An Interview With Haley Johnsen

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Haley Johnsen

28-year-old singer-songwriter Haley Johnsen is a risk-taker. From landing herself a spot in the top 24 of American Idol Season 11, releasing her debut EP Through the Blue in 2015, and playing The Troubadour stage in Los Angeles, Haley refuses to let fear inhibit her success. Haley “is a one-of-a-kind voice with gusto and soul, and mesmerizing presence. One of the Pacific Northwest’s most individual up-and-coming acts,” according to her website. She has toured with Texas-based band The Wind and the Wave, Seattle-based band Gabriel Wolfchild and the Northern Light, Season 8 Winner of The Voice, Sawyer Fredericks, and is good friends with famed American Idol winner, Phillip Phillips.

Despite all of her amazing success over the years, Haley hasn’t always felt as confident in herself as she is today. Haley’s struggle with inner doubt and self-reflection helped her develop into the strong, kick-ass Indie-folk singer we know and love today.

A Perfect Playlist: Tell me a little bit about how you got started. How long have you been singing?

Haley Johnsen: I would say the first official age I began singing was around 3 years old when I first watched The Little Mermaid. Throughout my youth, you might have found me singing in a closet so no one in my house could hear me. I was painfully shy and didn’t want anyone to know I could sing. As I got older and warmed up to the idea, I began singing in my college A Capella group and Chamber Choir, and from that point on, I continued to develop my voice as a professional singer-songwriter.

ppAPP: You were a contestant on American Idol and ended up making it to the top 24! That’s amazing. Tell me a little bit about that experience and how it shaped you as an artist.

HJ: Being on American Idol was a game changer for me. I was so terrified each time I made it through an audition, but the adrenaline was enough to make me realize that I was in it to win it. I had to overcome a lot of inner doubt and I worked as hard as I possibly could to prepare for each performance. Being on the show was one of the most fun, terrifying, and life-changing times in my life. It made me realize how much singing and music means to me, and I began to realize I have a responsibility to myself and the rest of the world to do something with the voice I was given. (Right: Haley and American Idol winner Phillip Phillips.)

Click here to watch a bit of Haley’s American Idol journey!

APP: Who are your influences?

HJ: Brandi Carlile, Bonnie Raitt, Florence and the Machine, Eva Cassidy, Grace Potter, Aretha Franklin…I could name so many more! These are the women who inspired me to sing with power and grace. 

APP: What’s the story behind one of your most popular tunes, “Feel The Water?” 

HJ: “Feel the Water” first came to me during a guitar lesson with my bandmate. I created the chord progression and structure of the song, but it took me almost 3 months to put words to the tune. When I finally did, it’s almost as if it wrote itself. It was as if a voice in my head was telling me to believe in myself, so that’s what I wrote about. I expressed how it feels to be afraid to do something, and how much I had been struggling with being confident in myself. I had been feeling numb, and this song helped pull me out of that. I think now this song could be for others to reflect on what might be going on inside themselves, and what areas they are longing to be more courageous in.

APP: Where do you find inspiration to write music? Do you have a particular place you like to go, or any type of method that helps you think creatively?

HJ: I used to rent this little Airbnb Cabin in Hood River for a weekend at a time. I would go there by myself and just write for hour and hours and demo out my songs. I definitely need to be alone when I first begin to brainstorm ideas for a song.

APP: Do you have a pre-show ritual?

HJ: I always warm up my voice for at least 20 minutes. Sometimes if I really need to pump myself up, I’ll do a few pushups to get the blood flowin’. I always take a moment to breathe, close my eyes, and check in with myself. I give myself a little pep talk and say “Hey, you’re awesome. You got this.” I think centering myself before going on stage always helps me stay grounded during the performance.

    

APP: What has been your favorite venue to perform in?

HJ: My favorite venue I’ve played so far was The Troubadour in Los Angeles. Artists like Elton John and Joni Mitchel got their start in the music industry by playing there, and it was just such an honor to stand where so many other legends had performed.

APP: What do you hope fans will derive from your music?

HJ: I hope that my music speaks to those who need to hear it. A lot of my music is just me working through something, telling myself I just need to take the risk and believe. So many people don’t pursue their passions because they don’t think they can do it or it feels too unfamiliar and scary. I believe that tapping into your creative self, no mater how “successful” you are in it, is the most important thing we can do for ourselves. I want to inspire that.

APP: If you could perform a duet with any artist, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

HJ: I would perform a song with Florence and the Machine. She just seems like such a fun and sweet person to be around, but she is also such a force of nature on stage. She’s not afraid to wail. Singing a powerful ballad or something with her would be a dream.

APP: “When You Lit The Sky” is your latest record, as it just came out this August. (Love it, by the way.) Is there a particular track on that album that is close to your heart?

My last track “Carry On.” This song came to me 3 days after the Pulse Night Club Shooting. I was feeling very distraught and just wanted to write something that was comforting to me. I strived to convey the idea and possibility that we are all stronger together when we show empathy. I want everyone to know that they are not alone, and that we need to show our love and compassion for one another now more than ever. 

 

Follow Haley:

Spotify

Website

Instagram

All photos are courtesy of Haley’s website/social media.
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CONCERTS: Passenger

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I’ve been lucky enough to see singer-songwriter Passenger live three times now, and each time, he never ceases to impress me with his infectious energy, crowd involvement, funny travel stories, and remarkable music. Last month, I had the pleasure of seeing him in Portland, Oregon with my friend Shayna, who bought me tickets for Christmas! (Click the picture above to see a clip of Passenger performing his song “Life’s For The Living.”)

Michael Rosenberg, also known as Passenger, is most famous for his single “Let Her Go,” which, he jokes, often gets confused with the hit Disney song “Let It Go.” He formed the initial band, Passenger, with singer and friend Andrew Phillips in 2003. They produced one album, then the band broke up in 2009. After that, Michael continued to pursue music on his own, keeping the stage name Passenger as he busked around the world solo. He is good friends with singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran, and performs with him often. My favorite duet of theirs is “Heart’s on Fire.”

Each of Passenger’s songs tell a story. Focusing on themes of life, loss, laughter, love, change, travel, stars, summer nights, fear, shimmering waves, growing old, and his views of the world, Passenger captures vivid scenes and memories through his music. His latest album is titled Young As the Morning Old As the Sea.

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Before Passenger came on stage in Portland, the fabulous Paper Kites performed, an Australian band who formed in 2010. This was a fun surprise for me–I listen to The Paper Kites regularly, and I even played one of their tracks recently on my weekly college radio show. They rocked! I was standing directly in front of the guitarist, who had so much energy and incredible skill. I even met the guys after the show (see above), and talked to them about my music blog and radio show. They were pretty stoked to hear that I had played them on the air. Along with being enormously talented, these guys are so funny and kind. Check out their latest album “Twelvefour,” here, and click here to watch a clip of their performance in PDX. (Pictures below are mine.)

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My friend and I were first in line about 2 hours prior to the concert, and ended up being front row once we got inside the venue! It was amazing to be at the barrier–I’ve only ever experienced it at one other concert. Passenger was so interactive with the crowd–he responded to fans shouting compliments, and talked to all of us as if we were old friends of his. Being so close to him standing on the edge of the stage as the lights reflected off his guitar and the beads of sweat on his forehead made the whole experience so raw, real, and incredibly fun.

Passenger told a few different stories through out his set. He started by explaining the story behind his song “Travelling Alone,” from his album Whispers II. Michael said he initially struggled to write this song–he had the first half of it written, but wasn’t sure how to continue it.

Me at the concert.

He recalled the day when he had crossed paths with an Australian man who was travelling alone. The man explained that he and his wife had saved up to go on an extravagant trip together after their children had grown up, but she had died before they had been able to go. To honor her memory, the man decided to take the trip anyway. Along the way, however, he found that it was more difficult than he expected–he began to feel further away from home, and further from his wife, than he ever had before: “He said ‘I’m a long way from the Gold Coast. Furthest I’ve ever known. Oh and this just ain’t my home. It was my wife’s idea, but she’s no longer here. She left me travelling alone.’

The other half of the song is written about a woman Michael met during his travels. Her husband left her, and she told him the story: “‘See, ten years with this man. And a life time of plans. Oh, and I loved him to his bones. Now I’ve lines on my skin…And he’s traded me in. He left me travelling alone.'” Michael described to us the process of intertwining the two stories in order to weave the song together. Although the two stories are very different from each other, they shared a common theme of lost love experienced in different ways. Listen to it here!

Passenger played a mix of old and new tracks during his concert–one being “27,” a fast-paced, witty single that tells the story of his life up to the age of 27. Before performing it, he reminded the crowd of the importance of doing the things that make you happy, regardless of what anyone else might think. He wrote “27,” during a time in his life where he felt he had to “sell out to get sold”–he struggled to create music that he knew producers and record labels would enjoy, but not necessarily content that brought him joy. I sang along to every word!

After his final song, the encore was loud enough to break the glass windows. He had wrapped up the show with his single “Scare Away the Dark,” a fan favorite that features a distinctive chorus of “oh, oh oh, oh, oh oh no’s” that the crowd continued to belt even after Michael had left the stage. After a few minutes, he came back on and finished up the show with “Holes.” Click the photo below to watch the fun encore!

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After the show ended, Shayna and I took our chances and waited outside in the rain in hopes of meeting Michael. After about an hour or two, he came out and greeted us! He was so kind, asking us if we enjoyed the gig. I gave him a big hug, telling him that we loved the show, especially since we were lucky enough to get front row. “Oh yeah, I saw you dancing and singing!” he responded with his thick British accent. We chatted for a few minutes about Portland and music before he hopped onto his tour bus.

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Overall, it was an unforgettable night! Thank you to Passenger for being such a down-to-earth, talented performer, and Shayna, who made this night possible 🙂

An Interview With Samantha Preis

Samantha Preis

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Samantha Preis, a London-based singer-songwriter, has been described as possessing a “soulful,” “introspective,” and simply “captivating” voice. Her songwriting depicts stories of the complex vision surrounding the human condition, and simply every day life–from heartbreak, the art of letting go, and discovering yourself as an individual, Samantha’s music has begun its journey across the globe–from her home base in London, to the U.S., Middle East and beyond. Her latest single, “Lost For Me,” is available on all music streaming sites, as well as her debut album Good News, which was released in 2013.

A Perfect Playlist: How would you describe your sound?

Samantha Preis: Others have described me as sounding Pop/Jazz/Folk, or compared me with artists such as Norah Jones, Laura Nyro, Kate Bush, Tori Amos, etc.

APP: Yeah, your voice reminds me of Norah Jones mixed with a bit of Florence and the Machine. Who are a few of your influences when it comes to your unique style?

SP: The Beatles, Michael Hedges, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, Neil Young, Steely Dan, Jethro Tull, Debussy, Jobim, Burt Bacharach, Django Reinhardt, Frank Sinatra, Gershwin, Bill Evans…. all jazz really… a lot of music from the 60’s and 70’s… I could go on and on!

APP: Tell me a little bit about your latest single, “Lost For Me.” What’s the story behind that song?

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SP: The song is about an individual venturing into the unknown, armed with very little except memories of people and experiences that have shaped her. These things help guide her through her journey. I feel that people and experiences in our lives stay with us far after they are physically gone and give us direction and meaning.

APP: Favorite gig you’ve ever done?

SP: Cafe Universel – a jazz bar in Paris’ Latin Quarter – it’s a small, intimate venue where true art-lovers come to feel something.

APP: That sounds wonderful. What advice can you give to young artists who are looking to begin songwriting?

SP: Play what you feel. Write for yourself, not for anyone else.

14425485_10155266801802785_6275809722654663357_oAPP: There is a theory that songs are just waiting to be written–we are constantly surrounded by them in a sense, and songwriters pin them down, capturing their story in the form of a song. If one artist doesn’t claim the song, someone else will. Do you agree with that theory? What is your songwriting process?

SP: I don’t believe songwriting is a competition. A lot of songwriters seem to feel like they need to write a song a day, or that the more songs they write, the more likely one of them will become a “hit.” I am not that way. I write when I am inspired to. I may go months without writing a song, or a very long time without feeling the desire to play at all. I have found that my best material comes in spurts and is often unplanned– it’s almost as if I am channeling something in the room that comes through me… like TV air waves!

APP: What records have you been listening to/loving lately?

SP: Loving everything by Kings of Convenience – totally brilliant. Also Chad Vangaalen is fascinating.

APP: What has been your biggest accomplishment so far in terms of your musical career?

14115625_10155172245002785_3697200637170627119_oSP: I love putting out the most honest work I possibly can. I was very proud to release my first album Good News in 2013.

APP: If you could bring back one artist from the dead to perform with, who would it be and why?

SP: David Bowie or Prince, possibly. I feel they both supported the idea that there are no rules in art. They created music/art they truly believed in, even when it may have been seen as unusual. People loved them for it because it was honest and real and their enthusiasm for what they did was contagious.

APP: Anything else you’d like to say to the readers of A Perfect Playlist?

SP: Love yourself. Love what you do. Keep on rocking in the free world 😉

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Find Samantha here:

Website

Twitter

Spotify

Now Playing

I apologize for my lack of posts lately! I just started my first year of college, so I’ve been adjusting to a lot of new things & I haven’t had time to sit down and write a blog post.

Speaking of new things, I have been listening to a lot of new music (well, new to me) lately. Here’s a few albums that I’ve had on repeat since I started school…

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds (2011)noel-gallaghers-high-flying-birds-album-art1-300x300

After Oasis (tragically) broke up in 2009, brothers Noel and Liam Gallagher went their separate ways. Liam formed his own band and named it Beady Eye, and Noel formed the High Flying Birds with the help of Oasis’ former pianist, bassist, guitarist and drummer. Noel has released two studio albums with this band–a self-titled album, and Chasing Yesterday, which just came out earlier this year. Both are great records, but the one I’m loving the most right now is the debut, self-titled album. I love “The Good Rebel”, “(I Wanna Live In A Dream In My) Record Machine”, “Stop The Clocks” & “If I Had A Gun.” The harmonies in the chorus of “The Good Rebel” are absolutely amazing, & “I Wanna Live In A Dream” and “Stop The Clocks” sound a bit like Oasis–something that all dedicated fans will appreciate. I love blasting this album on Friday afternoons in my dorm.

warondrugs_dreamWar On Drugs: Lost In the Dream (2014)

The soft, lulling guitar riffs paired with lead singer Adam Granduciel’s soothing vocals make this a perfect album to either fall asleep to, or play in the background of a study session. I love albums that have songs over 5 minutes long, and this is one of those albums. There’s one song on the record that’s almost 9 minutes long. (And it happens to be my favorite–check out “Under The Pressure.”) I also love “Red Eyes,” “An Ocean In Between the Waves,” and “Suffering.”

51h3Lf+caiLFleetwood Mac: Rumours (1977)

I know what you’re thinking: how is it possible that she just discovered this album?! I really don’t have a good excuse–I just haven’t. My parents didn’t listen to Fleetwood Mac much when I was younger, so I was never introduced to the band until this past summer when a friend of mine played me “Rumours” for the first time. Since then, I’ve been listening to this album nonstop. I’m in love with the guitar solos and duets between the legendary Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. Lately, I’ve been playing “Secondhand News,” “Dreams,” “Don’t Stop,” and of course, “Go Your Own Way.” Don’t be like me and wait until the last minute to listen to this album for the first time (if you haven’t already)–go listen now!

UK-Ebb-FlowJudith Owen: Ebb And Flow (2014)

First off, I love title of this record. Ebb And Flow ties in so well with the overall mood of the album–Judith’s voice really does flow through your headphones in each song. I had the privilege of watching Judith perform this past summer with the legendary Leland Sklar (who has been featured on over 2,000 albums and worked with musical superstars such as James Taylor, Willie Nelson, Linda Ronstadt, and Lisa Loeb to name just a few.) My favorite songs on Ebb And Flow are “I Would Give Anything,” and “Hey Mister, That’s Me Up On The Jukebox.” When Judith visited the record store I work in over the summer for a small performance, I sat down with her for “spot of tea” before the show. I chatted with her about music, food, and her life in England. She’s so funny, sweet, and incredibly talented. I’d highly recommend picking up her album this month– a perfect record to play on a rainy day.