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Justin Nozuka Interview

Interview with Justin Nozuka – New EP Then, Now & Again

I remember having Justin Nozuka’s song “After Tonight” on repeat in 2007. Such a catchy song that sticks in your brain. But, as you will see below, Justin has released a ton of music in the years since – as well as took a break to figure out where he wanted to go next with music. The good news is he has a new EP called Now, Then & Again which gets back to his roots. I was able to get on a Zoom call with him last week to talk about all of that.

Justin Nozuka Interview - Now, Then & Again


Justin Nozuka Interview


Aimee:
I love your music and your voice, so thanks for taking the time. But for people who don’t know you, tell us a little bit about your history and your trajectory in the music business.

Justin:
Sure. Yeah. I pretty much properly put out music professionally in 2007 and I had made an album while in high school and put out this record called Holly, and it kept me pretty busy for about three years or so, just touring and promoting it.

Aimee:
That album was named after your mom, right?

Justin:
That’s right. Yep. Named after my mom, and it was just my first… all my energy put into this album produced by a good friend of mine named Bill Bell. That album came out in 2007 and kept me pretty busy, and I formed a band during that time and just, one of the main things was touring, touring, touring, just trying to be on the road all the time. So, that kind of brought me up till 2010 when I recorded the second album, and it was more of a “bandy” kind of album, and that kept me busy for a few years as well. Then I sort of reached the point in 2012 where I felt completely burnt out. I’d started at such a young age and felt like I didn’t really have a foundation under my feet, so I had this instinctual desire to just press stop on the whole thing and settle down in the city. And it was a very uncomfortable time, very tumultuous and just confusing. But-

Aimee:
I think really natural, though, again for everybody, in phases of your life.

Justin:
Yeah, I agree 100%. You got to take the time, right? So, it was kind of this thing where I wasn’t sure what was happening but I was just, I knew that I had to step away. And so I stepped away for a good five years, and throughout the entire time I was super experimental with my music and sort of went on this journey, experimental creative journey, to create a sound that felt really less commercial, less about commercial gain and career projections and all that stuff. And more about just being true to the art and creating something that at the end of the day I could be really proud of, which is always the intention with the music. But I think it’s very common, for me anyhow, to be influenced by business stuff, and how this-

Aimee:
It’s hard to mix business and art.

Justin:
It’s a really challenging sort of thing and you kind of, you see there’s this relationship between certain sounds and a certain type of music that might gain more traction versus another. And that’s something that I’ve struggled with, and so this album was really not about any of that. I was really trying to stay true to fully just committing to a sound that was very patient and experimental, and so that was that album. And then that came out in 2015 and then I was sort of… things had quieted down, I hadn’t been on tour for so long and I got the bug, and I started the energy, started picking up in me again where I just wanted to pick up the pace and be on the road more. So, I made another record that was, I hired a producer. The other thing, too, is that experimental album I pretty much self produced it with some close friends, but it was all home done and that was also just a crazy experience.

Aimee:
That’s big learning experience, too.

Justin:
Huge learning curve. Yeah, exactly. And so I hired a producer that I really looked up to and loved his work out of England for the next project, and I sort of dove into more of a folk realm and was listening to a lot of folk music at the time. And so I journeyed on to England and worked with this producer for a few months, and we got this sort of drive-y, lively record that I felt was more in line with a live show that would kind of bring up that excitement that I was yearning for. And so, that came out in 2018 and kept me pretty busy on the road for a couple years.

Then I came back home and started diving into this new project. I was writing songs on the acoustic for a long time, and for this project I switched over to writing on the Rhodes, which is right here on this little keyboard, and playing with a drum machine and just sort of naturally playing chords and singing melodies that were more in line with my roots, my listening roots, when I was a kid; the kind of music that I learned how to sing to, which is stuff like Boyz II Men and Brian McKnight and things that were a little bit more-

Aimee:
I was going to say, totally hear that in the new stuff. Yeah.

Justin:
Yeah. Yeah. I definitely kind of rekindled my relationship with my roots and it’s felt very natural and comfortable, and that takes us to today. That’s my career in a nutshell.

Aimee:
There you go! So. How has the last year been for you?

Justin:
Yeah. I think it’s been okay. It’s been fine. Obviously, I’m dealing with the energetic shift and the restrictions of just staying at home, that kind of… the social shift. So, there’s definitely a mental, emotional, energetic type of experience that I’ve been having, which I would say isn’t super pleasant. It’s not like… I’m not really… I think I’m done with it. And I think over the year I felt my energy kind of go down a bit, just because there’s an eeriness in the air, you know?

Aimee:
Yeah, I feel like three months was nice to kind of reset and now I’m like DONE.

Justin:
Exactly. There was kind of this feeling of, “Oh, everybody’s kind of taking a break right now? Well, okay. Great.” Yeah. But as it relates to the music, I was already deep in a creative sort of process of trying to get records and songs together. So, the stay at home orders and all that, it was okay. I didn’t have to skip the beat or anything, you know what I mean?

Aimee:
Well, and I saw that you have a great collaboration with Mahalia? How did that come about, and how’d you guys click? It’s lovely.

Justin:
Thank you so much. Yeah. We connected via Twitter a few years ago.

Aimee:
That’s great! I love Twitter, actually.

Justin:
Oh, nice. That’s your choice of social media?

Aimee:
More for just being obnoxious and being drunk at concerts, yes. Anyway, sorry. Go ahead.

Justin:
[laughs] So Mahalia, we connected on Twitter and that was a few years ago. She said something really nice about my music, and I said, “Oh, hey, love your music as well, and we should link up and make music sometime.” And then a few years down the road, I had finished this record with a friend of mine and we reached out to Mahalia and it just all came together very smoothly.

Aimee:
Oh, great. Your voices are just lovely together. And are you looking for more collaborations or was that just kind of a…?

Justin:
It was kind of right for the song and for the time, but I’m always down to collaborate. Always down with like-minded artists and artists that I’m inspired by, so I’m sure there’ll be more to come.

Aimee:
Sure. And are you planning to tour anytime soon, speaking of, or?

Justin:
I mean, we’re kind of setting up for touring in terms of rehearsing with the band. We have some streaming things going on, but that’s kind of where we’re at right now. The whole live thing is like, well, let’s see what happens.

Aimee:
You did a lot of touring before –  do you have any favorite memories or anything that, in terms of tours or places, that you really had a great time or special memory?

Justin:
Yeah. There’s been definitely some highlight moments, and I think some of the memories that stick out for me are… There’s been some really, really cool experience that I’ve had in Switzerland, which Switzerland’s just great. And of course, because you go there and the mountains are just amazing, and… I have a memory of being in Arizona, in the desert, and just stopping over and watching the moon kind of set. The type of things where you just kind of feel like, wow, I’m in the middle of the desert, or I’m in the Alps right now, and it’s just wild to be in these places playing music. So, those kinds of things stick out for me, I guess.

There’s this festival called the Montreux Jazz Festival, which is in Switzerland. I love that festival. I have this memory in 2010 or ’11, I think, and we just playing outdoors and it was just like, there’s nothing better than having a lot of people watching your set and kind of gathering for it, and connecting with them and just feeling like there’s this immense energy that starts to build. And so yeah; those moments are the ones I really miss. I just cherish those memories.

Aimee:
Sure. I was joking on Twitter yesterday that, “I don’t care if I have to have a booster every year forever if I can get back to being at festivals.” You know what I mean? In terms of the vaccine. That’s what I miss, that feeling of being comfortable in a crowd. You know?

Justin:
Yeah, being around people and just getting into the music.

Aimee:
Yeah, exactly. So, do you have any hobbies outside of music, or did you discover any kind of quarantine things to do?

Justin:
To be honest, not so much. I love biking, so I do like going on long bike rides, and I love jogging. That’s been a really good sort of escape, is to just get out there and run. Other than that, I used to play hockey and that’s been canceled because of the COVID stuff. But yeah; unfortunately I haven’t taken up reading or I haven’t done those things that… like gardening or cooking. Those types of things that… It seems like it’d be nice to delve into those health, or those self-care type rituals during this time…

Aimee:
The concept of time has just melted away. I’ve watched a lot of Netflix.

Justin:
Actually, I just got an Oculus! Like the VR thing? And it’s been crazy. I play mini golf with my friends on there, and it’s mind blowing.

Aimee:
We started playing games over Zoom, like Jackbox games and stuff like that. And I do actually hope that that’s something that’s going to stay, because it doesn’t matter where you are. We don’t have to be physically in the same place, so that’s kind of a cool thing to come out of 2020.

Justin:
Right. Games are the best. Playing and laughing with friends… It’s such a good feeling.

Aimee:
So, do you have any causes or things that you’ve been supporting over the years that are kind of near and dear to your heart?

Justin:
Yeah, I haven’t really tied myself to any organizations recently, but I have been definitely thinking about… There’s a movement out of Canada. It’s basically an indigenous Canadian movement, and there’s just so much injustice in Canada and North America and in the world, as it relates to the First People of a particular country. And in Canada, the situation is dire and pretty outrageous. So, that’s been something that I’ve been definitely thinking about seeing how I can give back or help out in any way. Well, one other thing, too, that is hard – the information changes next week and you’re following this organization that’s actually under the umbrella of some corrupt organization. It’s very difficult to know where to step and how to move forward, but-

Aimee:
Right. It’s so hard. And I didn’t mean that as a trap question, by the way, I just meant for you to be able to talk about something you care about.

Justin:
Oh, I appreciate that. Yeah. No, that’s great.

Aimee:
Well, okay. So just one more question. Do you have any advice for new and up and coming artists? I know you’re still young, but you do have a long history in the industry.

Justin:
Yeah. I think it’s all pretty, what’s the word? Cliché type advice. But I think one of the things that I’ve learned is, if you’re a musician it’s always helpful to play an instrument to help you write songs, if you’re trying to be a songwriter. The other thing is, it’s very helpful to dabble in production. Just get your hands kind of in the process of what it means to finish a record, because things become less abstract and more kind of… I don’t know, it’s like, you want this sound, you want this feeling, you can explain it a bit better once you actually go through that process.

And then the last thing is patience. Take your time with the art. Allow it to happen naturally. Some of the greatest records take years to finish, and sometimes they happen quick. But also allow them to happen, because there is something to be said about surrendering to the process and letting things come out naturally. I’m a firm believer that nature has its way. A lot of times I think humans, we get in the way of nature. I think with the artistic process, a lot of it is just showing up to the work, but also allowing space and time in nature to kind of allow things to happen.


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