Interview: Johnny Orlando on his story so far

He has almost 5 million YouTube subscribers; over 6 million Instagram followers, over 10 million TikTok followers, multiple JUNO nominations for Breakthrough Artist of the Year and Pop Album and has been awarded the MTV Europe Music Award for Best Canadian Act for four consecutive years. In 2022, he released his debut album all the things that could go wrong, which has a whopping 150 million global streams, but to say LA-based Canadian pop artist Johnny Orlando is only a commercial success would be underestimating him. 

What started out as a bit of fun amongst siblings blossomed into a music career that seems to sound like a Justin Bieber, Alessia Cara, Shawn Mendes, or Charlie Puth journey. He recently released the third and final part of his multi-instalment project, The Ride: Part 3. A project about heartbreak and a first love lost, Johnny is raw and honest as he works through it. 

Beats Per Minute caught up over Zoom with Johnny from his family home in Toronto, Canada to learn that at the end of the day, he is simply someone who has fallen in love with being an artist and who genuinely wants to connect with his fans. While it can be assumed that fame would have gone to his head, quite the opposite, he is authentic, humble, and unfeigned and his family is right there to make sure he reads the fine print (even when signing autographs). 

How did it all begin? 

It was completely innocent. I was 8 and my sister was 13 and for the longest time we were just having fun. Then people were watching and after a couple of videos they started to get some views. But it was just my sister who was like, “oh, people want more.” So, sure, why not? Then I was about 11 or 12 when I was like, okay, I think we should level up here. Which is funny to think about now. I mean, we were just doing covers on YouTube, doing what was popular, and having a good time. We spent many hours getting those vocals just right. We thought it was fun.

My sister loved to do music videos. I remember we bought a green screen with our YouTube money and she went crazy over it. We made this video to “Backpack” by Justin Bieber. We used the green screen and I was floating through space and we had one of my friends help and she was an alien. It was funny. I eventually fell in love with being an artist and making decisions and trying to do things that people haven’t seen before. I just like influencing. I like how music makes people feel and I know it sounds vague, but you can write a happy song and make people happy or write a sad song and it’ll make people introspective. I love it.

When did you start to write your own songs? 

I wasn’t really writing until I was 15 or so but I would write little songs in my room. I wrote my first song around 6 or 7. It was about full service gas stations. I felt that in the winter, I am from Canada and it’s so cold. I felt bad for the guys that had to do it. I would look at them when they were in the little hut and here I am in a warm car. I felt bad. So that’s what that first song was about. But I started writing seriously when I was 15 and trying to get better and practicing and stuff like that.

What was your writing process and has it changed? 

I usually started on a guitar. I still do. I couldn’t really play instruments until like, pretty recently. I just wasn’t good enough, I’ve always known the chords and stuff, but I was never good enough to come up with a chord progression until relatively recently. But that’s the easiest way I found to play a chord. I think chords are what evokes that emotion for me at least. I feel like part of being a part of being a writer is tapping into hurt when you need to. I just needed to do it once and hopefully I won’t be heartbroken again (that would be nice) but, you know, I’ve done it once but if I need it, like I tapped into it last night. I also just make shit up sometimes because that’s fun as well. Getting yourself into a place or whatever story you’re trying to tell is a part of it. All the best writers are very “feeling people.” I try to do that as much as I can. 

What are your musical influences? 

I just kind of like what I like. It changes all the time. Most of my musical education is from my dad. My dad is a lawyer, but he has always loved music, though not particularly talented (in his own words) but he’s always just been a music lover. So he introduced me to my first musical awakening that I ever had – which I guess to this day I really love these kinds of things – but it was “Last Kiss” by Pearl Jam. I listened to the lyrics and was like, “oh, my God, this is a car crash and he lost the love of his life.” This is the saddest thing I’ve ever heard and it made me feel a way that I hadn’t ever felt before. “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” is another one of my favorite songs that my dad used to play all the time. I mean, I write a lot of guitar music, and I write a lot of stories. So I think honestly, those formative years where I was just hearing all the old stuff, all the legendary stuff was, was big for me.

Obviously, your life has changed quite a bit from when you were in your teens and now you are doing a lot of touring, which I understand you love. Tell me a bit about that. 

I love touring. It’s the best. People always ask me my favorite part of touring and just doing it is such a privilege. I like meeting people and going to places and performing. You know actually being up on stage is the highlight of my year, every year.

Any funny stories from the road? 

Yeah, most of them I can’t tell. Once, somebody brought me wedding papers at a meet and greet. I was like: “I can’t sign that. If my lawyer-father knew that I signed these papers…” 

Any negatives with touring? 

It’s a grind. For sure. Especially at the level that I’m touring, and doing club shows. I think the biggest venue in the last run was 1300 or so guests. But you know, I don’t have a personal chef so I eat a lot of Egg McMuffins and a lot of bagels. We have bagels in the greenroom every day, which is pretty clutch. I am a creature of habit. I don’t like breaking habits so if I find something I like, for example Chipotle, I’ll go there every day. I had it today, I had it yesterday. I will probably have it tomorrow. I do branch out especially on tour and I do eat anything that’s in front of me, but I appreciate good food. We were just in Asia, which was really cool and I had the best sushi of my life. 

But it can be hard to take care of yourself, especially on a bus. Like, you can’t really shower on the bus: you have to shower at the venue because you are all gross from the day before. So yeah, it’s a grind. My mom hates the bus though and refuses to sleep on the bus. My mom and dad love touring. 

Is your family still involved? 

It is very much a family affair. My middle sister, Darian, who I started all of this with works with me every time that I’m writing and manages me as well: she’s a beast. My oldest sister has a clothing company and she does fulfillment for a merch and runs the whole merch store. My dad obviously looks at contracts. That’s very helpful. My mom does the financial stuff. It’s all a family.

You were on the children’s show Super Why

Yes, I was Whyatt Beanstalk in season 3. I was like 12. It was every Wednesday for three or four months. It was crazy, it was cool. I learned a lot, I am really good at the alphabet and my times-tables.

Do you think you will do more acting?

I actually have a script that I need to read later today. I mean music is and always will be my number one but acting is fun as well. It’s cool to do different things. You learn a lot. I started acting before starting music when I was 8 but it kind of became clear to all of us that nothing was really going to happen in music until I was like 14 or 15. Just that I was too young to do anything in music, but kids need to be in TV shows and stuff. I was a very, very shy kid and I still am kind of but I can kind of know how to turn it off now which is something that I learned from from the acting experience. 

How was the transition moving to Los Angeles from Toronto? 

It’s very, very different. Culturally, the people are very different. So it’s an adjustment for sure. I’ve now been going back and forth for the better part of my life actually since I was 13. I graduated and didn’t go to university and moved to LA to live the dream you know. I have some good friends out there now, which was the hardest thing. Canadians are a very, very specific breed. It’s just different. I don’t know, my friends and I are morons. Maybe I’m just a picky guy but I found a group that I love. Toronto is my first love for sure but I have to live in LA because that is where all of the work is. I don’t mind LA, the weather’s great. It is frigid in Toronto right now. It’s beautiful in LA, the mountains are very cool.

How about collaborating? Who would you want to work with? 

Sabrina Carpenter. She was on the Taylor Swift tour, I always see videos of her performing. I would like to work with Ryan Tedder. But honestly, I’ll work with anybody who loves it. I’ve worked with some names but I have just as much fun working by myself or even maybe more, because I’m not stressed out. 

What are you working on now?

I never really stop writing, especially this time of the year. It is the end of the album cycle, everything in the music industry slows down. So it’s time to sit back and reflect and also conceptualize for the next year and figure out exactly what I want to do before people start asking me because January 15, rolls around and labels are like “alright, what are you doing?” So I’m figuring it all out right now. I always have a little setup with me. I have my mic and headphones right here. I always think I will write on tour but never end up doing anything. I am too busy. I think I’ll have a couple of hours on the bus but then you get on the bus after a 16 hour day, you haven’t sat down for 10 hours and you’re like, “alright, I just wanted to watch some mindless TV show.” But I just want to get better and try to push myself especially with producing. I went through a breakup this year and it was tragic but I learned how to produce and I have much more time on my hands this year. I like to make little worlds, sonically.  

Johnny Orlando’s The Ride: Part 3 is out now via Universal Music Canada.

You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and Instagram.