Jesse Johnson (Exclusive Interview)

Jesse Johnson: Exclusive Interview | March 9, 2015

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Jesse JP Johnson – this multi-talented actor/singer has garnered acclaim for his roles on Broadway, Off-Broadway and regional tours in highly acclaimed productions of; “Wicked” “Altar Boyz” “Xanadu” & “Glory Days.”  Jesse now residing in Brooklyn, NY has his eyes set on new endeavors which has landed him a brand new EP; Ginger Love, working on material for follow-up album, collaborating music project, touring, and a new business venture entitled; The Pow Wow (located within NYC) to be a music and retail space. This is one ginger actor that when speaking to him has his eyes on the prize and is going to continue making musical waves in all areas he touches! 

  • Jesse, first off your current EP; Ginger Love is very enjoyable. How did you come about the overall concept of the EP from the title, cover, tracks, and the sound? 

        The overall concept of Ginger Love is inspired by my current relationship. I have been with my boyfriend for over two years now and I’ve never been happier. The songs I wrote are a celebration and honest expression of, well, love. He is also a ginger which together made Ginger Love. I wanted to put something out there amongst the heart break and torch songs that is more upbeat. Art is generally, for everyone else, an escape from life and/or used to decorate the environment around them and I  hope to help “lighten the mood” and “spread the love”. The sound of the EP, as I like to explain, is the sound of my soul. I haven't necessarily found a specific style I identify with at the moment so the songs i wrote are simply just an expression on how i felt at the time the songs were written and where it was that they took place. For instants, ‘Everytime' was inspired by one of the best and most assuring times we I had around the beginning of the relationship in New Orleans while I was on tour with Wicked. Hence the NOLA-like sound.  I would like to think, however, that you would say the sound is “soulfull” as most of my inspirations come from the Jazz and Motown era.

  • You are not only an actor and singer but also a songwriter. You collaborated with your lead guitarist Lou Garrett, how did this happen and who writes what typically?

         I wrote all my songs while i was on tour with the Broadway show Wicked. I wrote most of my songs on my ukulele, Gordon, which for tour sake was perfect. At the beginning of writing Ginger Love, I started off writing and collaborating with one of my best friends and colleagues, Curt Hansen. He was writing music at the time as well and became both inspiration and encouragement for each other. As a performer it is our job and nature to collaborate.  So naturally, as member of the traveling orchestra playing lead guitar, teaming up with Lou to arraignment and transcribe the songs was a no brainer. Lou helped me take my songs from my uke to a full piece band and beyond. The rest of the band consisted of players and our MD, Andrew Graham, from the traveling orchestra of Wicked. I am very lucky to have had the resources i had and for it to go as smoothly and easy as it did. The band had shown as much love and excitement about the project as i did. Cant get any better than that!

  • What do you find to be the most effective writing process for you to get into that particular zone?

         I wrote most of my songs as they came. I had always loved writing tunes and because I had been in a great place and had all the inspiration, there was no question as to what to do with it. I love to ride on the excitement and rush of inspired creativity. Once an idea or inspiration comes I cant help but to act on it and hop on for the ride. Like a train they came rushing down a track and i had to hop on quick in order to ride on their creation or they would be lost forever. The process is simple. I will hear a melody and will, right away, record it. The write and match lyrics to the melody. Then add chords and an overall structure. I think it took a few days for each song to be written and a few months for them to be perfected.

  • There is always an interesting story when it comes to writing and/or conceptually getting the album together. Is there one that sticks out to you the most and why?

          It was actually pretty cut and dry. I performed the songs for the first time while we were in Nashville, TN. Our Elphaba, Alison Luff, and I did a cool show in the warehouse building we were living at with our friends Jeremy and Gavin who run Cotton Mill Live. It was the first time i performed the songs from the EP and had a very positive reaction. Before I Left the tour on July 27th I found a well reviewed recording studio on google, set up a date and had about 10 hours of recording and mixing time. I was extremely lucking to have had such a positive and easy time getting everything together in such a short time. 

  • You have been pursuing your passion for singing and acting for a while now, when did you know this was where your heart and where you belonged as far as a career?

         I knew i wanted to perform at a pretty young age. I think it was at about 3 yrs old that i had my first show at a children's theater in Denver, CO. My parents were super supportive and frankly ecstatic that they found an outlet for all my crazy energy. Ever since my first performance and the sound of the crowd i became obsessed with performing and making people laugh, cry, dance and escape from life. 

  • What gift did you discover you had and truly enjoyed acting or singing?

         Singing mostly but i enjoy both! Because of doing mostly musical theater the two go hand in hand. I feel i am able to express myself more through singing because in acting you are generally playing someone else other than yourself. With singing, the words may not be yours but you are telling a story through your own unique voice.

  • You are also a very accomplished actor such as on stage; let’s talk about your theater work. You have done several Broadway/Off-Broadway productions along with National Tours and regional theater. Some noteworthy highlights amongst many others are; “Altar Boyz” “Glory Days” “Xanadu” & “Wicked.” 

         I have been very lucky to have had the experiences i have had within the past 10 years here in NYC. I feel as though i have been part of a very eclectic group of shows and have been able to put on many faces. Glory Days, however short the run was on Broadway, was probably the most unique experience. Every actors dream is to be in a new production originating a role and recording an original cast recording. It was all such a dream and helped bring and encourage me to the next level in my career. Wicked also was such a magical experience and a dream to be a part of. Ever since the show had come out I knew that I had to be a in it. Originally wanting to play the role of Fiaro but quickly learning i was a little vertically challenged I new my next move was to be Boq. I had auditioned at least 10 times before I came into the production. It was a dream come true and a huge ride from the first show to the last. Both shows very different but both an extremely incredible experience.

  • Starting at the beginning before New York City was in the picture let’s look at your time at “The Denver School of the Arts” & Denver Center for the Performing Arts” where you attended. What interested you in attending these institutions? What were some of the memorable lessons that you utilize perhaps to this day? Was there a particular professor that really inspired you and if so why? This must have been an amazing period of your life being able to spread your wings and bite into say your acting and singing chops more than ever, did you find this to be true? Was there a standout production, role that you were part of that was a true turning point?

         Because of my interest in performing and horrible experience at private elementary school, it was only natural that I made my mom take me to audition for Denver School of the Arts. Performing Arts School is exactly what everyone thinks….. FAME! With a little 10 Things I Hate About You mixed in. It was incredible to be able to always be surrounded by the arts and so much creativity. We put on many great shows as well with every department involved. It was like a mini conservatory. My favorite production i was a part of was Jekyll and Hyde. I played the role of Jekyll which was the most challenging role i think i have ever played. Not only because it was a HUGE role to tackle for any high schooler but it also was and is far from any role i would be cast in today.  A great accomplishment and inspiration.

  • When did you know you were ready to hit New York City and take it by storm?

          I had always known that New York and BROADWAY was my ultimate goal. I moved to NYC straight after high school. I had auditioned for colleges but with all the training i had had over the years and not getting into the ones i wanted, I decided to try it out and see if i had what it takes. 

  • What was your first acting and singing gig upon hitting New York City? 

          About a month after i had moved to New York at 18 yrs old I got my first show. It was a non union tour of Grease with Frankie Avalon as the Teen Angel. No joke!! I had originally gotten the tour as an understudy for two of the leads and a month into the production they let the guy playing Doody go and promoted me for the rest of the tour. It was a great and humbling start to my career and learned the most! Especially learning how to work in close quoters with about 30 people in one bus traveling the country and Canada. I would say that the first two “bus and truck” tours i was on was my college for sure.

  • What role and production do you consider to be your breakout performance?

          I would say that playing Luke in Altar Boyz was more or less my ‘breakout” role. It was my first lead in a union show and is probably to date my favorite. It also was  a huge change from the roles i had been cast in  from prior productions. The show not only was a huge hit at the time Off Broadway and on tour but fulfilled my dream of being in a boy-band. Silly i know but I am a kid of the 90’s and do not stand alone on that dream. It was definitely the best first national and equity production to be apart of.

  • What was it like when getting the news of your first big break in New York City?

          Humbling is always the first answer to this question but also proving to your family and friends from home that you were capable and talented enough was the biggest relief. I mean, of course they always had the most faith in me and were incredibly supportive but to prove to myself that I was proving them write is the best feeling!

  • What was your experience like in each of the following productions; Altar Boyz, Glory Days, Xanadu, & Wicked?

         Each show was extremely unique and big part and next step to my career. I could write a book about each experience i had with each show. Altar Boyz has a huge signicants and special place for me. It is the show i got my Equity card with, the first show that I had a major lead in and also the first show in which i never left the stage from beginning to end. Glory Days was a similar experience. It was my Broadway debut and was also an original show. It was a dream to be apart of this project and also a part of Musical Theatre history being the shortest running show. It also was an all male cast. Xanadu was also short lived but one of the goofiest and star studded casts i had been in. I also got to keep my roller skates from the show which was a highlight. Wicked, of course, was probably the biggest show I have been a part of. Also my dream show and role. I had never felt more humbled and proud of myself for finally getting the call. It was also the show that i had the most auditions for. Needless to say it was an all around incredible experience.

  • Now, let’s move the topics to your future endeavors. Do you have plans for a follow-up album to Ginger Love? If so, have any ideas you care to share for what you are thinking about as far as an overall sound/concept?  Anything for us whom are already waiting for this album to be out now!

 I am planning on putting out an album sometime this summer to early next year. It will be a follow up to Ginger Love and will be along the same feel with a little more of a vintage funk sound. Nothing solid yet but excited to move forward with my writing and see what happens. You will definitely, however, see a music video, or two, between now and this summer to a couple of the Ginger Love tunes.

  • Will we see you touring for Ginger Love anytime soon? We want dates which are hopefully soon! 

         I have been playing around New York but no plans of touring at the moment. So busy with so many projects. You will be the first to know when i decide to venture out!!

  • The big exciting news I have started to hear about is the partnership you have with two close friends of yours, Dora Marin and Adam Fleming. If my memory serves me right it is something called “The Pow Wow” is this true? Please fill us in on the details around this project and what we as fans can expect.
         The Pow Wow is an exciting project me and two of my closest friends are working on at the moment. Its a communal art rental/retail space we will be putting up somewhere in Brooklyn, NY. The Pow Wow’s mission is to create and curate a strong community of artists and bring them together to promote entrepreneurship. Through the combined following of the artists, the traffic created by The Pow Wow produced events, and in-store retail, the space will provide an active audience and is an incubator for the artists’ creative endeavors. It will include a coffee shop and retail section for patrons and the artists to sell and buy products, work space for our in-house and membership artists where they can work and collaborate and a gallery and performance space for events and for the artists to showcase their art. At heart, we are a destination that encourages and celebrates people’s individual artistic voices. 
  • Jesse, it truly sounds like you have for 2015 a truly AMAZING period for you. Who inspires you and help motivates you to constantly expand into new arenas perhaps out of comfort zones. We all need someone to be there right along with us for the ups and downs.

         Of course my family and mainly my parents have been such  a huge inspiration and support for me along the way. They have shown me to be positive in the darkest of times, to be humble and always appreciate all that i have, to always stay in the moment and not get ahead of myself and to treat others the way i want to be treated. You know, all the golden rules. Because they have shown, in example, all of those things to me I can only repay them by leading my life by that example. Another big inspiration for me is my partner who was the inspiration for the EP, Ginger Love. Not only has he been an inspiration for the music but has also been so supportive through all of my endeavors. Always so kind honest and patient, he has shown me how to be a better version of myself and has taught me that in order to be the best for someone else and a relationship you have to be the best for yourself first. Its important to know whats best for you in order to be completely honest. If you have no respect for yourself how can you for another person? That’s why he's the best!

  • It truly sounds like you have a solid foundation for a support system, who as an entertainer do you look admire?
         Stevie Wonder hands down. Not only does his music inspire me but not letting his challenges get in the way of his dreams and success!

  • I am very proud that you are an out entertainer. How was coming out for you as far as your professional life go? Many people get very paranoid that even in this more progressive age that they will be typed casted, have you found any of this to happen to you?

         At first, I never identified myself as being gay because of any over sexualized or exaggerated example i had seen on TV growing up. I knew I was different and loved everybody, but thought you had to act a certain way in order to identify as such. I had quickly learned that that was not true and found out by simply falling in love. It was a struggle at first to come out to my parents because of their upbringing and religious views but they have come around in the end and love me no matter what. Life is all about growing and changing and adapting to things around you and the ones you love.  Showing them and others that it has always been who I am and doesn't change a thing about ME is why I am not afraid for anyone to know. I know i sound cliche saying this but i don't like to be “labeled” and no one needs to know about my personal life. I also have been around long enough and have fulfilled enough of my dreams to care about what others think of me. I figure as long as i am honest and staying true to myself and values there’s nothing that anyone can hold against me. We are all here on this earth to do our best, to love, to survive, take risks and to take care of OURSELVES. Not worrying about what everyone else is doing. I figure as long as I'm being honest to myself then I am doing OK!

  • Is there something that you have not ventured into that would be on your “bucket list?”
         HANG GLIDE!! I have sky dived before and it was crazy yet slightly uncomfortable. I figure hang gliding is closest to flying and I have always wanted to fly!! 
  • What is the one word that best describes Jesse Johnson?

          I have been described as being EFFERVESCENT. I like it!


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