The deeper tone of singer Loren Johnson’s voice is striking when one first hears it. Think Melissa Etheridge. When I asked her how she embraced the uniqueness of her voice, she chuckled. “You are definitely not the first person who has mentioned that,” says Johnson. “It’s funny, I’ve always had a deeper voice than my peers. I got relentlessly made fun of for it in middle school and high school.”
No one is laughing now.
An artistic presence in Grand Rapids
Johnson, the 27-year-old singer-guitarist and photographer, has had a busy year. Based in Grand Rapids, Johnson not only opened a photography studio called Sunfire Studios in December, but she also released her first album a week ago on April 4 called “How to Change.” Both have been labors of love. She, along with musician Hannah Laine and wellness professional Jewly Warren, leased some warehouse space in Grand Rapids and spent last summer using power tools to build walls and sound panels. As a photographer, Johnson loves depicting musicians with unique backgrounds around them – flowers, smoke, fire, water, and even bubbles. Being a fellow musician has helped to establish a trust with bands and their goals for photoshoots.
Also, her album, which features many local musicians and singers, has been a year in the making, and she is thrilled that it is finally complete.
“This album is one of the biggest things I’ve ever done,” Johnson. “A lot of these songs were written five years ago that have been fine-tuned … I’ve loved how things have turned out. I’m so happy that I had the opportunity to make this with the people I made it with and that it is coming out when it is coming out. I feel like this has been so organic and natural that I am satisfied with every present moment.”
Parental and community support set her foundation
Although her parents are not musicians, they have always supported her musical endeavors. When she was young, Johnson’s father was in the Coast Guard, so she moved around a lot, but they ended up settling in Grand Haven. It was there that she met Dave Palmer, founder of the original “Spread the Music Foundation.” He invited Johnson, who was a preteen at the time, to play guitar with his band and help him with the festivals.
“One thing led to another and now it’s my whole life,” says Johnson.
But it wasn’t until after high school that she began to embrace her voice and talent. Before that she avoided singing in front of anyone besides her friends.
She graduated high school early, attended and graduated from Grand Valley State, and – more importantly, began taking voice lessons with Carlos Seise, a professional opera tenor based out of Grand Haven. The lessons changed her life. Instead of avoiding or modifying the tone of her voice, Seise had her embrace it.
“Carlos started me from where I was,” says Johnson. “I studied with him for almost two years, and it was probably one of the best things I ever did for my music, because the way he taught and opened me up, and the way I grew more into what I was doing. It helped improve everything, especially the tone I naturally had, which was deeper.”
The evolution of a person and musician
From there, she started her professional career as a photographer and musician. Musically, she worked hard and was scheduled to release her first EP on March 21, 2020. To celebrate it, she performed a concert at The Listening Room the day before the release … to an empty audience. The onset of the pandemic had shut down everything. It was a strange and scary time for everyone and unfortunately not the best timing for an album release. The concert is captured on YouTube for posterity.
“That was crazy; I worked so hard on my EP,” says Johnson. “I remember being at the studio with my drummer. Nobody knew what this was. We weren’t sure if we could hug each other. We were just kind of there and like ‘okay, let’s do this I guess.’ I think everyone remembers the tension in the air, specifically March 2020 when everyone could tell that things were different. You could cut the air with a knife, and there we were, playing music.”
In the aftermath, Johnson has been creating music and art, performing, and connecting with other artists who have now become her friends. But up until recently, she was still unsure what her future held. The making of this album resolved all questions and doubts.
“There was really a sense of becoming throughout this whole process because I really did go through this moment where I asked ‘do I want what I think I want?’” says Johnson. “‘Is this thing that has pushed me forward, this dream that I’ve had – that has powered everything that I’ve done – what I really want?’ Over the course of the year and making this album, I’ve gotten to the place where I am now, where I can truly say that I’m so happy with where I’m at.”
Be prepared to enjoy Johnson’s happiness, new music and photography. “How to Change” has been released and she plans on performing the music around Grand Rapids this spring and summer. Find out more about her work on her Facebook page
and her website
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