“OK” (October 18th)
Life is always moving, and it often feels like a relentless whirlwind. Acclaimed singer-songwriter Paul Johnson, known under the moniker Canyon City, feels the changing seasons on a deeply personal level. In his attempts to navigate both shifting tides and personal evolution, he penned the sweetly pointed new song “OK,” which acts as a love song as much as a confession of self-doubt.
Truth be told, the pressure has certainly mounted the past few years. Off the heels of his first record, 2016’s Midnight Waves, essential cut “Firework” was added to Spotify’s Fresh Finds: Six Strings playlist and has since culled more than seven million streams. But that’s just scratching the surface. In total, Johnson now has over 1.5 million monthly listeners, and other songs like “Alone with You” and “Lost Sparks” (the latter from 2019’s Bluebird record) have amassed 15 and 10 million streams, respectively. His cover of Coldplay’s “Fix You” stands at 25 million.
It’s quite easy to see exactly why Johnson is a streaming giant. His songwriting, fusing the work of Noah Gundersen and Tallest Man on Earth with a pinch of Tom Petty and Neil Young, is rich in emotional detail. New single “OK” is not any different; in fact, the teary orchestral-driven ballad is Johnson at his most gutting, most intense and perhaps at his all-time finest. “A few guitars, a couple lines / A broken heart, white lies / The white light opened my eyes,” he sings, each syllable carrying with it tremendous, heart-wrenching punches.
“When you’d float through the door / I couldn’t close them anymore,” he continues. “Hey, I’m not OK / But I’m better than I was.” The simplicity of lyric and vocal operates on all cylinders and erupts into an imposing, colorful performance.
Buried beneath lush layers, there lies a great life-affirming story. Upon meeting and marrying his wife, the two briefly moved to Brooklyn while putting plans in motion for a permanent relocation. They then found their way back down south, this time planting their roots in Chattanooga — Johnson previously spent 10 years in Nashville. “OK” sprouted from this completely crucial reset. “It was a really fun, adventurous but also really, at times, disorienting season. But in the midst of all that, I felt like there was a peace that was creeping in. I credit a lot of that to my wife,” he says. “What I wanted to say and what I was feeling was an attempt at an honest where-I-am love song. It’s saying that not every day is rose-colored, not everything was easy.”
“This is not only talking about this last season but life, in general. I’m not happy with who I am everyday, but I feel everyday getting incrementally better. I can look back on the past and see that we’re on the right road. I like where we’re going, as a couple, and I like where I’m going, as a person. It’s taking a moment to appreciate that growth.”
From Fargo, North Dakota, Johnson enjoyed your typical midwest upbringing. He took guitar lessons when he was eight from the local pastor, who was “a great blues player,” as he remembers it, and explored various musical endeavors throughout middle and high school. He eventually landed on his true voice in his late teens. “I definitely found it, but to some degree, it was an echo of the music I was around when I was growing up,” he says, quickly noting his parents’ work in a folk trio.
Feeling the pull of Music City, he ventured south “for music, but it was under the guise of college,” he says. “I lasted two-semesters and then dropped out.” He quickly switched gears to focus on his songwriting, developing his own distinct style and linking up with such collaborators as Chase Coy, Jamestown Story (real name Dane Schmidt), singer-songwriter Betsy Phillips and Zachary David, who has become his go-to producer on many of his projects.
Throughout his various releases, which include a whopping three full-length albums and four EPs in only four years, he has also landed placements on NBC’s pilot episode of New Amsterdam and a Canadian commercial. He played SXSW in 2017.
Counterintuitive to how many working musicians operate, Johnson has been keeping a keen eye on his streaming numbers to target his solo tours. “Streaming has been the engine of success for this project. Then, I look at the touring [statistics] to go to [my listeners], strategically,” he says. “Music can be hyper personal, and I want to be detailed yet intentionally open-ended for the listener to bring their own life to it. Releasing music as Canyon City instead of “Paul” is a little less scary for me.”
“It’s an acoustic-constructed ballad, a lullaby with a gentle elegance.”- American Songwriter
“Explores the insights that can arise out of challenging new circumstances.” – Paste Magazine
“An emotional, orchestral-driven ballad that explores the beauty that comes from navigating through difficult times.” – Vents Magazine
“The teary orchestral-driven ballad is Johnson at his most gutting, most intense and perhaps at his all-time finest.” – For Folks Sake