30 seconds with… Julia Johnson
This week M spends 30 seconds with London-based singer, songwriter and piano player Julia Johnson. Raised on jazz standards, Broadway showtunes, 60s and 70s vinyl and romantic piano music, she draws her influences from all of the above to create a sound that is both unusual and accessible. Julia began learning piano at an early age and trained in classical singing from the age of 14.
Believing that nothing matters more than the words, Julia cites Ani diFranco’s lines from I’m No Heroine: ‘I just write about what I should have done; I just sing what I wish I could say’ as her manifesto, and her colourful, candid lyrics are riddled with emotions.
How long have you been making music?
I started writing songs in my mid-teens and had a number of bands at school. When I was 18 I was introduced to Tony Moore, who at that time was running the Kashmir Klub, an iconic acoustic venue in Marylebone where a lot of singer-songwriters started out. I’ve been writing and performing ever since.
What inspired your latest album?
My album I Am Not The Night was my first solo record (I released three previously as part of a trip-hop trio called Second Person). In it I was considering themes like memory, love, regret and bravery. Musically it was inspired by artists such as Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits and Ani diFranco, but I also drew influences from old movies, poetry and children’s literature.
What process do you go through to create your music?
I tend to start with a small figure on the piano, like a set of four chords and a riff, and then think of some words (normally nonsensical) that fit rhythmically. Then I go away from the piano and try and build a set of lyrics that has a shape and a story. I like to write on buses and while walking around London.
How would you describe your sound?
Ethereal, moody, quirky, piano-led; sometimes funny, sometimes sad.
What would your dream collaboration be?
I would love to work with Peter Gabriel.
Where can we catch you performing next?
I currently have a residency at the Troubadour (legendary venue in Earls Court) where I play on the first Thursday of every month.
Julia’s album I Am Not The Night is available on iTunes: