Photo by Corbin Smith/Torontoist.
Alana Johnston is an improviser, sketch comic, and now: “comic singer.” Recently nominated for a Canadian Comedy Award for her sketch work on YTV’s That’s So Weird!, and seen frequently on stage in Toronto (in shows like Ghost Jail Theatre, Catch 23 Improv, and Henri Fabergé’s Feint of Hart residency series), Johnston has recorded an album of brief pop hits—some just a few seconds long—combining her love of absurd one-liners and oversized diva stage presence.
During her brief return to Toronto, we caught up with the Orangeville native to talk about her upcoming Self Esteem Party show on Saturday at Bread and Circus.
Torontoist: So you just got back from LA. Any highlights?
Alana Johnston: Oh my gosh—celebs, celebs, celebs! Let me tell ya, the STARS are everywhere down there! But really, the highlight was the weather. No, I’m back with my US comedy partner, Emily Candini, who’s played here in Toronto a bunch of times; she’s living there, we’ll be living and working together, it’ll be a lot of fun.
I like the challenge of a new city. I like being a plankton in a giant ocean of people trying to make it; you can smell the desperation in the air in LA. [Laughs] But you can also see the potential, in terms of people getting actual jobs. There’s lots going on down there, and for me, it’s new, and different, and why not, man?
So, in the week and a half that you’re back, you’re doing Self Esteem Party, one night only.
Yeah, I’m here writing for That’s So Weird, working on some stuff for Season 3. And while I’m here, I’m gonna do a show Saturday at Bread and Circus. I’m a one night only kinda girl: you got one chance to prove your love to me, and that’s it. No second chances.
Kidding! Ten, twelve, however many chances you got…
It’s going to be a comedy music show, so I’m opening for myself, doing comedy, doing a couple of characters. Not Harriet Winslow, this time, but a couple of new ones. Also, a lot of texts and emails from my mom.
And then, in the second half, we’ll be premiering the full album of Self Esteem Party, with back-up dancers. There’s no backing band, because the music was all pre-recorded for the album with different artists; three of them, mostly, with a couple others pitching in.
Who did you collaborate with for the album?
I started with Randall Savoy, from Boytech, and then Henry Fletcher, or Henri Fabergé—I’m supposed to bill him as Fletcher for the recording work. And then I’ve also worked with Drew Smith, or Dr. Ew, and Ian Docherty, from D’Main Friends, our production company.
It’s great, because everyone has a really different sound. The way we work it is, I’ll record a song a cappella—I’ve even done some over the phone, or via Facebook messages—for the musicians. And then they’ll make the music, play it for me, and I’ll do vocals over top of it.
So where did this start, this thirty second pop star business?
It started with me wanting to be a pop star, but only wanting to sing the good parts of songs—just the hooks, just the chorus. I don’t have the attention span for a four minute song. So that’s usually thirty seconds to a minute. I’ll save everyone some time, I’ll get a lot more done.
Some songs are about full mental breakdown, some are about weight loss and gain; it’s a life story in about fifteen minutes of music. A short life story.
Did any of this come out of the improv workshops you were doing with Kayla Lorette, your co-star on That’s So Weird?
Yeah—well, first off, Kayla’s in a bunch of the songs, and co-wrote them with me. Working with Kayla, and doing our “fake acting class” and improv sessions with Henry and Juliann [Wilding], and Drew Smith and Inessa Frantowski, has definitely factored into the project.
That’s how I ended up recording with Henry. Just hearing his stuff, I knew I wanted to record with him, obviously. But you have to know me really well to collaborate on these songs, so all that time spent together really helped. We might be in a comedy venue, it might be funny lyrics, but it’s all real, and it’s all true. I just have a different way of showing it than your average singer.
Alana Johnston’s Self Esteem Party plays Saturday January 29 at Bread and Circus (299 Augusta Avenue), 10 p.m., $5.
Photos by Corbin Smith/Torontoist.