Canadian-born country singer Robby Johnson has high hopes for his new album, Don’t Look Back, which was recorded at Nashville’s Ocean Way, under the direction of producer James Stroud. The project is being distributed by TuneCore.
“He was a great guy and wanted me to give my input, to make it not his album but Robby Johnson’s album,” the singer said during a visit to MusicRow this week. “And I just knocked on publishers’ doors and told them my story and that I was working with James. I went to the Bluebird and met with Shane McAnally.”
The product of all that hustling is Johnson’s new 13-song project, which features songs from several top Nashville writers and artist-writers, including Sam Hunt, Chris Young, Josh Osborne, Luke Laird, JT Harding, Mark Nesler, Ashley Gorley, Brett James, John Ozier, Mary Dodson and, yes, Shane McAnally. Johnson’s current single, “Hate Me Tonight,” was penned by Jason Massey, Ryan Griffin, and Mark Carson.
Johnson also employed star power in the studio, as Vince Gill lends his guitar prowess to “I Ain’t The Guy,” a track co-penned by Johnson, Juliana Cole, and Kellys Collins.
In 2014, Johnson landed a superb performance slot, singing his previous single “South Of Me” on The Late Show With David Letterman. “That was surreal,” recalls Johnson. “That led to me getting a green card, because I was in the process of getting a green card so I could stay here permanently and work. They waited until the day after the Letterman show, because you have to be an established artist [to get a green card]. For the booking on Letterman, it mentions they only take artists that are established.”
Johnson still performs frequently in Canada, and landed a plum performance gig last year on one of North America’s largest stages, opening for Keith Urban, Foo Fighters, Rolling Stones, and more. “There were three acts that evening,” Johnson recalls. “I was opening, and Keith Urban was closing the show. At 7 p.m. there were about 30,000 people already there. It was crazy because when I walked up the ramp, people were chanting ‘Robby, Robby’ and it was an amazing moment. I heard they’ve never had that many people at 7 p.m. for an opening act.”
Johnson returned the favor to his Canadian fans with the initial release of Don’t Look Back in Canada. The initial release was slated for January, but Johnson released physical copies early to a popular retailer in his home province of Quebec.
Though Johnson has his sights set on success in the American country music market, he says his drive to become an American country star is motivated by far more than personal ambition.
“If you want to do it for fame and red carpets, that’s not good,” Johnson says. “But if you do it because you want to create moments with people and share stories…that’s my story. I’ve been through rough times as a child and growing up. I know what some listeners go through, and they’ve lived even worse stories than mine. For me, I just want to be the soundtrack of their lives and let them know I’ve been through things too, and they are not alone.”
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