We had the good fortune of connecting with Paul Johnson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Paul, why did you pursue a creative career?
Music has always been a part of my life and got it’s hooks in me from a very early age. That said, it was around the time I was a teenager and started writing songs that I really dug in on a deeper level. Songwriting feels like language of expression that is so much more three dimensional than any other way I’ve known to articulate an emotion, thought or experience. It took me many years to find my artistic voice, and to be honest I feel like that discovery and evolution should never truly end, but now that I have the privilege of sharing music with the Canyon City audience I try to stay rooted in that internal experience first, and then hope that as a bonus it will be something of value to others as well.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Though I’ve been playing music in some form since I was a kid, it wasn’t until mid-2015 that I started this folk/pop/indie project that I call Canyon City. Making music under the Canyon City moniker was, at first, kind of a resignation from the larger music industry. Around that time I was living in Nashville, TN, working a part-time job and struggling to make ends meet with my musical work, and after spending some time working on a previous project which was more about “making it” than enjoying it I just got burned out on the whole pursuit. I felt exhausted with the music industry, but I also had this deep desire to make music from that expressive, heartfelt place that initially gave me a sense of wonder about songwriting. It was from that motivation that I started to accumulate some basic recording gear and start recording myself in my studio apartment, initially just for myself and to enjoy music again. When I released those early recordings it was incredible to see that people were connecting with this “passion project” more than anything I had done before in music. I think that people could hear the authenticity and really trusted it. Ironically, when I started making music for the simple joy and expressiveness of it rather than trying to force it to be a living, it became my living. When I start to worry too much about how people will receive my newest releases I try to remember that formative truth – that the best thing I can do for my career is to make music from a genuine, emotive and resonant place regardless of if or where that work might find an audience.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Fort Collins is such a dynamic place that I think the answer would be highly dependent on the visitor and the season. If it’s someone like me, I would take them on a tour of our many amazing local coffee shops (my personal favorites are Butterfly Cafe and also Lima Coffee Roasters), then we would explore some of the charm of Old Town Square, especially Trimble Court Artisans to support some local and regional artists. We might go check out some of Fort Collins’s fantastic music venues, and I would definitely show off an incredible organization called The Music District, which supports regional musicians, songwriters, and artists. Another fantastic local organization is The Growing Project, which does incredible work in community horticulture and social justice work.
No trip to FoCo is complete without a day on the Horsetooth Reservoir, and I’d also want to set aside a day to explore some of the beautiful trails off of the Poudre Canyon. To find some mid-day calm I’d highly recommend the Gardens on Spring Creek, which is always an inspiration to walk around.
Last but certainly not least, you’ve got to explore the area’s bike trails and enjoy Fort Collins’s amazing cycling connectivity.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My story and the story of my music (released under the name Canyon City) is truly one of many contributors, mentors and supporters. When I was growing up in North Dakota my family was always wonderfully supportive of my musical endeavors and from an early age they set me up with guitar lessons from our local pastor (who was also an incredibly skilled musician). He taught me a lot of valuable perspectives in how to think about music and also introduced me to the art of recording and music production. Later on in life, when I was beginning my career in music but before I started Canyon City, there were some close friends who were incredibly generous with their time and encouragement, always willing to listen to my latest song and let me know how I can improve. These people not only helped me to hone my craft but also kept me going when self-doubt seemed to large to overcome alone.
Ever since my wife and I moved to Fort Collins, Colorado, we’ve both been really encouraged by the creative community here and are so grateful to be among so many amazing creators.
Photo in white t-shirt (credit Brooke Johnson), photo in blue denim jacket (credit Shervin Lainez), photo with guitar and photo in front of wallpaper (credit Andrew Kelly)