One would be hard-pressed to find an artist as successfully independent as Alexz Johnson. If that name sounds familiar, you are not alone. Although Johnson got her TV with lead roles in “So Weird” and “Instant Star” and films such as “Final Destination 3”, music has always been first love; after seeing her show on Thursday night it’s easy to see why.
This was my second time seeing Johnson perform, the first was back in 2012 in Vancouver following the release of her EP “Skipping Stone”. While stylistically the albums are similar, Johnson has refined and updated both her sound and personal style and has turned down the pop overtones and increased the rock influences. Evidence of that fact lies in the very track “Breathe”. It would probably surprise folks to find out that that track was inspired by Prince; although isn’t nearly as outrageous as a tune from The Man In Purple, Johnson states that she was “delving into his work” explaining how “music is so personal” and that she likes to pull nuances from a lot of different artists. Let’s be real though, it is probably easier to find to find a group of artists that haven’t been influenced by Prince, versus those who have. His legend and reach was quite wide-ranging.
“Breathe” itself is a great lead-off track, an upbeat riff with poignant, accurate lyrics in which Johnson acknowledges that she has to “walk this path alone”, no doubt a nod to being fiercely independent and doing nearly everything herself. (Indeed, when I sent an email asking for an interview, I did not get a reply from a publicist or a label representative; I heard from Johnson herself).
If “Breathe” is an appropriate lead-off than “Say Goodbye” is equally a fantastic closer. The song also comes with an interesting, if sombre anecdote. Johnson and her crew were in the studio getting ready to record the song and when her sound engineer was just about to hit the red button to initiate recording, they received word that Canadian music legend Leonard Cohen had passed away. They subsequently did the song in one take. The song is not about Cohen per se, rather it is an ode to saying goodbye and how we all must and need to move on, however tough it may be.
Two other songs of note are “Right Now”, the fourth track which inspired the album’s title “A Stranger Time”. Although not a political person – Johnson flatly states that she “makes music” – she does admit and acknowledge that we are in strange times and “Right Now” is a literal music manifestation of the times today. As Johnson explained, she avoided specificity as everyone has their own version.
Even with all that taken into consideration, Johnson says her personal favourite track is the album’s third entitled “Aftermath”. In a way, it also touches on the overall theme of “A Stranger Time”, that of time. Johnson freely acknowledges that it is a bit of a darker song that touches on regret. It “doesn’t shine a big happy light” she says, and goes to lament how some artists, in fact people in general, are in ways afraid to write and talk about regret and the pain that we go through, even though that is what shapes us in many respects.
To sum up the album, well I’ll leave to Alexz herself “A Stranger Time is a live-off-the-floor experience, it’s not hyper-produced, hyper-electronic, it’s just very raw”. Amen to that. There is such beauty in simplicity.