Musical Discoveries: What can you tell us about your musical background and your earliest performances almost ten years ago.
Jillette Johnson: I started singing as an infant. All the time and without fear. And then I started taking piano lessons at six. I was awful. At seven, I begged my parents for voice lessons, and then by eight I started writing songs. To prepare for my first vocal recital, my dad spent weeks with me around the house, using mops and vacuums as pretend mics, and teaching me how to work the stage. His college community theater days finally came in handy. Of course, after all of that prep work, I got on stage and sang a beautiful little version of Pocahontas's "Colors of the Wind," whilst staring at my feet and not moving one muscle in my body. Sorry Dad.
My first real shows started when I was about twelve at a little bar in Alphabet City called The Sidewalk Cafe. I played only original songs and shook like a leaf before every show. But I was always very unafraid as soon as I got past the first 30 seconds. And then I became addicted to performing.
How have you found the move from Pound Ridge to New York City? What do you find most stimulating about the City?
I always felt really connected to NYC. I started coming into the city pretty much every day since I was twelve So the move was very natural and incredibly liberating. It felt more like I was coming home than moving away from it. I love to see how the city grows as I grow. I've noticed that as my life, career, and relationships expand, so does my experience with New York. Because there is pretty much everything here. It's just a matter of how much access you're allowed.
Was Whiskey & Frosting always intended to be a preview EP of your full length album? Did the free release via NoiseTrade expand your audience?
It was! I actually made the bulk of the album all at once, and then released Whiskey & Frosting to trigger the excitement. And yes, we just recently released W&F to NoiseTrade and I think it surely boosted awareness.
Over what period were the songs on your Water in a Whale album written and what was your writing process?
Water in a Whale was pretty much written over the course of a year. I wrote buckets of songs last year, and these were standouts. I write songs all the time. It's uncomfortable for me to not to.
So my process was just the way it always has been. I sit at my piano, look out the window, start playing some chords and let the rest fall out. And then when I get stuck, I go into my bedroom, roll around on my bed singing the melody, and neurotically keep going back to the piano. Eventually, a song comes out of it. Sometimes it even sees the light of day.
And where did the album title come from?
Water in a Whale is a lyric from one of my songs, "True North." It's a metaphor for my voice in the world.
Where have you drawn inspiration for your material?
I draw inspiration from little human quirks and tendencies. I like to listen to conversations. I love the things that people say when they aren't thinking about it and I think we write our best material from our easy chatter. Also my environment influences me a lot, which is why New York is such a huge part of my music.
Were there any specific artists you particularly admired that influenced you in any way?
I've always looked up to the likes of Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Carole King, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, you get the idea. Crazy amazing lyricist aliens who write honest songs about human experiences, and do it in a way all their own.
ho else did you work with on the recording and what experiences working with them were most memorable?
Peter Zizzo, Michael Mangini, and Gregg Wattenberg produced my album. One of my favorite experiences was actually with Peter, who I've known since I was 17. I was recording the scratch vocal for Pauvre Coeur and everyone else had left the studio. From the minute the track started, I knew and Peter knew that this was going to be the vocal. We could just feel it. One take, no punches, no fixes. When the track stopped, Peter pressed the space bar and didn't move for like 30 seconds. Then he turned around to me and said "Do you have any idea what the fuck you just did?!" And I just started dancing.
How has it been working with Wind-Up?
It's been amazing to work with Wind-Up. They are a team of really hard working, super talented and passionate people who are all so dedicated to this project. It really does feel like I'm part of a family. They've also allowed me the space to be exactly the artist that I am, which I think is pretty rare for a label of their size and stature.
What is a Jillette Johnson live show like? How would you describe your onstage persona?
It's just me, my spray painted keyboard, a tiny battery powered keyboard, a mic, and a lantern that I light on stage right before I play. My show is really dynamic, because that's the way I write, sing and play. But it's also very intimate. You could be in my living room. And I like to flirt with the audience. I can definitely be coy and mysterious, but I want them to know I'm interested.
What venues were most memorable?
I loved playing at the 930 Club with Delta Rae and The Wild Feathers. There's a reason that place is known as one of the best venues in the country. Because it is. The sound is amazing, the room is amazing, the staff are so competent and hospitable, and people go there who care about music. And those are two of my favorite bands to play with, so it made for an incredible night.
Just looking at the album cover, would you say ďimageĒ is important to a female recording artist these days?
Image is very important I think, for male recording artists too. Your image tells the visual story of your music, so it has to be consistent with your sound and it has to be memorable. I think it's the kind of thing that you grow into though. I'm not the kind of artist that wants to just be dressed up like a doll. I like to find it myself. But living in New York definitely helps because I'm surrounded by fashion. And of course I try to stay in decent shape, which is tough for a girl with a serious chocolate addiction.
How have you used the internet and/or social media to promote your music?
I've become obsessed with Instagram. It's helped me so much to figure out how to connect with my online fan-base, and I think itís helped me cultivate my image a lot.
But I'm still very active in traditional media. I pretty much live on the road right now, so I'm constantly meeting new fans. We're going to radio with my song "Cameron" in a couple of weeks, and I've been getting support from some wonderful printed syndicates. I think it's all equally important.
Whatís next in your artistic agenda?
Stay on the road, release and promote Water in a Whale, build my live show even more, maybe add a band, build my brand and write for album number two!
Besides your music, what else rocks your world?
I love to cook. It's hard to do on the road. Nay itís impossible to do on the road but when I come home, I Martha Stewart the shit out of my dinners.
Is there anything else youíd like to tell our readers that perhaps we didnít have the insight to ask?
I feel like a talked a lot. I guess just that my album, Water in a Whale, is out June 25th! Get it, dig into it, wear it out.