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Spotlight – Carolyn Dawn Johnson

Today we Spotlight – Carolyn Dawn Johnson. With a career spanning more than 2 decades Carolyn is back with a new single and we sat down to chat. Find out a little more about what makes this timeless talent tick and some fun insights along the way.

What got you into music?

I’ve always done music, so I’m not sure what exactly, other than the fact that we sang and played instruments at home as a family, and I absolutely loved music.  It was around me all the time, so it seemed natural and normal to me, it still does. I was a big fan first, following and listening.   I didn’t really think it could be a job that could make me a living other than being a teacher.  When I got older it made more sense and I realized it was possible, while it was very challenging, and I got to the point of “why not me?”.

Do you remember the first album you ever bought?

The first album I ever bought was ABBA Voulez-Vous – it had a blue cover.

What were some of the early bumps in the road for you in your music career?

Not knowing the business, needing to network more. People not taking you seriously. Trying to get heard through all the noise and stand out in your own way. Everyone is busy.

What would you say is a defining moment in your career early on?

When I went on the Girls Night Out Tour with Reba, Martina McBride, Sara Evans and Jamie O’Neal.  It was the first all girls tour like that, and we made a lot of headlines.  I got to be in front of huge audiences and start making my “mark” per se.

You have a new single out called “Road Blocks”. Can you give us the backstory behind this track?

This song was so much fun in the studio. The drums were key in this and then also the guitar parts. I love electric guitar, so I like to sit with a player and come up with things together and really collaborate.  I usually hear things in my head, so I sing them and we move on from there. Great players give me great joy watching them play. I love it so much! They know their instruments better than I do. Greg Foresman played all the hook guitars & the solo and he nailed the vibe and the melodies I was hearing in my head. When I worked on the vocals, I wanted it to be lively and with a bit of swank and attitude, not too much, but hopefully just enough with the confidence and joy behind it.  When I sing in the studio I get myself in the mood and try to be inside the song, then make a comp of that, and if it needs more, I take the expression or accuracy further. A great combination of both is needed. The backgrounds are fun in this song. There are some little moments that are not really very conventional. When I first did a couple of the “aside” type overlay melodies with my voice in the bridge, I was just being spunky and not really trying anything in particular.  I had the music cranked in my ears and just went with it.  I didn’t sit there and go “ok what should I do that’s a little different in the bridge” I was singing the whole song down and caught a vibe and it came out. 

I did different takes with different little pieces and they were all different

I had no discriminatory opinions about anything I was doing.  IN the end, the ones I chose were my favourite. That’s how I go about backgrounds.  In all honesty, this recording has been sitting for a while, I hadn’t gotten it quite done.  I wanted to get it mixed, but felt like I wasn’t totally in love yet & hadn’t put all the icing on the cake.  I went back in and tried some of these things, as well as a few others, and liked them better and erased a bunch of stuff I had previously done and replaced it.  Sometimes that can feel like you wasted so much time on a song, because I had a bunch of other church choir type layers in there for example, but in the end, they were a good idea, but not my favourite idea, so they went away.  Having the time to not just keep your first choices is a luxury when you are doing a lot of the recording at home, which I do in my little studio.  When you are on a time crunch, or a budget at someone else’s studio on someone else’s dime, sometimes you don’t get to go back and try something completely different.  There are pros and cons to both. I can be-labor things to a fault sometimes, but if I do set some time boundaries in combination with the freedom, usually there are some cool things that come out of it.  Hope that makes sense!!

How has your music process evolved from early releases like “Complicated” compared to now?

Well I was always a big part of the recording process from the beginning, so that hasn’t changed except for now I am producing on my own rather than co-producing which puts all the responsibility on my shoulders. There is a freedom with that and also a weight.  I will say my producer on my first album made me happy with every note, and that is what I strive for to this day.  I can live with it for the rest of my life.

What are your thoughts on the digital age of music we are currently in?

I think it’s a really interesting time.  I like having so much music at my fingertips, it’s great to be able to have all that access, but I can’t help but think that all the instant accessibility lessens the value of it, so I’m not sure if it’s as good as we might think.  And the almost insatiable appetites for content and skipping around.  I find myself doing the same thing, getting bite size information on people and artists.  There is so much to see and hear, you can’t stay on them too long, you just try to get what you can get as quick as possible and move on. It’s crazy. And of course, it’s much harder to make a living if you are a mid level or entry level type of artist, the income streams have changed. Granted there are maybe other opportunities, but it feels much more pressured. 

Is there anyone out there right now that you are listening to that you think should be on more people’s radars?

I’ve been loving an artist named Mae Estes, everything about her, and also liking a girl named Shantaia a lot lately, her smile and sweetness is infectious,  and another girl in Nashville named Faren Rachels.  I’ve been listening to her songs and she has some great ones. I’m looking forward to her next song coming out.

Do you have a go to piece of advice for someone coming up in the industry?

Follow your gut, it’s given to you for a reason.  Listen to that tingling feeling that is trying to tell you something.  The body knows. I’ve had a lot of amazing things happen when I listened, and some not so amazing when I didn’t.

I’m curious what might be something on your go to play list that people wouldn’t expect that you’re listening to.

Not sure right now, I listen to a lot of things because of my kids that I wouldn’t normally go to, but I’m enjoying the expansion of my horizons because of them.

Do you have a memorable fan moment that sticks out above the rest?

I think one of them is finding out really late after a show that there was someone waiting over by a gate for me to sign some things, and word had gotten to me fairly long after a show, so they had been waiting a long time.  I went out there and this person was by themselves, soooooo sweet and had all these pictures and my album covers and was like, ‘you only have to sign one if you can” and I’m like, “I am signing them all”. Such patience and sweetness.  I felt bad that they had waited so long, but hopefully it was worth it in the end for them.  We had a good little chat.

Who plays you in the movie of your life?

Probably Reese Witherspoon.

What is one thing you think should be asked more in an interview that isn’t asked enough?

Why haven’t you laid this down yet? And the answer to that is, the music won’t let me.

What do you hope fans take away from your music?

I hope they take away that I pay attention and care about every little detail of my music.  I hope it makes them feel something, and I hope they feel like I am trying to give the best of me at each moment in time.  I want them to feel heard in my music and relate, not every song, but somewhere in between the lines & notes.

What motivates you to keep walking the musical path?

Good question…..I think it’s the real, joy I have when I am in the middle of it.  I feel like I am living my best self when I am actually making the music or singing it live in front of an audience and when I feel that way, it trickles into every other area of my life.  I’m a better, happier person, mother, friend, sibling etc. when I am doing what I love and that is…..music.

Last but not least, Are you happy?

Overall, yes!  I have my moments, because I have had some large bumps in the road that have really hurt me and caused a lot of true grief.  That has been hard to get over, the music helps that and I have been doing a lot of healing and getting stronger, which in turn helps with the happiness.

Spotlight – Carolyn Dawn Johnson has come to an end. Huge thank you to Carolyn for taking the time to chat

Check out Road Blocks right now

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