Nicholas Johnson was kicked out of Italy on his birthday in early fall of 2016.
For context, the Cincinnati-based singer-songwriter was offered the opportunity to go abroad in 2015. He sold his car, his house, packed his bags and his dogs and headed for Milan. But his time there was nothing short of interesting.
“The first year I was there, I got kicked out on my birthday, seriously,” says Johnson, “It sounds exciting, but it ended up just being a visa mistake, but when I left, I didn’t know if it would be for 30 days or three months.”
During his time back in the states, Johnson turned to something he was always passionate about: his music. Johnson began his musical journey as a drummer in his high school pep band and picked up the guitar soon after he started college. “I liked it a little too much,” says Johnson. “I kind of dipped my toe into actually making it a career and every time I gave it my all, it really paid off.”
Before returning to Italy, he spent his time couch surfing with friends in Louisville and Dayton. “Having all that time I wrote a bunch of songs, and my buddies let me know of Patrick Himes, a producer from Dayton and was the producer of one of my favorite albums,” he says.
So, Himes and Johnson began their partnership together with only four days until Johnson had to return to Italy. “We literally cranked out all of the songs and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life,” says Johnson. “To be around someone that can take these things in my brain and turn them into something real was just incredible to me.” They knocked out five songs and what would become his EP Shady Pines Vol. 1, an homage to the street Johnson grew up on.
Four days later, Johnson returned to Italy, where his writing and musical stature blossomed. He soon met Italian radio-personality Andrea Rock, who used his built-in audience to kickstart Johnson’s career. “He eventually became my partner and took me under his wing,” says Johnson. “He basically introduced me to everything and set up my career.”
Johnson lived in Milan for five years and spent the time traveling back and forth to the U.S to complete a mini-tour with Himes and start the three-and-a-half-year journey of creating Shady Pines Vol. 2, which Johnson is planning to release on March 3.
“I want people to walk away saying, ‘You know what this was super interesting, I want to revisit it’, because every song is going to be a story,” says Johnson. “I hope it’s something where they want to go back and listen to some of the other stuff as well.”
You can listen to Nicholas Johnson on Spotify and Apple Music.