Interview: Justin Jones

bill bodkin interviews the singer/songwriter…

The argument can be made that the voice is the most powerful musical instrument of them all. Whether it be the operatic pipes of Pavarotti or gravelly growl of Tom Waits, the voice leaves an impression on the heart and the soul. It presses an indelible recording on the wide open vinyl canvas of your mind. It can rouse your soul, lift your spirits, cause you to break down, make you ponder.

Listening to Justin Jones, you realize just how powerful the voice can be. Listen to his track “As It Turns Out” from his new record Fading Light and you’d be hard-pressed to find a more impassioned, beautiful and emotional voice. It’s at the same time tear-inducing as it is joy-filling. And within the four minutes and thirty two seconds of this track you learn about the triumph and tragedy of the singer known as Justin Jones.

Pop-Break’s Bill Bodkin spoke with Justin Jones about the emotional highs and lows that has been his musical career.

Photo Credit: Sam Holden

Pop-Break: You’ve called your new album Fading Light – “some of the most intense, emotional and personal work I’ve done to date.” Can you talk about some of the themes and experiences that you documented on this album?

Justin Jones: The album is built around the title track which is a lyrical memory of me walking with my grandmother when I was a child. And a testimonial of mortality. After I wrote that song it took a lot of practice with my band to figure out how to play it live. After that we pretty much had the sonic vibe of the record laid out. Now it just needed to be executed. The rest of the songs came in due time. A common theme is mortality. But there’s a range of emotions in one song, let alone a full album. I write about what I know; my children, my wife, love, loss, joy, disappointment, really what everyone knows. A man of the people if you will, haha!

PB: And by writing such intense, emotional and personal music — what did you get out of it not just a musician, but as a person?

JJ: I’m not sure what I get OUT of it. I’m compelled to do it. I’m not even sure I love it. I mean, I love music, but I’m compelled to write songs. And I guess record and perform them for people in a way. For if I didn’t want you to hear them, you wouldn’t.

PB: Did you find it difficult to bare your soul on a record for all the world to hear?

JJ: I think I only know how to write the songs I write. I don’t set out to write the most “personal” song ever, nor do I succeed. I just write what makes sense to me. Now if all the world hears it, I’ll have to revisit my feelings on the subject, ha.

PB: How does this new record stand out from your other records in your catalog?

JJ: It’s the first time I made an album that I didn’t concede to anything on. The musicians I play with (Mike Smirnoff, Tracy Epperson, Bobby Thompson, Audrey Hamilton, Wes Lanich, Alex Vans) and my producer (Jamie Candiloro) deserve a lot of the credit for making this album what it is. Which in my opinion, is my sound defining album. So in a lot of ways they make it stand out.

PB: Speaking of records, in your bio it says that your mom gave you Music from Big Pink by The Band and then music became your obsession. Can you talk about that record and how it influenced your musical life?

JJ: The tone, arrangement, and vibe of the record just make me feel at home. I’ve always, in some way, been emulating the Band.

PB: You have such a rich, wonderful voice. What musicians out there influenced your vocals or who’s someones vocals that you try to pattern yourself after?

JJ: I don’t really pattern after anyone. I love Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Richard Manuel, Bob Marley, Donny Hathaway, Patty Griffin. There are so many great singers in the world. But my goal has always been to sound like me, and to sing like me.

PB: You’ve performed with some pretty well-known artists: Ray LaMontagne, KD Lang, Grace Potter, Drive-By Truckers, Badly Drawn Boy — which of these artists did you learn the most from?

JJ: I learn from everyone. I’m always soaking in whatever knowledge I can. I want to be great at this, and all of those listed above are great. I’d be an idiot not to pay attention to them.

PB: Which of these artists were you most nervous to meet?

JJ: I haven’t met all of them. The Truckers for instance I’ve just brushed by. Can’t wait to meet them formally though, ha. But to answer: KD Lang. She was intimidating. But she was awesome. She was a total pro. She always had a kind word. She helped me quit smoking too so for that I’m eternally grateful.

PB: Who did you enjoy watching on the side of the stage the most?

JJ: I like watching from the crowd. The sound sucks on side stage.

Photo Credit: Sam Holden

PB: Speaking of live performances, can you describe what a typical Justin Jones show is like?

JJ: You can expect intensity. I’m an emotional guy. When we’re playing well, and really inside of the songs and getting lost in them, its intense. I wouldn’t call that typical, but I’d hope the audience feels like it is.

PB: If someone were checking out this interview and were interested in checking your music out, what song, off which album of yours would you recommend for someone to check out so they can really discover what you’re truly about?

JJ: “Little Fox” is a good place to start.

PB: What do you have in store for the rest of 2012?

JJ: I plan on playing as much as possible. We’re doing some residencies in the southeast as well as the Midwest. Then hopefully we’ll be doing a national tour in the fall. Then recording another album and rinse and repeat, ha.

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites