INTERVIEW: Sarah Johnsone | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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In May 2021, Sarah Johnsone released her first single, Tonight. Coming shortly after Johnsone started writing music, the song sounds like a perfect encapsulation of an artist who is fully aware of their sound and, thanks to its delicacy, honesty and serenity, the track pricked up ears and caught attention across the North. The gentle vocals captured a youthful, wistful aura that was matched by delicate acoustic guitar and plucky ornamentation. The vocals harked back to the music of a bygone era, from the likes of Amy Winehouse, Corinne Bailey Rae and the artists that influenced them, there was something nostalgic about Johnsone’s sound, which still managed to sound current and relevant.

As much as Tonight was a perfect encapsulation of the artist Johnsone was then, the two years of experience have fleshed out her sound in exciting ways, resulting in the release of her debut EP, Same Reflection But I’m Changed, this month. From making her way onto Spotify’s new music playlists, playing festival slots across the North and beyond, and getting tipped by BBC Introducing, it has been a transformative couple of years for Johnsone. 

Now armed with a full band, her sound has evolved considerably. The swampy blues grooves of Down By The River showcases a dirtier, raucous sound, centring around a driving guitar riff and growing funk groove that is a complete contrast to the serenity of Tonight. Likewise, the euphoric indie rock of Sophia is endearing and bursting with life, thanks to an instantly infectious chorus.

It’s difficult when someone asks me to define my sound. Saying something along the lines of ‘indie pop rock with jazz and blues inflections’ just seems too much of a mouthful, but it really is just the music we enjoy! I like playing what we play.” Johnsone says.

While sieving through her growing catalogue, it might not be instantly obvious what it is that links these cluster of sounds, but what underlines the tracks is Johnsone’s penmanship. There is a candour and honesty in the lyricism that zones in on the tribulations of modern life; her songs draw from Johnsone’s own experience, painting a detailed portrait of a young woman growing up and into herself.

Johnsone reflects on her work, saying it’s only with time that she fully understands the head space in which she writes. “It’s such a cliche to call songwriting a catharsis, but it really is. When things go wrong, it’s a real way of trying to understand it all. It’s only after a proper amount of time that I’m able to look back and see clearly what links the songs written in that period, what I was working through and what sadness I was battling.”

It’s only after a proper amount of time that I’m able to look back and see clearly what links the songs written in that period, what I was working through and what sadness I was battling

Same Reflection But I’m Changed is an amalgamation of the tracks that have been penned up to this point. The songs have been soundtracking the band’s live performances, with the setlist constantly getting tinkered with. “They say audiences remember the start and the end of a gig, so we’ve been finding ways to strip back the middle and make that an experience in its own right, we want people to remember the twists and turns.” She explains. “It’s been good evolving the sound and finding out what works, the live performances have really been what’s put us on the map, one opportunity always seems to lead to another and off the back of it you’re suddenly sat in a dressing room in Ronnie Scotts!”

Before this interview, Johnsone could be found on the Quayside of Newcastle, busking. Finding the outlet a relaxing experience, she plays a mix of songs from her own material to indulgent tracks which offer an intimate insight into the sporadic array of songs that have influenced and fed into her ever growing sound; from the cinematic boom of Elbow, to the subtle intimacy of Laura Marling, each of these artists leave fingerprints on the songwriter’s sound. 

There is a very obvious hunger that shines out of the musician and her band, a need to throw themselves into every opportunity, soak it up and grow with each performance. Their next show, the biggest of their career so far, is a headline gig at Stockton’s Georgian Theatre. “It’s always been a bucket list, growing up in Stockton, I’ve always said I want to play it one day. It’s another in a series of ‘pinch me’ moments.”

With the band jolting into the limelight, they are now frantically excited to evolve and grow. Constantly expanding, maturing, adapting and evolving, there is a tangible excitement that flows out of their sound at all turns, as they sparkle with the flair of a band truly starting to discover what makes them special. “[Our sound is] constantly growing! We are constantly figuring ourselves out, honing in on what works and what we all identify with. My lyrics are becoming more of a story with each track, less about me and more about what I see, the band are constantly figuring out new ideas, be it riffs or sounds. We just seem to be getting closer and closer to our sound, which inevitably will just be whatever makes us this happy!”

Sarah Johnsone releases Same Reflection But I’ve Changed EP at The Georgian Theatre, Stockton on Friday 10th November.


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