When I hit play on the first song of Canyon City’s newest record Constellation, the simple guitar picking grabbed my attention instantly, and for the better part of the next hour, I listened to some of the most eloquently written music that I have ever heard. It was one of those experiences where I immediately looked up tour dates, rewound to replay certain lines, and wanted learn more about Canyon City and Paul Johnson’s musical history. As I reviewed this work of art, I chatted with the voice behind the words to get a deeper look into both the artist and the record.
Surrounded by music growing up, Paul Johnson learned how to first play guitar from the local Pastor who was instrumental in teaching him the blues, and the overall philosophies of music. Getting started at such a young age, lead him into writing his own songs. He soon found himself in Nashville making his music known as a writer for TV and film, but something was still missing.
“In everything that I was doing I didn’t feel like I had a place where I could honestly and completely express what was trying to come out, and so initially, kind of for my own happiness, I built up a home studio and started making the music that would become Canyon City, just to have a place to see an idea through without the distorting pressures. Although it’s still just the beginning stages, it felt full-circle, like this is what hooked me in the first place but now with a decade of practice, wrong-turns and the lessons learned from them under my belt to better define and find the heart of what I’ve been compelled to do all this time.”
Constellation starts off with the whimsical “Our Way”. A simple melody and folk sound, with a beautiful message about how taking an unknown path, does not mean you are lost. It brings us nicely into “Find You”, where theme of searching for something is still at the forefront. We are taken through a musical journey just in the first two tracks.
I knew that with such intricate story lines that there had to be songs on this record that meant something deeper to the singer.
“I think “Like I Did” is one of them, partially because it’s kind of a life-goals thing, a scene I’d like to see someday. “Train” is also special, it’s very specifically autobiographical which makes me feel connected to it.”
It’s clear in his voice that this true. You can see the magical love story in “Like I Did” come to life as you listen, and you can sense that personal correlation as he sings throughout “Train”.
With every song so involved yet different, such as with the vulnerability in “For The Day” and the longing in “Oh My God”, it made me wonder where the majority of his inspiration is drawn from.
“To be honest, I’m still learning the answer to that. One of my favorite parts of writing is looking back and realizing that what’s been said is a new insight even to me, like you’re just telling a story, then it leads to a point you didn’t know to make when you started.”
One thing is for sure, there is detail and attention that goes into every word written and sung.
Paul Johnson has a long history of writing music for television and film, and while these soft melodies and raw emotions could easily be played behind many scenes, it begs the question if the writing process is different.
“Writing for the sake of expression and art vs writing expressly for TV feels to me like the difference between a hike and a work commute. The latter is a means to an end, better to have it done sooner than later, and the former is maybe slower, less obvious in its pragmatism but the journey and discovery of it, and most importantly the change you go through in the process, is the point.”
While I believe his indie folk sound, especially in songs such as “Run” and “Be Scared With Me” would fit perfectly in several shows, such as the country drama Nashville, one program that sticks out on the singer’s own bucket list the is the current smash, “This Is Us”.
“I’m a big This Is Us fan and would definitely geek out if I made it into one of those teary-eyed scenes.”
The process of writing and creating music is rewarding for Johnson, and he looks at it as overall one of his greatest accomplishments. While proud of his work, his reasoning is selfless, and he is enthusiastic about making this music for us to hear.
“The simple joy of being able to make music from the heart that is sustainable because of the good people who listen to it has been my favorite career accomplishment so far.”
And for his personal goals, he does have a few things in mind.
“As for the bucket list, it’d be incredible to play the Ryman someday, and also SNL – I’d love to make it into that old Andy Samberg/Jack Johnson “The Mellow Show” sketch!”
What we do know right now, is that we can catch Canyon City doing a handful of shows before 2017 comes to a close, and you can guarantee that as life goes on, so will his writing.
“I’m beyond grateful to anyone who takes the time to give these tunes a listen. I hope to get some more live stuff in the books for 2018, and thank some of this community in person!”
Much like the rest of the Nashville music community, Paul Johnson and Canyon City create authentic and true music. Music that we can relate to, put our own story and meaning to, and music that we can respect as listeners. Constellation is a complete package of just that.
Follow along with Canyon City & check him out live this Fall: