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Alexz Johnson On Her 'Skipping Stone EP,' Kickstarter & How To Make A Record For Next To Nothing

Posted: Updated: 05/10/2012 2:12 pm

Alexz Johnson Skipping Stone

In 2009, Alexz Johnson was on her way to becoming a rockstar, just like her TV persona Jude Harrison. After starring in the Canadian television series "Instant Star," Johnson was signed to Epic Records. Things looked promising for the young singer, who had recorded a debut album with the label. However, when Epic started to restructure their artists, Johnson was subsequently dropped from the label, and her debut album was never released.

"It was an amazing experience," Johnson told HuffPost Entertainment. "I was even offered a part on '90210,' but I turned it down because I really wanted to go on tour with this record. Then it never ended up getting a release. I waited about 10 months, but the head of the label, who signed me, wasn't there anymore, and it never got released."

Some artists may have given up, but Johnson, 25, is doing things her own way. After being dropped, she started releasing her original music independently online (via her YouTube channel) and has garnered a small, yet dedicated, fan base. For Johnson, all of her hard work finally paid off when she was able to raise over $67,000 on Kickstarter for her summer tour.

The young artist, who now lives in Brooklyn, released her latest EP, "Skipping Stone," in March, and she produced the music video for the title track for under $300.

HuffPost Entertainment talked to Johnson about her new EP, her summer tour, which was completely crowd funded and her fall from instant stardom.

I have to tell you that there was a period in my life where "Instant Star" and "Degrassi" were my favorite shows on TV. I think they aired on The N, which is now Teen Nick. Are you still being called Jude Harrison in the streets?
It feels like so long ago for me, but the people that watched that show come to my gigs, and they're like, "Oh my god, Jude!" And it's so interesting because the producers of "Degrassi" also produced "Instant Star," so it's been really cool to watch all of those kids, like Aubrey Graham, who is now Drake, and Shanae Grimes and Nina Dobrev take over here.

Are you hoping to find that kind of success?
I just really want to make music. Whether I sell a million copies or a thousand, as long as I'm writing and performing my own music, I'm happy.

After losing your record deal, you moved back to Canada and released an independent album. Were you happier making this record yourself?
Way happier. It's a lot of work, and, at times, I get a little burnt out, just with juggling everything. I just finished a movie in Miami. It actually helped me get my visa so that I could tour this summer. I'm also trying to pick the best team for this tour. I'm looking at the artists that I love and respect, like Jason Mraz and The Civil Wars, and I'm trying to pick the right people to put around the music. There's just so much freedom. I did this EP by myself. Nobody can tell me to make it more this or more that. It's a stepping stone for what's next. Hopefully, I'll be about to make my next record with a great producer.

You also moved back to the U.S. to work on this EP.
I toured in Canada for a bit, but it was all very much Canadian-based, which made it difficult for me to get my music out there. So I decided that I was going to go to the States, get my visa and go on tour. Then I made this EP with Jimmy Robbins, a writer from Nashville. I started to reach out to people I knew in the industry to help me do it for free, and then I started my Kickstarter campaign, and now I'm going to be touring the States this summer.

Did you draw the cover art for the record as well? It looked hand-drawn.
That was a friend. Honestly, this came from nothing in my pockets. I just pulled together all of the creative people in my life. My music video was $300, and we shot that in my apartment in Brooklyn. We got someone who was great with lighting, and my friend shot it. We bought everybody some beers, and that was it. I've become quite the businesswoman in the last four months because this tour is so important to me for the fans.

Your Kickstarter campaign was incredibly successful because you wanted to raise $30,000, and you ended raising over $67,000. Did you expect that?
No, not at all! I thought $30,000 was too much to ask for. I was getting anxiety over it. I had to ask my friends how much to ask for because I was thinking $15,000. But then when you think about it, merch is $10,000 and then you have to count for gas and hotels. It adds up. So I decided to ask for $30,000, and I never thought that I would even get that. Now I'm in L.A. taking management meetings and booking agent meetings because I want to make the best tour that I can with what the fans have given me.

You promised your fans 20-minute phone calls, Skype chats, signed "Instant Star" scripts, dinner and even a private set if they pledge to your campaign. Did you ever think that this was a crazy idea?
I was working with a specific management team at the time, and they didn't want me to do it. They were like, "You're a star, and this is beneath you." But it was just me on my steps in Brooklyn, and at the end of the day, I just wanted my fans to know that this is who I am. I want to make music, and I want to tour, so please, help. What a cool platform we have as musicians. It shows how much your fans really do believe in you.

What has the response been like from your fans?
Twitter has been amazing for me. They're involved in everything. They email me directly, and they try to get me to play at the universities. To me, my music is so important. I'm not trying to be current and put records out twice a year. I really spend a lot of time on my music, and I'm always thinking about them when I'm making a record. I want to keep it genuine.

I was listening to the EP, and I realized that practically every song was a love song.
I was in a relationship when I was writing this record, and I was really in love. It's interesting to see how vulnerable I was. I listen to the songs now, and they're so heartbreaking. It's like I knew, somewhere inside of me, that I was going to get my heart broken.

I'm sure Adele feels the same way when she listens to "21."
Yeah! It's so vulnerable now that it's out there. When I'm on stage, I feel like everyone can feel my soul.

Would you ever return to TV?
I don't want to be locked in to another seven-year show, unless it was music-based. I'd love to do a guest appearance on "Mad Men," and I really want to do indie films. But if something comes my way, I'm not really in the postion ... Let's put it this way: I come from a really big family of 10 kids, and I'm right in the middle. Since "Instant Star," I've been a struggling artist, really trying to make ends meet and getting help from friends. Until my music career really explodes, if that ever happens, I don't have the luxury to just pass other opportunities and say, "I only want to focus on music." When they do the Stevie Nicks story, I would love to be there.

Watch the video for Johnson's "Skipping Stone" below.

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