add to queue

VanJess is Listening to Janet Jackson, Charlie Wilson, and Themselves

Photos by Jamal Peters.

This is “Add to Queue,” our attempt to sort through the cacophony of music floating in the algorithmic atmosphere by consulting the experts themselves. Our favorite musicians tell us about their favorite music—the sad, the happy, the dinner party-y, the songs they want played at their funeral. In this edition, we speak with the Nigerian-American R&B sister duo VanJess. On January 29, they will release their EP, Homegrown. The nine-track project features hit singles like “Slow Down,” “Come Over,” and and their latest single “Curious”—out today. Below, Ivana and Jess of VanJess spoke to Interview about their favorite songs and what’s on their playlist.


JULIANA UKIOMOGBE: What was the last song that you listened to?

IVANA: The last song I was listening to was “Hanging By a Moment” by Lifehouse. I was also listening to a K-pop artist named Kai. His song’s called “Mmmh.”

UKIOMOGBE: Who was the earliest musician to influence you?

JESS: Got to be Whitney Houston. Just being able to sing in a way that conveyed such emotion. That’s something that really stuck with me. She’s someone that I really studied because of that.

IVANA: That’s a tough one, there are so many. But I would say TLC, Aaliyah, and Michael Jackson. I would say with TLC, just growing up watching their music videos, they were so dynamic with how they would perform. They were really charismatic. Lisa [“Left Eye” Lopes] was just always shining. Their sounds were always so bubbly and energetic. Aaliyah’s aesthetic was always so dope. Even as a child, I was super intrigued by her.

UKIOMOGBE: I understand you guys are releasing an EP this year. What can you tell me about it?

JESS: The title of it is Homegrown. It’s a full-circle moment for us because that actually was supposed to be the original title of our project that ended up becoming Silk Canvas. It was because our journey up to that point had been really homegrown. It all started in our home, and it was very much between me and my sister—writing all the songs, producing, all that. With everything happening in the world, we felt like we were really getting back to that with the creation of a lot of the songs. It’s a really feel-good project. We have all those singles that we put out and some more that people are getting here in January.

UKIOMOGBE: Who were you listening to while recording it?

IVANA: For this specific project, we were really focused on the fact that we’re in a pandemic. “How are we going to move around?” We started to listen to some of the old music that we already had. “Come Over,” the song that we released first, was written four years ago. So we were just going with the flow. We weren’t necessarily listening to anyone. We’re always going to listen to music because music makes you feel good. Definitely always listening to some Janet [Jackson]. Always listening to some Charlie Wilson, but there was nothing specific that we listened to to inspire this. We were sort of inspired by ourselves in a way. Not to brag or be vain, but we were just so isolated within ourselves. And naturally, the first song that we dropped, we actually played it acoustically first on Twitter at home.

JESS: We had our little home setup and recorded it. I feel like the creation of that song really represents the Homegrown title.

UKIOMOGBE: Do you have a song that always puts you in a good mood, without fail?

JESS: “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder and “Blame It On The Boogie” by The Jackson 5.

IVANA: Definitely “Return Of The Mack.” I feel like I was jamming to that when I was five.

UKIOMOGBE: What’s your go-to breakup song?

JESS: Honestly, I’m not one of those people that likes to listen to sad music when I’m sad. So if I was going through a breakup, I would be listening to empowering music like “Sissy That Walk” by RuPaul.

IVANA: I don’t even think this is a breakup song, but it feels sad to me and it’s a dope track. It’s “Not You Too” by Drak featuring Chris Brown.

UKIOMOGBE: What about songs for a road trip?

JESS: “Family Affair” by Mary J. Blige, “September” by Earth, Wind, & Fire, and “If” by Janet Jackson.

IVANA: “You Keep Me Hanging On” by Diana Ross And The Supremes.

UKIOMOGBE: I don’t know if you guys smoke, but if you were to make a high playlist, what would be on it?

JESS: “High For This” by The Weeknd. That was perfect. Honestly, all The Weeknd songs. I would say “Floating” by Mannywellz, which we’re featured on.

IVANA: “Searching” by Damian Marley. Got to have the Marleys on there.

UKIOMOGBE: If you were to pick a couple of songs to play at your funeral, what would you pick?

JESS: Oh, I would play anything by RuPaul. I would just want people to celebrate my life. And I would play “Cherry” or “Comme Des Garcons” by Rina Sawayama.

IVANA: I would play “Dream On Dreamer” by The Brand New Heavies.

UKIOMOGBE: You guys have very different vibes going on.

IVANA: [Laughs] Right? All different vibes. But definitely that one. I feel like that’s the one for me.

UKIOMOGBE: Favorite karaoke song?

JESS: “Un-Break My Heart” by Toni Braxton and “Ain’t Nobody” by Chaka Khan.

IVANA: “Through The Fire” by Chaka Khan.

UKIOMOGBE: Do you have a favorite TV show theme song?

JESS: The DuckTales theme song. Basically all the 90s cartoon theme songs. We’re actually obsessed.

IVANA: The Proud Family. That’s the bomb. Destiny’s Child featuring Solange. Crazy.

UKIOMOGBE: What would you play for a house party?

IVANA: Maybe some Megan Thee Stallion. Anything from her new album to get the girls excited. “Hallucinate” by Dua Lipa. If we’re going throwback, “Upside Down” by Diana Ross.

UKIOMOGBE: How about for a dinner party?

IVANA: I’d feel more like Snoh Aalegra. “Find Someone Like You” or “I Want You Around.” Maybe some Amy [Winehouse]. I feel like I would put on YouTube and find one of those lo-fi, smooth jazz channels.

UKIOMOGBE: Speaking of dinner, if you could have dinner with four artists living or dead, who would you choose?

JESS: Oh my god. Prince, Patti LaBelle, Mariah Carey, and Whitney Houston. That would be fun.

UKIOMOGBE: What about you, Ivana?

IVANA: It depends on the kind of conversation I’m looking for. I would like some tea spilled. I would definitely have Diddy. I would have Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones. It’d be good talks. Music tea.

UKIOMOGBE: Who’s your all-time dream collaborator?

JESS: Honestly, mine for a long time has been The Weeknd. I would love to collaborate with Lauryn Hill or Drake.

IVANA: Yep, same.

UKIOMOGBE: What’s your favorite music video of all time?

JESS: I have three. The TLC “No Scrubs” video is pretty iconic. I love “Say You’ll Be There” by The Spice Girls. And then, for some reason, I really love all the old Britney Spears videos. I would say “I’m a Slave 4 U” because that was one of the more iconic ones.

IVANA: Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time.”

UKIOMOGBE: Before the pandemic, what was your favorite song of yours to perform live?

JESS: For me, it changes every time, but when I think “Through Enough” was always really fun to perform no matter what.

Ivana: “Taste.” I think that was really fun to perform.

UKIOMOGBE: Is there a reason that you guys gravitate towards those two songs?

JESS: With “Through Enough,” it’s speaking from a place of heartbreak. But it’s just so upbeat and energetic. It’s one of those songs that you just get excited about. So for me, it’s almost a hype song. No matter what we’re feeling that day, when we perform that song, the energy just goes up. And for some reason, it transfers to everybody.

Listen to VanJess’s “Add To Queue” playlist below, and follow Interview on Spotify for more.