Alexz Johnson finds her voice anew in her soul-stirring fifth album ‘Seasons,’ a beautifully raw embrace of the circle of life. In our in-depth interview, the singer/songwriter and actress opens up about the making of her new record, her experiences in motherhood and gardening, and what life is really like as an independent artist.
Stream: ‘Seasons’ – Alexz Johnson
The biggest message is to live in the season you’re in and to not run from yourself.
Alexz Johnson’s fifth studio album is a record of reckoning and redemption; of loss, perseverance, and hope; of the beauty, and the pain, of existence.
It’s a soundtrack to life itself, rooted in accepting the ebb and flow of the natural order – recognizing our own individual agency to impact and change our world, as well as all those things that are out of our control: “There’s a season to lose, a season for truth, a season to cry, there’s a season to die. There’s no reason to hide what you’re feeling inside; there’s a reason in the seasons of your life.” Johnson finds her voice anew in the soul-stirring Seasons, a warm and wondrous embrace of the circle of life.
If I could only see the future
And what we have in store
Will I lose you like my sister
Or get caught inside a war?
In this moment all my worries
Seem miles and miles away
And I see color in the garden
It’s floating through the air
I can hear you in the kitchen
Singing blues above the stairs
In this moment all my worries
Seem miles and miles away
‘Cause there’s a season to grow
A season for change
Season to try and keep trying again
You and I are the same
There’s a season for this pain
– “Seasons,” Alexz Johnson
Independently released April 7, 2023, Seasons is a powerfully moving and mature collection of songs dealing with the raw facts of life – death; loss; birth; growth; change. Seismic in scope yet intimate by nature, Alexz Johnson’s fifth album is a beacon of light. The NYC and Toronto-based singer/songwriter and actress shining boldly and brightly, creating something beautiful out of her own hardship whilst at the same time finding meaning in the aspects of existence that so often seem meaningless.
“This album is the story of my life this past couple of years, so get ready,” Johnson says. “I created this album from home and hearth to heal my grief, heal my relationship with music, and regain the confidence to remember why I started doing this in the first place.”
These recent years have been a whirlwind for Johnson and her family: Her sister Mackenna passed away from complications arising from cancer in 2019. That loss was immediately felt on Johnson’s fourth album Still Alive, whose utterly heartbreaking title track served as a reminder to love and appreciate what we have when we have it. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic less than a year later, followed by the birth of Johnson’s two children, Angus and Ryan.
“Freedom is how I would define this musical season of my life,” Johnson says. “Mirroring how the seasons are free to be what they are, when they are. Just as life will break you, mold you, take from you, and give to you, this album is a compilation of songs from my own seasons…death, birth, growth and pain. Now, free from corporate chains, I’ve created this music from my home, in hopes that when people listen to this album, it can be a source of healing throughout all the climates of their emotions, as it’s healing me through mine.”
Johnson introduced Seasons earlier this year with lead single “Hurt Me,” a heartrending outpouring of acceptance and unconditional love that welcomes pain as an essential part of life: “The artist gives us permission to grieve, to hurt, and to bleed, creating a space for us to feel comfortable with the full spectrum of our emotions in a beautifully expressive song that itself holds nothing back,” Atwood Magazine wrote at the time.
A warm light glowing in the cool, cold dark, “Hurt Me” hits heavily through tender piano chords, plaintive guitar strums, and Johnson’s charismatic, passionate vocals: “Cry on my shoulder, I won’t let you go,” she promises in her comforting and cathartic chorus, laying the foundations for a mindset built on emotional acceptance rather than suppression. “Don’t leave! What kind of friend would I be? You can tear up my heart while I stand here and bleed. Give all of your demons to me… and hurt me…”
“I think in order to be in a position to take on another person’s pain, you need to have experienced some level of pain yourself,” Johnson says of the song. “I feel like everyone is hurting, but they feel they’re not allowed to hurt. As though, if you’re broken, you’re not worthy of love. [But] to love someone is to love all of them… To love someone is to see the ugly, raw, and brutal parts, but still be a shoulder for them to lean on.”
“Hurt Me” served as a fitting introduction to Seasons, highlighting Johnson’s fresh perspective emotionally and lyrically. “You just need a change of season, there’s been too much rain,” she sings in a brooding, bolstering second verse. “… And no onе really warns you how quick your world can change.”
The full ten-track album sees Johnson navigating life’s turbulent, murky waters while building bridges of human connection. The soulful, cathartic title track “Seasons” serves as the record’s thesis statement. The buoyant, gospel-inspired “Borderline” is the musical manifestation of an outstretched hand, with Johnson creating a space of comfort, solace, and support to anyone in distress: “You don’t know what you’re gonna find, you won’t know til you make it to the borderline,” she reassures. “Don’t be scared, you’ll be just fine. Take my hand as we make it through the borderline.”
Seasons looks inward and outward at the same time as Johnson dives deep into her own experiences, emotions, and psyche, and channels them into heartfelt words of wisdom and lessons learned: From the humility and acceptance of life’s mysterious ways in “Ain’t That the Way,” to the steadfast resilience flowing through “Faith,” each song is its own little epiphany – a hard-won moment of enlightenment and understanding coming to terms with life’s rocky roads.
If I had known then what I know
Certain places we can’t go
But the demons in my mind
Came to tease me one last time
Doesn’t matter who you know
I’m thirty-five, and I’m losing my mind
‘Cause I feel the same
Oh, I’m caught in a hurricane
Someone show me some grace
I had a plan
Saw it played out up on a big movie screen
The ending was you and me
That film never played
But ain’t that the way
– “Ain’t That the Way,” Alexz Johnson
Atwood Magazine caught up with Alexz Johnson to discuss the epic, intimate, and raw insights she’s taken away from these past few years.
Dive deep into Seasons in our in-depth interview below as Alexz Johnson discusses the making of this record, shares her experiences in motherhood and gardening, and opens up about what life is really like as an independent artist.
“This is my story, and I am not gonna run from my story,” she says.
Whatever you’ve gone through in your own life, Alexz Johnson’s fifth album promises to uplift and inspire; to be the resolute spark of light in the dark.
Seasons is out now wherever your get your music. Catch Alexz Johnson live in New York this April, and on tour throughout Europe in May: Tickets and more information here!
A CONVERSATION WITH ALEXZ JOHNSON
Atwood Magazine: Hey Alexz! First of all, congratulations on your fifth studio album. What does it feel like to finally have Seasons so close to being out in the world?
Alexz Johnson: It’s just really exciting, it’s turning the page. This album has really been like two years in the making, it really has been from the first moment I wrote the idea for “Ain’t That the Way.” And just life through pregnancies, through the pandemic, through sickness. My husband’s mom got a cancer diagnosis, everything that went on, that was like faulting and stopping, and there were so many things working against me to make this record, and I feel like now that it’s coming out, a part of me feels like I can actually do anything, like I’ve never felt that way really but I feel like it’s like I can do anything. If I could track this, record it, finish it, write it… I took the own photo in my backyard, I did the artwork… Or sorry, my brother did the artwork but I envisioned this whole thing from… And I don’t know, it’s emotional, it’s emotional to put this record out after everything that’s happened in my life, how much I’ve changed as a person.
This isn't the first time you've taken so much ownership in your art; for however many years we've known each other now, you have been proudly “banging the doors down” as an independent artist. What's changed between your last album, Still Alive, and this new record?
Alexz Johnson: So much, so much growth, so much responsibility. I recorded every single vocal by myself, and I’ve never done that. As a singer, it was like I really challenge myself, and nothing was good enough, and I learned so much through that process. And I wrote these songs, all of them stemmed from me and my guitar, and I’d come up with an idea. And I would say about 95% of the record were fully written songs that… I had recruited this team, James Lewis is a mixer, who’s now based in Australia, and he’s mixed a lot of my records. And I love keeping loyal, I love keeping loyal to two professionals that are good at what they do and respectful and just… I love that, I love how I have the ability to do that as an indie label, and I can’t wait… We’ll talk about that one day with other artists but I recruited James, and James said, “I’m gonna bring my friend Paul Beard, he’s gotta come on board with this.” Paul Beard is like… He had a number one with Lily Allen recently, and he’s an incredible pianist and songwriter. And so he came on board, and basically I just would shoot Paul these acoustic demos and he’d be like, “Wow, okay.” And he would add a little piano part, became almost like an Elton John and Bernie dynamic.
And it was really cool because I was steering the ship, and it wasn’t like I was in a studio with a producer who was leading the way. It was like… Paul and James have production credit because I don’t need to take production credit, I’m just so over the moon with how much freedom they gave me, and Paul really helped guide me through like the tracking process. This is all overseas, they’re in Australia, I’m in Ontario. I was so grateful for that, that I wanted to honor him and I wanted to be like… ‘Cause I just know that these songs wouldn’t quite be the level that they’re at, for the first time, an indie artist is tracking it from home, if it wasn’t for Paul and James helping steer and empowering me like, “You can do this, Al, just invest in this mic.” I can’t invest in some going down to Long & McQuade and renting a mic every weekend and setting up the… I don’t have a recording studio, so I’m putting blankets and pillows in my closet, and I have to do it when the kids are napping, or Dad’s gotta go on a drive with them in the car. It was just like this massive undertaking. I don’t know what your question was, I forget it, ’cause I’ve gone on and on.
You see the end product, but you don't know how much time and effort went into it. You never know that. You used to write songs with your brother Brendon, and it sounds like he wasn't quite involved in that process anymore. Is the duo now a solo?
Alexz Johnson: Yes, it’s a solo, and again, this is like giving birth – I gave birth naturally, that was a choice that I made – but I think in general becoming a mother, regardless of how that happens, changes you. For me, what it did is it really made me realize my capacities and it really made me grow up a little bit, or a lot, and it made me look at my own abilities. Like, “If I can do this and if I can have a child and now I’m like an actual adult raising a child, I think I can do a record… I think I can do a record on my own from home. I think I can recruit some people that I think are talented to be on the sidelines but I think I can do this.” And that’s what I did, it gave me a confidence, but of course, like every step of the way, doubting and like, “Oh my gosh, this is too much, I’ve taken on too much, the song sucks, what am I thinking?” But really, I needed to do it for myself.
ON BEING AN INDEPENDENT ARTIST
When you and I first spoke, you spoke so viscerally about being independent, and even now I'm hearing you talk about the sheer number of things you've taken on, and it sounds like a herculean task. Does it get easier over time?
Alexz Johnson: I feel like as an indie artist, if you wanna do it the right way, what I think people don’t realize is that doing a record at this level is like… I’m just going to say it, because this is just the facts: You are putting a lot of faith into this, it’s hopefully gonna be an investment, the amount it takes when it comes to doing a profession, like recording, the gear, mixing, mastering, photoshoot, artwork, music videos. Everything that goes into an album launch is equivalent to a down payment for a home, depending on where you’re buying. It’s the equivalent of buying extra land somewhere in a little rural town that you can hope will grow and you can have that as a little investment that will give back to you. That’s the risk you’re taking is an indie artist. You’re looking at your family, you’re looking at yourself in the mirror and you’re going, “Do I believe in myself enough to invest in this project for the next two years of my life, and when I release it, will anybody care?“
I’m a mother now, I have children I have to feed. This isn’t just me like, “Oh, look at me, I’m gonna make a little record and put it out. La-di-da.” This is a massive undertaking, I cannot stress that enough. My Patreon community made this happen. If they didn’t make this happen, this record wouldn’t exist. My fan base have directly, through every live stream, every behind-the-scenes moment, all the hardships, through my Patreon community subscribing to me is what made this record. And that to me is like the coolest thing ever because the coolest thing about it is that they’re going to get… They’re going to get a record and they’re a part of it, so there for the rest of time, this is something that they’re a part of, that they helped create. No, it doesn’t get easier at all, I mean it is hard, it’s hard work every day promoting and… I love where we are, I love that artists can make music and that it can get released. I love that we’re in a place where you don’t need the middleman but man, you do need just to be really steadfast and you do need to really hustle if you wanna do it the right way.
I really think that that’s the truth, and I’ve really realized that, “Okay, now it’s my fifth record, am I gonna put this out the same way I put out my past records? Am I just gonna have that attitude of like, ‘Let people find it,’ or am I actually gonna invest in this and sacrifice…” And that’s what I did, and that’s where it starts to be like, “Okay, I think it makes a difference.” And I’m very grateful that my fan base are a part of it.
I think it's so empowering that we are in this place in the 2020s where independent artists can break through the noise. To me, the biggest challenge to anybody trying to “make it” in the 2020s is that you have to create something that's authentic, and then commercialize it. This record is the perfect example of something that is so brutally raw, and yet at the same time, you have to advertise it to the masses.
Alexz Johnson: Yeah, and that’s why I feel like the only way I can do that with this record is completely be real about it and share all the self-sabotage that almost didn’t make it happen. I’m sharing all those brutally honest moments of like, “Guys, can you come to a show? If you like my music and you like my voice and if you’re inspired by what I’m doing, can you in some way share the story or share the link because I’m so… ” I have anger. Obviously, I have a lot of anger because I’ve been signed to major labels for years of my life and I put a lot of trust in the majors, and my career went a completely different way than I expected. I’m upset to see that the platform and the infrastructure of the major labels still exist. It’s like how I’m upset that all these actors are coming forward about their childhood trauma being child actors but yet, nothing is being put in place to protect children. I think it’s insanity that corporations are making so much money off of child actors that there should be laws in place. I mean I don’t know what that looks like exactly but it’s always talked about, yet it’s still happening. Artists are still being signed for their amazing talent and then they’re being held against their will because of money, because of fear. It’s prison. And the fact that that exists and then I went through that hell makes me so like… I’m so on fire to prove that you can be in indie artist and have a successful life.
What is your definition of success? Again, I think that is skewed, people look at the Grammys and think, “Oh, if you’re at the Grammys, I guess that means that you’ve made it.” It’s like, “Screw that. Not at all. You’ve it. If you’re making money off of your music and your content, you’re doing something right. You’re sharing that with the world. I just think it’s people, they need… I wanna be that example, I wanna show people that like, “Yeah, it does take hard work, it does take dedication. You will have some tears. No, it’s not easy but nothing worth it is easy.” I’m not gonna paint the picture that I just get out of bed and set up my sound like I don’t hit roadblocks every single day in my mind and in my life but you can live a very beautiful life making art and creating if you just put those things into practice.
If you want to really make art and follow your voice, you need to do what you're doing and you need to release music on your own terms, your own way. Better that than risk being stripped or your authenticity and your voice. But we're getting off topic.
Alexz Johnson: No, it really is on point! And one thing I want to say is, I worked with a really massive producer, who I liked a lot, he’s great, but he did post something about a major artist that he’s worked with multiple times, like we’re talking major, major, major, major, major, major, major artist: “Do you know anybody in the industry who works as hard?” I don’t know one artist who works as hard… And I know this person, I’ve met this artist, so I’m like, “Yeah, okay.” And I actually said on the thing, I’m like, “I don’t know if that’s the way it works, I don’t think that it really, really comes down to just hard work, I think there’s also a lot of luck and a lot of bad luck.” I don’t think it’s fair to define artists who have struggled and who are indie and building as “not at that level.” Honestly, I know indie artists who run circles. I mean I’ve done everything around this album by myself.
The music world is not one where “to the victors go the spoils”; that is just not the way it works. I know several folks signed to labels who are ready to be out, and so many artists, once they are out, are so much happier, better emotionally, in a better mental health space, and just more at ease with their lives because they can call their own shots.
Alexz Johnson: Of course, it’s not worth any paycheck. If it was about money, if it was only about money in life, think about what life would look like… If it’s just about money, my gosh, what would that be? What would that look like? I wouldn’t have any children, I probably wouldn’t be growing vegetables and doing whatever, I’d be somewhere else, living and just in the rat race. I love music and I love creating; I don’t love the music industry, but I do love whatever this is, and there’s no name for it yet but I do love this direct-to-listeners relationship, it’s so empowering and it’s the only reason why I’ve kept making music. I would’ve not, I would have given up a long time ago if I didn’t have that relationship with my fans, I wouldn’t be here doing music at least.
I think it's nice to have that, where you're able to create your own community and keep sharing in that regard.
Alexz Johnson: Yeah, it’s awesome.
So Seasons… Where do I start? “If I could only see the future and what we have in store, will I lose you like my sister or get caught inside a war, in this moment, all my worries seem miles and miles away.” Those are the very first lines that open this album. Can you tell me about the scene that you paint in this first song, and the world you're building as we get into this record for the first time?
Alexz Johnson: Hope that you can go through some of the worst things you could ever imagine, and just like the death of a season shows us every time, you will grow and there will be a rebirth, there will be a better day. I feel like I’ve been through what so far in my life has been the worst time in my life, where I didn’t even know if I could even write music again, everything felt so grandiose and icky and like, “Oh, I’m gonna write a song.” What do I write a song about when I’ve watched my sister leave the planet in front of me? I don’t know what you write about. What do you say? And then I just watch the seasons change and I see the healing happen and I just began to process it through words. Life and death and giving birth and creating life, which is such a powerful thing, it’s the seasons just showing us how to live and it’s showing us that these things are normal, and it’s showing us that these things are beautiful, and that if we’re gonna be living a life, if we’re gonna live a long life, we’re all gonna experience those things. I wanted to really get to the point and be like, “There’s a season to grow and there’s a season to die, there’s a season to live. You and I are the same.” It was just how I’m feeling, how I’m feeling about life these days.
We spoke a lot about your sister Mackenna passing in your last record, on Still Alive; she played a big role on that record, and it sounds like she plays a very big role on this record too, albeit one that's now shared with your growing family and the lessons you've taken from a couple more years in-between.
Alexz Johnson: Yeah, how can it not? Meeting other people who’ve experienced loss, it’s still a part of me – it has to be – I was so close to her, and it’s what I know at my age, this is my story, and I am not gonna run from my story. My life right now isn’t dating, I’m not dating and falling in love again, I’m not at the club, I’m not angry in those ways. I’m raising kids, I’m challenged every single day, I’m married, which isn’t easy at all, I’m trying to maintain a home and peace, and I’m trying to be an example for artists who are struggling in a basement somewhere, thinking it’s impossible. I feel like it’s a load that’s insurmountable some days, but it has to be. My sister is going to always be in my music forever, my kids are always gonna be in my music, all of that, my pain, everything’s gonna be in it ’cause that’s my story. This album is the story of my life this past couple of years, so get ready.
This to me feels like the most coming-of-age, “learning the ropes the hard way” kind of record that you’ve put out. I think that it's great, the way the trend is going, each album really does build upon the last in terms of lessons learned.
Alexz Johnson: Yeah, and every song is new. Every song is new on this record… I have this way of bringing back something if I feel like it wasn’t done the right way, or, I don’t know what the word would be, it’s like, “Okay, people have heard the song, it doesn’t need to be reproduced because you’re pissed off about something. You could just whip up some new stuff.” I had so much coming out of me at that time of writing this that I even have more than an EP’s worth of finished tracks that I’m looking forward to putting out after this, which is cool. I don’t know how that happened, but it did.
I like the metaphor of “Seasons,” which you introduced right off the bat: “There's a season for this pain, there's a season to lose, a season for truth, a season to cry, a season to die. There's no reason to hide what you're feeling inside, there's a reason for the seasons of your life.” How did the metaphor of seasons come about, and what attracted you to using this metaphor as a means of examining your surroundings, your world, your life experience?
Alexz Johnson: I really got my hands in the dirt this last couple of years, I’m very grateful that my husband is so passionate about sustainability. I wish he was really passionate about music gear and stuff like that, he did play in a band but sometimes I was banging my head against the wall thinking, “Can you help me with this?” Like, “Yeah, I’ll help you, I’m just gonna be in the garden for a little bit harvesting our potatoes.” And I’m like, “Well, that’s wonderful too.” [laughter] And we do need food, so you are… But at heart, he actually is an artist, he’s such an artist at heart and he loves creating a beautiful space and thinking about the future. And when my hands were in the dirt and I’m learning so much about… I’m outside so much and really tuning into the seasons and noticing that it’s, “Wow, that’s a death, fall is death, fall is like, the leaves are falling off the tree, they’re dying, they’ve done their job. Now they’re gonna feed the mushrooms on the ground, and that are gonna come out and we’re gonna go forage mushrooms.”
And just being so in tune and involved in the seasons changing and being so still where I live, which is really quiet, there’s really not a lot of traffic or sounds, it was really a lot of those quiet moments that inspired me. And I never would have expected that. I lived in Brooklyn for eight years, I mean my whole life was going down to the coffee shop and social and friends. And I have that, I do have community up here finally after the COVID stuff started to lift a bit but I was really forced just to quiet down, and I found that that really inspired the message of this… Really, the biggest message is to live in the season you’re in and to not run from yourself.
I have a lyric in one of my songs. It’s this one: ‘Cause the seasons, they’re teaching you, “You can’t go anywhere right now, there’s six feet of snow on the ground. Where are you gonna go?” It teaches you to live in the moment that you’re in, and it’s okay to be in that moment. The bleak winter’s up here, it can be really dark and it gets dark really early, and I can’t imagine living in Finland but you do, you find the inspiration and the beauty of that, and I’m thankful for that. And we are all going to die, as horrible as that sounds, we will all be in the ground, giving to nature. We’re gonna be food for worms, and as insane as that sounds, it’s actually really incredible getting that close to the ground because it just reminds you of how powerful your existence is as a person and how you’re just so important. And in a world that’s so filled with so much distraction and all that stuff, it’s still amazing to remember your importance in you, and that’s what I’m trying to say with this album. Just stop running from yourself and live in it: It’s okay to do that.
That's from the title track?
Alexz Johnson: Yes, “Seasons.” “And when you feel like running, it teaches you to stay.” That’s the last verse. It’s in a moment, so giving when you least expect it and taking it away is what the seasons do. It’s what life does, takes things away all the time, and in a moment, there’s a flower from a seed you threw away, ’cause you’re not thinking… And when you feel like running, it teaches you to stay, so it’s like to live your life like the seasons is a goal.
You've definitely found a way to make life’s bleakest moments sound beautiful. You've also gone full Lion King, taking on the circle of life.
Alexz Johnson: My daughter loves that movie, so that doesn’t surprise me. [laughs]
There's something very powerful about that motif, and it keeps coming back again and again on the record. Did that reveal itself to you over time, or did you come into this batch of songs having a sense for what you were working towards?
Alexz Johnson: No, it revealed itself as I was writing the songs hugely, and I was looking at my window record… Like watching the seasons change, seeing how long it was taking me to finish this record. I was like, “Is this ever gonna happen?” And it’s no one’s fault, it’s just I’m juggling so much. I’m a mom, I’m breastfeeding, I’m making dinner for my children, errands and groceries and life, and finishing a basement renovation to get my parents here, it’s been just… At moments I was like, “This isn’t fair, should I just stop this?” And my husband said, “Why would you do that? No, this is wonderful. And Ryan’s gonna be like, ‘Wow, Mom, that’s so amazing that you did this at that time in your life, you’re really showing me, you’re showing me as a daughter that I can do that too.'” [laughs]
In a world that’s so filled with distraction, it’s still amazing to remember your importance in you, and that’s what I’m trying to say with this album. Just stop running from yourself and live in it: It’s okay to do that.
Again, it's a Herculean task. Can you tell me about your garden?
Alexz Johnson: It’s beautiful, we have really long winters here, and we really look forward to growing and harvesting and being out in nature and learning. Last year I planted borage, which is amazing tea and super high in vitamin A. It’s really cool, old school, the bumble bees absolutely love it, it’s so good for your garden. You could take a bunch of the leaves, leave it in water and it makes the best fertilizer for the rest of your garden that you could even imagine. It feeds the garden. And you can take the leaves and chew on them, they’re really good for gum health.
These are things I never… I’m learning so much just by doing it, and I’m failing all the time, and you try, and sometimes it’s a good crop, and sometimes some bug will get it and take it before you do, and it’s like, “That’s the way it goes.” But it’s been a real solace for my mind, for my mental health. I haven’t mastered this by any means, but whenever I’m struggling in my mind and I feel a bit under attack, the demons in my mind, you have that in “Ain’t That the Way,” I find that when I go and do something and grow something and make something – and make something better for someone else – whatever that looks like, it really helps me get out of my head. So I feel like growing is that, it’s meditative to water your plants, it just gets you out of yourself.
Borage aside, what else do you grow?
Alexz Johnson: Carrots, tons of cucumbers, zucchini, kale, lots of lettuce, tomatoes, sunflowers, corn, kiwis. My goodness… Strawberries, blueberries, elderberries – elderberry syrup is amazing for our immune system. Potatoes, garlic – we have tons of garlic in the ground right now.
It sounds like it's taken lots of love and time, and as you said, failing and learning. What's been your favorite to grow?
Alexz Johnson: I love zucchini, potatoes, and lettuce is so cool ’cause you cut it and it keeps growing. You’re like, “Oh, I’ll make this salad tonight.” You get a bunch of lettuce, and a week later, it’s grown again, it’s incredible. And lettuce is so expensive at the stores, organic. It’s awesome, it’s so cool, I can’t rave enough about… And chickens, the chickens are incredible, the chickens, we have a coop that is… We keep putting… So in the coop, and they have a big long run that goes over the orchard. And we’re hoping to get apples this year because it takes about four to five years to start getting fruit from your orchard, that’s an investment. So we’re hoping to get some apples and plums.
And the chickens run in the orchard and then they do their thing, and that goes into the ground and that feeds the trees. And in the coop, we keep putting wood shavings in the coop at the bottom so over time, all of that becomes black gold. So every year we are putting that into our garden beds, and the chickens are feeding the garden and the chickens are laying eggs. And it’s all like this complete self-sustainable thing, it blows my mind. And I feel like there should be more initiatives for people to know this, for people to be like, I think everybody should be given two chickens. The city should be like, “These are your two chickens and someone’s gonna come here and help you build a coop for them, the right size for two chickens to be happy.” And it’s like a pilot project, and see what you can do with it. What can you do with chicken manure? Can you put it in pots on your balcony and grow something? It’s just mind blowing, it’s insane.
I think that’s phenomenal. Of course, this album came from your experiences, and this is your lived everyday life now. You are out there, in it so much more intimately than ever before.
Alexz Johnson: My husband has Oldstock Gardens, and because it’s been such a busy year, we’re tapping on apple trees right now for syrup, and the dream is to really put it all together. I would love to be able to be making music in the studio on the property, but also able to share seeds, sauerkraut, salsa, give people an experience. Get this music, and food, and all of those things, and have just a whole umbrella that’s Oldstock Gardens, Alexz Johnson’s music, create something really special. I don’t know exactly what that looks like yet, but I know I have to start with a podcast, so my next big move on is going to be that. I feel like that will be a breeze compared to how much work this album has been and all of this stuff. But that’s the dream – I want to merge it together somehow.
The other big change, in addition to having a garden, is of course motherhood, would you mind telling me about that?
Alexz Johnson: The hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life hands down, because I feel like it’s hard to be a parent, but I think it’s incredibly hard to try to be a good parent. It will break you open and it brings back all of your childhood trauma. You have memories of yourself as a child and it really shows you who you are, ’cause you’re looking at yourself in a way, being so… It just brings back so many memories. And I think everybody in some way or another experiences trauma, whether it was meant or not meant, I think it just is to be human, is you have to experience that, but at the same time, it’s the most amazing thing – it’s given me so much drive. I’ve always had a drive but it’s given me a different type of drive. It’s like I feel such a responsibility, which can be a weight sometimes because it’s a big deal, and sometimes you still feel like a kid, you’re just like, “Oh my gosh… ” You’re still dealing with all of your stuff and coming to terms with things, and that’s okay.
Someone told me one time, “I do believe that your children are meant to be your children.” It’s like I am Ryan and Angus’ mom, and I’m gonna do some things incredibly well. And they’ll look at me and go, “Mom, like you were so this and that, and you always played music in the house and you always were so much fun and fearless and we were always outside and you were always ready for an adventure but Mom, you didn’t cosy me enough on the couch, I feel like I didn’t get enough time cuddling with you. You were always so busy.” You can’t win as a parent, you’ll never win, and that’s where it’s like the humbling aspect of like, “Well, I’m doing my best.”
It always seems so much easier from the outside, Whether it's music or parenting or anything. Thank you for sharing both of these experiences, I know how much they not only mean to you, but also how much of them end up going into your art and this album.
ON THE SONGS
Earlier in the year, you told me why you led with “Hurt Me,” and you said, “I think in order to be in a position to take on another person's pain, you need to have experienced pain yourself.” This has to be the platform through which we start to unravel Seasons. The first song you wrote for this record was “Ain't That The Way”; can you talk about this song and how it kicked off the album?
Alexz Johnson: It’s someone in my life who I love very much is really struggling and they’re failing to see how blessed they are and how much they’ve been given. And something has enveloped them, this idea of success and fame and something that’s just not healthy, and “Ain’t That The Way” was like, “Well, I was promised a lot, I was given the sun, moon and the stars, and it didn’t really unfold for me that way. It unfolded in a different way, it unfolded in an amazing way I would have never expected. And ain’t that the way life is? Like, what are you gonna do about it? Get on with it, this is it.” So when I say I’m 35, losing my mind ’cause I feel the same, I’m caught in a hurricane. And I’m 45, is the other soul, I’m keeping in mind, it’s like just talking about how it will never turn out the way you think it will, and that is okay, that’s as simple as it is. That’s what the song is about, it’s just about grounding, and it’s just a very humble song about how my life unfolded and maybe how your life will unfold, and that’s okay, life is beautiful, count your blessings.
If someone hears just one song off of this album, which one do you hope they hear?
Alexz Johnson: That’s so tough. I guess I would say “Ain’t That The Way,” but also “Faith.” “Faith,” I think is really a song on the record that really shows the essence of [the phrase], “Allow it to be the season that it is.”
That's the midway through-point of the record. Can you share a little bit more about where that song came from?
Alexz Johnson: Just family. I come from a really big family, like a really big middle class beautiful family, in some years struggled and other years, it was… I didn’t have the easiest upbringing, I had a lot of responsibility put on me as a child, and “Faith” is just crying in enough when you’ve been on this train for days, when it gets too much, your big time plans have been a waste, like enough. You can push me away and look for somebody to blame, I don’t care, I’m gonna keep the faith, I’m gonna go this way but I’m always gonna be there for you any time you need me, I’m not gonna fall down unless… So it’s hope, the whole album is hope springs eternal. Yeah, so it’s a pretty personal song, “Faith,” I would say, well, the whole album is pretty personal.
We’re not the royal family
Did half of what we thought we’d do
We never really found our graceland
But never really wanted to
We didn’t go to church on Sundays
I guess we felt like we were saved
And I was there when things were easy
And I’ve been inside the cave
Crying ain’t enough
When you’ve been on this train for days
When it gets too much
Your big time plans have been a waste
When it gets dark, but there’s light outside
You’re cut wide open with nowhere to hide
You can push me away to keep all the hurt and the pain
I’m keeping the faith
As a lyrically forward artist, do you have any favorite lines that still resonate with you from these songs?
Alexz Johnson: Yeah, I would say my favorite lyrics is probably “tomorrow we’ll be gone,” as in, tomorrow, we will be gone. I would say, yeah, that song, if I won the Pulitzer Prize and made history, if my future children’s college was all paid for by the city, if they grow up to be wise and voted for their rights, yeah, that’d be alright. “But if I never make it quite to where I wanna be, and if I don’t fulfill my journal’s childhood prophecies, if it ends on some ungodly hour and strips us all from all our power and sets us free.” That’s my favorite line on the record.
It definitely resonates. Another thing that really struck me about this album was just how soulful some of the songs are. Some songs, like “Mad World,” reminded me very much of Joni Mitchell and Carole King – timeless artists whose records, like Tapestry or Blue, are always there for us when times are tough, when we need something cozy and comforting. What was your musical vision? What shaped the music, the sound, the tone of the album?
Alexz Johnson: I just wanted to make a classic record, I did not want it to be trendy, I don’t want it to be trendy or cool or hip or like whatever is in right now on the sound, the sonics, the vibes, I wanted it to just be classic, like a record that… And also too, like you talk about the Eagles, Don Henley, I love some of Don Henley’s production. I wanted to just do something that was just… I think about Amanda Marshall, I think about Katie Lang, I think about Carole King and Rickie Lee Jones, and it’s like it’s not really trying to be anything, it’s just giving the song what it deserves. And that’s what I wanted to do, I wanted it to bring people back to a different place, like what they were doing in the ’90s in a way, just making real records that didn’t… There were no gimmicks, there was no filters, just the photograph; no filters, no nothing, just that rawness I was going for with this record. I also would bring up Elton John’s “Sacrifice” when I just in my mind couldn’t get that feeling – that emotion, it just pulls on your heart. I feel like with “Ain’t That The Way,” when it drops and now you’re into the song, it stops you still and grabs you. I wanted it to bring people back to the time that songs like “Sacrifice” were on the radio. That’s what I was hoping, that’s what I was going towards, but not obsessively; I was going to allow the record be what it became.
What are some of your comfort albums – the ones you turn to for a sense of familiarity and home?
Alexz Johnson: Ricky Lee Jones’ Pirates, Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love, Peter Gabriel’s So. Everything Don Henley has ever done. Tapestry by Carole King is amazing. Lately, I’ve so been listening to instrumental music, I’m just obsessed with having a soundscape around me all the time because I feel so enveloped in lyrics and music, and I just want to be taken away somewhere. Billy Joel. I never experienced it, but I feel like even being born in the ‘80s, I was able to catch the last ship leaving – I do think there was a lot more vulnerability and realness in music in previous generations than there is now.
We’ve learned how to gimmick people, we’ve learnt how to indoctrinate people and manipulate people with music, and I think that in that, we’re forgetting what music is supposed to do, which is just supposed to bring you to your knees, it’s supposed to be like a holy experience. I don’t know if I’m explaining it right, but I wanted to make a record that stopped people. I’m hoping that it can just slow somebody down a little bit and have them listen through. But that’s me, that’s my generation; maybe I’m just old now, I don’t know.
I think it's an inspiring and ambitious goal to set for oneself; I wish that everybody would have that in mind when they're creating any kind of art.
Now you are about to embark on this set of shows that you're setting up yourself. What's that experience been like, and are you ready to get back out there post pandemic?
Alexz Johnson: No, not at all. It’s funny you talk about the hours of the day. I haven’t even really had too much… Like this whole next week is my practice week, which is nice, so I get to do that before heading off. And I’ll do some rehearsals in LA, but no, I don’t feel ready, I never feel ready, I’ve never ever been like that kind of… I’m so hard on myself, I’ve never been an artist who is like… I don’t know, I’m really hard on myself, so I really wanna show up for the fans. So I get a little stressed because I want it to be a great show. And then once I get on stage, the jokes start coming out, it’s like I realize I’m just like a puddle on the floor, so there’s no point in being stressed at all ’cause we’re all here together. And I usually end up crying at some point during a song and it just ends up being just a disaster, but it’s okay because it’s me.
Well, that's what the fans pay for really – that's what they're gonna come away with, that's what they wanna see.
Alexz Johnson: Yeah, that’s what they wanna see. And I guess at the end of the day, that’s what they’re getting, they’re getting something real… I’m not gonna make any promises, I never do. But I definitely am feeling good, I got some great bands, a band in LA and a band in New York, which is always such a luxury, to have a band, it’s like, “Oh my gosh.” And then in the EU, then UK, the whole month of May, bringing the kids, bringing the husband, bringing my brother, Garrison Cade, who’s so talented and I’m so excited for everybody to hear his new EP. He’s gonna be playing with me onstage, they’re gonna be very intimate shows, which I’m very excited for!
This whole album was written that way, this whole album lends itself so well to acoustic and electric, it’s just gonna be a really cool experience. On the Ron Pope tour in Europe, I opened for him acoustic, but I’ve grown so much as an artist, I feel like a completely different artist now. That was a really fun time, but with these songs, this experience is gonna be great, and having Garrison there will be awesome. I’ve also never toured with my kids before, so I think it’s gonna be awesome, it’s gonna be trying at times but I always think of it this way, if Mom and Dad are cool and we’re calm, then the kids are gonna be cool, they won’t be calm but at least we’re all gonna be okay.
Which songs are you most excited to bring to life on stage?
Alexz Johnson: Oh my gosh. “Other Side,” “Tomorrow We’ll Be Gone,” “Hurt Me,” I’m gonna really… I really want to take people to church on that one. “Borderline” is so fun. “Ain’t That The Way.” I’m really excited to play these songs and to tell the stories of the songs and I’m also gonna be bringing back… Because I’m bringing back songs from the past, I polled and asked fans like, “What’s your favorite?” ‘Still Alive,’ “Mad World.” That’s gonna be amazing with the band. “Skin” from… It’s one of my… It’s my favorite song from Instant Star, I wrote it with my brother. It was the biggest song from Instant Star, and I know that fans would love to hear that, so I’m excited to play that. I’m gonna try to… I can’t please everybody but I’m gonna try to, I’m really gonna try to show up and make these shows beautiful and intimate.
So it's a Seasons-heavy tour with a smattering of Alexz Johnson hits from throughout the decades. That sounds awesome! What do you hope listeners take away from Seasons, and what have you taken away from creating it and now putting it out?
Alexz Johnson: Don’t let the negative win, don’t let the negative thoughts win. Keep pursuing your dreams, keep pursuing your dreams, keep planting, keep growing, allow yourself to change and grow and stop running from yourself because you’re pretty great. That’s what I hope people take away from it.
Stream: “Seasons” – Alexz Johnson
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