THEAUSSIEWORD.COM catches up with singer/songwriter James Johnston.
How and where did it all begin for you? What drew your interest to the music industry?
I first stepped on a stage at just 4 years old. I was performing “Friends in Low Places” – Garth Brooks, for my Kindergarten class! From that moment on it really has defined my story. Music and travelling around as a kid has just been something I’ve always done. Music has never been a part of my family history; I was really the first to go into this world so I’m not sure where my passion came from, but it has always been something I’ve just loved to do.
What motivates or influences you in your quest to make great music?
Ever since I started performing, I’ve loved the feeling of bringing a crowd together to have a shared experience greater that any individual. I think that is something incredibly powerful about music. In recent years I have also fallen in love with the process of song writing, chasing that feeling when you know you’ve found a little bit of a gold and a song makes you feel something. That feeling is incredibly addictive
What are your biggest goals you hope to accomplish as an artist?
I want to make music that other people can see themselves in and that makes them feel proud of the person they are. For me music is a celebration and I just hope what I do can brighten up someone’s day and bring them a bit of joy!
What can we expect from you in the coming months? Any plans to tour?
In the next few months, I will be working hard to ensure I’ve got lots more music to release, and I’ve also got lots of great festivals line up, so I’m really excited to get out there and perform and connect with people across the country.
Tell us a bit about your latest release and how would you best describe your music?
My latest release “SMALL TOWN” was inspired by a drive back to the town where I grew up in Wingham, NSW. I was on the road and just so excited about getting back to my family farm and back to my little community. I wanted to capture that feeling in a song and that’s how “SMALL TOWN” came to life. I just started writing down what I was doing at that time, and it just grew from there. I then worked on it with my co-writer, Nolan Wynn and my producer, Justin Wantz. I wanted to make it just sound anthemic and just feel like a celebration and that’s what I feel the song is. A celebration to small towns!
Give us an insight into your creative process. What gets you writing songs?
It truly depends on the day and how I come to write. I listen to a lot of new music and I’m constantly searching for a song that makes me feel something. Quite often I’ll be driving and hear a new song and pull over on the side of the road, grab my guitar and start writing because I feel so inspired. Other days, like with “SMALL TOWN” I will just be living an experience and it will trigger me to get inspired. Once I’ve written the song, I normally produce it up myself so I can really know how it’s going to feel recorded. I will then send it off to my producer in Nashville and we will work on it together until we both feel it.
Is there a hidden meaning in any of your music?
Not really, I want my music to be easily understood. I often ask myself when I’m writing would I speak this, is this something I would say in everyday conversation. Most of my favourite song writers are quite conversational in their approach.
Success, what is the secret to it?
It sounds cliché, but I think it is enjoying the process. It feels great to get recognised for hard work and when a song become successful, but truly I just love making music. My happiest days are just waking up and writing songs. The rest of it is great but I think if you know the true passion behind why you do what you do in the first place then you are successful regardless of your accomplishments.
What has been your biggest career highlight so far?
Funnily enough it was the day my first single “RAISED LIKE THAT” came back from Nashville and I heard it all finished and I knew it was finally time to put my music out. Up till that point I had written 100’s and 100’s of songs. I’d spend countless dollars and years recording and producing music, knowing it wasn’t right. When I finally heard “RAISED LIKE THAT”, I was driving to a song writing session and I had a tear of joy, and I was fist pumping the air because I knew I had finally done it. I think I listened to it 20 times on that drive with a huge smile on my face.
Which stars of the music industry do you find inspiring?
I’m inspired by different stars for different reasons. Some artists like Cody Johnson and Troy Cassar-Daley inspire me with their song writing! Some stars like Thomas Rhett inspire me with their approach to live. While artists like Garth Brooks and Kenny Chesney inspire me with their energy on stage.
Are there any new projects in the pipeline?
At the moment, it’s all about writing the best songs and keeping them being released. I am really excited about some of the songs I’ve been working on lately so I’m just excited about sharing more great music
The music industry is huge, where do you see yourself a few years from now?
I’ve always had the Nashville dream and for me that’s where I see myself. Australia is my home and I love the Australian country scene so for me, taking my music to as big of an audience as possible is the best way I can celebrate my home. In the same way I talk about my little hometown of Wingham all the time, I want to tell people about this amazing place we live in and the incredible talent we have here. I see going to Nashville and sharing that story with the world is the best way I can do that.
What is your favourite and least favourite part about this line of work and why?
My favourite part is the unknown of where the road will lead. I thrive on that feeling, the unknown of when the next song will hit me, the unknown of what opportunity lies around the corner, I’m also just so excited to work hard to make that next chapter as exciting as it can be. I truly don’t have a least favourite part, this life is not for everyone and most of the time it’s not glamorous and there are hours on the road, there are haters online etc but I know what I signed up for and I accept that! I try not to let that stuff get to me because at the end of the day I know why I am doing it and any of the negative elements that I can’t control I just don’t worry about.
Name a few of your favourite Australian artists.
Troy Cassar-Daley – I love his approach and his kind heart. He is also an incredible songwriter and storyteller. I love Adam Brands energy and his ethos. I recently got to spend some time sitting down with Adam and just chatting about life. I grew up looking up to him and after sitting down with him I have found a whole new level of respect for that man. His approach to music, family and his supporters is really inspiring and after our catch up it really gave me some great grounding and lessons to take forward.
The shape of the music industry has changed significantly over the years, including the use of social media, how do you feel about the industry as a whole and what does it mean to you in getting your records out into the public eye?
For me the social media, streaming world is what I have launched my career in, so it really is all I know. I actually love it. I love that I can lift my phone up and instantly talk to 1000’s of people. When I started this journey one of the big things I said to my manager is I want to build a grass roots positive community and my success up till this point has been because of this community we have built. This would not have been possible without social media.
How do you plan on cracking the international market?
Keep writing great music, keep putting on big shows and keep working hard. Often people ask me what was my secret to making “RAISED LIKE THAT” successful and there just wasn’t one. The song just connected. I want to take this approach to everything I do. Connect with an audience and stay true to who I am and hopefully that will get enough buzz to get people internationally to notice.
Do you collaborate with others? Who is on your wish-list?
Yes, I love to co-write, I would love to write with some of the artists I look up to. Jordan Davis, Troy Cassar-Daley, Cody Johnson. I think if I can get in the room with those guys, I will be one happy man!
What advice do you give for someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Stay true to who you are, work on your craft and don’t be afraid to fail. If you just start putting yourself out there you will have some wins and you will have some loses but you’ll learn a whole lot in the process. Trust me when I say I’ve crashed and burned a lot of times from live gigs to terrible song writes but I also had a take away and went back the next time stronger and more prepared.
A message for your fans. How do you best interact and respond with your fans?
For me I just see them as my community, I love having people come with me on this journey. Every day I get to meet new people who are coming on this ride with me, and I love that they get to share their lives with me, and I get to share my life and passion with them. Regardless, if I’m playing for 10 people or 10,000 that won’t change. Every day I get sent videos of people listening to my music while out living their life and that just makes my day.
Any last words?
I just want to say a big thankyou to everyone who is supporting me and has shown me so much kindness since I kicked off this journey. I know that making it in music industry takes an army of people that are behind me, and I’ve felt very welcomed and supported already. I can’t wait to keep going and keep connecting and meeting more great people around Australia and across the world.