Sometimes the magnetic draw of an artist's age overwhelms the actual music they've created. Terms like precocious are banded around with such vigour, people sometimes overlook them or are oppositely drawn in by such a trivial detail. I personally think if the music is good enough whether you're 18 or 98, it shouldn't be a factor.
Justin Nozuka creates beautiful neo-soul songs powered with such a powerful voice. Imaginary scenario based songs breathe life into a generally somewhat stale genre and the result is clean and crisp.
Contactmusic caught up with Justin on his brief visit to the UK.
Contactmusic: So how are you finding England?
Justin Nozuka: It's great man.
CM: Is this your first trip over here?
JN: This is my third trip.
CM: Ah ok, so music-wise is this your first trip or have you been over here to play gigs before?
JN: Well every other trip that I've had here has been music orientated and yeah I performed on each of the trips actually
CM: So, how long are you over here for?
JN: Well I'm in Europe until the 31st [March] but I'm in England until Monday.
CM: Well it's good to have you in our country.
JN: Yeah, thanks man it's good to be here
CM: Well, I'm a big fan of the music and it's sometimes hard to believe how young you are and I'm sure it's something you get a lot in terms of people referring to your age, is that something that bothers you at all?)
JN: Not really, no. It's annoying when people compare me to other young artists but no I don't think that it's annoying at all otherwise.
CM: So has music always been a big part of your life?
JN: Yeah, ever since I was 10 years old or so music was everything. Well actually I was playing hockey at the time, but I was always into what was on the radio and singing and all that.
CM: So was there a definitive moment when things started to change for you and you began to look into music much more or did this just gradually just happen?
JN: Yeah it just gradually happened really.
CM: Did you just find yourself more and more getting involved in music and playing intruments?
JN: Yeah, it kinda just evolved; you know what I mean? And just over time it just changed.
CM: So what kind of artists were you listening to when you first started listening to music?
JN: I was listening to Michael Jackson, it was mainly just listening to what was on the radio, cos I used to do carpools for hockey games and stuff like that and the radio was always on. I'd memorise all the songs that were playing on the radio at the time and that was what I was mainly listening to but then I got this CD, actually it was a cassette, of Lauryn Hill: 'The miseducation of Lauren Hill', which was the first cassette I ever bought and I repeated that and rewound that over and over for a long time.
CM: Yeah so, I've been having a look around and can see your brother George is doing a lot for himself music-wise as well. Do you come from quite a music orientated family?
JN: Yeah. Artistic orientated more; my mum is like an all-round artist, she's pretty great at art and we kinda grew up in that environment and me and my brothers are mainly all into art. My brother Christian is a composer, he plays piano and just creates beautiful music on the piano and guitar, my brother Phil, he's acting at the moment but he's like pretty all-rounded as well like he dances and makes music and writes and all that. And also my younger brother Henry is a dancer, he's a modern dancer, and he's getting into that more and more and George, he's doing music and my two sisters are still in school and they've just graduated so it's all pretty artistic.
CM: Yeah, it sounds like it. Were there any pressures for you to go down that route or was it again just a natural thing?
JN: No, no not really I think the pressure was more on my younger brother, Henry, because he didn't really know what he wanted to do but then he figured it out and now he's so passionate about dance so he's figured out his own thing but for me I just kinda went into it.
CM: Cool, So are you still in education? Are you still at college?
JN: Yeah, I'm still at high school. I'm actually doing a paper right now.
CM: What are you doing? What are you writing about?
JN: I'm writing an article, well not an article more like a page write up about this poem called 'The Hollow Man' and its just like a personal response.
CM: Do you find it hard to balance education and a musical career at the same time?
JN: Yeah, kind of. I mean I can't like let go 100% yet because I've still gotta think about school and I gotta ground myself back into school so I feel like once I'm done with school I can really get into music, I'll be like 'this is it, this is my life and that's it' but now it's like I'm bouncing and I think it takes a bit of my energy away.
CM: I'm sure it does, but you're doing exceptionally well to balance the two because it's such a hard thing to do, breaking into the music industry. But I'm sure that once, like you said, you can finish with school and you can focus a lot more on it and hopefully reach your potential.
So your voice you have amazing vocals on the album. Where did you find your voice? Was it something you've had to work on or have you always been quite naturally gifted?
JN: I dunno, I remember as a kid me and my brothers used to sing together and I was probably about 12 years old, no 10 years old when I started and then when I started singing to people and my family I used to always sing with my brothers and we'd sing at dinner and I remember my sister, the first time that we sung, she was like 'Your voice is like Christina Aguilera', and I was like 'Yeah? Sick!' So I just kinda kept doing it and going back listening to some tapes now of when I was a kid I was like awful but my family were so supportive and people would always tell me 'you're great, you're great' and so I kept doing it and I think it just evolved.
CM: Right, So I've been listening to the album and I really like the way you use scenario based outlines as a foundation for some of the music, you know the likes of 'Criminal' and 'Down in a cold dirty well.' Where did this approach to song writing come from?
JN: I'm not too sure man, I mean I just remember writing my first ever writing piece as a story and I think that's just where my headspace is, I love imagination and I love all of that so I love going into different worlds and it just turns me on, you know it's like something I'm really passionate about, going into different worlds. I think it just happened naturally.
CM: Right, because it's really refreshing to see. People, within all music genres, do stick to a lot of experiential music making but I do really like it, it's a nice way to approach it.
So the album's just been released in the UK and in terms of being an American-based artist; what does it mean to be releasing an album in the UK?
JN: I think it's great man, it's really cool because it's like my brother George, he's doing it right now in Canada; he's blowing up in Canada and all my friends are like calling and like 'yeah yeah yeah' but over here it's like I don't know anyone here so it's kinda happening here and everyone back home everyone's like "ohhhh", you know what I mean?
It's like nothing's really happening and I love that, I think it's great; I feel like I'm keeping it inside of it when I go home and I think it builds up the passion and builds up the excitement for me and also it's great to see the world man. It's wicked, you know what I mean? And I think it's also a great place to start; in the UK and just let things seep out of there because the music thing here is not so tight, it doesn't have a structure - I feel, from what I know and it's very cool.
CM: Is England a place that, musically, you did aspire to conquer when you were making music? What was is it about the English music scene you like?
JN: Well I don't know too much about what's really going down here but a record label, Outkast, indie label just heard about me and heard some music and I licensed a CD to them and I was just going to work here and it wasn't like something I chose to do it just kind of happened that way, but now from what I know, the music is coming from here. I think it's very cool that things are changing to more of an acoustic based, singer-song writer type vibe and it's switching from this boyband type thing, which is really like exciting and cool. It's a little more real to me.
CM: Well there are very definitive patterns and that shifts in people's radar for music, I think you always find that and especially in the UK it's refreshing to see that we are moving towards a more acoustic, singer-songwriter genre. Like James Morisson and people like who are doing exceptionally well at the moment.
Is that something you see back home, shifting patterns?
JN: Yeah totally, I mean I don't see it yet too much in Canada but I think it's definitely going to and then it's definitely going to happen again where companies and people with so much money with a business mind are going to try and create this again and try and create 'that' artist but it'll be way too manufactured and then it'll start off again. You know what I mean? But it's cool to see what's coming now, new wave is coming in.
CM: Yeah, I mean there's so many artists out there who are trying to succeed and trying to succeed and trying to make a name for themselves and their music. For people reading this, then, who may be artists themselves or singer/song-writers, what one piece of advice would you give to them to help them break into the music industry and begin making a name for themselves?
JN: I think first of all it's important to listen to your soul and just listen to that voice inside of you because that's what I've noticed that when something's sketchy or something's weird or I don't feel 100% with it, I don't do it because it's such a strong thing. It's like you make that decision and you may not be able to sleep, and you can't live like that, you have to live to yourself and don't feel the pressure of other people and live up to other people, just live up to yourself and do what you want to do.
Also, I think another important thing is just be smart if you're going to get into the industry, the music business. Surround yourself with people you trust and people who believe in your vision and just good people. I think that's important.
CM: It's quite interesting that you've said that about gut feeling and intuition because recently scientists have found out that the neurons that you find in your brain are also present in two other places: the heart and intestinal tract so both gut feelings and heartache do actually exist. Scientists do have more and more evidence now to describe why we feel so strongly about certain issues or certain decisions and unfortunately a lot of people don't think like that but I think if you do follow your instincts then it always leads to good places really.
JN: Oh totally man, that's all it is really. It's like you just follow your path, you don't follow his path or her path; you do your thing. And I think it'll work out for you if have good fortune.
CM: Yeah a bit of luck as well always helps.
So what's next for you? The next 6-12 months, what have you got planned?
JN: Well first of all I'll finish school and at the moment I'm just trying to make a band, a band that I can play with. So back home there's a few of my buddies that are playing together and I'm playing with different people as well in the area that I know and I'm just trying to create a good sound for when I play live. So my next trip to the UK will be in the UK and I'm hoping to come over with them and play some shows and also some shows that are just acoustic.
Basically I just want to let the CD go and just go with the flow really and just follow that gut feeling: let things happen and not try to push things down anybody's throat - just kind of let it flow.
CM: Well that's the best way to do it, you really have your head screwed on and with that kind of industry acumen; I think you'll go really far and I wish you all the best in the next 6-12 months and hopefully I'll get a chance see you when you're over in May. So anyway thanks for talking to us today Justin
JN: Yeah cool man, thank you.
Blurred Lines (Unrated Version)
24K Magic [American Music Awards Performance]