When Fiona Apple wrote about a Shadowboxer and feeling like a Criminal it was impossible to not become transfixed with the world she painted with her lyrics. The nineties and early aughts bred a slew of female singer songwriters that told the deepest stories through song.
Over the years popular music has become increasingly watered down, with focus on lyrical content falling in second place to house beats and campy tales of love and partying with friends. With the success of artists like Adele it’s clear that people still crave and respond to music that’s emotional and above all, honest.
With the debut of her EP, Whiskey & Frosting, I sat down with Wind-Up Records artist Jillette Johnson to talk about growing up in New York, what inspires her and what the future holds.
Growing up in New York Jillette was born to a non-musical family with the passion to entertain and create at an early age. She started piano lessons at 6 and writing at 8 years old. With the support of her parents she started playing venues in New York City at just 12 years old. After getting her first manager at the same age Jillette used NYC as her canvas to create music that was open and honest.
That honesty caught the attention of Wind-Up Records Executive Gregg Wattenberg with the title track Cameron.
“Powder and a brush can cover any cuts / And quickly running cotton under cold water / Rinses out the blood marks / Cameron you’re a star, a light where there is dark”
tells the story of being alienated for our differences and embracing that uniqueness. After being signed to Wind-Up Jillette started writing for Whisking & Frosting.
Jillette isn’t resting on her laurels, “All of the music on the EP was written by me in my apartment over the last year. I’m having a lot of fun but it’s just the beginning. There’s a lot more work to be done.”
With her debut album set for an early 2013 release she’ll spend the next few months creating a buzz with the EP and radio in the winter. So where did Whiskey & Frosting come from?
After a horrible day Jillette and her boyfriend were headed back to her apartment where she hoped they would spend a quiet night alone. When they walked in all of her friends were there to throw her a surprise party and on the menu for dinner…whiskey and frosting, two of her favorite things.
“Whiskey and Frosting represents that twinkle in my eye and saying something real or dark with a hint of sweetness.”
Jillette doesn’t shy away from dark messages and difficult subjects. That fearlessness in her writing, the desire to create her own little world, has kept her on the creative path that has lead her up to this point. “It’s so important to be real and honest when you’re creating music.”
That realness meant turning down a prime spot on the hit show The Voice this past season. After attending an audition with a friend she turned down the opportunity to continue on the creative path she began, and to not compromise the voice she worked so hard to build throughout her career.
“It takes a lot of courage to audition for a talent show, you go through a lot. What I do is very holistic and unfortunately there’s no room for that in a show meant to entertain people. It feels like sacrilege to not be myself and for my voice to not be heard.”
This commitment to her music and bringing authenticity to what she creates also meant leaving New York University after one year to put 100% of her energy behind her career. When I asked her what would she be doing if she wasn’t creating music her response was simple,
“I never considered doing anything else. If you have a plan B then your plan A doesn’t really matter. I wanted everything I did to be about my career.”
That passion and vulnerability is evident in songs like Pauvre Coeur (poor heart).
“Dare I say I was enamored / By the stories of your pain / You were darkened in the wild fight / And I was tangled in your mane.”
The story of compromising yourself in a broken relationship that leaves you completely lost is told beautifully over Johnson’s aching vocals and rolling piano.
“I was trying to make you see me / Like the way you did before / So I took off my clothes and I opened a bottle / And told you I’d do whatever you wanted / Naked on the floor, crying I’m too beautiful / Oh my poor, poor, pauvre coeur / Beats no more.”
Jillette sings and composes with a passion that comes from such an authentic place. From her own life experiences to the streets of New York Jillette is influenced by life around her and the city that raised her.
“New York has hugely influenced me. There’s so much to draw inspiration from. I really think it’s the epicenter of the universe, so much beauty to inspire.”
Music legends Paul Simon, Prince, Carol King and Randy Newman are a few musicians that have influenced Johnson and her creativity. Newman’s simple approach to his lyrics and music that isn’t “overly flowery but to the point and eloquent” is what inspires Johnson. “They help me figure out what I want to say. I have to have a message in my music.”
Torpedo is Whiskey & Frosting’s anthem tune with Jillette’s beautifully layered vocals and poignant piano laced with hard hitting drums and of course, those lyrics.
“So come on torpedo do your worst / Get me right in the heart, blow me up ’til you see my ghost / But I will not lay down in the road / I will not make it easy / I ain’t got no saints or saviors / This is guerrilla and I will fight this war / So come on torpedo.”
Whiskey & Frosting Track Listing:
- Cameron – Where it all began!
- Torpedo – Most upbeat track on the EP
- When the Ship Goes Down – “Probably the best song I’ve ever written”
- Heathen – Friend favorite
- Pauvre Coeur – “The most fun to play live”
Since this is Sarah’s Musical Kitchen I took the opportunity to ask Jillette who were some of her favorite NYC artists and of course, what are some of her favorite places to eat and drink in the city.
Favorite Local Musicians:
Favorite Places to Eat & Drink:
What’s your favorite thing to cook? “Beef Stew for my mom.” I think we need a recipe!
It was a pleasure speaking with Jillette. The eloquence and passion in her music is evident when she speaks about her musical journey and what the future holds. Her fearless approach to writing and absolute awareness of who she is as an artist is refreshing and inspiring. Whiskey & Frosting is the heart and soul of a talented artist waiting to just blow you away. Download it today and look for the debut album in early 2013.