recalled. “My father, who hated rock & roll, put up with it. He didn’t come down on me to stop it. So losing my parents was big, and I think it translated to the music in songs like ‘Fragile,’ which is about life being fragile, love being fragile, how easy it is to break hearts.”

Those themes carry over into other songs on ‘Unvarnished,’ as Jett went on to explain. “‘Hard to Grow Up’ is about responsibility and realizing that I’ve got to do this,” she continued. “The song ‘Make It Back’ is about Hurricane Sandy and people’s attitudes. You don’t see a lot of press about it as I go around the country. It was very devastating. My town is still beat up. People were really crushed. It gave me a sense of what it’s like to be in a war zone.”

It wasn’t just personal or communal tragedies that stood between Jett and new material, either. “I convinced myself I had writer’s block,” she explained. “It was ‘Reality Mentality’ that was the song that took me a long time to write. I used to think that songs just came to me. They didn’t — you had to sit down and work at it. Just be patient, write a couple of lines, leave it, come back to it and stuff will pop out. And all of a sudden, stuff started coming, and I realized: You don’t have writer’s block. Your expectations were wrong.”

What it all adds up to, in Jett’s opinion, is a record that should resonate with fans. “The songs have a serious tone, but they’re relatable,” she concluded. “They’re songs about stuff everybody goes through.”

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