Classically-trained singer, music producer and award-winning composer Victoria Johnston is a Dubliner with a mission.
Her debut singles ‘Tar Liom’ and ‘You Are The Peace’ ascended to #1 in the Irish iTunes charts when they were released earlier this year in March and were subsequently shortlisted for the upcoming 63rd Grammy Awards for Song of the Year.
Here, we sat down with Johnston to hear about what comes next and how she's managed to reach the lofty heights of Hollywood recognition.
Hi, Victoria! Tell us about your musical journey so far.
I received a scholarship to study at the Royal Irish Academy of Music when I was 9 and continued studying there with annual scholarships during secondary school. I continued my classical music training in college and studied the BMus in Composition at the DIT Conservatory of Music and Drama, and I also hold an MPhil in Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship from Trinity College Dublin.
I really enjoyed studying a combination of music performance and composition, mixed with the business side to the music and arts industry. Following on from my Masters in Trinity, I sang with several leading and award-winning chamber choirs and vocal groups, before deciding to launch my solo career in 2020.
I had always planned to release my debut singles ‘Tar Liom’ and ‘You Are The Peace’ on March 13 2020, which as things turned out, ended up being the same day that Ireland went into lockdown due to COVID-19.
But, thankfully, my singles were always scheduled as a digital release, and the online release went very well with both singles reaching No.1 in the overall Top 10 iTunes Charts in Ireland.
What was the creative process behind your Grammy-shortlisted songs?
‘Tar Liom’ and ‘You Are The Peace’ are two songs of my songs that when they were performed live in concerts, they seemed to really musically connect with audiences. I knew there was something special about them, and that these two songs, in particular, were the songs I should release to launch my solo career.
Both of my debut singles were then recorded and produced by legendary Producer Denis Woods. Denis is previously of Windmill Lane Studios, and has worked with so many world-famous artists I admire such as Clannad, Enya, and AC/DC. We recorded both songs in Egoboo studios in Dublin over two days. It was a really fun but intense two days. Being in a music studio is one of my favourite places to be.
It’s important that you surround yourself with a music recording team who believe in you, your music and your vision of how you want the finished recording to sound. Being a singer-songwriter and with a background as an award-winning composer, I like a lot of creative control over my music. I felt my music was in very safe hands with Denis Woods at the helm with recording and producing my songs.
I’m an independent, self-managed and self-promoted artist and to see both of my debut singles spend time at #1 in the overall iTunes charts in Ireland was really wonderful.
I am thrilled to have received news that now, both of my debut singles are shortlisted for Song Of The Year in the upcoming 63rd Grammy Awards, with ‘You Are The Peace’ also shortlisted for Contemporary Christian Music Song of the Year.
'Tar Liom', – which means 'come with me' in Irish – is shortlisted for Song of the Year in the upcoming Grammy Awards.
What does Irish music mean to you?
Well, in terms of the Irish language, it’s such an inherently musical language, and it lends itself so well to being sung. We’ve such a rich heritage of Irish music in this country, and it’s a powerful thing that Irish music is so popular and that it resonates so well with people all over the world. It’s a true musical identity. Earlier this year when I released 'Tar Liom', I was delighted it was so well received both here at home and overseas now that it’s been shortlisted for Song of the Year in the upcoming Grammy Awards.
Creatively speaking, how have you found lockdown?
Lockdown has afforded me more free time to compose. Hours can go by once I start writing a new song at my piano. I feel blessed to have music work I can focus on at home during these times of lockdown.
One of the new songs I wrote during lockdown is my new single ‘Land of Hope’. I was fortunate to get safely into a studio in August, to record it.
Land of Hope’ is co-produced by GRAMMY-nominated Producer Denis Woods (Clannad, Enya, AC/DC), Ferdia Walsh-Peelo (Sing Street, Vikings), and multi-instrumentalist Oisín Walsh-Peelo/O Deer (Hudson Taylor, and also support act for Hozier on his 2019 US tour).
I released Land of Hope on Friday, October 9 and was delighted it spent four days at No.1 in the World iTunes Charts and also went to No.3 in the overall Top 10 Charts on iTunes in Ireland.
The key message of my new single ‘Land of Hope is that even in our darkest hour when we find ourselves journeying through times of immense uncertainty, loss and grief, there is always hope, peace and a brighter future to be found.
Who are your musical icons?
I grew up listening to my parents CDs of Barbra Streisand, Sting, U2, Elton John, Leonard Cohen, Fleetwood Mac, The Beatles and classical composers including Debussy and Chopin.
Julie Andrews is definitely a musical icon of mine. My Mum and Dad like to remind me that I was singing along to all the songs in The Sound of Music before I could talk. I’m also a huge fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music.
What do you hope to be doing this time next year?
In the music industry, musicians these days make most of their earnings from performing live shows. Due to the pandemic, I have had to put live shows on hold, and am postponing music travel plans to the USA. This time next year, I’d love to be doing a national tour of Ireland and to be in the studio working towards an album release.
Recording an album is really expensive, and as a newly launched independent and self-managed artist, I am hopeful that with my debut singles both being shortlisted for the Grammy Awards, that this might bring about some further music opportunities for me too going forward into next year.
Where can people find your music/more information?
My music is on all online platforms including iTunes, Apple Music and Spotify. My website can be found here and my social media platforms are as follows: Instagram: @victoriajohnstonofficial / Facebook: @victoriajohnstonofficial / Twitter: @victoria_jmusic.
Main image by Glen Byrne