Through one outlet or another, Chloe Johnson intends to use her voice. And this year, she'll make sure Baton Rouge hears it.
Just recently, Johnson, 22, starred in a new music video featuring the music of local beat-maker and musician Slomile Swift. Johnson also performs with her main band Alabaster Stag, which is prepping to release new material and play the Baton Rouge Blues Festival in April. Johnson is also featured in a documentary short film, "Off the Sidewalks, Into the Streets," playing at Manship Theatre at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9.
The Baton Rouge music scene got its introduction to Johnson as a sultry lead singer years ago when she was with funk-soul group Moonsugar, but her relationship with music began differently and at a young age.
“In second grade, my school introduced a strings program, and I’d never seen a cello or a violin before, but when I got the chance to pick up an instrument, I was immediately drawn to it,” Johnson said.
She played in orchestra for years and eventually took up singing in musical theater in high school. When she started creating music with a band, however, she felt at home.
“I was so used to performing classical music and musical theater where the music is already written and the story is already there — I found a new freedom with improvisational music like funk and jazz where there is room to express yourself,” Johnson said. “Writing your own music is a completely different world.”
For years, Johnson stepped into the limelight of existing bands, adding vocals to a few songs on an album or at various performances.
“I loved having the freedom to work with other bands — sing on an indie, punk or hip-hop record — but I thought it was time to have my own outlet for my own material,” she said.
Alabaster Stag began performing a little more than a year ago and is recording material for an album. A new EP will be available in April, and a full-length should follow at the end of summer.
Johnson still collaborates with a host of Louisiana music-makers. Most recently, she recorded a single with Swift, “Tell Me What You See,” and performed solo in a music video for the song produced by Baton Rouge’s More Than 4 Productions.
“That was my first music video, so I was highly uncomfortable,” Johnson said with a laugh. “I was like, ‘How do I take myself seriously enough to give these smoldering looks they’re asking for?’ I just had to quit thinking about it.”
As Johnson becomes a figure in the music scene, her voice has been sought for speaking on other issues. She was interviewed in a documentary short film produced by Zandashé Brown on Baton Rouge residents’ experiences during the July civil rights protests . The short is part of the "BetteR" series presented by NOVAC: Baton Rouge.
Johnson said she believes she can use her presence as a young, black, female performer to promote inclusivity.
“I’ve never shut myself off to performing different types of music and accepting different types of gigs," she said. "I think it’s important that there are people diving into different scenes because music is for everybody. I want my visibility in this scene to say that we have a space where everybody belongs.”