Pop singer-songwriter/actress Alexz Johnson launched a PledgeMusic campaign Thursday to fund her upcoming full-length album. In four days, shed reached half her goal. Pledgers receive gifts like the opportunity to write a song with her (for $8,000) or interview her at a show ($200).
Johnson previously raised $30,000 in a single day on Kickstarter, eventually doubling that and using the funds to pay for her first U.S. tour. Her second with fellow female indie-rocker Charlene Kaye stops at Tremont Music Hall Wednesday.
Raising loads of cash in mere days may be tough for unknown musicians, but Johnson has spent years building her fan base.
The former Canadian TV star got her first big break in the Disney Channel series So Weird (1999-2001). Then she landed Instant Star, which was broadcast in more than 120 countries (it aired on Nickelodeons The N now TeenNick in the United States) from 2004-2008; Johnson played a musician who becomes famous overnight after winning a music competition.
She wrote much of the music that was used on the show. It taught me very quickly how to write with and work with people, says Johnson. But she never toured.
I didnt want to tour as Jude Harrison, she says of her Instant Star character.
Four years after Instant Star was cancelled and deals with Capitol and Sony/Epic (which opted not to release her full-length album), Johnsons life is very different.
My expectations have changed. When youre on a TV show and signing record deals, Im like, Why am I not at the Grammys? I was waiting on people to press the button for me. When I see bands really make it now from the underground and build, build, build its so much richer than having people listen to you because youre on the radio, she says.
Johnson moved to Brooklyn, which wasnt cheap a Visa cost her $10,000 and a green card will cost another $12,000. There, she immersed herself in indie culture and met Kaye, who has navigated a similarly independent career, having gained fame through her association with duet partner and friend Darren Criss (Glee) and as guitarist for Team Starkid.
For her Kickstarter campaign, Johnson released a five-track EP, Skipping Stone, that she recorded in Nashville for $300 (a different experience than her major-label days, when she wrote songs in London and recorded with 35 string players). It manages to recall both Rickie Lee Jones, 60s girl groups, and Gwen Stefani, which seems like a difficult mix to pull off. Yet it works.
So what will her new album sound like?
I want it to be epic and classic, old-school, says the 26-year-old former teen star with an old soul. I love Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen. Brian Eno. I want it to be big and sound like Independence Day. So much in music right now is about bling and success and money and fame and sex. All these things are inundating our culture.
Weve kind of forgotten The Streets of Philadelphia and Melissa Etheridge. Adele tapped into that. I want to take it back to true songwriting.
Johnson, who still acts (House of Bodies with Terrance Howard and Queen Latifah is out this year), doesnt necessarily need to take the risqué route former Disney stars Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens do in the R-rated Spring Breakers to shake a squeaky clean image.
I didnt get quite wrapped up in that. I never got into the Disney circle as much. (Instant Star) was a real blessing for me, she says, noting her international fanbase. I think with time, people kind of begin seeing you in a new light. In TV land, its hard for people to look at you seriously as a musician. I think it helps that I played a musician on TV.
She admits the self-managed, social-media-savvy world of an independent artist isnt necessarily an easier one.
But its where my heart is.