Winnipeg Sun Interview

Here's the difference between me and Jaylene Johnson: If I made a CD and titled it Happiness, it would be ironic, because I am a bitter, snide cynic (yeah, yeah, I know, stop the presses). But when singer-songwriter Johnson does it, she means it. Because she is a sincere, sweet and optimistic person -- or at least her honest answers to my dumb questions make her sound that way to my miserable jaded ears.

- Who's in the band, how old are they, what do they play, and what do they do for real money?

I'm Jaylene (songwriter/teacher). I'm as young as I feel. I play with Lee Charles Garinger on bass (hairdresser/musician), Mark Sawatzky on the kit (musician/teacher) and have had Joshua Bedry (producer/musician), Arun Chaturvedi (teacher/musician/producer) and Ariel Posen (musician/teacher) on guitar... Not all at the same time.

- Give us the history of the band in 20 words or less.

Played Frere Jacques by ear on a toy piano when I was a toddler. Amazed Mom. There began my musical roller-coaster ride. Fun.

- Describe your music and/or sound in 20 words or less.

Soul-nourishing pop. Often told "Your songs stick in my head." They smile, so I presume that's a good thing ... ear candy.

- Tell us about your latest CD or upcoming gig in 20 words or less.

Happiness is a 10-track enhanced CD which includes bonus tracks, an interview, gorgeous lyrics pages, song synopsis, wallpapers and more. The release party is tonight at Park Theatre.

- Why should we buy your CD or come to your gig?

The music is great. The songs stand out. They're the result of amazing collaborations, and everyone who contributed to the album deserves credit. As far as the show goes, I'm not a shoegazer (no offence if shoegazing is your thing).

- If you're so great, tell us this: How does your music make the world a better place?

I use music as a platform to promote child sponsorship through World Vision. There's a button on my website called Help Kids, which links to World Vision. There are also links to a website called BoostUp, which encourages at-risk youth to stay in school, and Song for Africa, another awesome organization run by a friend.

- What's your most original quality?

I am open to a fault. Not sure that's original.

- What's your best song and what makes it so good?

If I had to choose one for the desert island, it would be Happiness. I wrote it on an out-of-tune piano at the Metropolitan Hotel in Toronto.

- What's your worst song and what the heck were you thinking when you wrote it?

It's on my first record. Too embarrassed to name it. Obviously, I wasn't thinking!

- Name a song you wish you had written and tell us why:

Stand By Me by Ben E. King. Classic. Also, pretty much any Fleetwood Mac song. And Fix You by Coldplay moves me like songs haven't in some time.

- Name a song you're glad you didn't write and why:

Achy Breaky Heart. This needs no explanation.

- Name your favourite TV shows.

Boston Legal, Battlestar Gallactica, Heroes, Survivor, Celebrity Apprentice, Ugly Betty.

- Your favourite books?

A few I've loved are: The Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay (I've read it nine times); The Ragamuffin Gospel (Manning); Einstein's Dreams (Lightman); Under the Ribs of Death (Marlyn).

- Finally, how about any other favourite things?

Riley and Georgia (nephew and niece). Travelling. Cashmere sweaters. Hanging out with friends and family. Sunshine. Blank paper. Great lyrics. Playing real pianos. Popcorn.

- What is your most valued possession? And where do you keep it?

My iPhone G3. It's with me everywhere I go.

- Got any guilty pleasures? What are they?

Peanut or Almond M&Ms.

- Name your favourite local musical acts.

Harlots, Twilight Hotel, JP Hoe.

- Now, name your favourite musical acts of all time.

Fleetwood Mac, U2, Coldplay, Patty Griffin, Queen, Annie Lennox, Regina Spektor, The Beatles, Mahalia Jackson, Bjork, Van Morrison, Damien Rice, Sting ...

- Who would you be happy to be compared to?

Carole King, Dolly Parton, Patty Griffin, Joni Mitchell.

- What are your pre-show rituals, superstitions and good luck charms?

Pre-show rituals make me anxious. I do a few vocal warmups and think through my jokes! My anxiety is that people won't laugh at my show ... Which is funny because they aren't coming for comedy!

- If you have a backstage rider, what's on it? If you don't, what would you want?

A massage therapist would be nice.

- What piece of merch would you love to sell?

My own book. Poems, ideas, thoughts on creativity, sketches, photos I've taken, quotes I like ... A hodgepodge.

- What is your current mode of transportation?

Trixie, a 2005 Matrix.

- How would you like to travel from gig to gig? Dream big.

Honda Element ... oh, big? Tour bus with the works!

- What are you afraid of?

Being trapped.

- Name one thing you want to do before you die.

Go back to Scotland, my favourite place in the world. Produce my own record. Write songs that will live on and mean something. That's three things.

- Tell us about your best, worst or strangest celebrity encounter.

I met Julie Andrews in New York at a Johnny Mercer Revue. She was as nice as Mary Poppins. Go figure.

- Complete this sentence: I'll know I'm a success when ...

I hear a stranger singing or humming one of my songs.

- What would it take to make you give up music? Not that we're suggesting anything.

I've tried. I couldn't do it. Music is as much a part of me as my eye colour.

Uptown Magazine Article

With a little help from her friends...
Happiness, local songstress Jaylene Johnson's new album, is the fruit of collaboration
Jared Story

With a little help from her friends...Happiness, Jaylene Johnson's third and latest full-length album, may sport the local singer/songwriter's name on its cover, but to simply call it a solo affair would most definitely be unfair.

"This one is a pop-oriented record, a lot of collaboration on this record, many of the songs are co-written which was a goal of mine," Johnson says. "I wanted to embrace collaborating in a way I hadn't done in the past."

On the new disc, Johnson works with many writers, including Nashville-based musicians JJ and David Heller, and Toronto songwriter Simon Wilcox, who, along with her own material, has penned tunes for the likes of Three Days Grace, The Kooks, BEAST and even Paris Hilton.

In addition to those collaborators, Happiness was produced by two well-known 'Peg producers: Brandon Friesen and Phil Deschambault.

"Both have a very different approach and I love both approaches very much for different reasons," Johnson says. "Brandon is like a mad professor in the studio and he comes up with a very lush sound. He thinks big epic orchestration. He definitely got that out of my songs and I'm thrilled with that.

"Phil is a really quirky, amazing, energetic guy, who draws a lot of the subtle colour out of my songs. The record is very cohesive but I wonder if people will be able to tell who produced what. It'll be interesting to see.

"I'm really excited about (Happiness) and I think that everybody really brings something great to the record. I'm learning that more and more in life as well as in music. It's a beautiful thing when people can come together and work together on something."

And Johnson works well with others. In 2006, she signed to Casablanca Media Publishing in Toronto, the first writer to do so, and has shared songwriting credits with many musicians throughout North America. Recently, along with Sierra Noble, Chris Burke-Gaffney and Keith MacPherson, Johnson co-wrote I Love You More, which appears on Noble's breakthrough Possibilities album.

"It really broadens the palette," Johnson says of working with other musicians. "As an artist I have the thing that I do and what I like to sing, but when I can write a country song or a folk song or something that's a little out of my own genre, it's very freeing. It's very liberating artistically to not be confined to my own demographic."

Keeping on the theme of partnership, Johnson has licensed many of her songs for television, her tunes appearing on such shows as Dawson's Creek, Joan of Arcadia and Being Erica. She recently contributed her song Just Be to, an e-zine that encourages girls to get involved in philanthropy. Speaking of, Johnson is also spokesperson for World Vision and promotes humanitarian organizations Boost Up! and Song For Africa on her website.

"It's important for me to give back when I can," Johnson says. "I feel very blessed and very fortunate. It's easy to forget that. We all have good and bad days, but I do feel I have the opportunity to speak about what I'm passionate about, and if that can help somebody else, that's fantastic."

June 18, 7 p.m., Park Theatre



Have you ever wondered about writing songs, but haven't been sure where to start? Is your head full of ideas that won't let you go, or are you stuck in writer's block? Do you have a bunch of songs that you aren't sure about, and would love some honest feedback?

In addition to releasing her own material, Jaylene is a songwriter who has had the honour of cowriting and releasing songs with some of Canada's greats, including Brian Doerksen, Amy Sky, and Luke McMaster, as well as international artists including America's JJ Heller, and New Zealand's Jody Direen. She continues to cowrite, and also offers coaching sessions and songwriting consultations for aspiring songwriters. With over twenty years of music industry and songwriting experience, she can help you!

Interested? Click the button and send her a note...