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Photo by: Jordan Merrigan
Nashville based indie/folk writer and producer Paul Johnson has been creating fresh new music under the moniker Canyon City. His sophomore album, Constellation, is due out in October and he just dropped the first single, “Midnight Flight,” it’s pure sonic goodness!
GroundSounds recently caught up with Paul to talk about his forthcoming album, musical inspirations and more, check out the exclusive interview below.
Hey Paul, for those just discovering Canyon City, can you tell us about your background and how you got started with music?
When I was a kid, music was always around the house. My parents played in a folk trio together in their 20s and so basic harmony and musical concepts were part of the curriculum. When I was about 7 I started learning guitar from the local pastor (who oddly enough was an incredible blues player), and eventually moved to Nashville when I was 18. I wrote all the time and worked side jobs while also working as a session player, and eventually one of the producers I would do sessions for offered to help me record an EP of my tunes since I had all these songs laying around that I could sing.
That started a project called Silver Trees, which was the first bit of traction I got as an artist. However, after the band members all moved out of state, I was searching for another songwriting outlet. A friend of mine offered me a 2-record deal for a sync-based project with his small record label in town. Although I knew going into it that it was a “job,” making music specifically for sync, or more so for anything less than honest connection and expression, it took a big emotional toll on me. During that period I built a home studio and started Canyon City just to keep myself sane and create a “safe harbor” where music could be fun and passionate again. Out of that experience I re-learned why I started playing music in the first place, asked the label to let me out of the contract, and focused all my efforts on Canyon City. Funny enough, it became the project that people started connecting with and sharing beyond anything I did before it.
What made you decide on the moniker Canyon City?
“Canyon City” references that period of time when I needed a protected place to create music from the heart again. A canyon city to me was the image of a hidden but beautiful place where I could make the things I’ve always wanted to make, sort of an Atlantis of creativity.
What do you enjoy most about Nashville?
You can’t beat the people, the coffee and the burritos! But in all honesty, the city seems to have a soul to it that I can’t quite articulate but certainly feel. I don’t know if that’s because it’s “music city,” or if that feel is what made it the kind of place that inspires music.
What has it been like working on and bringing your sophomore album Constellation to fruition?
Parts of it came very quickly, the songs seemed to fall together incredibly fast, but I also purposely threw some challenges into the production to expand and test the Canyon City sound. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work on this album both at home in Nashville and at a cabin up in MN, but as a result went through a really isolating period of time. It forced me to listen and grow in a way that was outside of my comfort zone, and on this side of it I am so grateful for the time and lessons that working on the record allowed for.
With “Midnight Flight” I started with the syncopated verses and beat, which was kind of new territory for Canyon City, but intriguing for the same reason. The story came together somewhat subconsciously but in a way that made a lot of sense to me – that is, the desire to pause on a sweet, suspended moment despite the knowledge and nature of things coming back down. As a mellower artist I don’t get to do the “chair dance” to a lot of my songs, but this was a fun exception!
What musicians/bands are currently listening to?
I’m always all over the place, but right now I’m on a big David Ramirez kick, Jason Isbell’s newest record is incredible, and I’ve also caught some Cold War Kids tunes that I think I’m late to the party on but are strong wake-up jams.
What was the inspiration for your track “Our Way”?
“Our Way” is all about embracing being lost. The idea is “maybe if we embrace and own this state of wondering, then in a way we’re always home.” But as with many of my songs, it’s also with a wink to the desire for something certain and the bittersweet contention.
What is it about indie-folk that attracts you to this sound?
That’s a great question, for some reason it’s just where I naturally tend to go. Maybe that’s because of folk being an early influence in my life, or maybe it’s just the voice I most-liked along the way. These days I try not to overthink too much and do whatever strikes an emotional chord in me, trusting that someone out there probably feels the same way.
After the album release, what’s next for Canyon City?
A large iced latte from Crema, a chicken burrito from Baja, and as many songs, shows and interactions that I can fit into 2018 with the wonderful people who have made this adventure possible.