Portland singer-songwriter Johanna Warren’s music transcends boundaries. To her, all art forms are connected; whether she’s processing life through the medium of music, film, or the Japanese healing technique Reiki, the goal is always to try to find harmony and balance. Warren’s fifth solo album, fittingly titled Chaotic Good, strikes that exact balance, delving into the deepest parts of the human soul in an effort to crystallise peace out of conflict. Confronting the pain caused by a toxic relationship, the record stands out from the rest of her discography for just how raw and visceral it can sound – she channels her full-throated anger on highlight ‘Twisted’, in which her usually hushed delivery reaches a hair-raising crescendo as she howls, “I will not be displaced/ By how much I love you.” Recorded in part at Elliot Smith’s New Monkey Studio, Smith’s spirit looms large over the album, especially on the haunting ‘Bed of Nails’ and the dynamic ‘Part of It’. On piano ballads ‘Only the Truth’ and ‘Bones of Abandoned Futures’, Warren showcases her knack for combining poetic storytelling with hypnotic, dreamy melodies that coarse through your veins like medicine. The struggle might be ongoing, but at the end of it all, there is balance.
We caught up with Johanna Warren for this edition of our Artist Spotlight series, where we showcase up-and-coming artists and give them a chance to talk a bit about their music.
What inspired you to start writing music?
I felt clumsy at best (paralyzed, frequently) in “normal” social situations, but had a lot going on inside. Music made more sense to me than talking.
Who are some of your biggest influences, musical or not?
Plants, mushrooms, Dolly Parton, dolphins, the Buddha, Jesus, UFOs, death, the internet, Kendrick, Alejandro Jodorowsky.
What role does spirituality play in your music?
I don’t make a distinction between “spirituality” and anything else. It’s all sacred, it’s all profane. And it’s all music.
Could you talk about your experience doing the Plant Medicine Tour?
That was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. I wanted to use my concerts as a way to talk about our connection to nature, to raise awareness about herbalism and the importance of eating clean, local food because I felt a certain indebtedness to the plants for my own healing. I played about 75 shows all over the US, and at every one I’d invited local farmers and herbalists to come sell their tinctures, teas, salves, etc. and talk to their communities about what they’re up to and how people can get involved. It was incredibly optimism-inspiring to be greeted every single night by a glowing crew of big-hearted humans and their plant allies, and to watch communities forming and strengthening around those relationships.
How was the process of writing and recording your new album?
Chaotic, and good.
Do you have a favourite song from the album?
I just finished writing a screenplay and am hoping to get it in pre-production this summer so we’ll be ready to dive into filming as soon as that’s possible again.