Credit: Apryl Stead
Whether she is singing about her crazy shopping habits or a sweet romance turned sour, Mallory Johnson knows how to relate to people through her music. In 2021, for instance, she caught the attention of outlets like CMT, The Bluegrass Situation, and Billboard with “Wise Woman,” a collab with sister duo Twin Kennedy that challenged women’s expectations in society. Its messages inspired women to be more than a stereotype, and by conveying these messages more potently in a stunning music video, Mallory and her team went on to win Music Video of the Year at the 2021 MusicNL Awards as well as the Fans’ Choice Video of the Year at the 2022 East Coast Music Awards. Shortly after her win at the ECMAs, Mallory started to roll out her debut album through the release of singles like “Married, “Goin’ Broke,” and “Not Your Heart,” to much acclaim. When she finally dropped her debut album, Surprise Party, it went all the way to #2 on the iTunes country charts. As a way to thank her fans, Mallory dropped the music video for the album’s title track on New Year’s Day, starting the year off with a bang. We had the pleasure of catching up with Mallory during this exciting time, discussing the holidays, the new video, what she has up her sleeve for 2023, and more.
Hi Mallory! Thanks so much for taking the time out to chat, I know it’s a crazy time of year… Did you do anything fun for the holidays?
Thank you for having me! I spent the holidays at home with my family in Newfoundland this year! It was the first time all of my siblings had been together in a few years, so it was nice to get some quality family time.
Congratulations on your debut album, Surprise Party, as well as the new music video for the title track! Between the colors, the concept, and the visuals for the video, I think it really captures the song perfectly.
Thank you so much! This video was a special one because it’s the title track, and I really wanted to capture the heart of the album. When I was in the studio recording this song, I could visualize the video. We were very intentional with the instrumentation because I wanted the music to match the story. That’s why the band doesn’t enter until the final chorus — we wanted a “surprise” element to the song.
What was it like to film? How long did it take to blow up all those balloons?!
When it came to the set design for the music video, I had some help! My friend Keith Roberts is a costume and set designer, so it was awesome to have him on board for this video to help make the set look so beautiful! Blowing up the balloons was no small task. [Laughs] We had multiple people with pumps and helium tanks – Keith and my mom definitely get most of the credit there! The balloons had nothing on the confetti though. It took a long time to get the confetti pieces out of the grand piano.
Your scenes are sort of separate from the rest of what we see happening in the video – what did you think when you saw it all together in the final product?
I loved how Cecil Johnson (director) pieced together the main performance shots and the B-roll of the party. We had decided early on that I wasn’t going to be the guest of honor at the surprise party, and I’m so happy we went that route because it made the most sense with my point of view as the vocalist. It was also really fun to be in the background of the party; there was less pressure, and I got to enjoy being an extra at my own video shoot.
You dropped the music video on New Year’s Day – how do you usually ring in the new year?
Happy New Year! I usually ring in the new year at home in Newfoundland, and I’m usually on stage singing “Auld Lang Syne” with The Spirit of Newfoundland (theater company in St. John’s). This year however, I celebrated in Nashville with some friends! We attended the Big Bash downtown and then watched fireworks from a rooftop.
As far as “Surprise Party” is concerned, did you write it for anyone in particular?
This song wasn’t intended for anyone in particular, as we wanted to leave that open to interpretation. It’s really just about wishing someone well. It could be about a friend, a lover, an ex, a family member. It’s really up to the listener and who they think about when they listen to the song.
When was the last time you were genuinely surprised?
The last time I was genuinely surprised was when my friends in Nashville threw me a surprise party to celebrate the album. I thought I was attending a small intimate dinner party, but instead walked into a room filled with friends. They had noisemakers, balloons, champagne confetti, you name it. They really went all out. They had the room decorated with the theme and colors of the album, a candy bar that displayed clever candy names associated with my song titles, and a cake with my album cover on it. They even put together a video message from friends and family that couldn’t attend. It was pretty moving.
Credit: Alyssa Barker
Again, congratulations on the album! There is a lot of warmth and vulnerability and fun on there – was it tough to decide on a final track list?
To be honest, the track list came pretty easy. Once the song “Surprise Party” was on the table, the rest of the track list fell into place. I had already been in pre-production for six to seven songs that coincidentally fit the theme, and then it was a matter of writing a few more to fill in what was missing. “Stick Around” and “Party Dress” for example, were written after we decided to run with Surprise Party as the album title.
Which songs on Surprise Party do you love the most?
It’s really tough to pick the songs I love most on this record because I love each of them for different reasons. “Married” for example, is my favorite song to play live. “Not Your Heart” is my favorite in terms of production. “Goin’ Broke” came from one of my favorite writing sessions. “Surprise Party” is my favorite way to close a show. “Wise Woman” has been such a powerful project to be a part of, and I love that I get to keep that conversation going with this album.
The lyrics are just so incredible on every song – do they come easy or does it take time to write out what you want to say?
Thank you for saying that! I wish they all came easy! [Laughs] It’s definitely different from song to song because the variables are always different. Depending on the dynamic between co-writers, the mood we’re in that day, the topic we’re writing about, you never know if you’ll finish a song in two hours, two months, or two years.
Thank you so much for chatting! To wrap things up, what can fans expect from you in 2023?
I think (and I hope) 2023 will be my busiest year yet. It feels really good to have a project I can stand on and promote on the road. I’m looking forward to playing a bunch of shows this year and maybe even drop a few more surprises along the way!