July/August 2015 Lyric Contest Spotlight: Winner Heath Johnson

heathjohnson

“She Only Loves Me When She Lies”

1st Place

Written by Heath Johnson

Interview by Caine O’Rear 

 

When did you write this song?

I wrote this song early last fall. It kind of came out of a conglomerate of emotions ranging from frustration, to pity, to just plain feeling stupid (hence the “like a fool I rush on in” line.) A lot of times we let people take hold in us more than we should and this song came out of me wrestling with that.

 

How long have you been writing songs?

I don’t remember the exact age, but I do remember being really young and having a notebook full of lyrics to songs I had written. I’d say recently it’s only been about three years that I have been writing songs that I play at shows. It’s a feeling like no other when the crowd gets into it. I remember last year playing at a gig and someone from the crowd I didn’t even know shouted out a request for a song and it ended up being one of mine that they had heard from finding me online. That’s a moment that’ll stick with me.

 

How did you find out about the lyric contest?

I live in the Black Hills of South Dakota which, by anyone’s point of view, is pretty far from anything resembling a “music capitol.” However, over the past year I have had the pleasure of playing with some incredible songwriters up here and helping host several songwriter showcases. This really helped push me in my own writing and seeing what could become of it. I was then introduced to your magazine from a buddy and found the contest in there.

 

What initially drew you to songwriting?

I’ve always been into music. I’ve never been one of those people who can hear a song and just let it go. I’m always wondering what was going on that brought that lyric out of their head or that tune out of their fingers. People make themselves vulnerable when they write a song, and it brings about its own life that, in my opinion, you can’t find anywhere else. I write to keep myself vulnerable to that life because there are a lot of things in my life that make it easy to harden and wall myself up. I’ll listen to John Fullbright, John Moreland, Chris Stapleton, Todd Snider, and, of course, my favorite, Willie Nelson, and admire what they put out for the world to see, like a story of their soul. I try to do the same in every song I write.

 

Do you have a favorite line from the song?

I’m kind of partial to the line “She only holds me with her eyes.” I think that is something we have all seen and probably done at one point or another in our life. It resonates with a lot of people.

 

Is your writing autobiographical?

I think in a way all writing is, even the songs that express a story not based on one of your own life experiences. In some way you are putting yourself into it. My writing tends to lean more towards my own experiences, though I do have several that were written out of concepts or ideas that attract me.

 

Do you perform as well and does that influence the way you approach your songwriting, knowing that you’ll be performing these tunes?

I do perform. I’ve been playing around the Hills up here, down in Nebraska and over in Wyoming also for the past three years. It drastically changed the way I write. I’ll write a song at home and then think to myself, would I let anyone hear this. If I wouldn’t, then I dive back into it and see where it could improve.

 

What is one thing you’ve learned about songwriting that you wish you’d know when you first got started?

That not everyone is going to like every song you write and to be ok with that. Songs come from all different places and hit people very differently. One night a song will be a bust, the next night it’s a hit. Having the confidence to keep writing and keep playing them is a huge lesson that has stuck with me, but developed over time.