Emancipated Alexz Johnson has no major ambitions
Considering the world she comes from, one has to give Alexz Johnson props for going it alone. The New Westminster–born actor is truly doing it DIY as a recording artist, as she’s more than thrilled to point out from a Pennsylvania tour stop.
Johnson doesn’t completely sugarcoat things. There are moments when having to handle every aspect of her road swing gets tiring, especially considering that she’s responsible not only for herself but for her band. Still, the benefits, as far as she is concerned, outweigh the moments when she wonders what in the hell she’s doing.
“To be honest with you, and maybe this is a female thing, it’s hard to be on top of everything,” the 25-year-old admits. “You start to feel a little bit worn-out. You don’t have time to take care of yourself. I’m dealing with six guys every day and performing every night. That’s kind of hard, and it’s leaving me feeling a bit frazzled. But to be meeting the fans, and playing shows, it’s really worth it.”
Her words ring sincere if you know anything about her back story, which didn’t start with the release of Skipping Stone, the EP that she’s now touring for. Johnson’s path to being an independent recording artist has been a long and winding one. Although she’s been singing since she was a kid, performing the national anthem at Vancouver Canucks games during her childhood, she first came to prominence as an actress. Those who came of age during the glory years of Hannah Montana will know her for playing Jude Harrison, a singer faced with negotiating the music industry, in the television show Instant Star.
In some way, that role mirrored what would happen in her real life. Somewhere along the line, the suits at the major labels realized that Johnson really could sing, which landed her recording contracts at both Sony and Capitol. Lending credence to the widely held theory that the majors couldn’t organize a punch-up at a boxing match these days, both those deals would leave Johnson in limbo, the singer eventually finding herself dropped without ever having released a record.
“As an artist, there’s nothing that appeals to me about being on a major right now,” she says. “I can’t tell you one thing. I ended up being away for a long time, in hiding in Toronto, playing shows at the Drake, trying to get my band on tour.”
Gradually, Johnson began to realize that there’s a new business model for those struggling to make a career in the music business. First, she headed to Nashville to work on Skipping Stone, a record that showcases an affection for ’60s pop (“Give Me Fire”), jazz-flecked folk (“Pleased to Meet You”), and stripped-down country (“Thief”).
Then she did what indie artists across the country are doing and launched a Kickstarter campaign, exceeding her goal of $30,000 in a day. Now, $67,000 later, she’s on the road, feeling emancipated. Well, except for the business of having to be responsible for everything.
“The only reason that I wasn’t on tour a couple of years ago was because of my major-label situation,” Johnson says. “It was awful. It took me eight months to get out of a deal, and those were precious years, my early 20s. Now, for the first time in a long time, I’m surviving off my music.”
Alexz Johnson plays the Media Club on Tuesday (August 14).
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