It's a Beautiful Day and I Love You
I Shouldn't Go Anywhere
What Would Jesus Do
It may come as no surprise given its effusive title, but Jillette Johnson's third album is, in many ways, an ode to compassion. Across 10 tracks, the Nashville-based singer-songwriter and pianist presents thoughtful, clear-eyed vignettes musing on forgiveness, gratitude, presence, and acceptance. "It really is an album of gratitude and looking around and going, 'Things have been hard, sure, but look at all the things that we have and all the joy that life can bring.'" Produced by Johnson and Joe Pisapia of Guster, the album, like Johnson herself, eludes neat categorization, pulling from influences as disparate as Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell, and Harry Nilsson. Below, Johnson takes Apple Music through what inspired each track.
"I was actually sitting down to meditate and try to still my mind a little bit, and all of a sudden I felt like I was in this place when I was 18 in Colombia. And it got me thinking about all the different phases of my life and the different kinds of environments I've been in, and people that have surrounded me, and how much of a joy it's been to have so many chapters and to have lived so much life in what is relatively a short period of time. So I got up out of my meditation because I started writing a song. And when that happens, I usually choose song over sitting."
"I was becoming a yoga teacher and one of the people that was in my group with me, after our training, ended up taking his own life. I wasn't close enough to him to feel like it was mine, but I was affected by the experience. We called him Angelo, like an angel low to the ground, though that's not his name. I couldn't help but kind of write about the perspective of watching somebody from far away be in a lot of pain and have to grapple with their own mortality, and this feeling of 'I really am an observer here.'"
"That's another song that I didn't want to write because it felt like I was going to be exposing real people that I care about, but I think the cool thing about writing about real people in your life is, unless you're really careless, you go to extraordinary lengths to make sure that your compassion and kind meter are turned all the way up. I've been lucky enough to find a partner who has grown into a full, whole human being and who can talk really kindly about the people that have been in his life. But the song is really a song of gratitude for all of the people that we end up entangling ourselves with that help us get to this point where we hopefully know ourselves a little bit better and then can really give to another person in a balanced and healthy way."
It’s a Beautiful Day and I Love You
"I wrote that song when I was sitting at home by myself. It was before the pandemic. My husband was in a normal workday and went for a walk and it was sunny and beautiful. And he called me and said, 'It's a beautiful day and I love you.' And then I was like, 'Oh my god, I love you. I got to go because I got to write this song right now.' And I think as soon as those words came out of my mouth, I was like, 'I think this would be a really good album title.' And I think it's just the simplicity and the all-encompassing nature of that phrase just felt like where the album sits."
I Shouldn’t Go Anywhere
"I was feeling pretty insecure. I had just had a birthday and I had felt socially anxious. So I woke up the next day and I felt hung over and I just wrote this song about being hard on myself. And then that song started to take on this kind of empowerment feeling, that I'm having this feeling of introspection and vulnerability. And I also can see that that's happening and know that this is just a quirk of my brain and that it's not necessarily this statement about who I am as a person."
"I think I was in my kitchen looking at my phone and I read some article about some band that I knew who had gotten some really cool opportunity. And I felt that mix of emotions of being happy for them because I want them to find success and also feeling jealous. And then I said to myself, out loud alone in my kitchen, 'Just because it isn't my win doesn't mean that I'm losing.' And often that's how songs start for me—if I'm alone processing something and then I say something out loud about it, that's usually the start of the song."
"I was in a therapy session and my therapist told me to close my eyes and imagine that there was a little girl on the beach and that that little girl was me. And then to imagine myself as an adult going and sitting with her, and just to see what I would do as an adult to hold space for that little girl. And that experience of looking at myself like a kid and seeing how I might nurture that kid helped me see the parts of myself that are harder to look at with more kindness, and helped me understand more the nature of compassion and forgiveness."
"I was working with a producer named Gregory Lattimer, and Greg was challenging me to write in different ways, which I so appreciate, because it's so easy to just write the same song a million times. So his prompt for me was to try to write songs as if I was in a '60s girl group. And simultaneously, I had just gotten my Rhodes organ and was trying to justify getting it. It was kind of an impulse purchase, and I can't tour with it because it's really heavy. I was newly in a relationship and had that experience of being in this really great stable thing and all of a sudden getting contacted by a lot of past romantic partners. And I had been listening to a lot of that album Surrender by Diana Ross."
What Would Jesus Do
"I was trying to write a song for someone else who lives in a pretty different genre than I do, although I don't really know what genre I live in. It was more of a bluegrass, kind of folk space. I ended up writing a song about radical acceptance and, again, about this idea of compassion. And it's really not so much a commentary on religion as it is a commentary on the greater good, I think."
"I wrote that song right before we made the record, and I was probably in a pretty Zen place because I was pretty consistent with my meditation practice at the time. I had just moved into a house with my fiancé at the time. And there was a lot of new, beautiful growth happening and I was going down to my local coffee shop and running into all of these people that I've known throughout the course of my life, because it's Nashville. That got me into this place with the song where I was like, 'Man, if you'd asked me two years ago if I would be here—I own a house, I'm about to get married, I live in Nashville, I'm about to make my third record, all of these other things—two years ago, I would've said you're wrong.' And that begs the question, what do I know?"