Kacey Johansing was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan and raised in the mountain towns of Colorado, the daughter of a coal miner and a painter. After leaving Berklee College of Music in Boston, Johansing relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where she co-founded the duo Yesway and released two solo albums. Later moving to Los Angeles, Johansing released her third solo album The Hiding in 2017, which received widespread acclaim from critics and listeners alike and garnered comparisons to Fleetwood Mac, Carole King and Prefab Sprout. She subsequently toured internationally and shared the stage with Real Estate and Fruit Bats, and became a frequent touring member of Hand Habits. She is currently preparing for the release of her fourth album on her own Night Bloom Records.
I’ll begin this with a brief rant, spoken loudly in the voice of an older, crankier man. Perhaps in the style of Yosemite Sam. So here goes: “There are no more goddang quality songs on the radio these days!! Whatever happened to the good old tunes from back in my day?!? (incomprehensible muttering, antiquated swear words, trailing off)…” Sorry, I’m done now. Not sure what came over me. And actually, forget I said all that, I think I’m maybe just having a low blood sugar moment. I love a lot of the new music that’s happening these days in the mainstream. Songs are simple again. Verse chorus verse chorus bridge chorus out. And pop songs are getting weird again in a good way. There are seemingly no rules, and that rules. Plus drum sounds are kinda great and the hooks are hooky. So nevermind. I’m not mad anymore.
Let me clarify. Maybe what I’m clumsily trying to say is this: I want us all to be in a world where radio truly reigns supreme and Kacey Johansing’s “I Try” is blasting through the speakers of our cars. Picture it — the signal is fuzzy, like maybe you’re picking up a station from two towns over or just driving through a tunnel or the antenna got bent. Oh, and you’re not going anywhere all that exciting, just over to the grocery store to pick up some dish soap or something. But truth be told, where you’re headed doesn’t matter, the signal strength doesn’t matter. This song cuts right through the static and into your heart. A great song — like this one — can do that. When you finally arrive at the supermarket you have to sit in the car in the parking lot and wait through a couple more lesser songs for the DJ to come back on to tell you what you just heard.
“Not too close, not too harsh, not too bright, not too fast, not enough — hard to find…” The song starts off with a verse filled with impressionistic longing. These could be sentiments whispered to a lover, past or present or not yet met. Or maybe these are words sung to the sun or the heavens. They’re lyrics that you can let hang in the breeze and watch float away. Or you can hold them in your hand and apply them perfectly to your life, which is something we need songs to do for us from time to time. It takes a certain kind of voice to tell an open-ended yet supremely romantic story like that, and Kacey has that certain kind of voice. It’s got more heartache than heartbreak — sentiments that come from the ancient well of popular song. I mean, we can sing about anything we want — sex, war, politics, pizza — but that ache is still the emotional heartbeat of a pop song that seems to never want to go away. It makes for a story that can always be told in a tidy three minutes and forty-five seconds and danced to at 107 beats per minute, which is the most sublimely languid tempo for lovelorn dancing. “What does it feel like when you’ve found true love? Will I know before I lose it all?” she asks as the song’s bridge finally gloriously blooms over the horizon.
So let’s live in a world where a song like “I Try” by Kacey Johansing is the number one single in America and it’s playing all over the place and we can all share in it. It will pleasantly invade our ears and brains as we drive to the bank or hang out in the park or peruse the aisles of Kmart. And we’ll feel innocent joy as it leaps through the crappy crackling speakers of our late-’90s Honda Civics — because Kacey has an angel voice. It’s a dangerous weapon of hers. She keeps it under tight control in the verses and choruses, where it occasionally dips down into a mournful contralto range. This all seems to be designed to lead us to that aforementioned bridge where we float up into the sky as she rips our hearts out. A beautiful sadness, you could call it, sitting in that grocery store parking lot staring up into the clouds.
— Eric D. Johnson