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Justine Lucas is a San Francisco-born performer of original music. Her sounds span genres and decades, often paying homage to American Old Time, Jazz, Blues, and the Circus, while offering a fresh contemporary perspective. We were lucky enough to track her down and ask her more about her work.
ASGARD PRESS: Welcome, Justine Lucas! Thank you so much for catching up with Asgard Press to answer some of our questions about your music and your influences. Just to get a sense of what you’re currently up to, would you tell us about your most recent music project and what your primary influences are?
JUSTINE LUCAS: I’m currently working three big projects simultaneously over the Summer. It’s been really fun because all are totally different from each other! One is a solo album called “Keep,” and one is an original jazz album called “Make Me Mad” in collaboration with Jonah Udall and about 30 other session musicians. The third is a dance-narrative music video for the opening song on the jazz album “Don’t You Make Me Mad”.
Both albums are totally new for me and out of my comfort zone, and they’re on two opposite ends of the spectrum. I usually record with a group of folk string instrument-playing friends, but I wanted to do something that represents the songwriting in the most raw and honest form. Nothing fancy. So that’s my objective in “Keep”.
My producer George Rosenthal and I made up some rules to help me preserve this objective. The rules are that anything I want to hear on the album I have to perform myself, so no guest musicians. Furthermore, anything I record has to be performed live, meaning no multi-tracking, and no adding harmony or other instruments after the fact. But, with limitation comes rebellion, and these rules forced me to think creatively about how much or how little sound I can create as one person. For example, I was playing a little French song on piano, but in my head I was really hearing overlaying melodies and percussion, so George and I figured out a way to rig a bunch of instruments to the piano stool so I could play them simultaneously while singing.
Te Reveille – One Man Band
Another song I wrote with guitar, piano and background vocals, so I just balanced the guitar on my lap while I played piano, then switched instruments while holding down the piano’s sustain petal to hide the transition. Recording this way forces me to let go of perfectionism and embrace humanism. I’m finding value in my mistakes, because they capture a more realistic impression of how I feel and where I am musically right now.
The video for “Don’t You Make Me Mad” has a cast of about 40 people including big band musicians recorded in Miami, musicians in SF playing the roll of the band on film, creative directors, film crew, and dancing actors. It’s actually been in production for over a year, we filmed the band last summer at Viracocha in SF, and filmed the dance and story scenes at the same venue this summer during their last month before closing their doors. This underground speakeasy-looking venue was the perfect setting, because the song has contemporary semi-explicit lyrical content coupled with a big band jazz soundscape, definitely out of an early era. And that’s sort of the underlying sound theme of the jazz album, combining modern lyrics with a vintage sound.
AP: I can hardly wait to hear your upcoming albums, and that music video will be fantastic. As someone who loves the timeless beauty of America’s past, the nostalgia and quality craftsmanship of the early 20th Century, I’m wondering what draws you toward incorporating sounds of the bygone era into your contemporary originals?
JL: Well it’s not exactly a conscious decision. I think that bygone sound is just a by-product of the influence that music has on me. Although I will say that it was sought-ought, and not handed down to me. My mom and dad were all about the punk scene in the 80’s when I was born, and all about rock n roll when they were growing up. So when I was a kid, they were always playing The Clash, Sex Pistols, The Cure, The Rolling Stones, and Pixies. In high school my dad introduced me to the music of Jeff Buckley and Bob Dylan, and I started writing songs. Someone at school told me I sounded like Joni Mitchell, so my mom got me some of her albums and she became a big inspiration. So there was folk, but it definitely wasn’t traditional.
Actually, now that I think about it, it must have really been the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival that inspired my obsession with traditional folk, old-timey, and Americana. I went to that festival and fell in love with the whole thing — the banjos, the language, the kids up in the branches of the trees playing harmonica, the bandanas and dusty overalls… I wanted my whole life to be like that!
AP: Not all musicians end up on this path of creating songs that are more rooted in tradition, while simultaneously mingling with more contemporary ideas. How did you get started in music, and are there major ways that your music has developed throughout the years to becoming was it has become?
JL: For me, music started with poetry. I was a songwriter before I was a musician. I’ve always thought of myself that way, as a writer. But I’ve slowly been excepting myself as a musician. It’s only recently in collaborating with other intimidatingly expert musicians that I’ve needed to begin thinking like a singer. As a singer-songwriter, there’s a lot of self-delegated pressure and expectation, but the medium is actually quite forgiving, as the audience knows it operates on a you-get-what-you-get platform. If I mess-up, it shows character and it reminds the audience that I am just as imperfect and human as they are. But with a jazz band, if I mess up, it just makes the other musicians sound bad and I look unprofessional. So it’s been a very evolutionary experience working in both these mediums. I feel like it’s building my self confidence and performance skills by hitting them from all angles. I’m learning how to display vulnerability as a solo performer, and how to hide vulnerability as a front-man/ singer.
Keep will be releasing in the next few weeks, the jazz video should come out in late September, and the jazz album will be releasing in Winter. You know, to heat things up.
AP: Fantastic musical journey. I’m delighted to have gotten to discuss this with you. Thank you so much. To learn more about Justine Lucas, visit the following links. Look our for “Keep,” “Make Me Mad” and the thrilling “Don’t You Make Me Mad” music video soon!
Other songs from the upcoming album:
The Room, The World