New York raised, Nashville based Jillette Johnson has announced the release of her third album, It’s A Beautiful Day and I Love You, due February 12, 2021 and she’s given us two singles so far. I caught up with Jillette about “Annie” and “I Shouldn’t Go Anywhere”, new merch (a previous Jillette Johnson tee is my most worn band tee ever) and getting to make music with friends.
AnaLee: “Annie” is your newest single and it is one fun, upbeat, very catchy song. Talk a little bit about the inspiration for this one.
Jillette: Annie is a thank-you letter to my other half’s ex-girlfriend, and a tribute to all the past relationships that make us who we are. The ones that prepare us to find fulfilling partnerships, and teach us how to be whole humans. I think it takes a lot of practice to learn how to be with another person. My partner has shared his heart with some badass women, including Annie (yes, I used her real name, and yes, she’s heard the song, and yes everything’s cool,) and I'm super grateful for it. Those women have helped make him a whole person, just like my exes have helped make me whole too. Meeting each other in that place has helped us build something very rare, and we probably couldn’t have done it without those past relationships.
AnaLee: I first saw you perform a few years ago and Kaitlyn Raitz was playing cello with you. I’ve since become a fan of her and husband Ben Plotnick’s duo, Oliver The Crow and featured them on The Local Brew Hour last year, so thank you for that music discovery! Kaitlyn shot the video for “Annie” and the visual piece for “I Shouldn’t Go Anywhere”, not to mention playing cello on the recording, Ben plays violin and did the string arrangements. Another singer songwriter I’ve had on the Local Brew, Betsy Phillips took some photos of you. Joe Pisapia plays guitar and produced the album. Super multi-talented folks and friends! Tell us about the process of making this record and working with your friends.
Jillette: This is one of the many gifts that Nashville has given me since I moved here almost 4 and a half years ago. There is such a rich community of uber talented, and disarmingly kind people. I’ve spent most of my career on big labels, and had gotten used to farming out different parts of the album process to people I didn’t know, just kind of crossing my fingers that everyone gets it right. But this album has been all about working within my network of friends, and shining a light on the multi-faceted talent of each person involved. That has actually been super liberating, and I think it’s helped me execute the vision for the album with more precision and clarity, It’s allowed me to have more ownership over every decision that gets made. Joe Pisapia is my neighbor and now friend, and when he and I started talking about recording together, we picked the players based on folks he and I already knew and loved. Jamie Dick on drums, Owen Biddle on bass, and Dan Knobler as the engineer. Because we were all already friends, there was this built in trust that allowed us all to let our weird ideas and most vulnerable selves shine. That trust was like rocket fuel, and we ended up tracking the whole album in three days, leaving the studio each night totally buzzy and inspired. That motto extended into the visual wing of this project. Betsy Phillips, who is a wonderful singer/songwriter in her own right, offered to take photos for me over coffee one day, just for fun. We ended up taking a boat load of photos, and now, she is responsible for all of the photography behind the album artwork. And I met Kaitlyn Raitz while my now husband and I were on our first date. We then started playing music together, which led to a deep friendship. I played at her wedding, she and her husband Ben played at mine, and now she is my go-to video guru and has made some of my favorite videos with me. It feels like there’s this really organic team coalescing around me, and it’s incredibly empowering, not to mention a hell of a lot of fun.
AnaLee: The first song you released from the album is called “I Shouldn’t Go Anywhere”. It’s becoming harder and harder for me to figure out if new songs I’m hearing are inspired by the circumstances stemming from the pandemic or if they were written pre-pandemic and just happen to fit right now! You have two visual pieces for “I Shouldn’t’ Go Anywhere”, a “visualizer” and a “stay home” version shot by the artists performing, you from your bathroom, Kaitlyn Raitz and Ben Plotnick from their home and Joe Pisapia from his kitchen. What’s the difference between a visualizer and an actual music video? I really like both so I’ve included links below.
Jillette: Thanks! I actually wrote “I Shouldn’t Go Anywhere,” pre-pandemic, and we chose it to be the first single pre-pandemic as well. However, the video we made (which yes, is a visualizer) is totally inspired by the art of trying not to go crazy while in the confines of your little bubble in the era of COVID. It’s a visualizer because it’s a short video that’s looped throughout the whole song, which also helps to tell the story of this groundhog day we’re all living in right now. Our “Stay Home” version of the song conveys a similar feeling, but through a different lens. Kaitlyn and Ben tuck their instruments into bed, I play piano on the edge of a bathtub, and Joe washes dishes and sings to himself with a guitar slung on his back. That’s kinda what life looks like when your house becomes your whole world for months on end.
AnaLee: You have pre-orders available for the album and some other merchandise, like signed gold vinyl and It’s A Beautiful Day and I Love You face masks, in preparation for the album release in February. Any other pre-release plans you can share at this point, another single, any shows planned – streaming or in person?
Jillette: I’m really enjoying the element of surprise these days. Before I released “I Shouldn’t Go Anywhere,” I had hardly played the album for anyone, or even told anyone it was coming. I think it helps keep the spark alive for me. So, with that said, yes there is more coming, but I’m not going to divulge just yet. As for in person shows, I really feel like that can’t happen until there’s a vaccine, and you know just about as much as I do when it comes to that.
Jillette Johnson, “Annie”
Jillette Johnson, “I Shouldn’t Go Anywhere” (visualizer)
Jillette Johnson, “I Shouldn’t Go Anywhere” (stay home version)
Ana Lee is on middays at WMOT, and is also the host of The Local Brew Hour, which airs Sundays at 7am and Mondays at 7pm on 89.5 WMOT and wmot.org.