Haley Johnsen’s New Americana Pop EP Tackles Letting Go and Speaking Up

“Late Bloomer” arrives July 12.

Haley Johnsen (meleah ennis/CRUZ)

In March 2024, Haley Johnsen launched her third Kickstarter campaign to date. As an independent artist, Johnsen has to fund every aspect of album production, including studio time and all the M’s: mixing, mastering, marketing, management and, if she’s lucky, a fifth M in there for the artist herself, money. Hopefully, there’s just enough in there to fund touring and help pay the bills. It’s a precarious life sometimes, but as Johnsen said to a full room at Polaris Hall at her June 20 show opening for Radiation City, “It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.”

Onstage she is warm and honest, and at times a little goofy. And when she starts singing? The crowd goes silent. One man turned to me and whispered, “I just got goosebumps,” as Johnsen belted out at Bonnie Raitt volume a song called “That Ain’t Love.” The song is a bold one for Johnsen and tackles organized religion. As someone raised in a Christian home, it was scary for her to release it—though she clarifies she’s writing about a different, very specific type of evangelical, the kind who carry hateful picket signs. “That doesn’t feel like love at all,” she says.

“That Ain’t Love” is the second track off of Johnsen’s upcoming EP, Late Bloomer, which arrives July 12. She reiterates that though it was hard for her to share, it was important for her to get it off her chest (she graciously adds that her family took it well).

Johnsen sat down with me via Zoom to talk about the themes behind Late Bloomer.

“Well first of all, the EP itself logistically feels like a late bloomer because technically I’ve been working on it for about two years,” Johnsen says. Between busy tour schedules for both Johnsen and her producer and co-writer Dwight Baker (also one half of the band The Wind and the Wave), Johnsen flew back and forth to Austin to work with Baker, who pushed her to dig deeper into her lyrics. “I knew I was going to be given the space in the arrangements for my voice to be the center.”

The resulting 6-song EP showcases a more mature collection than we’ve seen from Johnsen before. “The themes that I’m writing about feel like a long time coming, of me finally being willing to express some things that I’ve been too afraid to say,” Johnsen says.

In “Let a Good Thing Go” she addresses toxic friendships and releasing energies that no longer serve you. In the title track, Johnsen sings to a younger version of herself: Late Bloomer, lucky star/I see you, I hope you do too/I curse everyone who makes you feel small.

“It’s kind of to my inner child, being like: I know that your whole life you felt like you haven’t been seen, like you haven’t been able to be yourself,” Johnsen says. “I doubted myself for so long and I finally feel like I’m turning a corner in my adult life where I can look at that version of myself and take care of her, tell her everything’s gonna be okay. So this album is about letting go of what no longer serves you—which is sometimes your own self-deprecating thoughts.”

Letting go looks good on her. At Polaris Hall, Johnsen shares about a song called “Hotel Bed,” a love song she wrote about missing her husband when she’s on the road. I can’t help but scan the crowd, noting several people swallowing hard, expressions like they’re trying not to cry.

“I’d rather be home with you, now,” Johnsen belts out the storytelling song, which dips its toes a little closer into country than some of her others. When she gets to the part where she croons, “I miss you, I miss you,” I can’t help but glance at Johnsen’s husband, who looks like he’s holding back tears, too. That’s when yet another stranger turns to me. This one whispers, “That got me,” with a hand to her chest.

While Johnsen plans to do a small vinyl release later this year, she’s excited to release Late Bloomer digitally to start, and to kick off a few big shows before heading out for another tour. After years of playing some of the smaller stages at the Oregon Country Fair—a three-day festival in Veneta, Ore.—this year, Johnsen plays the main stage on her album release day.

Whether playing to an intimate crowd at Alberta Street Pub or to a packed Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Johnsen brings something to the stage that we don’t see as often these days: Alongside serious musicianship and a voice that reaches the back walls, Johnsen radiates kindness, talking about her shows as if she just can’t believe she gets to do this. With Late Bloomer, Haley Johnsen introduces an alt-pop Americana album with soul and a backbone.

LISTEN: Haley Johnsen’s Late Bloomer arrives digitally July 12. She performs at Oregon Country Fair, 24207 Highway 126, Veneta, Ore., oregoncountryfair.org. 1:15 pm Friday and 4:20 pm Saturday, July 12-13. $60 per day.

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