Watch CBSN Live

Jillette Johnson gets fearless and honest on debut

When Jillette Johnson sings, you can't help but to stand up and listen.

The 24-year-old singer-songwriter has a voice that fills the room, a talent she's apparently had since growing up in Pound Ridge, N.Y.

"My mom had this rule for my brother and I that we would each take five years of piano lessons...I was 5 or 6 and I wanted to everything my brother did so I was like, 'I'm doing it too.' I was very insistent that I take piano lessons and right thereafter I wanted a vocal coach because singing was the thing that I really wanted to do. Music then became my whole world," Johnson told before a recent show at New York's City Winery.

By seven years old she had enough courage to sing in front of people (other than her parents) and by the time she turned 8, Johnson started writing songs. "I was a very loud child," she said laughing. She grew up listening to Carole King and Bruce Springsteen, later getting into Radiohead and Beastie Boys -- all of which set the stage for what was to come.

Johnson's first "real show" -- with her own material -- took place in Manhattan when she was just 12 years old. When she turned 18, Johnson moved to New York City and started playing clubs ranging from The Bitter End to Rockwood Music Hall.

After putting out a five-song EP in 2012, Wind-Up Records singed the budding singer-songwriter. "I had tons and tons of songs, and these were only songs I had written within the year. They were not the songs I had written when I was younger because I get over songs really quickly," she said.

But one song stuck: "Cameron." Johnson said the track -- about a transgendered person -- opened a lot of doors, leading her to release her full-length debut, 2013's "Water in a Whale," which was culled from six months worth of recording sessions.

If you catch Johnson on tour, you can expect to hear a lot of the tracks from that album, but lately, Johnson -- who says she's "addicted to writing" -- has been including unreleased songs that she's written on the road.

"Depending on how long my set is, I'll work in a few new ones. I really like to test the waters and see how people react, see how I feel in the song, see how the song evolves," said Johnson.

It will likely be a while until any of those songs actually get recorded, but until then Johnson will be using that voice of hers to spread music to fans.

"I'm a singer-songwriter at the heart of it...I sing with all my heart. I put everything on the table. I write lyrics that are very fearless and can cut. I like to be very blunt and I love a beautiful melody," she said.