Living in a trailer with a cat called Mouse, John-Allison Weiss’ life sounds like the premise of a heartwarming sitcom on paper.

Now, having spent the last couple of years fixing up their Craigslist purchase, they’re currently staying in a friend’s yard in North Carolina before heading out on tour. Eight years since the release of their last album, 2015’s New Love, it’s been a long time since the world has heard from the musician, and they’ll be the first to say that a lot has changed.

“The break became a lot longer than it meant to, but it was the time I needed to figure out who I was,” Weiss explains. “I was married back then, and I was living a more conventional lifestyle. We had a house and cats in Los Angeles, and we’d built a little home, but along with my gender feelings, I realized that I didn't want that kind of life.”

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Having signed a three-album contract with SideOneDummy Records, commencing with New Love, when the label folded in 2018 — dropping all artists and firing all employees — Weiss was working on its follow-up. So, they lived in LA and followed the journey they believed they were supposed to be on. But as Weiss started making plans for their future as an independent artist, thoughts swirled through their head.

A self-confessed “emo breakup songwriter” with a lot of feelings, Weiss had been creating music as an openly gay artist since 2013’s Say What You Mean, documenting romantic relationships in an alternative way to the hypermasculine, heterosexual perspectives that dominated their scene. In 2018, though, they came out as nonbinary, sparking a new path of self-discovery that would take over the next few years of their life.

“It was all about asking what I really wanted. I spent the first 30 years of my life heavily influenced by the people around me and focused on what my family, my partner and even my record label wanted from me. When lockdown rolled around and people weren't even sure if touring was going to return, I was like, ‘Now I can figure out who I want to be with no strings attached.’”

There’s nothing like a pandemic to make you reevaluate your time on Earth, and having been building a career in music since they were 16, Weiss was tired of revolving their life around securing the “right” tours and being talked about in the “right” spaces. As lockdown restrictions gripped the globe, they decided to cut back and try to live off their music for the first time. Determined not to fall into the trap of being pushed into big city living and working 40-hour weeks to save for down payments on a mortgage, they moved into their Jeep.

Reflecting on their life from the front seat and scribbling down any inspiration that came, after a few months they had compiled a collection of songs destined for their first album in eight years. Launching a fundraiser to cover the costs of production as an independent artist, they soon headed into the studio with friend and producer Brad Hale. Just 12 days later, The Long Way was born, an album that documents a series of changes so monumental that they feel like a rebirth.

“Are we really expected to get married, have a family in our 20s or 30s and then just stay there for the next 40 or 50 years? Why can't you do a new thing every decade?” Weiss questions.

“Living in this scene and staying authentic is a battle, and over the last decade, a lot of my needs got clouded by this industry. You get caught up in it, and it colors the standards you hold yourself to.” When they first began making songs, they were 16 and posting them on YouTube without second-guessing themselves. “That’s when I made some of my favorite art. I wanted to work out how to get back to that shameless teenage feeling with the brain of an adult,” Weiss adds.

Currently transitioning and going through a form of “second puberty,” the 35-year-old has been able to reclaim some of those precious teenage feelings, but as the title of their latest release affirms, it’s taken a long time to get there.

The first album they’ve released since starting vocal lessons, The Long Way sees Weiss picking up all the pieces they’ve lost along the way. From the opening swell of “Dust Storm,” a song written while they were pulled off the highway heading back from tour at the end of 2019, Weiss presents 11 songs connected by a thread of new beginnings.

Each document the process of finding the space and comfort to address your own needs when everything around you feels too loud. They tell the story of upending your life and planting the roots back in healthier soil.

“I feel like the last time I was truly connected to myself was when I was a kid, before the changes of puberty started happening and the expectations rolled in,” Weiss nods.

“I'm always wearing Realtree camouflage now, and it’s trendy these days, but it’s also what I always wore as a kid. The album cover is a photo that my cousin took of me when I was around nine years old and had just gotten this full camouflage outfit. I would go out into our yard in the suburbs and hide in the woods pretending to be a creature. It's been cool to go back to those things as an adult and understand that the boxes society wants you to fit into are relative. Everybody's individual life can look totally different, and that's okay.”

An album of deep personal introspection, that feeling is charted in the teenage nostalgia of “New Day, Old Ghost,” a song about the childlike wonder of discovering music alongside friends. Inspired by one of Weiss’ childhood best friends who recently passed away, it’s a reminder that our time on Earth is fleeting but that wonder can be found in the smallest moments.

Letting people into the deepest crevices of their soul and allowing them to find solace within the stories that exist there, Weiss is culminating a community through authenticity. A reminder that the path to self-discovery is littered with ups and downs, The Long Way proves that no matter how many times you lose yourself along the way — you can always come back.

“It's like something has been unlocked and I feel more of a sense of being settled, which is funny because I'm not physically settled at all,” they explain.

“I was in Michigan all summer chasing the good weather, I've been in North Carolina recently, and when the tour is done, I'm going to bring my trailer back to California. I don't necessarily have a home base, or everything figured out, but in myself and what I want as a human being and as an artist — it feels like I’ve found the path towards it. Now, I just have to keep going forward.”

That forward motion doesn’t involve dropping completely off the grid, however, as Weiss will be the first to admit that they’re part of the “terminally online” generation. Thriving in the positive community found in online spaces, it’s further proof that no aspect of life needs to exist at the end of a spectrum, and for Weiss, finding beauty in nuance has played a key role in their growth.

It's a path that’s been far from linear, but regardless of the twists and turns it now takes, they know they’re headed in the right direction. No longer caught up in other people’s definitions of success, Weiss is simply focused on self-discovery, storytelling and chasing happiness. If anything else comes along? Well, that’s just the cherry on top.

“Before I thought that there was one map to follow, whereas now I realize there are no maps. I can just be me, and that’s the ultimate discovery. Queerness is so wonderful because there's no rules, and there are no maps. That can be the hard part because it's a little more difficult when you have to cut your own way, but it’s all been worth it for me.”