Jillette Johnson

Born in San Francisco but mostly raised in Pound Ridge, New York ("a tiny little town in the woods an hour outside the city”), Johnson points out that her family’s unending support played a major part in her pursuit of music. After taking up piano at age five, she made her first attempts at songwriting when she was eight. "I was always singing and making up songs for myself, wandering around alone by the sandbox or whatever,” she recalls. Naming artists like Carole King, Harry Nilsson, and Paul Simon among her earliest and most enduring inspirations, Johnson notes that her musical disposition may also have hereditary origins. "My grandfather loved to play the piano and sing and write songs, and after he passed away I realized that he was probably a really big influence on me,” she says. "I keep learning these things about him, like how he was a vagabond and loved Native American art and loved the West—all of these things that set my heart on fire and that I found on my own as an adult. If there’s such a thing as art being in your blood, then I think he might have passed something down to me.”

At age 12 Johnson began playing shows at the East Village’s famed SideWalk Cafe, and within several years found herself gigging in Manhattan on a near-daily basis. After moving to the city at age 18, she continued honing her songcraft and released her debut EP Whiskey & Frosting in August 2012. With her full-length debut Water in a Whale arriving the following summer, Johnson then spent several years touring (including runs with Delta Rae, Mary Lambert and others) and carving out new material. "I’m the kind of person who writes songs all the time,” she says. "I’ll just get flooded with words, usually late at night, and it’s almost like I’m putting together a lullaby for myself. When I get in that zone, I’ll write three songs in a day and only stop because I have to sleep.”

But while Johnson’s process has essentially remained the same since she started writing songs, a newfound sense of confidence closely shaped the making of All I Ever See in You Is Me. "I got to the point where I realized that if I want to show people who I am as a musician, I have to stand up for my music and how I want it to be presented,” she says. "A lot of times female musicians aren’t expected to speak up for themselves—but once I did, there was this huge shift. And because of all that, I feel like I’ve finally made the record that I’d always wanted to make.”

The triumph of that fully realized vision is palpable on All I Ever See in You Is Me, an album that ultimately transforms the most intimate experiences into songs with a sweeping emotional power. Noting that she’s continually driven by the urge to "create something that magnifies a moment,” Johnson draws endless joy from that push for transformation. "To me songwriting feels like a combination of an old friend and a new romance,” she says. "I always get so excited by that feeling of possibility that happens when I start to see something good inside of a new idea. But at the same time, it’s all so familiar to me. I really like to move around, I’m always traveling and always leaving, but—apart from my family—music is the one thing that I can always come back home to.”