Paul Johnson took guitar lessons for the first time at 7 years old from a local pastor. Growing up in West Fargo, Johnson played in garage bands in middle school and high school and also in talent shows.
Johnson took nearly every chance he could to develop his music career. He went to college, then dropped out to pursue a music career. He formed his own band and dealt with changing band members before essentially going solo. He recorded music for television and film and could've kept going, but he felt his heart wasn't in it.
After Johnson split to make music independently, his indie/folk/pop band Canyon City made its first album. The West Fargo local had about 9,000 monthly views in September 2016.
Then major music streaming service Spotify caught wind, and Johnson's musical momentum just kept snowballing. Canyon City now tallies about 1 million monthly listeners on Spotify and about 175,000 listens every day.
With Johnson as the music writer, producer and performer, Canyon City released its second album "Constellation" on Oct. 6. He said the band name is intended to sound like a hidden place for creativity and honesty.
"I really want to foster a good community of people who share (the music)," Johnson said. "I'm grateful for where we are, but there's room for growth and improvement."
Johnson said growing up in West Fargo gave him a warm and supportive community that allowed him to try music. He mainly played guitar early in high school and started to experiment with songwriting in middle school. He recorded music by himself in high school and self released albums just looking for a way to get people to listen to his songs.
"That was a new horizon for me and opened up a whole new world," Johnson said. "Music could be the opportunity of expression that really lit a fire in me."
Johnson pursued a music degree in Nashville, Tenn., but he dropped out after he realized he was being prepared for history or business instead of music creation. He formed a band and found some traction after reaching deals with local radio, but his two bandmates left, leaving Johnson wondering what was next. He tried recording two albums that were focused on singles for television and film, but he wasn't happy with it.
"I had always made music from the heart," Johnson said. "I wanted to do something that made my life happy again musically."
Johnson eventually built a home studio and created Canyon City and its first album "Midnight Waves." The albums are mostly all Johnson playing, producing, writing and mixing. As he was was coming into his own and producing the music he wanted to, Spotify caught wind and promoted the music on playlists which is where his music took off. Johnson believes the streaming market tends to favor heartfelt music so listeners can develop more connection with the artists and will listen more than once.
"We're keeping each other company with an emotion," he said. "There's even an emotional healing or feeling of sadness together."
Johnson valued the creative freedom and building music from scratch and the human challenges of solo music. Johnson said trying different types of music helped him understand what he wanted and what he's happy with. He hopes his musical expression connects his listeners to the music and brings a type of emotional healing.
"Maybe there's a hope or sadness," Johnson said. "I wanted to be more honest and emotionally present about the moment I was in. I just wanted to be present and honest. Instead of me saying how you should feel about this, it's more about how I feel and you're not alone."