If you’re going to cover Adele and open for Martina McBride, you need some powerful pipes. Air National Guard Tech Sergeant Angie Johnson packs military might, literally. After skyrocketing to YouTube fame leading the Air Force Band’s now famous cover of Rolling In The Deep (3.5 million hits), she appeared on the second season of The Voice and made it through the first battle round under coach Cee Lo Green.  Her four-song EP, “Sing For You” showcases all sides of her personality. From the rocking debut single, Swagger to the heartfelt title track, the tight 14 minutes ranges from breathy ballads to supersonic decibel levels. I caught up with her via phone from Nashville.

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You said it might have been a good thing that you were only  on The Voice for a short period of time. What did you mean by that


AJ- When you get locked into a recording contract on a reality talent competition, they can be really restrictive. I wasn’t on the show long enough for that to happen (she made it through the first battle round), So when I came back to Nashville, I got to negotiate something that was a little more in my favor. I got a very fair deal with Sony/Nashville, so I was very fortunate in that sense.


As a fellow country artist, do you think Blake would have had a different perspective as your coach

AJ- I’m not really sure. I definitely think he would have given me the opportunity to perform country music on the show. Cee Lo covered a much broader spectrum of genres, so maybe a little different.

You were discovered via social media. What type of role do you think it will play as you become a more established artist

AJ- Social media is critical for all artists. You can gain more of a following doing YouTube videos instead of going on a club tour. It’s important that artists engage with their fans on social media and develop relationships because those are the people who will buy your records and become loyal fans. I try really hard to stay online as much as I can and answer questions. I actually get to know people who come up to me at shows. I remember talking with them on Facebook and it’s like meeting an old friend.

Even though the record is country , a few of the songs have an intense rock edge. Is that by design

AJ- Country music is evolving right now. Many artists are dipping their toes into different genres and it’s really cool, but you have to stay with that pace. I’ve been really lucky in my Air Force career to be exposed to all different kinds of music. Prior to that, I didn’t know anything but country and bluegrass. That’s all we played in my house. My dad wouldn’t let me listen to anything with an electric guitar in it. When I joined the Air Force Band Sidewinder, I was exposed to Journey, Bon Jovi and many bands I never really listened to before. Then  I had to go out and sing that stuff. So I think it’s kind of seeped into my recordings.


What is your favorite track

AJ- Sing For You is special to me because I co-wrote it. It’s my experience and also my tribute song to service members. I’ve been in the Air Force for a long time. I’ve gotten to sit after gigs and talk to a lot of troops. They tell me their stories very openly because I am a troop myself. They will tell me things they can’t share with their families because I get it and  I speak their language. I wanted to write a song about their stories and write it in a very raw and organic way.


The lead single, Swagger, is a rocking dance anthem. What prompted you to write it

AJ- I’ve always loved that era of boot scootin’ boogie and Shania songs where you can really get down and do a line dance to them. I really have missed that in country music lately. That song was actually born in my car. I was driving to my National Guard duty which is five hours from Nashville. I was thinking ‘it’s Friday night, it’s late, I would much rather be with my girlfriends dancing down on Broadway in Nashville with a cocktail than driving in this car by myself for five hours.’ Since I couldn’t do that, I started tapping a beat on the steering wheel and came up with a melody. By the time I got to St. Louis, the song was pretty much finished. I had the bridge and the lyrics and the chorus. I took it to my producer and said, help me put some cool guitar chords on it and polish it up. By the time we were done, Swagger was what came out


Are you working on a full length album and what can listeners expect

AJ- We are but there’s no time frame on it. My producer Josh Leo and I tried to be multi-faceted and show all sides of my personality with the four-song EP. We’ve got a fun song with Swagger,  a sultry one, Grandpa’s Farm and the title track that pulls at the heart strings. But there’s more to uncover.  I don’t have a great love song yet. I’m looking for a really great love song that just moves you. People should expect that whatever comes out on the full length record is going to be really authentic. I’m a well -rounded girl and I’ve gone through a lot of things that other girls have gone through and I want to write about those experiences.

What did it mean to you that your Kickstarter project was over funded

AJ- I didn’t expect it at all. Every Kickstarter artist just crosses their fingers and hopes they meet their goal. When we exceeded our goal, I never experienced such gratitude. I was like ‘Thank you fans! And thank you God for this. It was more than I needed but that’s kind of how God always shows up. My fans are AWESOME. They’ve supported me from the beginning since  the YouTube video, and they’ve been really loyal. I check in with them all the time and I really feel like a have a relationship with them.

You had a “Cowbell Medley” in the Air Force Band show. Can you explain that

AJ- It’s based on the Saturday Night Live skit with Will Ferrell. We take a giant case of cowbells and pass them out to audience members with drumsticks and teach them how to play it. It’s awesome. You get a whole audience playing cowbells and it’s really rocking.



You’ve performed at the Opry and the White House and have seen combat. What is the most intimidating thing you’ve done

AJ- Being on The Voice. The first blind audition taping in front of the live audience and four megastar judges. It was the most scared I was in a long time. In the blind audition, I think 17 million people watched that episode. We had a vocal coach that told me, ‘Girl, you were in Afghanistan. You’ve done all the prep work and vocal exercises. At this point, there’s nothing more you can do, so just go out and kill it.’ That kind of calmed me down and put things into perspective a little bit.


Do you think your experience in the military helped you prepare for a career in music

AJ- In a lot of ways I think it did, but I also think it hurt me. The music industry is very chaotic and I’m very regimented. Even when I first moved to Nashville, I came from active duty and Nashville was this creative, artsy world where time was of no concern and people were always in their heads and creative. I would get really aggravated because I was used to a very structured world.  It’s helped me with the pressure, for sure. Being able to multi task and follow directions. Whenever I get frustrated, I just sit down for a second and say to myself, ‘Look, you are not in Kevlar and body armor in a convoy in Afghanistan.’ That really helps me to chill out and gain perspective.


How much of a hand do you have in the writing process


AJ -I do quite a bit of writing but since I moved to Nashville, I’ve grown to love the co-writing process. Sometimes that other person can spur an idea you may never have had just sitting alone. I’m not one of those artists that have to be a co-writer on every song. I believe in good songs. If another writer pitches me a song that’s better than all the songs I’ve written, then that’s the one I want to cut.

What are your thoughts on country music being criticized as to closely associated with pop

AJ- I think I understand where a lot of traditionalists are coming from.  I miss old country myself. I miss the minimal production  and simpler instrumentation of the Patsy Cline era and even stuff in the Nineties that I grew up with like the old Reba and Wynonna tapes. But in the music industry,  we have to evolve and country music is going to take many different forms over the coming years. As long as we stay grounded in our roots and maintain the integrity of what’s at the core of country music, that’s okay and there’s room for other influences. We just can’t start playing all heavy electric guitar and synthesizers  because there is instrumentation that defines country. You’ve got to have some banjo, some fiddle and slide guitar. As long as we stay true to the core sound and grounded to our Southern roots, there’s room for some pop influence

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