Hailing from a small town in Wisconsin, Anna Johnson has been able to to carve her own niche in one of the country’s most difficult music markets. An artist who “grew up singing with [her] dad, participating in choirs in church, school and the community while attending [her] dad’s Gospel trio concerts”, music has always been a part of her life. Originally moving to Nashville in 2009 to record an album with a producer who heard Anna’s very first recording and saw potential following a stint at McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul, MN where she studied songwriting, Anna never left. As Anna gracelessly put it, “For one, I often underestimate myself”, but she is an artist not to be taken lightly.
Since Anna’s move to Music City, USA, she’s become part of a collective of some of Nashville’s best singers/songwriters, taken part in numerous musical competitions and experienced opportunities that she can only describe as, “a wild journey”. All of Anna’s experiences both good and bad have brought opportunities of growth and wisdom. Anna described some of the most impactful parts of her journey have been, “Finding my husband and bringing two sweet little girls into the world while experiencing some industry people who really turned me off to the hustle and bustle of the world of labels and fame.” Anna doesn’t take any of these experiences for granted as she understands, “Every little thing has potential to shape and impact a person’s music since, in most cases, the music is a part of the person him/herself.” We won’t take Anna’s journey for granted either as she took the time to speak with us about her odyssey from small town girl to one of Nashville’s up-and-coming writers and performers.
Joe: In the last few years have there been any particular events that have shaped your music/content?
Anna: Becoming a wife and mother has, by far, been the most life-altering adventure I’ve been on, and it continually shapes me and my music. My perspective on life itself has so changed because of it!
There are a few stand-out moments that shifted my path, though. Fame was never my goal, but negative experiences with a handful of people really confirmed my hesitations about the entertainment industry. On the more positive side, I was so encouraged, humbled and inspired by the support of my listeners when I created a Kickstarter campaign in 2012, that I really began to see music as a means to bless and inspire others, more than as a way to be heard and be seen and “make it” somewhere. It brought me back to what music is at its roots; a universal way to bring people together and plant hope and love and life and beauty and all good things. “
Joe: Do you consider yourself a songwriter first and a singer(performer) second or do both roles play in equal part?
Anna: Both play equal parts to me. I sometimes imagine pursuing writing alone, but I get sick at the thought of not performing and interacting with the people I get to meet because of it. I’ve made so many true friends because of being a performer. It’s really amazing.
Joe: You are part of a collective known as Nashville Unleashed; can you describe what the group does and what they are about?
Anna: Nashville Unleashed has evolved quite a lot since I first joined the roster in 2012, but ultimately it’s a group of elite songwriters who perform together in rounds at a variety of venues and events. Some of the writers travel together, and some of us are more planted in Nashville for now. We have been aired on television stations nationwide, and you can watch entire episodes on NashvilleUnleashed.com.
Joe: What does it mean to you to know you are held in such high regards to be considered one of the city top writers and performers?
Anna: I don’t know that anyone would consider me a top writer and performer (so flattered!), but I’ve certainly had some wonderful opportunities and experiences since moving here in 2009! Every time I get to perform at a new venue, meet another gifted musician, stretch and learn in another round or writing session, sing lead or background vocals on other peoples’ projects in the studio, or record my own music, I feel blessed and fulfilled and excited. Using my abilities to add to the world of music makes my heart happy. There’s nothing quite like it.
Joe: You have played with Nashville Unleashed at various venues along with shared the stage with Colbie Caillat and Amy Grant; what were those experiences like?
Anna: I’ve had the honor of performing with Nashville Unleashed at a variety of venues and events! It’s been a privilege, as each time I’m in the round with them, I’m surrounded by people with outstanding talent and ability! It’s quite humbling, really.
I’d have to say that playing with Amy Grant and having the opportunity to bond with her a little before the show was one of the more memorable experiences of my career. She sound-checked before me, so I stood side stage to take it in. When it was my turn, we passed each other quickly and I assumed she was on her way out to her glamorous bus to prep for the show. Instead, she stayed close by and commented that my sound-check sounded like a recording! She even admitted she peeked around the curtain to see if it was live or not! I mean, wow. I was so encouraged by that! Even more, it was fun to have her pop into my dressing room later on and ask to borrow some eye shadow for the show : ) My sister and I were in there primping and that gave us the perfect opportunity to snap a photo and talk with her. It was a really sweet moment.
Joe: Given that you’ve been able to take part in these opportunities; what have you learned from them?
Anna: I learn something every time. I learn that I have a lot to learn! I learn that music is such an amazing way to bring people together and touch hearts. I learn that music has such power to inspire and motivate people. I learn that I only want to be better. I learn that I have something unique that only I can give, just like every other musician has his or her unique identity, sound and ability that was built-in and all their own. I learn that I want to do this in some capacity for my whole life because it’s part of me. I learn that I love to listen to others and figure out what makes them click. I learn that it’s fun to hear the stories behind songs, and that music means so much more when you get the chance to know and understand the person behind the songs. I learn that lyrics are everything to me. I’m constantly learning, and it’s wonderful.
Joe: Your two most recent albums, “Christmastime with The Anna Johnson Band” (2012) and “Here” (2014) were funded by Kickstarter campaigns; what has it meant to you to receive such amazing support?
Anna: I don’t even know how to answer this one, as the feeling is completely indescribable. I knew I had incredible support from my listeners and fans, but I couldn’t have imagined the turnout of either of my Kickstarter campaigns when I dove into them. I was blown away by the encouragement!
Joe: What have you learned about by taking part in and/or winning various musical competitions, Queen’s Songwriting Scholarship and Guitar Center Singer-Songwriter 4 Competition?
Anna:. I suppose, like most artist-types, I have that self-critical voice that tears me down and pokes at me from within. The tortured artist thing. It’s real. HA! But also, the various awards I’ve won have always just assured me that I do have something of value to give and share with the world. Just like other musicians and artists who were born with a gift and a drive, I have something of worth, and I need to keep pushing to be the best I can be. I’m always both humbled and filled with pride and joy in those situations. It’s unbelievably motivating!
Joe: How has being a mother changed the perspective of your content versus the last time we talked?
Anna: Call me a sap, sentimental, sensitive or weak, but I’ve always had a tender heart and the desire to share only positive and life-breathing words. That doesn’t mean I don’t write heartache songs or have moments of confidence or sass, but it means that everything I write has hope and love woven through. Even on the darkest days, there is good. Even in the saddest moments, there is joy. I’m probably more sensitive now that I’m a mom, but I also see things in a bigger picture. Instead of writing about wanting to find love, and imagining the “someday” and “what ifs”, I think more about issues like self esteem, peace, strength to do scary things, the frailty of life, loss, what it is to be truly loved, how to be a valuable, contributing citizen, and more. I guess growing up makes a person a little deeper, which I think you’ll notice when you hear my newest album, “Here”, compared to my first, “Ready To Go”.
Joe: Are your daughters the inspiration behind your desire to develop a children’s lullabies album?
Anna: Yes! I’ve always had a heart for kids and the sweet innocence they breathe, but now that I’m a mother to two precious girls, I’m more excited than ever to create a lullaby or children’s album. There are no concrete plans at this time, but I’m constantly dreaming and making notes about what I’d like it to be. I’m interested in recording lullabies or folk songs from different cultures around the world, sung in their native languages. I think that would be an incredible challenge!