Alexz Johnson: Commercial Doesn’t Have to be a Dirty Word (Interview)

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There are common themes in all music (read: all music worth listening to) and, despite whether it’s the heaviest of metal or the storytelling of folk, those themes are life, love, pain, spirit and authenticity.

Music, as with all art, is a community of people coming together to share experiences and to grow with each other. It’s a romantic notion, but it’s no less true because of it. Alexz Johnson, singer, songwriter, guitarist, is one of the many that’s peeling back layers of her personal life in hopes of empathy, honesty, and vulnerability.

Her latest offering, EP, Heart is a testament to exactly that. It’s a collection of songs about love, loss and heart. Johnson says she hopes “to emote strength and survival; the amazing outcome of going through tribulation in your life.” She phrases it perfectly when, after a pause, she says “it’s a gift.” And as the old cliche goes: it’s a gift that keeps on giving. One person’s pain is another’s empathy. But honesty doesn’t come easily.

“I didn’t set out for that to happen,” she says about honesty behind her lyrics, “it sort of just did. I feel I’m a pretty transparent person musically.”

Transparent. That’s the proverbial key. Because without transparency there’s none of what we value in music. Johnson calls it “authentic connection and understanding of the human spirit.” And she’s not wrong. Transparency allows for “listeners to empathize with me, understand where I’m coming from, in turn where they’re coming from.”

“If you’re going to be an authentic person, in general, you can’t listen to the outside voices.” She’s talking about growth, becoming more transparent and opening up to give people the truth. “You have to find who you are,” Johnson continues, “what you are from within. I mute it out [the outside voices]. My mission is to be true to me and share what I can. It’s a vulnerable thing.”

It’s a fairytale to think it’s all that simple (after all, not every artist can have James Michael (a hit songwriter for pop stars) behind every song they write). Johnson has bills to pay, real life, while it provides a lot of inspiration, can be hard. Musicians need to make money and it’s not as easy as throwing songs onto SoundCloud and becoming famous overnight.

“All the time.” She says about being commercially viable and feeling the pressure to create popular music. “More so in my earlier years of being an artist.”

Let’s be clear, Alexz Johnson is no sell-out, she’s honest about her situation. “I always felt funny doing something that wasn’t me. It’s been a blessing, but its my curse at the same time.”

Complaints? No, not in the least. She finishes by saying “I’d rather take the long way home, so to speak.” Besides there’s nothing more woe, is me than complaining about living the life you’ve dreamed of. Johnson isn’t that person and it’s refreshing. There’s still a genuine want for people to find something in her words.

“It’s truth.” She says of the EP Heart. “Whether I like it or not, it’s truth.” That’s both true for the niggling voice that says she needs to be commercially viable and for what’s come out of the writing process of the new EP.

From the many just like Johnson seeking human connection to the songs on her new EP she has championed what makes music special for her and the end result is an EP that she’s taken the long road home on, locked out the outside voices and come up with songs that are as hopeful as they are honest.

Love, pain, spirit and authenticity. It’s a full circle.

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By Sebastian Mackay

Photo: Jessica Earnshaw