Bassist Justin Emord of rock n’ roll quartet Love and a .38 joins us at SteamPunk Coffeebar & Kitchen in Valley Village, CA to discuss the band’s latest release 7th Street Shuffle, his thoughts on the modern rock industry, and his passion for preserving music education.
Love and a .38 is comprised of:
Ryan Hudson – Vocals
Clark Skelton – Drums
Justin Emord – Bass
Domo Domaracki – Guitar
So to start us off, we’re here at SteamPunk Coffeebar and Kitchen and you’ve got a special connection with them. Care to share a little bit about your relationship with the shop?
Justin Emord: For most of my journey as a musician, I’ve always been into the steampunk style. Whether it’s just the actual artwork or even the idea of it, that Victorian-meets-futuristic style always seemed really fascinating to me. Even just different pieces of art that I’ve seen that are in the steampunk realm I thought were really cool. One of my friends checked in over here on Facebook a couple of years ago, and when I saw that I was like, ‘Wait, there’s a steampunk coffeeshop in my area and I’ve never heard of it?’ I live local, so I came in the next day and I was like, ‘This is so cool!’ There’s a lot of regulars that come here and they know their regulars. They’re all just super nice, friendly people and I’ve never met a bad person behind the register. A lot of them are also creatives themselves, so when I said I was a musician we just instantaneously clicked because we all have that passion for the entertainment industry.
It’s funny how that ends up happening.
Justin: I know right? It’s just such a cool vibe inside. Whether it’s people sitting inside working on scripts, or the different artists that bring in new pieces to put up on the walls, it’s just a great experience. They also support local artists that the owner, Amy, believes in, so she’ll take a look at your work, and if she likes it then she’ll give you some space on the walls to sell your work. She asked me if I would build a guitar to be displayed in the shop, and my first piece went to a breast cancer survivor.
That’s so amazing! I’m sure that a lot of the other artwork displayed there has some similar stories as well. At least you hope so!
Justin: As an artist, you hope that something you do goes to someone who could really use a win in their life, or someone who has gone through some struggles and an additional win would be really beneficial to their morale. In this case, when this woman beat breast cancer, she was like, ‘I want to learn guitar.’ She came onto this steampunk guitar, bought the guitar, started learning how to play, and that was like her second life. It was one of the things that she always wanted to do, so to be able to enable that was just awesome.
Life’s too short to not do the things that you want to do.
Justin: Yeah, totally!
But that was also a great example of music being such a huge influence in our lives. I mean, everybody can have a personal connection to the music that’s being put out, and honestly, sometimes they come in at the moments that we most need it. Or with the case of your guitar, It can be that stepping point for someone’s second life.
Justin: And you hear it all the time about people that have an artist or a song that helped them through a rough time in their life, or even saved their life. But even more than that, we’re learning so much about how music connects with the brain, and how it helps dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. Music’s just a really, really, strong and powerful force, and it’s really cool when you see that implemented.
Yes, absolutely. So going into music…
Justin: Yes, speaking of. *laughs*
You’re in a band called Love and a .38, and you recently released your EP 7th Street Shuffle. First of all, congratulations!
Justin: Thank you!
Would you care to share a little bit about some of the stories, experiences, and thematic elements that you implemented into the album?
Justin: Yeah sure! So with 7th Street Shuffle, we actually started writing it shortly after Nomads, which was our last full length that we did that we put out two years ago.
It’s been that long already?!
Justin: It’s crazy that it’s been that long right?! *both laugh* But shortly after that, we started wood shopping some ideas and started getting those creative juices flowing again for what would become our next release. We probably went through at least fifty something ideas, and we would get them to a certain point to see if it was something that we wanted to continue growing. Like, we would have two or three ideas at a time, whether it was a verse idea, a chorus idea, a verse and a chorus idea, just different segments of songs that we’d put together. I feel like 7th Street Shuffle ended up being a continuation of Nomads, where there’s a lot of blues elements that was pretty prevalent. The thing about this band is that anything that we write comes very naturally to us. We don’t ever try and force an idea or shoehorn something in, when we work on something, that’s what it is. We don’t try to be like, ‘Alright, we’re gonna write this super slow song right now. It’s gonna be really moody and emotional,’ we write what comes naturally out of us. The band’s very honest in our songwriting approach in that way. And you know, we still have tons of different moods and stuff that comes through, but it really comes down to whatever’s best being what’s gonna end up on an EP or a record. So for us, these five songs ended up being the best out of all of those that came throughout different periods of that writing process. A lot of ideas got ditched on the wayside pretty early on, but then a couple of these ideas came from the very last batch that we were working on. Our lead off track “Get Up and Go” was an idea that I brought in because I was listening to a lot of Black Stone Cherry and [The] Rolling Stones stuff. That song is very much from that vein musically, but it was after we had it almost completed that Domo [Domaracki] had the idea to put in a guitar part with alternative tuning and a lot of slide work, in which to that point we hadn’t really done a lot of. There had been some layers that we put in on a couple of tracks that had some sliding guitar, but it’s never been a prevalent feature in a song before this one. So doing something like that was really cool, especially being so close to the end of a song idea. We basically had the whole song structure, lyrics, and were pretty much done with the song when we were like, ‘Wait, we can make this better!’ Having a new layer to play with made the song so much cooler than it was at the beginning. *laughs*
Yeah! It’s always so cool to hear those kinds of stories, where you have an idea and think, ‘This could work.’ But then you try something a little different last minute and it turns our awesome.
Justin: The thing I love about the creative process, whether it’s music or not, is that there’s really no ‘wrong’ answer to anything. It’s all about whatever feels right, so to be that close to the end of a song and be like, ‘Wait, what if we do this?’ is a fun experience. It’s just cool to be able to adjust course when you think that you’re so close to the finish line, and then just take a little bit more time getting there to get a different product out of it.
I mean, you can’t rush art! Nor should you for that matter.
Justin: No, definitely not!
And what was your favorite song to write and record for the EP?
Justin: So to write, I would say probably “Get Up and Go” was probably my favorite because that’s the one I had the biggest impact on. I brought in the verse and the chorus idea, we ditched the chorus idea for something a little bit better. Actually no, the verse changed and then I brought in the chorus idea. *laughs* Anyways, there was just this vibe I wanted to get into the song where there’d be a lot of space at the first half of the verse, and then it would just fill up and get really big until it builds into a large rock n’ roll chorus, which is what we ended up doing. I really enjoyed “Ballad of Rick and Tina” for recording purposes because as a bass player, a lot of the stuff I do sound wise is pretty straight forward. Bass in a rock band, you’re not really gonna be too experimental, you leave that for the other instruments. Your role as a bassist is to get a good foundation for everything else to build upon.
You are the ‘rock’ in rock n’ roll! *laughs*
Justin: Yeah! *laughs* So for that one, I got to play with some overdrives and fuzzes and stuff, which was cool because I hadn’t really done that. That song also called for a different kind of bass tone, so to be able to play with those different effects and tones to cater and enhance the song was a lot of fun for me.
So many different and new things that went into the EP.
Justin: Yeah, definitely.
How would you say that the recording process for this EP was different from that of your past work?
Justin: Honestly, it was pretty similar. We actually have our own studio that we record out of so the approach was very similar. Same layout of the room, but we figured out a nice way of getting some cool sounds in there. There was a little bit of different mic placement for the drums, but the rest of the approach was pretty much the same in order to get the best takes that we can for the right sounds and vocal deliveries.
And going along with what you’re saying about what the EP kind of being a continuation to your previous album. I mean, an EP, and even singles based releases, are more prevalent now than in the past. Do you think that’s because we have so many ideas at one time or that the music audience is starting to have a lack of attention span?
Justin: There’s been studies done about how people nowadays just don’t have the attention spans that we did years ago, so I think that’s definitely part of it. People want instant gratification purely for social media. People would rather take a really crappy photo at a concert and post it immediately so that you see that they’re there, as opposed to actually getting a good shot, editing it, then posting it two weeks later or something. But I think because of that, the whole layout for music has definitely changed too. So instead of doing these big releases with big buildups and everything the way things used to be. It’s a lot easier for artists to stay relevant and keep people’s interest if they put out one or two EPs a year that have like five or six songs, rather than trying to do this big budget full length record and then not put out anything for two years. I think the way people always need to be posting in order to keep the algorithms in check is what’s part of why things have changed too as far as the release schedules for bands.
So from an artist’s standpoint, do you think this new format for music releases puts more pressure on the artists themselves to constantly have stuff out and have creative ideas flowing?
Justin: I definitely think it is, but with my band in particular, we’ve always had stuff going on as far as the creative side of things. So even though there’s more of a pressure on artists now, it kind of fits into a way of how this band has always operated. There was a time where we put out a single every single month of the year, that was pressure. *laughs* So to do an EP a year after having a schedule like that, which still included tours and stuff, isn’t too bad in comparison.
In today’s modern music industry, do you think it’s harder for rock bands to break out into in a pool of bubblegum pop and dance tracks?
Justin: You know it’s funny, I was just reading an interview with Slash about this exact topic. *laughs*
I have a feeling Slash and I might be on the same page! *laughs*
Justin: Yeah! You and Slash are clearly thinking about the same things. *laughs*
This is why we need to be best friends. Slash, if you’re reading this, let’s grab a beer or something! *laughs*
Justin: Right?! *laughs* I think now more than ever we’re primed for bands to break out nowadays. You have bands like Greta Van Fleet that are blowing up the airwaves right now, and they’re doing incredibly well for themselves for being teenagers. But all of a sudden, you have teenagers listening to guitarists because Greta Van Fleet is a bunch of teenagers. You’ve got a band like Rival Sons that used to play with us back in the day at The Viper Room, and they just did a full world tour last year with Black Sabbath. They’re an original band out of Long Beach who’s is on the road constantly, putting out music, and getting frequent licensing. They’re doing great for themselves. The Struts right now are huge! They’re this band from the UK and they’re everywhere. They just played one of the late night cable TV shows, and they just played the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show!
I was shocked about that. *laughs*
Justin: Of course, because they’re a rock n’ roll band! There’s nothing about them, that is not rock n’ roll. There’s been countless bands that have been shoehorned and pigeonholed into being a ‘rock band,’ but to be honest, is more of a folk band than a rock band. But because there hasn’t been a real ‘rock band’ in the mainstream for so long, they kind of just throw that tag on these bands because who else is considered rock n’roll? No one else is, so they just put these guys in that category because they’re close-ish. So to have a band that is so rock n’ roll on something like those kinds of shows is fantastic! They did their single “Body Talks” with Kesha, and because Kesha was talking about the performance, her fans saw them. She’s obviously more on the bubblegum pop side of things than rock n’ roll, so for her to go and perform with them, and then watching the Victoria’s Secret runway show, which to be honest, The Struts was really the only reason why I watched it.
*laughs* Suuure you did.
Justin: *laughs* I just love them, so when I heard about that I was like, ‘I’m in!’ But, seeing them doing their thing with Luke Spiller out there on the catwalk, no pun intended, strutting his stuff while playing their song, and then seeing the models getting into it was a really cool thing to see. Nowadays, people are so used to being force fed what to like that I think a situation like that can only help bands. You can have some guy that really likes one of the models, but then he’ll see her jiving and dancing to this band and could be like, ‘Oh, she likes them? I like them too!’ Or maybe you have these young twelve-year-olds that aspire to be the next Adriana Lima or whoever, that are seeing their role models bouncing and vibing to this band. It’s just good for the whole community that they were able to get on a fashion show like that’s broadcasted across the entire country. They do incredibly well overseas in the UK where they’re from, they do Download Festival, they do all these big outdoor summer fests, but to get that kind of notoriety here in America where it’s definitely a lot harder for a band to break out, I think it’s great. I actually think it’s only a matter of time before the label execs and scouts really start hitting the pavement and looking for bands again because in the end it’s all about money. It’s all about what can make them money and what’s marketable, so with bands like Greta Van Fleet, The Struts, and Rebel Sons doing their thing and having success in a commercial market, now’s as good of a time as there’s ever been for more bands to start breaking out.
Yeah, and I noticed that there has been a lot more intermingling of genres. Like, The Struts and Kesha, you’d never think that they would blend together. And then Bastille did an EDM song with Marshmallow. So many of these rock bands and pop people are starting to work together and mingling the genres.
Justin: Yeah! It’s really cool! Post Malone actually asked Aerosmith to perform with him on one of these awards shows, so clearly rock n’ roll is here to stay. If somebody like Post Malone wants the credibility of being a badass and he goes after Aerosmith to perform with him, that says a lot about the rock n’ roll genre itself because people still want bands to play and to do guest spots with, purely because they’re badasses.
It’s almost like the idea of genres is muddled now because there’s so many elements that are being implemented. What you said about those bands that were being put into the rock category that were more ‘folk’ was kind of true, because there’s almost no real definition of ‘rock’ anymore. Everybody can start to include those elements into their music. It’s a good thing, because maybe in like fifty years everything can just be classified as ‘music.’
Justin: Yeah. Or even something like Dave Grohl recently kickstarting and bringing the Cal Jam Festival back from the dead. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a giant rock festival like that in Southern California, so for him to pick up the mantle the way that Dave Grohl does. Me and Ryan [Hudson] went this past year and it was great! Just tons of bands, Foo Fighters killed it for two hours, just a cool mixture of different subgenres of rock n’ roll mixed with mid-level bands and headlining acts. So even something like seeing Dave Grohl putting his own money upfront to try and kick start this thing and seeing the people responding to it, rock n’ roll is definitely not going anywhere. It just can’t. There’s too many people that are still into it to let it die.
Yeah! And Travis Barker and Feldy from Goldfinger recently started up the Back to the Beach Festival with all these ska bands, and it was so crowded there. So I definitely agree that there’s always gonna be a market for it.
Justin: And the fans are so loyal too!
Justin: What’s funny with the pop industry is that when people get into a certain pop artist, as soon as the next pop artist comes around and there’s a bandwagon for them then they’re gonna jump on. But with rock fans, they know what they like, and they’re super passionate and caring and loving about their music. As long as they’re around, they’re going to keep buying the music, and they’re going to keep the bands alive.
Absolutely! God knows how much money Simple Plan and All Time Low have taken from me over the years. *laughs* They’re both really fun to see live!
Justin: And that’s the thing! Rock shows are fun to go to! So why wouldn’t someone want to go and have fun? *laughs*
Exactly! So with the L.A. music scene, specifically in the rock scene, do you think that there is an unpublicized competition between the bands? Or do you think people are starting to be more open to collaborating with each other more?
Justin: I see it on both sides. I like to think that the circle of bands that we’re friends with and know are like a community, but I don’t think that’s the case for the whole L.A. music scene. With The Roxy being a Goldenvoice venue, The Whiskey A Go-Go being pay to play, larger shows coming into The Troubadour, The Key Club and House of Blues being gone, it’s just crazy how many venues we’ve lost.
It’s awful what’s happening to the Sunset Strip nowadays. I hate it!
Justin: Right! Back in the day when I was fresh and new into the band, there was a scene, and it was amazing! You could go out on a Friday night, cruise the strip, and go see a handful of different bands. You could go to The Key Club to catch some bands, they had some very eclectic tastes, just so many different types of bands going in there and performing. You go to The Roxy and you’d catch a rock n’ roll band. Cat Club was a thing back then, so you’d go and see some local guys jamming and performing together. And then, you can catch an intimate show at The Viper Room to end the night. It’s just not that way anymore. There’s so many venues that are closing, changing ownership, or selling their business structure that the model has changed. Having such little space for music left on the strip just makes it harder for there to be community because it’s so much more of a free for all and every man for himself kind of thing. I definitely think that there’s more competition than there used to be, but we’re fortunate enough that we have a tight knit circle with some bands and venues that at least in our little bubble, it’s usually very healthy when we’re doing stuff here in L.A. Plus, the bands that we work with tend to show up early to support each other. Like, if we headline a night at The Viper Room, we’ll be there at eight o’clock to watch the opening band and support them. And they’ll do the same for us and will stay until one o’clock when we finish up.
That’s awesome that you’re providing support for the bands that you work with. Live music is such a great connector between not only the artists, but also for the fans. And a lot of venues are good at keeping it consistent within similar styles where I can be like, ‘Wow! I just spent ten dollars to see, like, five bands!’
Justin: It’s awesome! But as a band, if you get into the right venue with the right bookers, there will always be a cool scene going on, at least within their four walls. *laughs* Other venues are doing some cool stuff right now, you know? Lucky Strike does their jam nights every Wednesday where they bring in a bunch of musicians to come play some songs together. There’s cool stuff going on around the city that tries to at least support and nurture a healthy relationship between artists.
Yeah. And you see Echo Park and Silverlake starting to become the ‘cool’ place for you to see a show. Even the Westside is trying to slowly bring itself back up after losing, like, half their venues. It’ll flourish again one day.
Justin: Yeah, it’ll have to.
Especially because these rich people keep buying the strip.
Justin: Say that to The Viper Room. *laughs*
I know! I’m trying to go to as many shows as I can there in case they just disappear. I guess I will always have my memories, which is a sad thing to think about.
Justin: Yeah, it really is.
And how important do you think it is to show support to local music acts as well as local venues and all the other people that are involved? Like bookers, owners, and stuff like that?
Justin: I think it’s super important. I think the scene can only be as healthy as the business side of things makes it. If you’re going to see a show, and the venue doesn’t care or the bands don’t care, you’re not going to have a good time. I think stuff like that is going to show because things will be disorganized. But if you have a good group of bands that know what they’re doing and support each other, I think there’s going to be a definite significant change in the vibe in the room when you’re in the audience watching. If the band’s having a good time and you see the other bands hanging out, it’s just awesome! The Viper Room’s definitely one of those places where they take care of their bands and the bands take care of the venue. But yes, I think support is super important and that’s the way it used to be back in the day. Guns ‘N Roses got a lot of help from venues back in the day to help support and borderline develop them, but it’s definitely not that way anymore. There’s a lot more independent opportunities out there, but if you do good for a venue then they’ll start throwing you some better shows. So as long as there’s some cool people working with the venues, they’ll definitely try to help the other bands start growing and developing them so they can be the headliner. And then they’ll get more bands to help them and just move each other up. You know, circle of life style. *both laugh*
And you guys are no strangers to playing around all of the venues in L.A., including the ones that are no longer with us. What are some fun experiences and stories that you guys have had over the years at some of these venues?
Justin: Oh gosh. I think a lot of my favorite memories are from my first show with Love and a .38 at The Viper Room, so any time we go back there it’s always really cool.
It feels like the first time!
Justin: Yeah! *laughs* I mean, I’ve played at The Viper Room before with my other bands, but not ever on the level of what Love and a .38 does as far as the expectations of the band from both the inside and from the audience side of things. But then I get to thinking back to the whole Sunset Strip Music Festival they had back in the day with [Marilyn] Manson, Slash, Ozzy [Osborne], and Motley Crüe. The first red carpet I ever walked was The House of Blues on the Sunset Strip for one of those festivals, and I remember that moment very fondly. Just, wow! There was a step and repeat, all these press people, all these photographers, just standing there getting ready for me to put my feet to carpet for the first time. That was such a cool moment and is something that I’m always going to appreciate and remember because of how long it took to get to that point. I was finally doing something cool with a cool enough band that we were about to be on a red carpet in support of Motley Crüe being inducted on the Sunset Strip Hall of Fame. But even with the performances for Sunset Strip Music Festival throughout the years, I think doing The Roxy stage was super awesome. Our music video for “Lovely Lies” was filmed when we did the SSMF with Marilyn Manson and The Doors, which was also Domo’s first show with us. He joined the band a week or two before that, so we kind of threw him to the dogs for that. It’s just so funny because it seems like that’s just what happens with this band. *both laugh* My first gig was in Arizona two weeks after I’d joined. Obviously it wasn’t the same status level as in Sunset Strip Music Festival, but it was kind of funny how it worked out that way. I was just like, ‘Yeah, don’t worry. My first show was about a week after I joined the band too.’ *laughs* He had a lot of work to do to get up to speed, but he was in another band that we used to play with a lot so he was already familiar with our catalogue. It was just a very easy fit bringing him in. But yeah, those Sunset Strip Music Festivals were all good times!
Yeah, it’s a bummer that they’re not around any more.
Justin: I miss it a lot.
That was the only time I saw Linkin Park play live. I honestly think Chester [Bennington] was the best part of that show.
Justin: Oh cool! That was a good year. We didn’t get to play that year because we had already done so much with the Sunset Strip Music Festival, but they still gave us wristbands to go for the day. I watched them play and they were great! But yeah, that festival was just such a really cool thing for the community because there was such a cool combination of local bands, mid-level bands, and your huge headliners out on the streets. It was such a cool vibe, and I don’t feel like any other festival has ever done what they set out to accomplish. Plus, they were actually using the venues as venues, and had such a cool mixture of bands coming in throughout the day. You had some metal bands, you had some funk-rock kind of bands, just such a dynamic lineup of artists all in a melting pot together for the day.
Bring it back! *both laugh* So you mentioned that you went to Arizona right after you joined, and you guys performed in Mexico. As a band that tours nationally and internationally, what are some differences you’ve seen in terms of live music support and how fans react to new bands coming in?
Justin: I’d just like to say that Mexico was a really cool experience from both sides. The way the venue handled things, the other bands, it was just so cool that it reminded me of what The Sunset Strip used to be back in the day. The venue was super friendly, super hospitable, dressing rooms in the back with water and a shower if you needed one. All of the bands were super cool, and a lot of them spoke English so there wasn’t that much a language barrier the entire weekend we were there. All of the opening bands were really cool people who were truly in it for the music, and when we were hanging out and talking to them it was like, ‘Oh, when did you start?’ ‘Oh, I started at this time,’ ‘Cool, what do you do?’ ‘Oh, I’m actually more of a session guy now, I play with these guys every once in a while,’ ‘Oh, that’s awesome!’ So yeah, it was awesome getting to talk to these other bands peer-to-peer, and learning about their stories and what they do. There was one time I looked over during the set and one of the guitar players was on the side stage with his camera filming because they wanted to show their support. So that camaraderie between the bands was just really cool to see and I wish more places were like that. So thank you Mexico!
Woo hoo! *laughs* Have you seen any differences between doing national tours as opposed to doing shows in L.A.?
Justin: I feel like when you get out of Los Angeles, or out of Southern California in general, a lot more people are just more into the music. We’re very fortunate and spoiled to be able to have access to anything we could possibly want here in L.A. You want to go skiing? You can go skiing. You want to go to the beach? You can do that too. There’s just a plethora of things for people to do in L.A., and I think people take for granted the pool of talent that reside and perform here on a consistent basis. Whereas, when you go to the middle of the country, they don’t have all the things to do that we have in L.A. So when a band rolls through, they’re like, ‘Hell yeah, we’re going to a show!’ It’s a big deal. It’s like going to prom or something! *both laugh* People get ready to go to the show, and it’s something that they look forward to all week. Whereas in L.A., we’re like, ‘Well, I might go to the show tonight, but I must just go to a bar. I don’t know.’ I think there’s too much stuff to do here in L.A. so people just don’t appreciate what they have.
Back to the lack of attention span thing.
Justin: Yeah! It’s essentially the same thing! With here, if you throw a rock, you’d probably hit a musician on the head. *both laugh* Or someone who was a musician but gave up because they couldn’t find work with there being too many of us here. I think people in other places just appreciate music and the ability to go out to a show and have a good time more than we do out here and without that constant rotation of musicians.
Those are my feelings too. The fact that sometimes art, music, or film just aren’t that recognized or supported in certain areas.
Justin: And the thing too that works a lot in our favor is that you can pretty much go anywhere because you’re a Los Angeles band. L.A. is like this mythical El Dorado where it’s like, ‘Oh, you’re from Los Angeles. What’s it like?’ Because it’s always on TV, people have this idea of what L.A. is like, but that’s just what film and TV makes you think it is. It’s really not like that at all.
I got that when I was in Europe too. *laughs*
Justin: Yeah! Even when we went to Mexico they announced us as ‘From Los Angeles, Love and a .38!’ and everyone was like, ‘What? How cool!’ *both laugh* There’s like this ‘cool’ appeal looming over being an L.A. band when you go to these other places because of the romantization of Los Angeles that they see in media.
And staying on the topic of touring, a fun little question for you. If you could choose three artists to go on a world tour with, who would they be and what would you name your tour?
Justin: Hm. Like any band at all?
Any band. You can bring them back from the dead if you want.
Justin: Oh man! I would probably go out with the Foo Fighters because Dave Grohl would seem like the kind of guy that you would cook a steak and hang out with.
He did do a barbecue recently.
Justin: He did! And I’m a fan of the Foo Fighters. They’re a great band and I would love to play with them. I’d probably also want The Struts because I really like what they’re doing right now. And then I would have AC/DC as the headliner from their Back in Black era.
Because you can!
Justin: Because I can! We’d just open the show at like 7PM, but I’d be totally fine with that!
Show ends at 3PM the next day! *both laugh*
Justin: That’s probably what I would do, that old school and new school combination. Foo Fighters are a great rock band, they’ve been doing this for a long time. AC/DC set the path for everyone that wanted to get into the rock industry. And then The Struts are a cool revitalization of rock n’ roll, and I feel like we’re doing the same thing in a different realm of rock n’ roll.
We definitely need the blending and the collaboration. What one word would you say defines you guys as a band?
Justin: ‘Authentic,’ because nothing we do is done with ulterior motives. We don’t do something because it’s going to be popular, if we’re not into it then we’re not gonna do it. We’re all in our thirties or forties, like, we’re too old to be fake. We’ll leave that to the twenty-something year olds. *both laugh* But whether it’s a music video, tours, shows, writing music, potential sponsorship opportunities with companies, everything we do is honest because it’s what we want. And that’s really the long and short of this band. It’s just, a very honest, blue collar, rock n’ roll band.
And how would you guys say that you balance your personal lives and your professional lives?
Justin: Personally, I don’t. *laughs* I have my fingers in a lot of different things with music. Apart from the band I also work with the NAMM Foundation. We go to different schools to teach them how to play, and I also spend time with the foundation in Sacramento and DC once a year. I was actually advocating to our elected officials about the importance of having a well-rounded education for these students, which includes having access to music programs. That’s a really dense separate workload to take on from the band. And I also work with the House of Blues Foundation, which takes that knowledge and applies it to kids that want to be professional musicians, like, career, gig-playing musicians. So I mentor these students, and I teach them about branding, marketing, business, stage presence, and technical difficulties, mainly things about being a performing musician that you can’t ever read in a book to figure out. They use us and our errors to figure out what they need to do so they don’t have to make the mistakes that I did when I was their age. So when I’ve got all of that going on that is my personal life. My personal life is my business life. Music is my life, but it’s stuff that gives me great fulfillment and joy, so if that’s what I have to do then I’m perfectly fine with doing it for the rest of my life.
And staying the topic of music education, because I honestly feel that they’re lacking and it breaks my heart when I hear a story about cutting music and arts focused classes from the curriculum. It’s clear that there is an interest for it, but somehow other people just don’t think it’s important. Do you think that there is going to be a way in the future to bring arts education in general back into the mainstream curriculum? Or do you think it’s going to be an independent thing for a while?
Justin: I think it’s going to be a mixture of both. We’re very fortunate that we live in California, a state that has so much of its income and profits from the entertainment industry. It’s the type of thing that when you see the amount of money that music and arts and entertainment brings into this state, it’s something that the politicians cannot ignore. When we go with NAMM to DC and Sacramento, we bring charts with them so they can see like, ‘Ok, this is how many full time employees work in your district. This is how much money this district pulls into the state.’ If they didn’t already know that it was a significant number, then it’s a hard concrete number that they can see. But everyone knows that California is an Entertainment Mecca, so we usually don’t even have to bring that stuff up. At the Federal level, there’s obviously a lot more resistance, but at least at the state level there’s really cool stuff going on with a lot of really passionate politicians that really want to make change for our students so that they do have access to that type of education that is lacking. There’s even stuff going on where they’re trying to update the curriculum standards so kids can learn Photoshop and digital animation, because that’s what’s current. Like, as cool as the traditional animation that Walt Disney did is, that’s not where people are making their money in that realm these days. It’s all digital.
That’s why I gave up my dream of being an animator, the computer aspect.
Justin: Oh no! Well it looks like you found something that makes you happy. But yeah, the fact that the state is even trying to update things so they can bring in Photoshop and digital animation opportunities into the classrooms is a huge step. If students want that for a career, they’re at least equipped with some knowledge about that going into vocational school. There’s been significant change in the positive direction in the two years that I’ve been doing more of the hands on government work, so seeing that growth I think is a really good sign that we’re going in the right direction.
And kind of going into your mentorship and giving lessons to these kids that you advocate for. Do you think think that anyone that’s looking to be a musician needs to have that kind of knowledge in order to have a flourishing career?
Justin: I think it definitely helps and I know that there are schools that try to help with that aspect. I went to Cal State Northridge, and towards the end of my time there they really started changing the curriculum and requirements to get into their music business program. It used to be that you needed to be classically trained to get into their music business program, but they realized that a lot of people that want to be on the business side of music do it because they aren’t or don’t want to be properly trained musicians. That’s just something that they didn’t have the ability to do, but they still want a job in music so they go for the business side because maybe that speaks to them a little bit more than an instrument does. Even at Musician’s Institute, they have a music industry program. So there’s definitely schools out there that teach that, but it’s also something that is hard to figure out on your own without taking a lot of time and figuring it out. I think it’s important to get some type of understanding about that stuff.
Especially because it’s so easy for artists to get completely fucked over.
Justin: Or even just where to start. For me, it took me a long time even though I started early. I had my first sponsorship with a guitar company before I had my high school diploma because I’ve always been a go getter. I don’t wait for anything. I’m part really ambitious and the other part really impatient. *laughs* So the mixture of the two always makes me work to try and get what I’m going after. If something didn’t work out, I would immediately pivot and try to figure out what went wrong, or where I can go to get the results that I was going after. But not everyone is like that. Sometimes the defeat and the rejections linger, so it’s not so easy to immediately pick yourself back up and go. Getting some of that knowledge and understanding so you don’t have to deal with as many rejections or dead ends is always a really good idea.
And if you could give your younger self some advice regards to the music industry, and where you are in terms of your career, what would you give him?
Justin: I would just say ‘keep going.’ There’s a lot of times where I felt like I was getting burnt out. I was a solo artist for a long time because I couldn’t find the right people to play with, so I was like, ‘You know what? I’m buying recording software and I’m going to write, record, and produce all my own music! I’ll deal with finding a band later.’ And in doing so it was a slow grow, so I would definitely want to tell myself, ‘Just keep going, because you’re going to be doing some really, really, cool things that are going to impact a lot of people. Don’t get discouraged, just keep on going and just see where you end up.’
And what do you hope that your audience will take away from your music?
Justin: I really just want our listeners to a good time and enjoy themselves. There’s so much drama going on in this world right now, and if our feel good rock n’ roll music can give them an escape from what’s going on in the world or what’s going on in their lives, that’s all we want.
About SteamPunk Coffeebar & Kitchen:
If you’re searching for a coffeeshop that not only has wonderful food and drink options but is also heavily arts focused, look no further than SteamPunk Coffeebar & Kitchen in Valley Village. Shop owner Amy strives to support local artists by displaying their work and having them available for purchase by visitors and regulars alike. Paintings, sketches, digital prints, and handcrafted works (like Justin’s guitar) in varying shapes and sizes tastefully line every inch of colorful wall space in a trendy art gallery fashion. It’s definitely hard not to window shop and imagine some of the pieces in your own humble abode as you sip on your caffeinated beverage or enjoy a scrumptious brunch dish.
And speaking of menu, I have faith that once you take a look at Steampunk Coffeebar’s food offerings that it would be extremely difficult to not want to sit down and order a few items off the list. From traditional breakfast plates and light fares to Angelino targeted recipes and their own specialty dishes, you might just find your mouth-watering before you even reach the friendly front counter barista. I was a bit short on time on the day of the interview and was unable to order myself a full meal, but I at least got the chance to get myself a delicious Lucky Luciano in latte form to sip on.