When Dallas-based singer and songwriter Johnny Stimson graduated from Texas A&M with a degree in finance, he had his dreams for a music career all planned out. He made, as he refers to it now, a "two-year, thought-out decision to move to New York," where he spent a few months interning for a recording studio. "I was figuring out how the studio works and basically recording for free," Stimson says.
Equipped with a handful of songs for acoustic guitar and ukulele -- "good songs to begin a career with," as he puts it -- Stimson had reason to feel optimistic. But after playing those songs, songs like "Penny" and "Someone I Used To Know," in a meeting with executives from a potential management company, Stimson began to question his tunes.
"(One executive) sat down and said, 'I want to be honest with you. I really think you're extremely talented and these songs are well crafted and you're really coming into your own as a songwriter and what you have going is great and it's marketable,'" Stimson recalls the man saying. "'But I want to know from you, what makes you different?'"
Stimson fumbled around an answer. He then went home and couldn't sleep that night --trying to wrap his mind around the question. He knew he couldn't sound like every other struggling musician in Nashville.
"I had started working on these more disco-sounding songs," he said. "But I didn't know how to go about it."
The next day he wrote "Human Man," a futuristic dance tune about detaching from technology, on his manager's roof. It was then he entered his new era of sound.
"That was a very calculated thing," Stimson says about the new direction he took, "because I'm really proud of those recordings I made and I love those old sounds of 'Penny' and the ukulele vibe and everything."
After releasing "Human Man," the performance aspect of Stimson also changed from sitting on a stool with a guitar to standing behind the mic and dancing. "What I want people to take away from the shows is, 'We went and got nasty at the show. We got sweaty and the crowd was in crazy waves,'" he says. "And then when they're walking out to their cars, their pulse is still going."
The inspiration for "Human Man" came from Stimson noticing himself always on his phone and computer. "I noticed it's rare to get those moments when you're not attached to the tech part of it all," he says. "It's important to remember the human element and we're just two people standing here and maybe we're the only two left because everyone else is engaged in technology."
Technology, something that's inspired his music, also has played a significant role in Stimson's career: Anytime Stimson releases a new song, he and his sisters sit around computers at their parents' house in Highland Park to watch the fans' and blogs' responses -- something that's been an affirming moment for the musician.
"(Social media) has been huge," he said. "(My fans) like the music to the point of loving the music and playing it in the car for their friends and sharing it on their social media sites." Stimson says after completing the more clerical work of his career in the morning, he sits down to write every day. Love is a topic he typically gravitates toward.
"I mean I write a lot of love songs," he concedes. "And I'm not ashamed of that because there's no greater thing than when you're in love with somebody or when you feel that connection. So I like to write about it."
However, his most recently released song, "Obsession," approaches the topic of love from a different angle. The story behind the song is something Stimson is reluctant to talk about. "I'm not sure if I want to tell this story," he says, looking down.
But the story goes like this: A mutual contact between Stimson and model Miranda Kerr showed the supermodel Stimson's music.
"'I showed Miranda your music and she loves it,'" Stimson recalled the friend telling him. "And I showed her your picture and she was like, 'I wish he was like five years older. I love this music.'"
Stimson says he has never met her, but the thought of her knowing who he was triggered something.
"The whole idea of this supermodel out there [who] knows about me is really wild," he says. "I was thinking about this idea that it's strange that I know about who she is and whose she's dated in the past and I thought the concept of fame is a really weird one. If I were a total creeper, I could become infatuated with Miranda Kerr based on one little conversation because I can have all these resources, like the internet, to know her. It's a weird idea of somebody having this obsession with somebody famous."
But Stimson isn't one to sit around and wait for life events or compliments from supermodels before penning a song. Instead, he keeps a running list of ideas.
"I keep thinking of the concept of being a mastermind," he says. "Like the idea of nobody is going to do this career for me. I have to be in control instead of sitting around waiting for it all the time."
Instead, thinking ahead and taking action is something Stimson does well. This past Sunday, he left for London to play his first gig outside of the country. Right now he has no plans to move away from Dallas because of its central location for traveling.
"I love Dallas and I haven't missed any opportunities yet because I'm always willing to travel anytime I need to," he says. From the way things are going for Stimson these days, it's a plan he can probably stick to.
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