Alexz Johnson is never quite what you’d think: she is always, instead, a surprise. While she writes intimate, down-to-earth lyrics, they’re delivered with a larger-than-life, crystalline voice. “Growing up I was afraid of it,” she says, about realizing she could sing big as a small child- the sixth in a brood of ten– in Vancouver. “I thought it would blow me away.” And while at first she might be able to blend into the sea of other fresh-faced, struggling artists on the streets of her current hometown of New York City, she’s actually an entertainment veteran with fifteen years in the industry and a Gemini Award under her belt. Eight years ago she landed the lead role on Instant Star, a hit Canadian TV show which gave her a platform for her music. Alexz and her brother Brendan wrote the celebrated pop songs that her character, Jude Harrison, sang on the show. “I’m so grateful for my time on the show,” says Johnson who still acts and enjoys it, “and for giving me this loyal audience,” she says. “They’ve kept me going at times. At this point I know in my bones that there is an audience for what I do.”
When Instant Star wrapped after four seasons, Alexz endured her share of off-camera drama in her music career, when both Capitol and Epic, respectively, ended up shelving her records due to internal conflicts . “It’s been tough,” she says, “but something always keeps me going. Even with no money in my pocket, things land where they land and you keep moving.” Today, she’s landed in New York City, in a move to re-launch and redefine herself as an artist. “It’s been great, I’m living with my best friend in Brooklyn, and I’m meeting so many great people, working with so many great people, seeing amazing music,” says the singer who will not only start playing around NYC soon, she’s about to launch a campaign for a major tour and funding for her next full-length via Kickstarter.
Currently Alexz is about to independently release the Skipping Stone EP, a five-song taste of the new music she has been writing in LA and Nashville, where she meets up to collaborate and record with singer-songwriter Jimmy Robbins. “I love Nashville, it’s definitely affected me creatively,” she says. “At one point when I was there and I was writing, I stopped in front of a wall of photos of all the great women at the Ryman — Dusty Springfield, June Carter, Patsy Cline– and I thought about how back then the voice was enough of a ‘story.’ You didn’t need the gimmick or the drama to be a singer. It was about how you sang.”
It’s fitting that Alexz would be leading her career in an independent direction, as her influences have been such free spirited and strong women themselves. She has cited the haunting nature of Stevie Nicks, the poetic spirit of Ricky Lee Jones, the style and independence of Diane Keaton as muses. At twenty-five she is feeling more whole, noting that she doesn’t feel the need to divide her acting self and her singing self the way she once did. “Look at Streisand and Cher,” she says. “Both incredible voices who could really act and be taken seriously.”
“I feel stronger, wiser,” she says of the songs on Skipping Stone. “I’m in love now, and writing from that place. I can look back at old relationships, old situations from a vantage point.” The EP mirrors Alexz’s new direction: it’s stripped down and airy, leaving room for her crystal clean, operatic voice to roam in styles which range from Johnny Cash-era country, to 40’s style ballads, to seductive, smoky world-beats. This time more than ever though, she says, “the vocals are the star.” While her music can tap into other times, Alexz herself has always been very attuned to the present moment. “I was never one to look back or rely on what I may have done in the past,” she says. “But that also meant I still needed approval, like I couldn’t give myself credit for what I’d done. I don’t feel that way anymore. I can act. I can sing. Maybe it’s time I take accountability for everything I have done and can do.”
Written by Sarah Durham Wilson | © Copyright Alexz Johnson 2011