An interview with JUSTY

JUSTY, the genre-bending multi-talent from Staten Island, is currently going through one of the most difficult things an artist can experience – learning about one’s self. Where her EP SAUDADE acted as an artistic shift and move towards further realization, Soul Food, her latest EP, looks for something deeper within this search, both inwardly and the community she finds herself in.

To make Soul Food, JUSTY took these moments of reflection to create a piece of work that is personal while also growing as an artist within the public’s eye. In our interview with her, she talked to us about this process, displaying a candid nature that helps the listener to understand her music better.

Let’s start at the beginning – your roots are Staten Island. What were you listening to there? A lot of local legends and big time people came out of that area, so who were you drawn to?

I’m glad you brought that up because as an artist from Staten Island you sort of already know we’re sort of a marginalized group. Of course the story of the NY musician is prevalent, but what about the “Staten Island musician”? Of course Wu-Tang is a big part of that artist culture, but upon further searching I began to discover acts like Ingrid Michaelson and Mack Wilds (who I’m a big fan of and is a fellow R&B artist).

And that really made me see the beauty is sprouting from a place like Staten Island and “making it big.” Fun fact – George Harrison, Christina Aguilera, and Keith Richards lived here at some point, so the possibilities are endless.

Your music has a few sounds going on – I can hear things ranging from Jill Scott to Ben Harper. How do you pull bits from different styles to make it a singular entity?

I think a lot of that relates to my own personal music taste. Growing up I had a period where I was listening to Fall Out Boy and Panic at the Disco consistently. At the same token I would study Marvin Gaye and Amy Winehouse, so I really had/have such an eclectic taste in music, and for me it’s really important to display that through my own work.

People tell me that I have an old soul, so I think subconsciously I try and mix a little flavor from all of my favorites and make it my own. Maybe sonically I’m feeling R&B and lyrically I’m feeling John Mayer – I mix it up, and that’s a record. It feels most authentic to me.

SAUDADE felt like it was both cathartic, yet poignantly directed as well. Was the intention of the EP for someone to hear? Was it difficult to structure these emotions into the setting of the EP, or did it seem to flow naturally?

SAUDADE was a major move for me because it was absolutely directed at someone. It was essentially like my crying out “HEY, HELLO, I’ve learnt my lesson, I still care!” Whatever it may be, and so, a lot of the records were structured in a way that I knew exactly what I wanted to say, yet vulnerable to a point because I found myself writing and thinking “Whoa I can’t actually say that…or can I?”

As awkward as pushing yourself out of that comfort zone may be, it almost helps you focus your record more because you have no restraints, no boundaries. You don’t dip your feet in the water; you just jump in and if it’s cold, it’s cold. That was SAUDADE and absolutely a move I’m proud I made.

Did you learn anything – creatively, musically, personally – that bled into your newest EP, Soul Food?

Soul Food is almost like a transitional emotion. I’m getting older, and yet I’m still so young. I wrote SAUDADE between 19-21, and at 22 I think I have a clearer idea of what I require from myself, my relationship, my friendships. I have the desire, maybe even the need, for everyone in my life to “feed my mind, feed my soul.”

I want to learn old things in new ways. I want to be able to have thought provoking conversations and challenge the subconscious conformity in my mind. I want my heart to show through everything I do. I want to find purpose in the littlest things so I properly appreciate the bigger ones.

That’s what Soul Food is. It’s the examination of my mental growth in finally being comfortable to say, “I want to pull back the layers, look deeper, feel deeper.” Yet, I’m still learning, I’m still growing, and perhaps by the time my next record drops, I may want something completely different.

The intro to the album is pretty candid and honest. It speaks directly to the listener in a way that’s personal, but relatable. How did you decide to go with that to kick things off?

I knew that my supporters really appreciate the intros to my projects because it’s the moment I take to speak directly to them, break the fourth wall if you will. I wanted to be honest because this is a project that’s indicative of the soul, so in saying basically, “Hey I didn’t always know this was it for me,” I open another perspective into myself beyond the artist that I think is really important for my growth and for my audience trust.

“Tangle Free” is short, runs right to the point, but keeps a mellow groove at the same time. What was it like making that track and deciding to keep the length at 1:33?

It’s funny because post release a lot of people were like “Why is ‘Tangle Free’ so short!? I wanted more!” (laughs) but for me, that’s the point. “Tangle Free” is about my generation’s sort of non-committal attitude, so what perfect way to sort of physically structure that then to leave a record virtually incomplete?

There’s no obligation to finish it, and I leave you hanging, you can decide if you want more or not. I think that’s how relationships can be at times as well now. For everything we don’t control, we control so much more.

I like the kind of haze and psychedelic warp that surrounds the title track. Is there a story behind the decision to create that atmosphere, or did it just feel right as you created?

I think that record just sort of took on a path of its own. I knew that would be the title track as soon as I heard it. There’s something very assertive about it that made me feel like this would be most centered for the record.

The harp on “Love Letter” is pretty rad and shows a different slant on your style. Can you explain the production and creation behind that track a little bit? “Fuck it – I’ll say it…” opens the track – it’s just so raw, putting yourself out there and making that leap. Is this something you did, or is it something that you would like to see more of in how people interact, an openness that isn’t afraid of risks?

I love “Love Letter,” sonically and lyrically, no pun intended, but it’s absolutely autobiographical, and I think my styling and vocalization shows that. The whole process was a bit unorthodox in that I wasn’t singing that intro piece or rapping it. It was more of a stream of consciousness. Just spewing out exactly what I wanted to say, and so that “fuck it,”‘ is exactly what was going on in my head when I came to the acceptance of my feelings.

In a perfect world we would say exactly what we mean, right? But I find it’s more comforting for people to talk around the point in hopes of being heard without completely just throwing it out there. Love Letter, as it was written in about 15 minutes, is that raw, yet honest proclamation and so risky, but the record is subsequently knowing I took that leap as you say. Is it so wrong to just say ‘I love you’ without hearing it back? I don’t think so. I want to have that courage in all aspects of my life without regard of being judged or ostracized.

So as someone who’s independent in music, making connections and working with the right producers, what would you say has been the most critical or important to keeping you going and creating? And if it’s just a personal drive that makes you feel alive, that works, too, and what is it about that feeling?

I think it’s a mix of both actually. On one end, passion is essential because it provides authenticity. You can tell when I genuinely care about what I’m writing about, and I’m sure it would certainly show if I lacked that passion as well. So of course my passion and love for my craft and my lyrics are a large part of the creation process.

However, I think as indie artists we need to keep up that same energy to network and learn/study the music business, the key players, the wins and losses. A lot of artists upload music to let’s say, SoundCloud, and are waiting for some A&R to stumble upon them in a sea of unsigned artists. While that’s a possibility, it’s a romanticized version of “making it.” You have to be equally as diligent and persistent in branding yourself, rather than waiting on the sidelines.

You have to make those windows of opportunity apparent because no one is simply handing them to you. I get that, and so I balance my passion and love for this craft with a steady level of realism and humility to accept the process, trust in the process, and what I feel in my heart.

Finally – what else is on tap? An LP? Shows?

I’m exclusively revealing this here, but SAUDADE V2 will be released on Nov. 28th, so I’m very excited to extend that chapter and continue this story my supporters have been so gracious to listen to. I’m also working on a few side projects with producers and of course collaborating with fellow artists.

The shows will definitely be continuing into the fall season, which is my most inspiring season musically, and I love playing these shows and meeting new artists and people. So I have a few planned things for the fall and a few more surprises.

01.08.2017 / By Joey Smith