Heartbroken but ‘Happy’

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Josie Johnson started writing songs when she was 14 years old. Learning piano and singing for people didn’t woo the boys like she thought it would. Instead, after moving from Minnesota to Portland, Ore. with the man she planned to marry, she was quickly replaced with her boyfriend’s stronger relationship with drugs.

Heartbreak soon began to be the theme of her songs. Sadness produced songs inspired by experiences that every human has been through, Johnson said.

“I think I write about the things that are going on around me, and I try to write about things that I understand — that I know other people will understand,” Johnson said. “I’m depressed and melancholy most of the time, but I’m happy otherwise.”

It was only fitting that Happy Otherwise would become the name of her band. The trio consists of Johnson on lead vocals, piano and guitar, Kendra Lynn on drums and Adam Raitano on bass guitar.

At one point there were 21 people in attendance (including Johnson’s mother and some friends) at the band’s performance in The Cabin last Saturday, in a performance Johnson said was intimate, but difficult.

“Boy, oh boy, it’s harder to play when there’s less people because one of the big things is the energy coming at you,” she said.

It’s a challenge, she said because playing in a dark bar or rock club, like most of the venues on the band’s Midwest tour, is less awkward than kooking straight into the faces of the crowd, especially when singing about emotional topics.

Becca Lawrence, co-chair for the Cabin Committee, part of the University Activities Commission, said if 30 people show up, it’s considered a    good night.

Lawrence said The Cabin is pretty small, so they usually don’t get a huge turnout, but considering this show was the first performance on this year’s Cabin schedule, the turnout almost met her expectations.

Sam Bauer, a freshman at UW-Stout was in the crowd Saturday, and he said he would consider transferring to UW-Eau Claire just for The Cabin.

“It’s so cool, I wish we had something like this,” Bauer said. “It’s so quaint and nice that it’s on campus.”

Molly Smith, a freshman at Eau Claire said she also enjoys The Cabin for its live performances and spends her downtime between classes in
the venue.

Smith said she really enjoyed Johnson’s calming, unique voice.

Eau Claire was the last stop on Happy Otherwise’s Midwest tour. Johnson said the three of them drove a minivan from Portland and took turns driving, while jamming out to Ween and 90’s classics on Lynn’s iPod.

She said the gang likes to “get the full experience” of wherever they tour.

Being in Wisconsin meant buying gross amounts of cheese. Johnson and Lynn, despite being lactose intolerant, bought bags of cheese curds, string cheese and some exotic, cajun-spiced-Colby cheese.

“Poor Adam,” she said, joking about the smell inside the van on the road.

There is a story to all of Johnson’s songs, and she tells the audience before she performs them.

Some songs were inspired by past flings and relationships, Ruby, a two-year-old she used to babysit, and many about Nicolei, her boyfriend and inspiration for Happy Otherwise.

Johnson said she writes from experience. She doesn’t keep a diary. The songs she writes are her diary, she said.

Johnson said she’s tried writing songs that aren’t attached to herself, but they all seem foreign when she plays them in the end.

“You can try to get away from yourself,” Johnson said, “but you’re kind of stuck with yourself.”

Happy Otherwise’s music can be downloaded on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify and Youtube, and they also have a Facebook page and band website: www.happyotherwise.com.