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Johnson finds voice following health scare

Songwriter's throat injury leads to spiritual reformation

Jaylene Johnson


Jaylene Johnson

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/1/2016 (1626 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

After years of writing songs for someone else, musicians can start to lose their artistic voice, and for local singer-songwriter Jaylene Johnson, that loss was as literal as it was metaphorical.

Not only had she spent much of the past few years co-writing songs for other people, causing her to question her place as an artist, two years ago she suffered a hairline scar on her left vocal cord during a surgery unrelated to her voice. It was an incredibly unlikely injury that left Johnson almost completely without the ability to sing or speak for months.

"I knew after that surgery something was wrong with my voice — it was fatiguing, it wasn’t performing like I was used to. It didn’t have the control — my lower register was gone. So, for a year and a half I had to go on tons of vocal rest. It meant that I couldn’t work, whether that was singing or any other day jobs. It was really difficult,’ Johnson says.

But, a successful reparative surgery in Toronto got her back on her feet and ready to work on new material.

Johnson is now preparing to release a new album, Potter & Clay, a collection of songs spurred by a personal "reformation’ as Johnson rediscovered her own narrative and went back to her spiritual roots for inspiration.

"What I had in me to write now is quite spiritually oriented, and that’s where I started, so it came around full circle. That’s why I call it my reformation,’ says Johnson. "When I first started to write songs on my own, what was pouring out of me were songs that were based in scriptures... I’d read the scripture, and suddenly melodies were just popping out.’

Lyrically, Potter & Clay explores some intense territory — at the same time Johnson lost her voice, she and her husband were also trying to conceive a child and experienced some difficulties along the way (though she is now 28 weeks pregnant and doing well). Last summer, when she sat down to write at a secluded cabin in the woods, all those emotions came flooding out.

"What was pouring out of me was prayers, laments, songs that dealt with loss... not specifically the loss of my voice, but that was part of it, and the loss of trying to conceive, and other things in life, and I said, ‘I’m not going to be afraid of whatever comes out,’ " she says.

"As an artist, I want to make sure that if I’m going to invest in this again, I’m saying what I need to say and what I want to say. I have to admit, I was a little afraid, too, because I thought ‘OK, do I still have it to write something that will be meaningful and impactful? What if I try and it doesn’t work out?’ There’s just a lot of fear and a lot of inhibitions, but I ended up being very happy with a lot of the music.’

While the record won’t be out until the fall, Johnson is hosting an album preview event on Saturday that is also a fundraiser to help her raise money to get the last few pieces in place before the commercial release. She is also running a GoFundMe campaign that has raised more than $5,500 of her $7,500 goal during the past month.

Johnson has relied heavily on her network of fans and supporters to get her album made, and her way of giving back is through the creation of music that can be universally felt, music that can act as an outlet for not only herself, but for anyone listening.

"I didn’t want it to be cathartic in a way that was only self-serving... I looked at the songs after and I thought maybe these are songs that other people need for themselves too,’ she says. "That’s the key for me in investing in another project, that it’s not just me and my own self-expression, it’s how can I write in a way that’s going to bring other people in, because then it’s worth it to put it on a record.

"People have all kinds of reasons why they make records, but for me, that piece is hugely important.’


Erin.lebar@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @NireRabel



Erin Lebar

Erin Lebar
Multimedia producer

Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

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