Music, // November 4, 2016
Justin Johnson — MUSICIAN
Arts Illustrated’s interview with Musician Justin Johnson —
1. Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Justin Johnson and I am a multi-instrumentalist, with my passions centering around performing and recording Roots Music. I love to chase musical genres back to their roots to tell a new story with my music, using the traditional voices of the past.
2. Why music?
Music has alway been the most effective form of communication for me. It’s often much easier for me to convey my thoughts and emotions through the strings of a guitar than through spoken or written word. While sometimes it can be difficult for me to freely converse with a person, once I pick up an instrument, the musical conversation is always a smooth and rewarding one.
3. What is your earliest memory of wanting to be involved in music?
I remember losing myself in music as a young child. At night, before I fell asleep, I would put headphones on, close my eyes, and listen to music. It felt like a sensory deprivation chamber, where I would eventually forget where I was, and I’d be transported into the music. I guess that’s the first time I began to really crave the ability to make music in that way, where it’s surrounding you, and freely coming out of your hands and your instrument. Once I got my first guitar, I would fall asleep playing that, chasing that dream until I could finally get feel that feeling I dreamt of.
4. What are your favorite subject(s) and style(s)?
I’ve always listened to music with very little attention to genres. That being said, I especially love Roots Music and Americana, because those are two genres that are very open to originality. Roots music is pure in the sense that if it is the earlier example of a musical form, then it is like an unspoiled spring of original musical energy, from which the deepest and purest inspiration can be pulled. Americana is great because it embraces the concept of merging multiple musical styles together, to produce a melting pot of musical cultures, textures, tones, and rhythms. My last album “If Walls Could Talk” is my most recent artistic statement of how these genres, Roots and Americana, can be woven into new and exciting tapestries of sound.
5. How do you work and approach a new piece that you are working on?
I feel deeply that music comes from somewhere deeper in this universe, and that the art is not in “making it up,” but in channeling that magical moment of inspiration into the most honest expression possible. I usually start with that original spark of inspiration… which is a bit of a mystery in and of itself, as it can come from anywhere at anytime. I try to record those impressions as soon as possible after inspiration strikes, before any of the vibe gets lost. Once it’s recorded, I will listen back, explore the emotional message of the piece, and flesh the fragments out until they become a complete musical statement.
6. What are your favorite musician(s), singer(s)?
I love any music that feels honest. It’s just like having a conversation with another person, if you feel like they are being dishonest, then the conversation falls flat, and you begin looking for a way out of it. To me, music is the same way. Those moments on stage and in the studio where all of the walls crumble down, and the notes are freely coming unfiltered from your soul… those are the honest moments that move the listener the most. Some of the musicians that make me feel that honesty are Doc Watson, Jimi Hendrix, Django Reinhardt, Tom Waits, Cab Calloway, John Lee Hooker, Lightning Hopkins… just to name a few.
7. What are the best responses you have had to your work?
I have always been inspired by the work of Ken Burns. His documentaries are some of the most important, influential, and air-tight productions in the history of film making, and he is a master at employing music as a vital part of the storytelling process. I’ve always wanted be a part of one of his films, and last year I was contacted by Florentine Films to license my original song, “Midnight at the Crossroads,” for the Ken Burns documentary “Jackie Robinson.” It was a great honor to have my music set as the musical backdrop for the pivotal court marshal scene in the documentary.
8. What do you like about your work?
I love the adventure of creating something new. I’m most satisfied when I create music that has never been heard before. There is so much music in the world, and it can sometimes seem like “everything’s been done before,” but with any style of art, each artist has their own fingerprint, and voice, and when I can make my individual statement felt, it’s always incredibly rewarding.
9. What advice would you give to other musicians?
Don’t copy. It’s vital that you learn the styles, techniques, and artistic nuances of your role models, but you should never be bound staying within the borders that are set by their individual artistic work. Think about what moves you the most, and what makes you unique as an artist, and lean on that when you are looking for how to approach your art. Don’t look at the artists around you for all of the answers to what’s best for you, individually.
10. Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?
I’m a firm believer in following the best choice in the moment, and letting those individual daily decisions lead me in the right long-term direction. It’s not that I don’t have long-term goals, but I think that if you get too focused on long-term goals, your path can become too rigid, and you can lose focus and flexibility with the natural flow. That flexibility and natural flow has always unearthed more magic and inspiration than I could have conjured by just setting out a path for myself and sticking to it. If you want to know what I’ll be doing in 5-10 years, you’ll just have to keep coming to shows and following the music.. we’ll find out together!
Official Website: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com
FaceBook Page: www.facebook.com/JustinJohnsonLive
YouTube Channel: www.youtube.com/justinjohnsonlive
LINK TO PRESS PHOTOS: http://www.justinjohnsonlive.com/press.html
“If Walls Could Talk” – Album On CD: http://www.rootsmusicschool.com/store.html
“Smoke & Mirrors “- Album On CD: http://www.rootsmusicschool.com/store.html