Sound & Vision: Josiah Johnson on Sobriety and Embarking on a Solo Career

Sound and Vision
Emily Fox
photo by Dave Lichterman

KEXP's Sound & Vision airs every Saturday morning from 7-9 AM PT, featuring interviews, artistry, commentary, insight, and conversation to that tell broader stories through music, and illustrate why music and art matter. You can also hear more stories in the new Sound & Vision Podcast. New episodes are out every Tuesday. Subscribe now.

Listen to the full segment below.


Former The Head and the Heart member, Josiah Johnson released his first single as a solo artist on February 3. He’s currently on a solo tour with a stop at Connor Byrne Pub in Ballard on February 6th. It’s a space that Johnson has a deep history. A venue where, 11 years ago, his former band The Head and the Heart formed, coming together during a series of open mic nights.

“[The] gestation period was all was there. It was like at 2:30 in the morning after it had closed down, we were still playing and so it was a wonderful place and a wonderful time,” says Johnson.

The group found fame and toured constantly – but stress and social isolation lead Johnson to excessive drinking and he eventually left the band to get sober. The process lead to new music, which he’s performing on his latest tour.

Sound & Vision host Emily Fox spoke with Johnson about sobriety and embarking on a solo career.

On leaving The Head and the Heart:

We were recording Signs of Light and it was the first week and I disappeared for a day and didn't show up to the studio and didn't answer phone calls or texts or anything, which is really not a nice thing to do and out of out of control for me. And they were just like, we love you, go figure your stuff out. We need to focus. We can't worry about whether or not you're alive. It was always like, please figure your stuff out and please come back when you feel like it's sorted and when you feel solid. I needed someone to give me permission to just go, I didn't have to try and keep holding it all together because I couldn't.

On how the rigors of touring and a lack of coping mechanisms led to alcoholism:

I'd done a poor job of taking care of myself when we toured and didn't keep in touch with friends at home, and I didn't share about the hard feelings or confusion that I had. And so, I would be on tour, be having a hard time and drink to just deal. And then I would get home and I would really not know what to do with myself and didn't have any kind of support system and just really lost myself. And then that affects creativity. And then I'd come back to the band and John [Russell] had written a bunch of wonderful songs and I didn't have any. And then I felt worse about myself. It was just this weird, terrible cycle.

On starting a solo career:

It was less of a decision, actually, when The Heart was like you can't be here right now but please go get solid and you can come back whenever you like. I remember just thinking that I didn't know what the future was going to hold, and I knew myself well enough to know that I was trying to get back there. And for me the mental trick was to just go, I just had to let that go altogether. I let it go and I said, I'm not going to play music anymore. I don't have a relationship with it anyways. And then, pretty quickly, I started doing the thing that I have done for most of my post adolescent life, which is write songs to figure out what my feelings were. And then I started writing songs and not worrying about whether or not they were good enough. And it just started making sense again.

On the inspiration for his new single “World’s Not Gonna End”:

I lived with my parents for a couple of years, which was humbling to get used to when you're like 30 something and have been living your dream for a while. I went to a Damien Jurado show in San Francisco and I was driving home and was feeling really strongly the absence of the life that I used to have. It's just like, there's this person that you play music with in Seattle that I just saw on stage. And it was such a beautiful show. And I wanted to get back there. And I was driving and I remember I just had this moment of peace and clarity where I was like, I feel up against a wall right now. I feel like there's no way out of this hole that I've dug myself into. But I know that life is long and I know where I was two years ago is drastically different than where I am now. And I bet that where I will be in two years is drastically different than where I am now. So the chorus of the song is “the world's not gonna end if you do not get your way again.” And I just remember making peace with that. If it's not the time for you right now, that is totally fine.


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