Here's a great interview that I did with the lovely and talented Alexz Johnson! Check it out below.
What was your earliest recollection with music?
My dad used to always play The Temptations and The Drifters, Billy Joel. I grew up listening to Patsy Kline, I grew up listening to all of these old records and that’s what I emote to. At this time in my life, I’m not really moved by new music, unless it’s, like, tapping into some kind of truth. And those songs were all pop songs. I think that pop music has changed so much, in my generation. I feel like my first recollection is, like, moving and dancing to those soulful records. Growing up with the knowledge of that old school, real music impacted the way that I wrote. I grew up in a pretty modest family. I’m one of ten kids. We would all kind of come in together as a family. Sometimes we’d pool in to buy groceries, and stuff like that. One of my brothers was in a band, he’s five years older than me. He was drumming in the band. I was like, “That’s cool, I wanna be at your rehearsals!” I was eleven. He let me come down and watch him at his band practice, and then we would start writing music together. I’d just come downstairs with a guitar. Then Instant Star happened, and it was like, “Do you want to be the lead of a show?” I was like, “well I’ll only be the lead if I can write music with my brother.” They were like, “Awesome!” That unfolded and since then it’s just been… I’ve always kept that with me. That old school, soulful, big voice, truth kind of stuff. No gimmicks.
That’s good. It’s always a lot better when an artist is more honest and straightforward. People can tell when it’s a gimmick. When they see that it’s real, it just makes for a much better listening experience and a much better connection wit the artist.
Oh completely! And that’s what I want to do, and that’s what I’ve been noticing on this tour. I’m so blown away. I’m so vulnerable up there [on stage]! We’re talking like 500 to 600 people. And it’s just me, my guitar, and my sweaty little fingers [laughs]. But it’s been amazing! It’s been really cool; people have been connecting to it and it’s been great.
You were a child-actor, and I actually remember seeing you in shows like So Weird. What you say that being in the entertainment industry at such an early age has taught you, and how have you applied that knowledge to where you are now?
I mean, just work ethic. It’s been positive, but it’s also been really negative. I’m doing a record with David Kahne right now, who is, like, Grammy-winning, amazing, [worked with] Paul McCartney. For some reason, when I get PR working on projects of mine, the title needs to “Disney Star Turns Indie Artist”. And let’s be honest, I was on a season of So Weird in 2000; that was fourteen years ago. It kind of diminishes everything that I’ve done in my career up to this point. Like, everything I’ve done independently. Two record deals gone south; major deals. I had a full record that I did with Greg Wells, and I never got it released. I’ve been working my ass off, and I feel like in such a short term, it can diminish everything. But I think it’s been a blessing, obviously, since it gave me work ethic. Get up at 5, work, be the lead in a show. With Instant Star, I did the same thing. On tour, it’s the same thing! Hire the bandmates, get rehearsal, you know? It’s a job.
It’s definitely a job. I think that’s what fans, I think as much as they love the music, they don’t always understand that it’s a job. There’s a lot of work behind it, and you have to be on a schedule. I have a lot of people who will tell me “Oh, you interview musicians. They just kind of get up and play a show.” And I’m just like, “No! There is way more to it than that!” (laughs)
I’m in Europe right now, and you literally get up, you get to the venue, you shower if there’s a shower at the venue (which thank God there is at this one). But I also try to get some yoga in, a workout. Then you go and have lunch, you do a soundcheck. Then I get my merch table set up, and get all the numbers together. Which is great! But when you see documentaries like the Katy Perry documentary [Katy Perry: Part Of Me]… I watch as a female artist and think, “I feel sorry for you, but I also feel like… I don’t have a fitness instructor backstage. (laughs)”
She’s a sweetheart, and she’s incredibly talented. She was working with Greg Wells the same time that I was, as was Ke$ha. But you’re looking at a girl whose lost two major record deals. I have what it takes to get the deal, it’s just that my luck hasn’t been the same for me. And I think that’s going to work out in the end, and I think there’s a reason for that. I’m really stoked about this new record. I’m incredibly excited! But this is what I wanted to do; I never wanted the easy way. I wanted to tour and work my ass off. I’m not in this for fame, I’m not in this for money; I’m in this for respect from people that I respect. I want my favorite musicians to look at my record and go, “she’s fucking awesome.” I think that people always have their own goals as to why they get to where they get to. Many times I’ve been signed, and they’re like, “Why don’t you wear this?” And I’m like, “I don’t want to fuckin’ wear that.”
I would rather struggle and be authentic, than be unauthentic and have lots of money.
Tell me a little bit about the story behind the “Heart” EP.
So the “Skipping Stone” EP was [about] heartbreak, it was my life. I was going through complete pain in my life. “Heart” EP is the growth from that. It’s kind of the anthemic “thank you for breaking my heart, it’s got nothing on me, this is heartache, fuck it.” I feel like with “American Dreamer”…I moved from Canada with no visa, and nothing in my pockets. I was just like, “I wanna move to New York and tour.” And that’s what I did, and that’s what I’m doing. I feel like “American Dreamer” is the American dream. It doesn’t mean I’m American, I’m saying “American dreamer”. I feel like I channel Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, the idea of, like, living the dream, driving a Mustang, you know what I mean? The “I’m finally legal; I just got my green card, but I worked my ass off for it, so follow your dream and it will come true” kind of song.
I guess for the EP… to be honest with you, I intended on putting out a full record by Pledge. It was funded by Pledge. They [Pledge] have the EP. But it’s kind of like an album sampler, because I’m working on the album now. But what I wanna do is, that these songs are so “strong” on this record, that there’s been some interest from international distribution companies that can help me get it into stores, that can help me get it into Asia. So if I just release the whole record to Pledge, even though 900 people have funded my album (which they have), it’s a fine line, because this a huge opportunity for Alexz Johnson to get her music to a broader spectrum.
I feel like it’s a lot more of a difficult science than people think. There’s a lot of negotiations that happen when you do a record. I get a company calling me, saying, “we want to put your song on this TV show, but we can’t put the song on the TV show if you’ve already given the album away on Pledge.” It’s a fine line; I’m trying to do the best I can. I just got this great management team behind me, Azoff Management. They’re just doing awesome. But that took some time, so I’m cleaning up a bit of a messy situation from previous management decisions with dates and stuff, but I’m really excited. I have some treats coming to the Pledgers. Some cool recordings, special things we’re going to be giving to the Pledgers for being so patient for the record to come. And they will get it before everyone else! It’s an exciting time right now, and I’m in the middle of negotiating a couple things. When I have an announcement to be, it will be worth the wait!
Your producer for this EP was David Kahne (who has worked with legendary artists like Paul McCartney, The Strokes, Stevie Nicks). What did he bring to the table when producing your music?
It was incredibly two strong opinions, and it was amazing. I learned so much. David Kahne is an icon producer, but I was not afraid to give my opinion on things. He has his own style and flavor, which is why I hired him, and I had my own vibe, and I’m coming to the table with that. But we really found this nice medium ground. He’s an amazing, amazing person. I think he’s incredibly talent, and I’m so proud of the stuff that we’ve done together. But it’s taken time. We take this very seriously. Some of these songs…I don’t know, there’s like a timeless feel that is important. I may even go back on some tracks, I may go back with him. I don’t know, but the process has been six months at Avatar [Studios in New York City], in the studio, with different musicians coming in, trying different sounds. It’s been a very authentic process, and there’s been no time restraint with him, which has been great. I’ve learnt a ton. I’ve learned when to shut up, and when to speak up.
What kind of message would you like fans to walk away with after listening to your music?
Survival, strength. When you think it’s the worst… there’s always going to be pain in life, and when you think it’s the worst time, it’s always going to end up being a benefit to you in your life. When you think that you’re just going to die, that you just want to kill yourself, you think you are in hell… you have to keep the faith. There is going to be a reason as to why you had to go through that pain, and it’s a gift to experience pain like that, because a lot of people can’t feel at all, and they numb themselves. I want them to listen to my music and go, “Ah I’ve been there. Oh my god, I know it. I feel her, and it’s gonna be okay.” And also, some beauty along with it. I hope that my voice resonates with people, and they can enjoy it. I feel like this gift has nothing to do with me; I feel like I’ve worked on it training-wise, but this was given for something else. There’s a reason why I sing the way I sing, and there’s a reason why I have so much to say. That’s my only hope is that I can really make someone’s day. Make someone’s break-up better. Make someone’s relationship with their Dad better. I really hope that I can heal people with my voice, and I’ve always felt that way since I was really young.
What does music mean to you?
It’s everything. It’s everything to me. It’s my only way of really explaining myself. I was born in the middle of ten kids. I never got a second to say anything. Music to me is a way for me to be onstage and just share. It’s equally as healing for me as I hope it is for other people. But it’s everything to me. Music is my world. It’s way beyond any acting I’ve ever done, and I think that’s apparent in my life choices, or else I would be on Glee right now. That offer’s been there. You’re talking to a girl who…I’m literally so connected to the songs and the process. It’s going to be a longer road to get to where I want to go, but I know that I’m going to get there because I’m not gonna stop, because I don’t have a choice. It chose me.
Last question: What are the future plans for Alexz Johnson?
Yeah! I’m going to be finishing off my album. I get back to Brooklyn after this tour. My plan is to tour the album, and I’ll probably do another U.S./Canadian tour with a full band, headlining. Then I’m going to come back to Europe and do another tour here, around the new record. I’d love to get to South America if I can, that’s on the list. To be honest, this record is probably going to take up the next two years of my life when it comes out. It’s going to be a lot of touring the album, press around that, and then onto the next one!
This has been another shameless promotion.