Molly Johnson is an Order of Canada recipient and a Juno Award winner who has one of the most distinctive voices in Canadian music history.
She recently released her eighth album, It’s a Snow Globe World, and will follow it up with multiple live dates in Quebec and Ontario to celebrate the holiday season.
Johnson recently joined us to talk about that new record and how she’s getting ready to finally make her return to the stage.
Congratulations on the new album. Tell me a little bit about growing up — what did the holidays mean to you and your family? What was your experience with it?
We were a church family. We went to St. Thomas’s Anglican Church on Huron Street in downtown Toronto. My mom taught Sunday school, my dad was one of the ushers, and my older siblings sang in the choir. It was a lovely, Christmassy moment. But I worked hard on this record to not have every song be about Christmas. Not everybody in Canada celebrates Christmas, but we all celebrate light, love, family and joy. I tried to really put that into this new record.
I think Christmas can be conflicting for people sometimes.
It also can. I’m known to be very sad when I sing sometimes, so I was very mindful of not being too sad, and putting some joy in there.
You’re touching on themes of looking forward to brighter days.
I came to the thought of a snow globe, and I thought wow, that’s a Covid thing. We’re all in our bubbles. We’re all in our little snow globes. I thought it was a quiet little poke at all of us about being in our bubbles, our snow globes.
What has the last year and a half been like for you?
This entire record was written and recorded during Covid. We were all very mindful of protocols, but recording in itself is in isolated rooms. We were all in our own rooms. But it was weird. It was weird with the mask, it’s weird for all of us. It doesn’t matter what you do, this is a weird time. But the isolation part, for me, I kind of like being by myself. I kind of like the silence.
You co-wrote a lot of the tunes on this record. It’s a lot of original holiday music. Tell me about some of the people you wrote with.
I guess our biggest surprise is our beloved Davide DiRenzo, the most wonderful of drummers. But what a songwriter — I think he’s got three cuts on this record. One of them came fully formed. Normally I’ll write a lyric and a melody, but one of the tunes is full-on Davide, including ridiculous lyrics. I just went with it.
It must feel good that you’ve been part of the process of him finding that voice and giving him the opportunity as a songwriter.
My dad was a gym teacher, and he put teams together all the time. Baseball teams, hockey teams, football teams. He taught me how to put together a great team. His whole thing was to get the best players and give them tons of room to be great. I’ve carried that with me.
You also have Donna Grantis on the record. Tell me about your relationship.
I would see her playing with Shakura S’Aida, and then one day she kind of disappeared, and the next thing you know she’s playing with Prince. She’s a magnificent musician and a great mom of two little kids. After Prince died, she came back to Toronto and we were putting this song together and I really wanted something tight and funky. She did it, and it was fantastic.
You have tour dates coming up. It must be exciting, but is there trepidation?
There’s huge trepidation. I’m 62 years old. It’s a 90-minute show. I haven’t exercised in like 20 years. I have to be on my game. It’s a lot of singing. So, I started working out. I’ve totally stressed out my dog, who’s used to long, leisurely walks, and suddenly I’m briskly trotting along. I could always rely on muscle memory, so I leaned heavily on never doing anything. But at my age and the 90-minute shows, I’ve had to focus and do some light weights, squats and walking way too quickly for my dog.
See Molly Johnson’s tour dates at mollyjohnson.com.
This interview has been edited and condensed.