The buzzed-about 19-year-old musician and singer currently is studying Down Under but plans more live performances, a music video and a full-length album after she returns to West Michigan later this year.
Hailing from a Coast Guard family, Loren Johnson already was accustomed to moving from city to city. When her family moved into their new home in Grand Haven, she had trouble at first being “the new kid” in a new school.
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Everything had changed – again. Everything … except for the guitar she brought along and her passion for songwriting.
Now, that songwriting is on display for all to enjoy on her debut EP, “Sleepsick,” officially released early this year. Johnson has been performing around the Grand Haven area with the support of her family and friends, as well as the community.
“Throughout high school, I wasn’t very open about my personal music projects,” Johnson said. “Like most other teens, I had a suffering self-image. I remember watching my friends excel at academics and thinking of myself as virtually talentless.
“Luckily, I have an incredible mom and dad that helped me through everything, and always encouraged music. They always told me they saw potential, and they wanted to see me explore that.”
Johnson, now 19, said her parents helped her lay a solid foundation, giving her the confidence to reach out to the local community.
“And once I did – it was like magic,” she said. “I’ve met so many incredible friends and mentors that have helped me more than I could ever thank them for in one lifetime. It’s proven to me that if you have pure enthusiasm for what you’re doing, it’s contagious.”
LISTEN: Loren Johnson, “Theodora”
Johnson, who plays guitar and double-bass, learned her enthusiasm truly was contagious, particularly in the Grand Haven music community. When she turned 12, she met area musician and Walk the Beat festival organizer Dave Palmer at an open-mic night downtown.
“I asked if I could play with him and his band, and the rest is history,” Johnson said. “I’ve been meeting and playing with local musicians ever since. Dave has been an awesome catalyst for getting West Michigan’s musicians together, and he helped me lay the foundation for getting involved in Grand Haven’s musical community.”
Johnson also recorded her EP in the Grand Haven studio of renowned recording engineer Bill Chrysler, who has traveled the globe running sound on tour for acts ranging from John Mayer to Prince. She is also grateful for the huge creative help Bleu VanDyke lent the album as a producer.
‘CAN’T STOP MYSELF FROM WRITING’
“I’ve been writing songs and rhymes since I could hold a pen,” Johnson said. “I’ve always been fond of keeping diaries – my parents have found some from when I was seven or eight years old.
“Writing is something that has always come fairly natural to me. To put emotions or events onto something physical, like a piece of paper, has always been my way of coping or relieving stress – or even a way of reliving happy memories. To be honest, it often feels like I can’t stop myself from writing.”
Johnson recorded one of the songs on her EP in an interesting way. “Waiting on You” features an upbeat tempo, with a happy tone about how she has been through so much, and how together, we can make it through anything. In the song’s interlude, you hear happy voices, laughing and having fun.
Johnson said she drew on memories she made with friends during a study abroad program in Australia, undertaken during the three years she’s completed as a geography student at Grand Valley State University after graduating early from Grand Haven High School. She is using the GVSU study abroad program to alternate semesters between GVSU and the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.
Johnson is studying, going to school and writing music while she is abroad. The experiences have had a huge impact on her life.
“I messaged those friends from the (earlier) trip, asking them to send me all the videos they had left from the trip,” she said. “The bustle and voices in the background of the track were those videos – us all having fun together. I want to capture and record that fun while I’m over there. I feel it is good to write about my friends’ experiences, as well, on the EP. It can be a chance to write from a different point of view.”
Johnson’s EP already has raised a buzz around Grand Haven in the weeks since it’s been released. “Sleepsick” is available on Spotify, Google Play, Amazon and iTunes, where it rose into the Top 10 of best new singer-songwriter releases in January.
“No one is more shocked than me,” she said. “I just started playing out in public on my own…and people were dancing, asking when and where I was going to play again. It was really great, them wanting to come back and see me again.”
The young singer-songwriter — who also takes occasional concert photos as a freelancer for Local Spins and has hosted an ‘Acoustic Sundays’ radio show on WAWL (103.5 FM) — credits West Michigan’s budding music scene for spawning such a supportive atmosphere.
“Between our wide assortments of outdoor summer concert series, the new venues popping up around West Michigan, the Walk the Beat music festival and Bill Chrysler’s studio, I believe we are developing a community of musicians that are here to help encourage one another, rather than act maliciously competitive.”
While Johnson currently is back in Australia for another study abroad adventure, she’ll be back this summer to participate again in the Walk the Beat event in Grand Haven. She also plans more live performances, a music video and the recording of a full-length album with help from other area musicians.
“I am hesitant to call this a career,” said Johnson, who also plays with the GVSU Orchestra. “I’m just trying really hard to enjoy this, because without that, it’s not worth anything. It has been working out, and I am having so much fun. I feel really lucky.”
VIDEO: Loren Johnson, “Crazy for You” (Adele cover)
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