Photo Credit: Betsy Phillips
Like the city she calls home, Jillette Johnson has had to be resilient more so than normal this past year because well, check the news. Being a musician has always been a career choice that is a gamble, but with live music on the back burner as of late – artists have had to dig deep and get more creative than ever, and Jillette Johnson is no different. With a DIY spirit and an overflow of emotion, she got to work and from that came her new album, ‘It’s a Beautiful Day and I Love You.’ Out February 12, 2021, ‘It’s a Beautiful Day and I Love You’ is a collection of a myriad of feelings that will surely brighten the day of all those who listen. We talked about her city, her music, and her plans moving forward in this back and forth exchange.
Kendra: The entire country, the world, is on edge but Nashville has been through it this past year. So, first of all – how are you?
Jillette Johnson: I’m hanging in there! I was actually on my honeymoon in Mexico when the tornado swept through Nashville last year. It wiped out the building where my husband’s company was based, which was quite a shock. But thankfully our home and friends were all ok. Nashville is quite a resilient city, and it’s been pretty beautiful to watch this place rally together as much as it has through all the crises that this year has brought upon us. I’m just grateful to be safe, healthy, and still able to make music.
Kendra: I’ve only gotten to visit Nashville once, a couple of years ago and it lived up to the live music hype. How do you feel this city made of music will move forward in that regard?
Jillette Johnson: Unfortunately I think some clubs will probably not make it, but I do think that the city will bounce back as a whole. We’re all still here, and more eager to play live music than ever. And I predict that people are going to be more willing to go out of their way to see a random show late in the night on the other side of town than they were before everything shut down. Wouldn’t be surprised if there was a big old live music renaissance after all of this.
Kendra: Speaking of moving forward, with no live music and social distancing, musicians have had to get insanely creative this past year. You even did a DIY video for “What Would Jesus Do?” Do you feel like you’ve been able to take the negatives and spin them into positives that have pushed your creativity to new levels?
Jillette Johnson: For sure! I’ve had to do everything differently, and in some ways, it’s been super liberating. I’m lucky in that I have a lot of multi-talented friends in town, several of whom I enlisted to help me make the videos and artwork for the album. We had to work within the boundaries of pretty much whatever I had in my backyard, and I think that helped the visual aspects of the album feel really authentically me. I’ve also been grateful for so much concentrated time at home, because it’s helped me pour all of myself into the process of releasing music, in a way that’s really difficult to do if I’m constantly on the road. I can’t wait to play live music again and to do all the normal things I love to do like hug my parents and share a meal with a group of people there other than my husband and cat. But I also feel oddly grateful for the gift of staying in one place and getting my work done that this year has given me.
Kendra: “What Would Jesus Do?” of course brought back memories of those WWJD bracelets people used to rock all the time. So it made me wonder, what fashion trend from the past were you ALL about growing up?
Jillette Johnson: I was really into those tiny butterfly clips as a middle schooler. Do you know what I’m talking about? You’d like twist small sections of hair back and use the butterfly clips to hold them in place. It looked really dumb.
Kendra: Butterfly clips were definitely in my past – and I would like to keep them there haha! Now back to the music…your 2021 release, ‘It’s a Beautiful Day and I Love You,’ stood out to me because a lot of records coming through my inbox don’t have such overtly positive titles. However, when you take a peek inside the record, there is a wave of various emotions. Especially in “I Shouldn’t Go Anywhere.” With that, what emotion do you feel was at the helm for most of your journey writing and recording this?
Jillette Johnson: I wish there was a simple answer for that. There’s never really one singular emotion going on in any song. I think that’s what I love about songwriting. You get the opportunity to express a wealth of feelings and experience all at once. Like, let’s take “I Shouldn’t Go Anywhere.” There’s anger, self-pity, surrender, hope, all the things. But I would say that the dominant themes of the album on a whole are optimism, and finding joy through a tangle of difficult life lessons.
Kendra: With this being your first record since 2017’s ‘All I Ever See In You Is Me,’ how do you feel you’ve grown as a person since, and how did that ultimately impact how you approached this album?
Jillette Johnson: I think I’ve grown up a lot. I’ve worked really hard in the last 4 years to have more fun and to take myself less seriously. I think that’s impacted my songwriting quite a bit. I hit a point there for a moment where I kind of stopped liking music. I didn’t want to quit, I just wasn’t getting a lot of joy out of it. I had so much expectation for how my career was supposed to go, that I couldn’t see the wins when I had them. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the process of making my second record, but I was battling with record company stuff and didn’t feel very empowered when it came to the business of making music.
Thankfully, by the time I recorded “It’s a Beautiful Day And I Love You,” I had gotten so fed up with being fed up, that I had no option but to stop holding on so tightly. And once that happened, I fell back in love with music. I love it now more than maybe ever before. I love listening to it, writing it, performing it, talking about it, all of it. If I hear a song that speaks to me now, I immediately start crying. I think that shows up all over this new album. I think you can hear how happy I am to be doing what I’m doing, and how deeply connected I am to the music I’m making.
Kendra: Lastly, it’s hard to have a definite answer when it comes to future plans given the current state of everything, but as far as what you can control when it comes to your career and creativity – what do you have planned in the coming months for yourself?
Jillette Johnson: I plan to write my butt off and keep pushing the boundaries of who I am as an artist. I want to try to collaborate with other artists in town, something I’ve actually not done a lot of. That I think will help take me out of my comfort zone and into somewhere new artistically. I also know for sure that touring won’t happen this spring, so I plan to get back into my garden and watch it come to life. I probably won’t have time to do that sort of thing when the world opens back up, so I want to take full advantage of it while I’m here, in one place, able to take care of something other than myself for a long period of time.