Author: Justin Grome
• Where are you from? Have your surroundings shaped you in a creative sense, and in what way?
I was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona. After finishing college in 2014, I moved to North Hollywood, California to pursue my music career. I think growing up around so many hard-working people and in a city that's never really been on the map helped create a sense of determination in myself and my music. Moving to LA has also provided me with a lifetime of experiences and new understanding in just the past 4+ years - positive and negative - and I think you can really hear how all of that new influence has helped to shape my sound these days. I try my hardest to take nothing for granted, and regret nothing. Its all a part of the greater process, and we can all learn something from any situation.
• What’s your background like? Where do you stand on the music scene in your area?
I really didn't start recording music until I had moved out of Arizona. I've worked with a couple artists in and from Tucson - two of my good friends, Dre Mims and Devin Scott, live out here in LA now too - but my city for the most part has had a tough time embracing artistic acts for whatever reason. Having entered the music game later than most artists, I think a lot of people I used to know were instantly skeptical of my abilities and my intentions when I started rapping and singing. Then, not being in the city, doing it in a different state, has probably made it difficult for people to really latch on to my career and music. I love Tucson, and I want to make sure that people across the world know where I'm from when they hear my music, so I hope in the next few years I can continue do my part in bringing everybody around to my art, and hopefully put Arizona as a whole in the spotlight. All I can do is make the best music possible - everything else will follow.
• What did you start doing first, producing or rapping? How did you get started?
I actually started by teaching myself guitar around the age of 16. I had been in the middle school/elementary school band when I was much younger, but I never actually learned how to read sheet music or pay much attention to music theory. My parents and teachers would tell you I was always musically gifted, but I was a pretty stubborn kid, and if the instruction wasn't right for me, I could be pretty difficult. I don't think that's changed much as I've gotten older, though hopefully I'm more receptive to learning and being taught from multiple sources. I have a degree in English, so poetry - and writing in general - has always been a talent of mine. I used to write "raps" and just perform them for myself or my little brother, and joke about being a rapper, but I was 21 before I ever actually recorded a verse on a track. Even that was supposed to be kind of a joke, but when people heard it for the first time they were actually blown away. I had known at that point for a few years that I wanted to make music, so at that point I kind of just saw a lane, ran with it, and within a month I had bought a microphone and was starting to record original verses and songs, and less than 5 months after I first recorded that random verse I had released a project under a stage name (which none of you can ever hear, by the way). I had a loooong way to go, and I still do, but the journey was underway.
• Do you have anyone that you consider your mentor? How has their help or advice shaped you?
I take things and learn from different people. I've watched situations blow up in people's faces and learned from those, I've researched other artists' lives and taken from them the parts relevant to my life, and like I said, I like to think I've improved my learning and listening skills in order to take in all of these lessons. There are quite a few people I'm indebted to forever - Adam Chagnon for offering me the chance to record in one of the most well-renowned studios in the world and sparking my interest in audio engineering, Marcel Ojeda for being so selfless with his time and energy and believing in my art enough to continue to teach me the arts of engineering and mastering, Joseph Tiggs for being a constant source of encouragement and creative energy, as well as helping me to dive into audio production, and absolutely both of my parents for not shooting down their son's crazy dream of making music for the rest of his life, and continuing to be the most supportive people in my corner. There have been a lot more people who have influenced me in a variety of different ways, artists who've showed me what true musicianship is and how to be calm and professional in a chaotic industry, and friends who have never given up on me through all of the ups and downs. If I named everyone who has played a part in my growth as an artist and a person in the last 6+ years, we'd run out of space. I just hope they always know how thankful for them I am, and how much of whatever success I attain is theirs as well. I've learned that mentors don't have to be 20 years older than you. They can be your peers too, and if they have something to teach you, their experience is just as invaluable. I'll be trying to pay them all back for the rest of my life.
• What is one experience in life that, without it, you wouldn’t be the artist you are today?
When I moved to LA in 2014, with no real connections, no friends, and no idea how to really turn music into a career, I was unprepared for everything ahead of me. Whether that was due to ignorance, naivete, or youth (probably a mixture of all three), I jumped into a jungle and I had to find my way out of it. I spent my first year here in a 600 square-foot studio apartment, spent a lot of nights questioning myself and my abilities, wondering if I would ever see the light on the other side of this journey. I forced myself to take risks, to meet new people, to go through all of the growing pains that simply staying home would never have exposed me to. It took me almost two months to find a job, and then that job closed down four months later. I considered just going home multiple times. I found a new job, committed myself to researching and understanding the business of music, as well as creating better music and growing as an artist. That year was the most difficult of my life emotionally and mentally, but without it I wouldn't be half the artist I am today. I don't spend a lot of time looking back, but when I remember where I came from, and where I am now, it all feels worth it already.
• What do you hope to accomplish this year?
The next year is going to be my biggest year yet musically, and I haven't ever been more excited to continue making and releasing music than I am right now. At the end of December, I'll be re-releasing my original project, 'Rain', on all streaming platforms. I re-mixed it from scratch, and its been remastered and re-made into a more powerful and clear work of art that I think finally gives it the polish it deserves. This is in the lead-up to the last installment of the 'Rain' trilogy, 'Rain III', which I'm hoping to release by February 2019. These three EPs are the embodiment of the struggle and growing pains that I've lived through over the past five years, and to me are the culmination of my "formative" years in music. Together, they tell my story, and I'm proud of the growth I've achieved since I've been in California. Along with this new project, I've already begun work on my first full-length album, new visual content, and forming a live band to continue to grow as a performance artist. I'm planning on continuing to perform in front of larger audiences, in more-renowned venues, and working with some of the most talented people in the industry. The 'Rain' Era might be coming to an end with this February release, but I'm excited because its already opening up a new chapter in my life.
• What does your work aim to say?
My music spends a lot of time exploring mental health - depression, anxiety, and paranoia specifically, and how they influence us. I make songs for people who spend so much time in their own minds that sometimes they forget that the outside world exists. Whether it be more violence on the news, another natural disaster, or even a messy break-up, there are also a lot of negative energies in our world today, a lot of dark, scary influences that can be overwhelming to think about, and I know that I have a tendency to internalize all of it. I feel everything deeply, and sometimes this leads me to a darkness that's difficult to shake off. My music is for people like me, who see all of these terrible things going on around us, who hold them inside of us and wonder if we are the problem, and if we have any power to help. I want people to know that they aren't alone when they listen to my music, that they can take all of these problems and use them to create change, to create art, to create hope for others. Acknowledging our weaknesses can become our greatest strength - when we understand what it is that's holding us back, we then have the tools to improve ourselves and the world. I want you to feel the progression in my music and in yourself, and inspire you to go out and take on whatever challenge you're facing , no matter what has been holding you back in the past. Its okay to make mistakes and to fall down. We can always choose to start again, and to improve ourselves.
• Who are your biggest influences and what do you like about them the most?
Artists who take the term "musician" seriously will always be the most influential in my life. Being a musician requires a lifetime of dedication, something I'm equally in awe of and committed to. From the beginning of my dive into music, and hip-hop music specifically, I've been mesmerized by the artists who say the most, who do the most, and who are fully committed not to making a number one record but to creating music that bares their soul. Tupac instantly drew me in at a young age with his commitment to street poetry, telling powerful, emotional stories with his platform and exposing millions of kids like me to a world that we may never have had access to. Despite his tumultuous history, Kanye West has also always been a massive musical influence of mine. His willingness to be raw and unfiltered, to test the boundaries of music, and to draw continuously from past sounds to create new ones will always inspire me to create fearlessly. And more recently, diving even deeper into the discography and immense musical talent of the late Mac Miller has been a revelation. The ability to play multiple instruments, produce full compositions, and continue to evolve as an artist until the day he died is something I will carry with me forever, which I think as artists is all we want to accomplish, leaving our permanent mark on the world we leave behind. There are countless artists I could name who had a part in my growth, and I hope through my music I can continue to acknowledge all of them.
• How would you describe your own style?
I am a very diverse artist because of my natural abilities and my growing need to create different art. Some of my songs are centered around my verbal abilities, my speed, dexterity, and flexibility within rap verses. Others owe much more to my love of classic R&B, written and recorded to drip with emotion and vulnerability. Some of them include both of these elements. My goal is to never make the same song twice, to do my best as a developing musician to create new sounds and new compositions. I admittedly do not spend much time listening to a lot of current, "popular" musical trends. I listen to my influences and try to find new ones to draw from, and then discover how I can make unique music using the blueprints they have laid out for me. While music will always be assigned a genre, the ability these days to bend those genres and create new ones is one of the most exciting aspects, to me, of creating. I am a recording artist, and each track is a chance for me to continue to define my own style.
• In what ways has your newest music changed from when you first started?
I am so much more sure of my direction now as an artist. I'm confident in my abilities and it shows in my songs. All of my music now follows the thematic elements that I have decided to expand on, and listening to my songs in succession will hammer home those themes. As opposed to a completely open exploration of what I was capable of when I was younger, I've solidified my strengths and worked extremely hard on my weaknesses to become a more consistent artist. I have also become an infinitely more accomplished audio engineer, so the quality of sound I have now is so much more refined than when I first began and didn't have the education or skills to know better. By learning and teaching myself basic rules and the foundations of good music, I have become so much more proud of and confident in my art.
• What are the main inspirations for the lyrics you write?
As opposed to a lot of artists in music today, I write every word of every song. I don't draw inspiration from things and situations that don't influence me directly, so everything I write comes from somewhere in my soul - from a personal experience, a dream, or some sort of thematic metaphor. I don't sit down and write down words that rhyme and then fill in the words around them. I write stories, situations, and memories, and then incorporate them into the music. I believe that this gives my music a genuine feel to it that can't be created or faked - at some point, no matter what song you listen to, I was deep inside my mind, looking for the right words to say what I was feeling at that exact moment. You'll always get what's real from me, and that's a promise not everyone can give you.
• What would be your dream venue in which to perform?
There are a lot of venues I want to perform at even here in Los Angeles that I haven't yet had the opportunity to. The House of Blues, El Rey, and The Novo are all on my short-term list of stages to rock. But to me, the most meaningful concert I could ever be a part of is a concert in my hometown, at Arizona Stadium or inside The McKale Center on the campus of the University of Arizona. The day that I headline in one or both of those venues is the day I'll be able to look every single person in the eyes and tell them that I did what I came here to do - bring it all back to the city that raised me, in front of the people I grew up with.
• What’s a song you have stuck in your head these days?
I can't get Mac's album 'Swimming' out of my head. Its an unbelievably well-rounded and beautiful work of art, and it was stuck in my head from the week he released it. His passing has unfortunately added a new, somber layer to the album that I will probably never be able to fully state, and listening to it is a reminder that we all are here for the same reason - to keep our head above the water while we're here, and to leave a mark on the world we leave behind.