As Angier, North Carolina native Paige King Johnson says, the beauty of country music is storytelling and the ability for listeners to connect with the stories the artist is telling.
With her debut EP Big Girl World, Johnson is already establishing herself as a strong storyteller and a strong voice to match each of the four stories she tells on the EP. As she weaves her way through tales of growing up, living in love despite financial troubles and appreciating the shortcomings of the person you love, Johnson has her finger on the pulse of both the country music listener and the classic country influences she grew up on, creating great, well-rounded debut effort.
Read along as Johnson discusses the emotions she felt as she was preparing to release her debut single “Water Down the Whiskey,” seeing it earn top 30 status on Music Row Magazine’s Country Chart, the stories behind each of the songs on Big Girl World, what she hopes listeners take away from it and more!
Pro Country: Who are some of your biggest musical influences that have shaped your sound?
Paige King Johnson: I grew up listening to a lot of classic country music. I was raised in the 90s, but I listened to a lot of Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn growing up. That was the kind of songwriting and music that I listened to, and it still influences me today when I go in and write or record an album. I try to get those classic country sounds into some modern day country.
PC: Your bio says that you started performing at a young age. What was it about music that connected with you so early in your life, and when did you realize that you wanted to pursue music as a career?
PKJ: I grew up singing in my church. My older sister was doing music in middle school and did it all the way through college, so I grew up in a household where music was already prevalent. At the age of 10, I started taking guitar lessons, and that’s when I started getting the music bug. My Grandpa bought me my first guitar when I was 10 because he saw how much I love singing around the house and in the car. When I first got my guitar and came to the realization that I could make my own music and sing to that, I instantly fell in love with it. I was a very outgoing kid, so to have people stopping and listening to me was amazing. I started performing at local organizations around my hometown and in talent shows, and I started progressing from there. I found that every time I got off stage, I was happy and excited. When I realized that people actually did it as a career, I said “Sign me up!” [laughs].
PC: What emotions were you feeling as you were preparing to release music for the first time with your debut single “Water Down the Whiskey”?
PKJ: Scared [laughs]. I was scared, excited and really proud. I’d been living in Nashville for five years. I didn’t really start writing music until I moved to Nashville, so I spent a lot of time writing different songs and trying to figure out what my story was and how I wanted it to be told. When we finally sat down and decided that we had the songs, we had to decide what they sounded like, and that was a process in itself. Once you have the finished product and the only thing left to do is hit the “Go” button to send it out into the world, it was very much a “freaking out” moment for me, because I’m a control freak. At that point, I knew there was nothing else I could do, and the music was just going to speak for yourself. If people liked it, they would like it, and if they didn’t, then I had just put out music that fulfilled me and that I was very proud of. I had to go into it with that mindset; no matter how it was received by people, it was a piece of my heart and a piece of my story, and I was proud of it. To know that country radio took it on as much as they have and people all around the world are sending me pictures of themselves listening to it or playing it at their cookouts, it makes my heart so happy to know that my music is reaching many more people than just in my backyard like I had dreamed of when I was a little girl.
PC: You mentioned there was an element of fear with releasing “Water Down the Whiskey,” but it has gone on to earn thousands of listens and streams across platforms, and is currently in the top 30 on the Music Row Magazine Country Chart. Is there a level of validation that comes with having that success on your debut release?
PKJ: For sure. The first goal of every artist is to be able to release music and put it out into the world, but the second goal to piggyback off of that is that people like the music that you release and that they can relate to it. To get that validation from not only my family, friends and hometown, but also people outside of your hometown limits who have no other investment in you is amazing. It’s just the song standing on its own legs, and the fact that people can find themselves in the same story as “Water Down the Whiskey” meant a lot to me. When I was writing it, I wrote it from a personal experience, and I think everybody can find themselves in that story in one aspect or another. To know that people liked it enough to not just listen to it once, but to go back and listen to it and add it to their playlists means the world to me. I have to pinch myself every time I get messages from people, because it’s still very surreal to me.
PC: “Big Girl World” is a coming-of-age story, and one of our favorite songs on its EP. Why did you decide to name the EP after that song and have it serve as the first track?
PKJ: I graduated from college back in December of 2018, and right after that is when I started writing for the whole EP. Usually when I start out a co-write, I take about 30 minutes to an hour just talking to the person before we start writing. That particular day, I was feeling a little overwhelmed about being a college graduate and going out into the real world and having to figure out how to pay bills, having all these new responsibilities and being a grown up. I was complaining about it for probably way too long, but my lovely co-writer, Britton Cameron listened to me. He is a little older than me, so he provided some comfort [laughs], and he told me that I wasn’t alone in feeling that. When I was done complaining, he asked what I wanted to write about, and I threw out a couple of song ideas, and he said they were pretty good ideas and that we could write those, but he said he didn’t think my heart was in them; my heart was in what I just spent 30 minutes complaining about [laughs]. That song came out very quickly because every bit of that story was true, and it still rings true for me even a year later.
After we wrote it, I kept circling back around to it, and when we were picking songs for the EP and picking the title track, I felt that each of the four songs is a component of becoming a “big girl” and growing up. It’s growing up, falling in love, getting your heart broken and having money troubles. All of that rang very true in my heart as somebody living in a “big girl world,” so there was no other option for me.
PC: “If Love Was Money” is a song that talks about living in love despite financial circumstances. How important is that song’s message to you?
PKJ: That song drew a lot of influence from Loretta Lynn. She wrote a lot of songs that were for and about poor folks, and that’s what we drew from when we were writing this song. I have so many friends back at home who are young and getting married, and they’re just young kids who don’t have a lot of money. They’re just “Livin’ on Love” and making it through. I think everybody can find themselves in that song in one way or another, whether you’re married or dating; everybody has a fear of financial problems, but if love was money, we’d be rich.
PC: “Just Like You” is our favorite song on Big Girl World. Can you talk about the inspiration behind that song?
PKJ: That song is one of my favorites as well. That one stands out for me in particular because I do have a great guy in my life. I had the idea for the chorus, and I took it to one of my dear friends who I went to college with, Regan Rousseau. I don’t write many love songs, so if I was going to write one, it had to be good and it had to be meaningful. It had to be my heart coming out of it, because I’m not a person who can fake it. I think the beauty of being in love or in a relationship is that you can acknowledge the shortcomings of somebody else, but you can acknowledge that you yourself have your own shortcomings and that nobody is perfect. I think the beauty of love is even with those faults, both sides still show up and work at it. Through everything you might nag your person about, they’re still there for you at the end of the day, and that’s why you love them. That song rings true to me in many different ways. I had a friend and my sister get married last year, and they both asked if they could use that song as their first dance at their wedding, and that was a surreal moment for me that I was so grateful for. I bawled my eyes out both times [laughs].
PC: What do you hope listeners take away from listening to Big Girl World all the way through?
PKJ: I’m very much a believer in songs and albums traveling with you through time. I hope that people keep coming back to these songs. I hope that is not just to “listen once” and move on, I hope people can relate to it so much that they come back and look to the songs for comfort, inspiration or a reminder of why they love the person they’re with. I think that’s the beauty in country music; it’s so centered around storytelling. As an artist, that’s my sole purpose. Every time I sit down to write a song, I try to write my story in a way that other people can find themselves in and relate to. I hope the songs legitimize the feelings they have and what they’re dealing with.
PC: You’ve shared the stage with major artists including Scotty McCreery, James Otto and Luke Pell. What can you take away from those experiences that you can use in your own career?
PJK: As an entertainer, I’m always studying to see how they keep crowds engagedand how they’re curating a setlist. I look at how they get a crowd up and dancing at some points, and how they keep them locked in and listening to the lyrics of the song at other points. Any time I get those opportunities, I’m taking notes and thinking about why tens and thousands of people are showing up to see them every night. As a “baby artist,” that’s our end goal; we want to be that Scotty McCreery or Neal McCoy; artists who people continue to show up to see and sing their songs all night long.
PC: The first few months of 2020 have thrown a wrench into the plans of many artists, but of the things you can control, what do you have planned for the rest of the year?
PKJ: Everything is pretty up in the air. We have new music that we’re holding on to and riding the wave of Coronavirus and everything that comes with it. It scares me a little bit, but I’m comforted to know that everyone else is doing the exact same thing. We’re just coming off of “Water Down the Whiskey” as a single, and the music video that came out a couple months ago. I’m trying to take this time as a planning stage to step back and evaluate things. I’m writing as much as I can. I had high hopes for a pretty packed spring and summer, so I’m just hoping and praying that we can get back out on the road very soon, because that’s where I draw my biggest inspiration, and that’s the biggest reminder of why I chose this. Being on the road is one of the best things in the world.
PC: Is there anything you’d like to add?
PKJ: Let’s hope and pray that all this goes away, and just stay at home [laughs].