Vanessa Bayer on 'Sound Advice': 'Janessa likes Michael Bolton'
Image consultant Janessa Slater thinks that Bastille is a boy band, she’s pretty sure that Tegan and Sara should switch names, and when Drake says he started from the bottom and now his whole team’s here, she wants to know whether his whole team really is here.
Vanessa Bayer, who plays Janessa on the web series Sound Advice, knows a lot more about music than Janessa ever would. Her older brother Jonah, who helps write and put together the series, is a successful music journalist, and Vanessa recalled following him to concerts (and being a little overshadowed by her cool older brother). Bayer has now been performing on Saturday Night Live for four years, and she talked with EW about her favorite kinds of characters, what Sound Advice has in common with Millionaire Matchmaker, and why she doesn’t want to meet a real-life Janessa (okay, she sort of does).
How did you come up with the character of Janessa?
Well, it’s not really my personality to be—I guess—a bitch, but it’s a really fun character to play. My brother’s been working with bands in different capacities for a really long time, and since I was younger, whenever I’d be with him around bands, he would let me give them notes and stuff. I’d go up to these successful bands and give them really dumb notes. The idea of being critical of people who really had their stuff together was funny to me, so that’s how I came up with the character. It was a fun idea to be condescending to these bands that really did not need my criticism.
Did you have any people you knew you wanted to give advice to?
When my brother and I first started talking about it, I think we always wanted to start with the band Fun., because we’d always liked them and my brother was friends with some of the guys in that band. He’s known Jack Antonoff for quite a while and we thought that we knew them, so we’d be able to reach out to them. I think we always thought that Fun. would be—no pun intended—a fun band to work with.
And then from there you started to approach more performers?
Yeah, my brother would reach out to bands he knew or had connections with, and then from SNL I’d reach out to some bands as well.
Everyone you work with seems like they’re totally game. Do you give them an idea of what you’ll talk about in advance, or is there more improv involved?
We try to give them an idea in advance, and show them the stuff we’ve done before, but I don’t think they would do [the show] unless they had a good sense of humor, because it’s obviously going to be a lot of me going at them with just naïve, condescending comments. I think in general it’s really fun for them, because when they’re performing, they have to be really serious, but most of them are these really creative people, and I think a lot times bands don’t get to show how funny they are.
Do you have sense of people like Janessa in the music industry? Is this an actual career?
Yeah—in fact, there was a media coach I was supposed to meet with before I started doing this, and then I can’t remember what happened. But beyond that, I’ve definitely been interviewed by people who seem like they have no sense of what I do. Anyone who works in the entertainment industry has experienced that, and part of what I’m trying to do is to be that out-of-touch. I also assume there are people in this image consultant industry like Janessa. I hope I never meet them—or I hope I do meet them, so I could get some jokes.
Do you have any idea of what advice Janessa would give Vanessa?
I’ve never turned it on itself like that. She would probably tell her to smile less.
Are there any bands you really want Janessa to talk to?
We’ve been lucky because we’ve been able to work with a lot of different kinds of musicians, but there’s still a more that we’d like to do. I’ve always been into female vocalists, so talking to Sarah McLachlan, Tori Amos, or more women like that, would just blow my mind.
You’ve gotten a lot variety already, too.
Yeah, it’s fun to talk to a punk band versus a rap group, because [laughs] the best part is that Janessa doesn’t understand any of it.
Do you think there’s any band that she especially loves?
I think we decided that she really likes—it came up when we were writing one of the questions—I think she really likes Michael Bolton. This is no dig to Michael Bolton, because I think he’s doing some newer stuff now, but I think she hasn’t listened to music in quite awhile. So when I say she’s a fan of Michael Bolton, I mean his old stuff, not his new stuff.
How long is the production process for an episode?
It depends, because we usually get book bands really last minute, and the jokes will be written by me, my brother, and our director Pete [Schultz]. Sometimes one of us will take on more than the other, so we’ll figure out whose schedule can accommodate it. We usually write the questions over the period of two days to a month and then we shoot for anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes, depending on how long the artist has.
Doing this has given me such a better insight into bands and how much touring they do. When we try to schedule them, they’ll be in town, but doing some talk shows and all this other stuff and then they’ll be like “Yeah, we’re flying to Australia tomorrow and we’ll be on tour for another year.” And I’ll be like “Oh yeah, I have to go to brunch tomorrow.” We both live a very hard life.
Sound Advice embraces this kind of stand-offish comedy. Is that the kind of humor you tend to enjoy playing?
It’s always been fun to me to be that kind of character, because I don’t see myself as being that way. It can be intimidating with the artist, especially if you don’t know them, because you’re going at them right away as a bitch, and then when the camera stops I’m always giggling. And it’s fun for [the bands], because they never get spoken to that way—or at least anymore, because they’re doing so well. So I think it’s probably refreshing for them, even though they know I’m kidding, to get some real condescending stuff thrown at them.
It reminds me a lot of something like Between Two Ferns, where it’s almost awkward to watch because you’re not really sure it’s an act.
Someone said they thought it was like a mix between Between Two Ferns and Millionaire Matchmaker, and that’s kind of what we wanted.
Your brother works in the music industry. Did you learn a lot about that world from him?
I’ve always been trying to listen to the music that he thought was cool. He’s been into punk bands since we were young, so I’ve been to more punk concerts than anything else. I’ve always been like “I love this loud stuff, it’s so great,” but I think in my heart of hearts, I’m really into female vocalists.
And because of Jonah, I’ve been to a lot of concerts and stuff and gotten into music that I never would have gotten into. In high school, people would always call me Jonah’s little sister, and it’s funny, because he’s always been like my cool older brother who’s into music. Now, they’ll even be publicists or other people with the bands who come to SNL on Saturday night, and they’ll be like, “Oh, It’s Jonah’s little sister!” And I’ll think, “You guys, I’m on SNL now. I’m still Jonah’s little sister?”
Sound Advice releases installments biweekly. Janessa’s next guest will be LeAnn Rimes (slated for Wednesday 8/13), followed by episodes with Sara Bareilles and Norah Jones with her new band, Puss N Boots.