The Heart2Art Project's president Caitlyn Phu talked to Alana Johnson, a 15 year old musician, about her experience as a creator, the artists that inspire her, the role of women in music, and more. Here's what she had to say:
Caitlyn Phu: What is your passion and when did it begin? How did it develop and grow throughout your life?
Alana Johnson: I wouldn’t define my passion as anything except creating. I create music, films, stories, screenplays, concepts, movement, and paintings. Even though I feel like all of these art forms are calling out to me, music screams the loudest. When I was four years old, I received my first songbook, and I would say that’s when my creativity truly began. I asked my dad how many songs an album typically had, and he told me around 14-17. I worked on and then completed 20 over the next four months and told my dad when I finished. Shocked, he asked to hear them all.
I can still remember them and how shit they were, but, since then, it has only grown and changed. Eighth grade was the year I decided I wanted to be a musician. The year before was extremely rough and nothing I did interested me. I wasn’t enjoying anything, so I began to just practice guitar in my bedroom all day after school, and that gave me purpose. My guitar pushed me to do better, it motivated me, it comforted me. Writing music is like my therapy, and I find comfort in the fact that no matter what happens to me, I can lean back on my guitar.
CP: What aspect of music interests you the most and why? Why is it important to you?
AJ: I think that music is so important to me because it connects me to a higher power. I don’t know why we are here, but who or whatever put us here gifted us with this sound that makes us feel emotions whether it be pleasure or sadness or fear. Take the time to think about what music really is: just a connection of sounds that your brain associated with happiness or nostalgia, really. It’s incredible.
I think, for me, my passion has a lot to do with performing. When I used to do theatre and dance, it wasn’t really the activities I enjoyed, just the energy of the performance. The first time I performed music, my guitar teacher was doing a showcase where all his students got to play two songs in a bar. He was always impressed with my originals and asked me to play one for the showcase. Playing my music in front of other people for the first time was terrifying, but was the happiest I've ever been. I’ll never stop chasing that feeling.
CP: What kinds of obstacles did you face in pursuing the arts, either as a hobby or career? Did you have any supporters along the way?
AJ: The only real obstacle I face is the amount of time in the day. I find myself always in the mood to play music, but I have to do homework instead. All my friends support me, but I would say my biggest supporter is my dad. Whenever I talk about my inspirations or the bands I look up to, he reminds me that they’re awesome but I’m my own person and I should be proud of who I am and the music I write.
CP: What similar artists inspire you and why?
AJ: My biggest inspiration is, without question, Clementine Creevy. She is the lead guitar player and singer of one of my favorite bands, Cherry Glazerr. She questions everything, and you can definitely sense that in her lyrics. I am so in love with her; her art is just so unique, raw, and badass. One of the coolest things about Clem is her “fuck what you think” attitude. You can tell from her performances and interviews that she doesn’t give a shit what anyone thinks of her, and that's what separates a true artist from the rest of the world. On stage, she will dance like lunatic for 2 minutes straight in front of a thousand people, just because she is feeling the music and expressing it through movement without a care if people enjoy it or not. She inspires me because she is herself.
CP: Throughout history, the arts have been perceived as an extremely male-dominated practice, and an absence of recognition for women’s role in the arts has led to a lack of opportunity and acknowledgement for females in the arts today. Has this impacted your pursuit of the arts? What would you like to see change?
AJ: Something I have heard more times than I can count is, “You are good at guitar, for a girl.” I hate this and wish anyone who has said it goes to hell. I just want to be good at guitar because I’m good, not because of my gender. In my opinion, a person's ability should speak for itself, regardless of what color, shape, or gender they are.
And, why is it expected men should better at playing an instrument? Last year, a woman named Jennifer Clavin, who plays guitar in a band I love called Bleached, released a zine titled “Can You Deal?” The zine is just a ton of female musicians talking about overcoming their hardships in the industry. I totally suggest checking it out because all their stories are unique and come from some of my role models, like Bethany Cosentino and Hayley Williams. If anyone wants to checkout some current badass bands with fronting/all females, I suggest Hinds, Bleached, Skating Polly, Daddy Issues, Slutever, Best Coast, Girlpool, Gymshorts, and Cherry Glazerr (of course).
CP: Why do you think it is important to recognize and give opportunities to more female artists?
AJ: I would say art is the ultimate form of expression. For what reason should one gender be allowed to express themselves more than the other? I think it’s important the media stops glorifying women artists just because they’re women. If a girl band goes on world tour, press will bring up the fact that they are all female in every article. They wouldn’t do the same for men. If you like a person’s art, if you relate to their art, why are you paying attention to whether they have a dick or not? It just doesn’t matter. I think if people stop bringing up whether the director or the painter or the musician is a girl or boy all the time, and let their art speak for themselves, the art industry will be equal.
CP: What impact do you wish to make with your art?
AJ: I don’t think my music could change the world, but maybe it could change one person’s outlook. Maybe it could inspire people to follow their dreams. Maybe it could give people nostalgia to the best time of their life and my songs will forever be associated with those memories. Maybe it could give other people nostalgia to the worst time of their life and they will always be able to listen to my songs and know they overcame it. I just want my art to make people feel.
CP: Is there anything else you would like to say or share?
AJ: It doesn’t have to be one thing you settle on. If you have a passion for 10 things like me, execute on every one. Whenever I watch a good movie, I’m convinced I NEED to drop out of school and make films all day. Whenever I see a good concert, I KNOW that I will be touring for the rest of my life. Whenever I see a good episode of SNL, I SWEAR I will be a writer and comedian. The thing is, I can do it all if I want, and so can anyone. You just have to have 100% faith in yourself and your art. You don’t have to go to school and you don’t have to get an office job and you don’t have to get a house and you don’t have to fall into a boring routine like 90% of the adults in the world do. Find your passion and stick to it. Never let comfort get in the way. Never let routine get in the way. Never let your fears get in the way. Just get up and fucking do it.