North Carolina country singer Paige King Johnson has been kicking around the Nashville music scene for a few years, and hasn’t been letting the grass grow under her feet waiting for something to happen. Following a 2019 EP, she’s just released a new single, “Just Like You,” enlisting the aid of a country icon for the creation of the song’s video: Pam Tillis, who co-directed the CMT-premiering video with Josh Sikkema (Mya, Snoop Dogg). King Johnson didn’t do a very good job of hiding her excitement about working with Tillis during a phone interview with American Songwriter.
“It was really cool to bring her in and get her creative vision, both for the video, and of her whole creative process,” King Johnson said. “My influences come a lot from the classic country era, and from the ‘80s and ‘90s country era, where Pam was always one of my go-tos for inspiration. We sent her over [a copy of] ‘Just Like You’ and she loved it, said that however she could be involved she wanted to be involved. She was the co-creative director for the video and just kind of took it to the next level. It was just so weird for me, because this was the first time that one of my idols has kind of become a friend and a co-worker and kind of a mentor. It was very much a ‘pinch me’ type of process.”
Co-written with longtime collaborator Regan Rousseau, “Just Like You” is a love song about the give-and-take in a relationship, with a vocal delivery that recalls early Shania Twain, but goes back even further with a pedal streel guitar in the production mix.
“It’s all about my roots in country music, how my parents raised me up listening to classic country music,” King Johnson said. “Their favorite artists were Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings and Loretta Lynn, for me it was normal to hear that stuff. So those sounds have just always been typical country music to me. I’ve just always leaned more back that way because I love the honesty and the storytelling that comes with songs like that.”
In addition to “Just Like You,” King Johnson has also released a little holiday cheer, mountain-style, with a remake of the Patty Loveless bluegrass Christmas classic “Santa Train.” “I’ve loved that song for many many years,” she said, “and we wanted to put out a Christmas song this year, and there was no question about it, that had to be the one.”
Like so many artists, King Johnson is itching to get back on the road with her live show, where she was opening for such artists as Scotty McCreery and James Otto. “Being on the road is probably my favorite part of this whole job,” she said, “it’s what keeps me going and fuels my fire. I was playing probably 100, 120 shows on the road a year [before the pandemic]. I opened for Neal McCoy in Missouri, my first time playing in Missouri, and I hadn’t realized what great entertainer he is, how good his live show is and how insane his whole band is, to be able to create such a good live show.”
The days of DIY have changed things in terms of people pounding on doors for major label deals, but while King Johnson is happy being on her own at the moment, she isn’t ruling anything out in terms of independence versus a major contract. “The goal is to take this as big as the Good Lord will let me take it, but right now I’m just riding the wave of being an independent artist,” she said. “I love the creative freedom that I have, being able to call my own shots, to take my career in the direction that I see it going and that I want it to go, and a lot of that has been falling on my face and stumbling and getting back up. But I love that whole process, being able to say that I’m steering my career the way I want it to go. I can’t say that down the road I don’t hopefully see myself at a bigger establishment, whether that’s a boutique label or somewhere like Warner’s or Sony. This career’s gonna get as however big it’s meant to be, but as long as I’m continuing to create good music and music that I love, then that’s where I’m supposed to be.”