Three Great Things: Jillette Johnson

The singer-songwriter on a very specific type of doc, very specific shoes, and hiking.

Three Great Things is Talkhouse’s series in which artists tell us about three things they absolutely love. In advance of her new album It’s A Beautiful Day And I Love Youout February 12, 2021 — the singer-songwriter told us what’s been keeping her occupied during this trying year.
—Josh Modell, Talkhouse Executive Editor

1. Documentaries about comedians

I love learning about someone’s creative process, especially a comedian’s, because I feel a kindredness to it as a songwriter. There’s this unique vulnerability, coupled with these pockets of time when you feel like you’re on top of the world. The dedication a true comedian has to his or her art is so inspiring and so familiar. That ability to keep getting back on stage after you feel like you’ve been kicked in the gut by a stampede of children who hate you. That wrenching, constant self evaluation that is demanded of you in order to make something worth listening to. That is pure art to me. It’s humble, and self effacing, and it’s all about empathy, no matter how snarky or judgmental it appears on the surface. That really lights me up.  Some of my favorite windows into that world are Dying Laughing, directed by Lloyd Stanton and Paul Toogood, and Too Funny to Fail: The Life & Death of The Dana Carvey Show, directed by Josh Greenbaum. I also love watching Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

2. Air Force Ones

I swear this is not a ploy for a Nike sponsorship (though I wouldn’t kick one out of bed) — I just love my Air Force Ones. I wear them every day. White on white. Super simple. They are in every music video I’ve made and every photo I’ve taken for this album campaign. They make me feel cool, and like a kid. My feet never hurt, they go with everything, and they’re easy to run around a stage in (though thanks to Covid, I haven’t gotten to do that much lately). I’ve never really been into heels, but as a woman in entertainment, I’ve had a lot of stylists suggest that I wear them. And the moment a stiletto finds my foot, I feel like I turn into a less confident, less buoyant version of myself. Unless I’m going to a wedding, or maybe an awards show, I’m not doing it anymore. Nothing feels quite as natural to me as my sneaks.

3. Hiking

I LOVE HIKING. I love the sound of my feet on the dirt, the sound of the birds over my head, the fresh air on my skin, the not knowing what’s coming up next. It’s so meditative to me. When I was a kid in upstate New York, we lived across the street from 4,200 acres of trails and forest. I used to go in there every day and walk or run with our golden retrievers. I remember thinking to myself that one day, after I spent enough time living in big cities, I wanted to live in a house in the middle of nowhere, just like that, where I could have a private forest to explore every day. Living in Nashville brings me a step closer to that dream than when I lived in NYC and LA, just because there’s more space. My house is a half a mile from a lovely park with a big greenway, which I’m super grateful for, especially in these times. But it’s paved, and it’s not exactly private. For now I’ll just have to keep relishing the moments I get to spend in places like Colorado and the Pacific NorthWest, where I can really put my hiking boots to good use.

(Photo Credit: Betsy Phillips)

It’s a Beautiful Day and I Love You carries harmonic and emotional heft in the vein of Patty Griffin’s Flaming Red or Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark. There’s an open-heartedness in the Nashville-based Jillette Johnson’s songs, the kind of deeply experienced inner peace that results from a journey through vulnerability, pain, and struggle to gratitude, forgiveness, and, ultimately, acceptance. “I was in control,” Johnson sings on the album’s opening track, but “that was many moons ago.” Johnson’s a rare gem in Nashville, having written the entirety of It’s a Beautiful Day and I Love You alone, running contrary to the common Music City practice of co-writing. She did, however, find herself drawn to the city’s creative adage of “three chords and the truth” — though in Johnson’s case, it’s more like a dozen chords, especially on the harmonically elegant title track.

(Photo Credit: Betsy Johnson)