Today’s Feature – March 8-9: Justin Nozuka

March 9, 2008 at 1:33 am (Today's Feature)

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It’s a wonder we haven’t heard more about Justin Nozuka, the “guitar slinging aficionado with the street smarts of an urban swinger and the heart-bending soul of a gospel preacher,” but we also have to accept that his roots aren’t based here in the U.S. The half Japanese, half American Nozuka was born in New York, but grew up in Toronto and has also spent considerable time touring through Europe and beyond. We also can’t discount the fact that this guy isn’t even old enough to buy a drink.

Consider the timing of his debut album, “Holly.” The entire record was pulled together during his junior year… in HIGH SCHOOL. However Nozuka is still somehow “adept at blending a dark, bluesy Americana vibe with warm, acoustic soul where bits of old folk music and flamenco tunes swirl in and out of earshot.” Not since Ben Harper and Johnny Lang has a new age blues artist made such an impression, procured such a grip on his rapt audience.

Its obvious Nozuka has found remarkable success at an early age, but it hasn’t changed the soulful performer. He says “I find myself closing my eyes through a lot of it, trying to get myself to open my eyes and letting things sink in, but it’s hard when you’re reaching for something.” This modesty isn’t always the case in an entertainment industry that requires its members to be more brash, bigger and brighter than the rest. But Nozuka, even with the ability to silence a sold-out coliseum with the echoes of his saintly tone, stays balanced. A seven song EP will be released shortly, and the tour will continue. Once Justin leaves the rest of the world in awe, jump at the chance to check him out in the states. Read his XXQ’s to find out more.

XXQs: Justin Nozuka

PensEyeView.com (PEV): How and when did you first get started in music?

JN: I first started getting into music at the age of 12. I used to play hockey, and on the way to games the radio was always on.. I started singing along and eventually singing during games and then it just took over.

PEV: You are half Japanese, half American, born in New York and grew up in Toronto; what kind of music where you listening to growing up?

JN: I listened to mainly mainstream radio at first. My first cassette that I got hooked on was Lauryn Hill – “Mis Education”… and over time 90’s R&B – BOYZ II MEN, etc… eventually some old school stuff – Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye… and then through Jack Johnson, I discovered Ben Harper and then to Joni Mitchell, and now recently, Sufjan Stevens, M. Ward, Iron and Wine, Radiohead, Damien Rice, Jose Gonzalez and so on.

PEV: Was there a certain point when you realized you wanted music to go from a hobby to a living?

JN: I always shot for the making it a lifetime career.

PEV: Tell us about your first live performance. How did it go?

JN: I performed with my 2 older brothers at a local club in Aurora, ON called the Tigers Club. It was a hair styling show, about 6 years ago. We had performed a dance routine and sang 2 acapella songs in 3 piece harmony. I remember being real nervous and afterwards having this sketchy dude tell us that he could have a guy from a record company come out in his helicopter, listen to us sing, and make us bigger than the Spice Girls.

PEV: From that first time on stage to now, has your performance style changed?

JN: Yeah – completely changed. I used to be part of the new age R&B scene – dancing and using fake instruments to back me on stage. Now I perform with my band and play guitar.

PEV: What can fans expect from a live Justin Nozuka performance?

JN: Currently in the club venues, the band and I put on about an hour and 15 minute set. Most of the songs are from Holly, but we throw in a few new ones from a recently recorded home sessions EP. The performance is definitely more edgy and heavier than the album, but it comes down at times as well.

PEV: Tell us about your latest release and debut album, “Holly.”

JN: Holly was recorded during my 11th grade high school year. I missed a lot of school for it. It was produced by Bill Bell, and mainly done in his Condo in Toronto. A chunk of the album was recorded as demo sessions – one take vocal and guitar and then production afterwards. The songs which have drums and bass were recorded at Wellesley Sound Studio.

PEV: How is “Holly” different from your other works and others out there today?

JN: I got some old things floating out on the web – some recordings which were done in my brothers room 4 years ago as something to give away after open mics. It was just one guitar and vocal – not recommended to check out – as well a sample of earlier R&B stuff. More recently, a new home recorded EP done with my band – live off the floor – these recordings are more raw than anything else I’ve done, and I would say I’m most proud of it.

PEV: How would you describe your musical style?

JN: As it evolves with a band, I think there are many different elements – neo soul, folk, blues, r&b and maybe some others.

PEV: Tell us about life on the road for you. Best and worst parts?

JN: The best is that we get to tour in a bus this time around in Canada. Worst – on the first day of the tour, the first guitar I had ever performed with fell off the top bunk and cracked right in half.

PEV: What’s one thing that people would be surprised to hear about Justin Nozuka?

JN: Not too sure.

PEV: When you sit down to write music what kind of environment do you surround yourself in?

JN: I need to be alone.

PEV: How have all your friends and family members reacted to your career?

JN: Everyone has been real cool about it – very supportive.

PEV: Blending neo-soul, folk, old-time blues and pop, how would YOU describe your style to those that are just tuning into you?

JN: It’s hard for me to judge my own style. I think it’s r&b/soul style vocal combined with some rock, blues, folk – but I don’t really know.

PEV: When you aren’t touring or performing what can we find everyone doing in your spare time?

JN: Everyone probably wouldn’t be around – but I love hanging with my family, good friends – enjoying nature. Just hanging out.

PEV: What has been the most memorable part of your career so far?

JN: There’s been so much. I find myself closing my eyes through a lot of it, trying to get myself to open my eyes and letting things sink in, but it’s hard when you’re reaching for something.

PEV: Having worked with artists like, John Cale, Crowded House, Ziggy Marley, Sam Roberts, Jully Black and Xavier Rudd. What artists would you like to collaborate with that you have not had a chance to?

JN: I haven’t ever worked with these Artists – just opened for them, which was a great experience. There are many Artists I’d love to collaborate with – I’m looking forward to projects with my band, my brothers, and whoever I vibe with on the way.

PEV: Is there an up and coming artist right now you think we should all be looking into?

JN: The Felice Brothers – http://www.myspace.com/thefelicebrothers Little Dragon – http://www.myspace.com/yourlittledragon Mark Wilson – http://www.myspace.com/markwilsonmusic

PEV: Where will you be in ten years?

JN: I have no idea. Hopefully with music out there that I’m proud of and being able to tour the world.

PEV: So, what is next for you?

JN: Next is releasing this 7 song EP – to keep touring, keep writing, and trying to get inspired.

For more information on Justin Nozuka, check out www.JustinNozuka.com

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