If you’re on the hunt for a good ol’ country as hell story song, look no further than Addison Johnson, because he’s one of the best out there doing it right now.
In a genre distancing itself from story songs, Johnson has leaned further into them. Showcased on his newest album, Dark Side of the Mountain, Johnson shares stories, some autobiographical and some fictional, about demons, coping, murder and being on the run, to name a few; themes that would make the great Merle Haggard proud.
After peaking at number two on the iTunes country pre-order chart and landing at number three on the album chart on release day, Johnson is proving that there is still a market, and a big one at that, that still wants to hear a good story. With two top five charting albums on iTunes under his belt, Johnson is firing on all cylinders, and may have released what will become our favorite album of 2021.
We caught up with Johnson to talk all about the album, its charting success, what he hopes listeners take away from it, storytelling and more!
Pro Country: Your last album, Cherokee Blues, charted at number five on the iTunes country chart upon its release. Is there a level of pressure you felt, internally or externally, to match of surpass that success as you were putting together its follow up, Dark Side of the Mountain?
Addison Johnson: I think my focus has remained on continuing to make each record better and hoping the work would speak for itself. Naturally, you always want to see your new projects beat previous ones, but it’s not the focus.
PC: Your new album, Dark Side of the Mountain sat at number two on the iTunes country pre-order chart and charted at number three on release day. What did it mean to you, as an independent artist, to see your name above and among the biggest names in the genre?
AJ: I think it’s just a testament to the growth we’ve seen over the past couple of years. The support has been tremendous. And it’s obviously an incredible feeling to see your name listed with your heroes like Willie Nelson and Loretta Lynn.
PC: “Dark Side of the Mountain” opens its album with a bluegrass-feel and a story of murder. Why did you decide to have the song open the album and have it serve as the title track?
AJ: I love how old albums used the title track to start records, so I wanted to do that with this one. I also think “Dark Side of the Mountain” sets the tone for the entire record.
PC: “Cumberland River ‘58” and “Rollin’ Stolen” were released prior to Dark Side of the Mountain, and have earned nearly 130,000 combined streams on Spotify and several thousand more across platforms. What do you think it is about those songs that has allowed them to connect with listeners the way they have? What did tangibly being able to see their success mean to you?
AJ: I think there’s a calling for story songs to make a comeback in country music, and the streaming success seems to validate that thinking. Over the past couple of years, I’ve really moved into the mindset of writing three and a half minute movies, and it’s been really refreshing. Giving people something different to listen to that falls outside of the norm has been a lot of fun for me.
PC: “Blue Eyes Red” is both sonically and lyrically different from the rest of Dark Side of the Mountain. Can you talk about the sonic inspiration behind the song?
AJ: The song is based on struggles I’ve had with alcoholism, so I wanted to set it apart a bit. Every time I sat down to work on that song, I couldn’t shake the Ronnie Milsap vibes, so it evolved into something really different from what I typically gravitate toward. Although I’m two years sober now, it’s still difficult to go back and write about those days and the emotions of that time, so it was important to me to make this one unique.
PC: “You’ll Do Just Fine” gives a realistic, humorous take about artistry. Since making your move to Nashville, what has been the biggest thing you’ve learned or biggest adjustment you’ve had to make?
AJ: The biggest thing I’ve learned is that everybody is really good in this town. When people move here, they’re usually the big fish is their small pond, and arriving here is a wakeup call that you’re the small fish now with many, many great artists and musicians in town. As far as adjusting, I moved to town specifically to be a writer, but I quickly figured out that just because I believed in the roots of country music, the industry did not. So making the adjustment to the artist side of things was something I felt would be important if I was going to have a chance at success.
PC: “Black Leather Red Letters” is one of our favorite songs on Dark Side of the Mountain, and serves as the album closer. Can you talk about the inspiration behind the song?
AJ: It’s a mix of the demons I’ve had to overcome, as well as stories I’ve gathered from others who have shared their experiences with me over the years. I also like the follow the tradition of my heroes by including a gospel song at the close of each record to honor both my faith and country music’s roots.
PC: What do you hope listeners take away from Dark Side of the Mountain after listening all the way through?
AJ: I hope listeners can feel the effort in writing and production that we took with this record to make another step forward. It’s a very personal record, but I think there’s a lot of fiction to make it a fun record to listen to as well.
PC: Your first album, I’m Just a Song, was released just over five years ago. Given the success you’ve had since that release, what are you most proud of over those five years?
AJ: Being able to show some resilience and continue to take steps forward over the past five years is the thing I’m most proud of. I’ve had a lot of great people around me that have pushed me to become stronger in the daily grind and commitment that this job calls for.
PC: Of the things you can control, what are your plans for 2021?
AJ: I hope to continue to try to improve my skills in both writing and performing, and as things continue to open up, I’m ready to get back on the road to share all the things I’ve been working on during the pandemic. I also have a couple of singles already planned and some really exciting news for fans coming this summer, so keep your eyes peeled.
*Addison’s music is featured on The Best of Pro Country playlist!*