The Inspirations and Stories Behind Kacey Johansing’s Year Away

The California singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist's 5th LP is out now via Night Bloom Records.

Music Features Kacey Johansing
The Inspirations and Stories Behind Kacey Johansing’s Year Away

Kacey Johansing’s fifth album is a thing to behold. Year Away came into my orbit earlier this summer, and it’s been in constant rotation. The songs are generous and familiar, as Johansing works through auspicious blends of Laurel Canyon folk rock and brisk, emblematic singer/songwriter. The rewards are exponential, as songs like “Not the Same,” “Old Friend,” “Last Drop” and “Daffodils” will worm their way into your soul and never leave. Johansing has made flying under the radar her hallmark, after years spent working closely with folks like Fruit Bats and Hand Habits. Her solo endeavors, especially records like 2017’s The Hiding and 2020’s No Better Time were lush and comforting; Year Away is her breakout into new and daring oases.

I hope that you’ll consider spending some time with Year Away and Kacey Johansing’s catalog altogether. As soon as I heard her newest work, I wanted to get her on the site somehow. It was inevitable, as Year Away will likely wind up on my Album of the Year list somewhere, somehow. I’m so glad Johansing gave some of her time to Paste, as she breaks down every track from Year Away. Tune in, read up and bliss out.

“Year Away”

This song describes the events and feelings that were experienced in 2020. I wanted to keep the progression simple and repetitive so that musically we could add new elements little by little and so that lyrically the emotional tone would become more strained and expressive building and building until its release. “I held on to you” drops the listeners down into a cathartic state, one that feels less desperate and more content, less alone and more in good company as layers of solo’s weave in and out of one another.

“Not The Same”

This song is about reminding old friends that you are not the same person as you were 10 years ago, five years ago etc. Sometimes old friends can hold you to old versions of yourself and not realize how much you’ve evolved and grown as a person. It’s also about people’s tendency towards taking what someone else is experiencing and making it about themselves. We can’t always relate and sometimes the best we can do is listen and witness a friend and allow them to be seen.There is also an element of letting friendships go and accepting the space that seems to only grow.

“Old Friend”

Following “Not The Same” on the record, this song dives deeper into the theme of letting toxic relationships and old friends go. This song is not only about letting a friendship go, it is also about letting an old version of yourself go. I became obsessed with Monarch butterflies while writing this record and watched many of them transform into a chrysalis and then hatch out of their cocoon. I feel that I went through my own metamorphosis during the lockdown and this song honors that transformation.

“Last Drop”

“Last Drop” is a song about longing for a love that you idealize but perhaps already have. Feeling restless in your patterns and limiting beliefs that hold you back.


A week before lockdown in 2020 a dear friend of mine passed away. She was a beloved member of my community, a true hippie who shared stories of dancing with Neil Young, sang in the local bands and created beautiful art until her final days. As she prepared for her passing, she invited friends into her home to say goodbye. She welcomed death with grace, curiosity and even with a sense of humor. I feel very fortunate that I was able to sit with her during that time.

Daffodils were blooming all around her home and a bouquet of flowers was placed on her kitchen table. The day before she passed, I sat down and wrote “Daffodils” in one sitting. I was able to send it to her and had a friend play it for her at her bedside. The song was my parting gift to her, and in return the song gifted me with a new understanding of grief, community and the importance of living life to its fullest and with the fullest of hearts. Daffodils are one of the first flowers to bloom as the earth begins to thaw, coming even before spring and often emerging from the snow. The vibrant yellow is a sign that a seasonal shift is on the horizon, a gesture of hope and light, even in the darkest of times.

“Endless Sound”

I was worried about putting it at the end of the record as I know listeners sometimes don’t even make it that far. This song is one of my favorites on the album and is lyrically one of the most important to me addressing the destruction of the natural world. I wanted the song to develop slowly and expand into a rich sonic landscape and am really proud of the arrangement. I’m deeply honored that my dear friends Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Aubrey Trinnamen sang with me on it, our voices are intentionally mixed to sound like one woman’s voice.

“Valley Green”

“Valley Green” features shimmering layers of 12-string guitars, stacked horns and an impeccable solo by co-producer and multi-instrumentalist Tim Ramsey (Vetiver, Fruit Bats), hinting at a love for bands like NRBQ.

“Smile With My Eyes”

The epic piano and saxophone-driven “Smile with My Eyes” addresses the loss of community as friends became distant and political divides between family grew.

“Watch It Like A Show”

This song brings attention to how numb we’ve become to seeing the destruction of our planet on the news and on social media, What felt so abnormal not so long ago now seems totally ordinary. “We burn down everything we know, ignore the fires and the floods and the overgrowth. Then sit around and watch it like a show”. This song features a solo by dear friend and collaborator Meg Duffy of Hand Habits.

“Shifting Sands”

Facing the loss of a family home due to environmental destruction, “Shifting Sands” is marked by soaring flutes, field recordings and glassy synthesizers that nod to Japanese New Age.

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