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John Lensing: “You can be ambitious and patient at the same time”

I think one of the easiest things we can change right now is homelessness. In so many countries we could end chronic homelessness, we just have to get over ourselves. It’s cheaper to provide housing for everyone who’s chronically homeless than all the money we spend on hospital bills, policing unhoused people, ect. Not to […]

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I think one of the easiest things we can change right now is homelessness. In so many countries we could end chronic homelessness, we just have to get over ourselves. It’s cheaper to provide housing for everyone who’s chronically homeless than all the money we spend on hospital bills, policing unhoused people, ect. Not to mention it’s way more human to actually help them out. Finland has already proven this, and so have many small programs in the United States. All we need is more people to be aware of and advocate for these proven solutions.


As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing John Lensing.

John Lensing writes songs for the same reason he street performs, to make people care. About themselves, about others, and things that sometimes hurt to care about. The Denver based songwriter stumbled upon street performing years ago. Backpacking Europe, Lensing found people introducing themselves and opening up to him. All he had to do was play his guitar and sing. He began to learn how contagious vulnerability can be. Since then, John has toured and street performed across the US and Canada, and been called “an artist to watch” by Folk Magazine No Depression.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up at the edge of the suburb line in Minnesota. Right outside Minneapolis. I’d listen to old country music in the car with my parents and listen to hip hop in my room when I got home. It was a nice childhood. It came with struggle, but plenty of room to grow.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I always knew I wanted to do something to meet people and connect with them. Originally, this led me to studying to become an English teacher. During my first semester it seemed the more busy I became with school, the more I worked on my music. I decided to take a step back for a while and figure out where to go from there. I started street performing a bit after getting to Denver. I was meeting strangers most nights and sharing stories and music with them. At this point, I can’t really imagine a better way to spend my life.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

One of my favorite stories is just getting to travel around the west coast when I was first starting out. I’d sleep in my car, street perform during the day, and drive to a new city once I felt the urge to. I’m really grateful to have spent so many months traveling and meeting people.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The first cd’s I made had 2 songs that didn’t even play. It took me weeks of selling them to realize that the files on them were corrupted. I was so embarrassed to realize I had been giving people albums that only partially worked. It felt so bad. I was 18 at the time, but glad I learned that lesson early. It really drilled the idea into me that it’s better to do something slow if it means doing it right. It takes time to make anything you’re proud of.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

The thing I’m most excited about right now is creating my record label. The goal is to have it be a democratic collective. Artists run it, release their music on it, and eventually, we’ll have a big pool of money that we use to help fund everyone’s art. Everyone votes on decisions. I think artists are encouraged to compete with each other so much, and I’m really excited to try to build something that does the opposite. The better we all do, the easier it is for everyone to create art, and pay rent.

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

I think the biggest reason is just for the sake of representing America properly. Film and television doesn’t actually represent the people that it’s created for. That’s a huge problem for letting Americans see themselves in stories. Besides that; diversity can often be an empty word. Diversity is important because it shows both representation and access. If film and television becomes more diverse but certain groups still have way less access to wealth and other privileges; very little progress has been actually made. Not everyone has the wealth or privilege to be able to pursue working in film and television in the first place. Until we have policies in place that increase social mobility, diversity in entertainment will only affect the few, not the many. If entertainment affects our culture, culture also affects entertainment. We need to change both if we actually want to change the world.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1.) You can be ambitious and patient at the same time. I learned this one after years spent trying to bounce between the two.

2.) What you want in life doesn’t have to be the same as what everyone else wants. I learned this one from a lot of my favorite musicians. All of them have built such different lives as they learn what works for them.

3.) Be yourself. This one is of course, very used, but helpful. It’s really not worth building a career in art doing something that isn’t you.

4.) Everyone has something to teach you. Even if it’s about what you don’t want to do. Even if it’s just one small thing they do well that you’ve never seen before. It always helps to always feel curious and empathetic towards others. They are teaching you about a different side of the human experience.

5.) Learn to do most things yourself. You can eventually find people to help you, but you won’t know what you need help with unless you’ve spent a while doing that job yourself. You need to know enough about the music business to know what people are doing a good job.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Take everything one day at a time. Remember to take days off. When your job becomes your life it’s easy to confuse working and living. They aren’t always the same thing

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I think one of the easiest things we can change right now is homelessness. In so many countries we could end chronic homelessness, we just have to get over ourselves. It’s cheaper to provide housing for everyone who’s chronically homeless than all the money we spend on hospital bills, policing unhoused people, ect. Not to mention it’s way more human to actually help them out. Finland has already proven this, and so have many small programs in the United States. All we need is more people to be aware of and advocate for these proven solutions.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I think the beautiful thing is how accessible other people are with the internet. When I was younger I used to read a lot of blog posts and early interviews with musicians I admired. Dan Mangan was a songwriter I really looked up to (and still do). He had enough young artists ask him for advice that he made a blog post about it. It was so helpful for me at the time to have him explain what worked for him, and be honest about the early stage of his career.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“You don’t need to be loud to be confident”. I’ve always been on the quieter side. For a while I thought that meant I was unconfident. It took a good amount of time for me to realize, that simply means I don’t always feel the need to speak. That can be its own kind of confidence.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Probably Watsky! I’d love to meet him in person.

How can our readers follow you online?

Instagram:

https://www.instagram.com/johnlensingmusic/

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/artist/7Lv3WBg7xcO0Nj30BInwsY?si=YiIQfgVVRVOiJm2Kk1mU0w

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

Thank you! It was lovely to get to share some stories with you!

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