Meeting Jael Johnson
By ERIC WAIER
Special to This Week in the Flathead
One of the many talented and bright stars who participated in last year’s Northwest Artists Syndicate Singer-Songwriter Showdown was Lakeside-based Jael Johnson. We recently invited Johnson into the Whitefish Community Radio studio to talk about her musical career, which boasts two EPs, a handful of singles, and numerous awards in music competitions across the country, such as being a finalist in the Hard Rock Cafe battle of the bands for the Northwest region, 2012 Indie Artist of the Year at Creationfest, and finalist in “Show Me the Music” national competition.
Johnson talked about her growth from the first EP “Stay,” which she wrote while attending Flathead High School, and describes the album as, “love/breakup songs.”
“That was just where I was in my life at that point,” Johnson said. “And it just reflected my age.”
On her most recent EP, “Islands,” which was released in 2014, Johnson said her love for hip-hop music and her life experience had a big impact on the difference in sound. Johnson spoke about the influence hip-hop had on the new album.
“I tried my best to incorporate my love for hip-hop music in to that,” Johnson said. She added that if you had to classify her music into a genre, it would be “pop-indie, hip-hop influenced acoustic.”
Johnson’s growth as a person and artist can be heard in her current favorite and unreleased track called “Sybil.”
“Basically that song was about a time in my life where one side of me was really wanting to be one way, and there’s this other side of me that kind of is trying to hold true to who I really am,” Johnson said.
Johnson has seen someone break out firsthand while she was working alongside then-unknown artist Halsey while recording “Islands.”
“While I was down there she got signed to Capitol [Records] and became pretty big actually,” Johnson said. “She just did a feature on Justin Beiber’s new album.”
Johnson said the experience has been an inspiration for her, “not just in musical influence but also in the way I see the music industry.”
Despite Johnson wanting to “make it,” she said her ultimate focus is making good music.
“I’m just pursuing it with everything I have,” she said. “I know that when people start focusing so much on, ‘oh I’m going to make it’ they lose the passion for what they love to do.
“I’m just going to keep going forward and see where it takes me.”
Johnson moved to Seattle after graduating from Flathead High School, “to kind of get into a bigger music scene.” However, Johnson was drawn back to the Flathead and its tight-knit music scene.
“I had all these expectations when I went over to Seattle and when I got there it was not what I expected,” Johnson said. “Here the music scene is a family. I see almost everyone in the music scene as a family. I’ve gone to weddings in their families. There’s just such a close-knit bond.”
Johnson said the local music scene is something she is very passionate about, explaining it’s “one of the main reasons I just moved back from Seattle, is because I realized how amazing my family is here in the music scene.”
Johnson gives personal credit to local music icons Tommy Edwards Sr. and his son Tommy Edwards Jr. with the popular band Comatose Posse for their support.
“They have been like a second family to me,” Johnson said. “They have invited me to every show and let me have a spot while they’re on break.”
Johnson said her advice for those looking to start a music career is to “Play every single chance you get.
“There’s a lot of shows that I play literally for my mom and my best friend ... those are the ones I appreciate the most because it teaches me how to perform.”
This summer Johnson got a taste of life on the road while she went on tour as an opener for Seattle-based Matt Bacnis Band, which she described as an “amazing experience.” She is currently working on a full album, and “really hoping to see it happen next summer.”
Johnson hopes to compete again at the second annual Northwest Artist Singer Songwriter Showdown, for which applications are due Friday, Dec. 18, and can be found at www.northwestartistsyndicate.com/singer-songwriter-showdown.
Next year’s Showdown will be held on Feb. 19, 2016, at the Bigfork Center for the Performing Arts. Finalists who will perform will be announced in early January.
More information and the latest updates on Johnson can be found at www.jaeljohnsonmusic.com. Listen to the full WCR interview and live-set with Johnson at www.whitefishcommunityradio.com.
Eric Waier is the station manager at Whitefish Community Radio. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.