Former Strike pianist Jake Justice explores EDM influences on upcoming album.
We got to speak with Jake Justice on December 28, 2015 – a cold and snowy day for us in Provo that never got above 20 degrees. In LA, however, it was a partly sunny 55 degrees for the affable, easy going pianist. When asked how the weather was, he replied, “Perfect, as usual.” Read what he has to say about his upcoming album, his favorite performance, and his recent collaborations.
Thanks again for doing the interview! How’ve you been, man?
Good! I just moved in to a new place two weeks ago here in LA. It’s really awesome. I finally finished building my home studio and I’ve been trying to get that going – get that launched and off the ground. I have a solo album coming out next month that I’m really excited for. Not just piano, but like, a full on electronic EDM sort of thing. Other than that I’m playing piano here and there, wherever I get hired. I do arranging for a lot of people and [I’m] producing a lot of people. Working with some Utah people actually, too, from the production end of things. So yeah, just trying to stay busy 24/7 basically.
So when exactly did you take off for LA?
Exactly a year ago.
Whoa. Okay, cool! So end of 2014 then?
So what was the reason for the move?
Well, there were a lot of reasons. I grew up here [in California], and so it’s always been home to me. Honestly, I was done with school and things were going really well with The Strike. But the thing is, the band was really the only thing keeping me in Utah. I loved playing with The Strike more than anything. I mean, it was great. But at the end of the day, I have tons of musical goals. You know, life goals. Utah just wasn’t really the place for me to accomplish everything else that I wanted to do at the scale and the level that I wanted to do. And I just really missed living in California too. I grew up here. All of my connections are here, friends are here, you know? That’s not to take away from the music scene in Utah at all, because it’s excellent and it’s wonderful. But I don’t want to just play in a band. I want to write music for movies. I want to write musicals. I want to produce. I want to song-write for people. So all of that stuff – the fact that LA is one of the top music and entertainment capitals in the world, combined with the fact that I grew up here – it just made sense. I was just kind of tired of waiting too long in Utah for those things to happen.
Yeah, because as much as we like to work, we simply don’t have the resources here that LA does. LA, New York, Nashville. They’ve got decades and decades of experience, connections, and industry.
And you know what? It’s tough because now more than ever you can do stuff and not necessarily be in one of those cities because of the internet. Especially in Utah, where the music scene really is great. But for me and my situation it just made a lot of sense. So I just decided to kind of take a huge leap of faith and go for it. And honestly, it’s been paying off really well. So I’m really happy that I did it.
Well that’s good! It seems like you’ve been able to make some awesome connections. Like I watched you and VINCENT perform – you opened up for Mimi’s [Mimi Knowles] album release show – and that was a killer performance! How did you meet VINCENT?
Yeah, so VINCENT and I met through one of my friends who I grew up with here. They went to Berkeley School of Music together, and VINCENT had just moved out here. What had happened was he was supposed to play this gig that I happened to be at, and then he didn’t have a keyboardist. I was at soundcheck. I wasn’t even playing but I happened to have my keyboard in my car. I was like, “Oh, do you need a keyboardist?” and he was like, “Yeah! Sure!” [Laughs] And then we just kind of sound checked together. I mean, he was only doing a couple of songs and a couple of them were covers, so it didn’t take me long to figure out what he needed. So I guess just the fact that we were able to throw something together super quick was super cool. Then I just started playing with him after. I ended up playing that gig with him.
So are you still playing with him now?
Yeah, I do sometimes. He’s been doing a lot of small gigs where it’s just acoustic and he plays his guitar. And also I’ve been, honestly, focusing a lot on my own solo stuff, too. So I don’t play with him as much as I used to. But yeah, whenever he needs me I play for him.
You posted last year about the meaning behind Siren Suite – about how you hadn’t had much time to focus on the things that you love. Do you feel like you’ve been able to do that a lot more?
Oh my gosh. Yeah! Well, here’s the other thing. Like I said before. The Strike was great. I mean, phenomenal. But one of the challenges of being in the band was being in the band with eight other people. We had a certain sound and a certain style. It’s a great style and a great sound, and I really loved it. But the one sacrifice was that there honestly wasn’t as much room for artistic growth in – not in where I wanted to go with the band – but just the way I needed to go for myself. And part of the reason I moved out here was just to go back to my roots – being really true to myself as an artist and as a musician. I was trained classically, and this new album I’m doing – while it’s not out yet – you’ll see that even though it’s like a modern electronic album, there’s a lot of strong classical roots in it. That’s just who I am. We do music for the art. If you’re doing it just for money, I mean why would you do that? You be a lawyer if you want to do something for money. [Laughs] You don’t do music for money. That’s like the stupidest thing ever.
It’s like the worst investment. [Laughs]
You’re like, “Hey, I want to make a lot of money! I’m gonna do music!” No. That’s not – no. [Laughs] I really think that the best way to success is by not just being true to yourself but by being true to yourself in a way that fulfills a need for people. I think what people want and need right now from artists is authenticity. It’s been really great to just have, like, complete artistic freedom to do whatever I want and to be able to have the freedom to experiment with things and try new things. It’s been creatively and spiritually fulfilling in that sense.
Well, let’s talk about this new album. So you said it’s an EDM album. I’ve noticed with the covers and the mashups you’ve been posting on Facebook that there’s a lot of synthesizer and a lot of beats and stuff like that. Have you always been interested in EDM and in synthesizer? Or is this a new venture?
Well EDM is kind of a recent phenomenon, so I can’t say I’ve always been interested in that, but I have absolutely been interested in electronic music for a long time – synthesizers. I mean I got my first synthesizer when I was in high school and I messed around a lot with that. When I was in the commercial music program at BYU, I took synthesizer lessons from Dave Zimmerman, and honestly that really changed my life more than most classes at BYU did. That was one of my most influential courses that I took at BYU. Not just influential, but it was by far the most useful thing that I took at BYU. I still use the principles that I learned then today and every day. So yeah, I think that [EDM] is definitely a big thing that’s going on right now. It’s a big craze. What I really love about it is that you have all of these DJs that are filling out arenas and going on tour and stuff. I went and saw Zedd at the Staples Center. What I like about the music is that it allows for people like me who are writers, producers, whatever – who aren’t necessarily singers – it gives us an opportunity to be able to give a live performance for people. Once I saw that starting to happen I realized, “Oh my gosh! This is what I want to do!” Because while I love writing, composing, and producing, honestly the thing I love the most is live performing. That’s what I loved about The Strike so much. The Strike is what really opened my eyes to that, because growing up I really just wanted to write music for movies and be a producer. I didn’t know how infectious the bug for live performing was until my experience with The Strike. And once I discovered that, then there’s really no going back. I mean, you know this! There’s no greater feeling of euphoria and excitement and adrenaline than performing live. There’s no greater reward than sharing that experience with a live audience and feeling that energy reciprocating back and forth between the performer and the audience. It’s pure magic.
Do you have a favorite performance that you’ve had in LA? Or a favorite performance with The Strike?
Honestly, I haven’t really been trying to do many live performances here yet because I’m finishing my album first. Once that’s done, and that should be done by the end of January, then I’m gonna start pushing it big time. But my favorite performance with The Strike was definitely when – not even when we actually performed at Stadium of Fire, opening for Kelly Clarkson – but the show before that with the top four contestants competing against each other to play Stadium of Fire. The reason that was extremely exciting to me was to see all the hundreds of people that came out to support us and, you know, help us win the competition. We got to play a longer set, too. I had never felt such intense energy and obviously the excitement of hearing hundreds of people singing the songs that you helped write is insane, too. It’s one of the craziest things in the world. So I would say that was probably my favorite performance with The Strike. And, honestly, Stadium of Fire was really great, but at the end of the day when you’re up on that stage and you’re in this massive stadium with fifty thousand people, it feels like you’re playing for ants. [Laughs] You know? There’s just this sea of people and, I don’t know, it felt a little detached compared to when we played at the Scera Amphitheater for the qualifying show. So that was not only my favorite performance with The Strike, but the first time discovering and feeling that intense energy of performing live in front of fans and in front of people that are singing your music back to you. I would say that was my favorite.
What’s the name of the new album?
I’m messing with a few titles right now… I’ve almost made a decision. I’ll definitely let you know. But as of now I haven’t completely decided yet.
Okay! So… How many tracks? When are you hoping to release it?
There’s five tracks. I’m hoping to release it by… I would say for now early 2016. It just depends on a few variables before I feel comfortable putting out a solid release date. It features different artists on each track. Some of those artists are from here, and some of those artists are from Provo – from Utah. So that’ll be fun to put that out there.
How do you go about collaborating with artists from Provo? Do you guys do it all digitally? Or do you fly people out?
Well, I mean, it’s nice because the internet does make everything really easy so you can easily collaborate with people anywhere, but it also does help that I try to get back to Utah once every month or two months. And then a lot of the people that I collaborate with are down here a lot, too, so it makes it pretty easy.
So with some of your collaborations outside of the album, you’ve done stuff with Amy Whitcomb and most recently Rob Landes. How do you know Rob? Where did you record the audio for the video and where did you shoot it?
[Laughs] So that’s actually a funny story. Rob actually played with The Strike. We did a couple shows with a string orchestra and we recruited him. I knew him through the BYU Music School. He was a violin performance major. So we hired him to come play with us for a couple of shows. And that was a really, really, really cool experience to get to play with The Strike and a string orchestra. So that’s how I met Rob. We stayed in touch. He went to grad school at Rice in Houston, and he started getting involved with YouTube. I really loved what he was doing so I called him up and asked him – I told him about this arrangement for Star Wars that I did. Star Wars was actually what inspired me to do music when I was a young child. So with Star Wars coming out I felt this sort of – not even just a desire but this sort of obligation and duty to pay tribute to the thing that inspired me to do music in the first place. So I asked him if he wanted to perform. And he did. And then we actually recorded everything at my studio. We went out to the middle of the desert in the outskirts of Las Vegas, kind of by Nellis Air Force Base, and we found Tatooine basically [Laughs] and we made the video.
How hot was it?
It was 33 degrees. [Laughs]
Oh man. It definitely looks a lot warmer.
Yeah, we were freezing our butts off. I’ll tell you. It’s really hard to play violin or play piano with your hands shaking like that, freezing cold. My hands definitely got a little numb. I mean, we filmed it in November, and we filmed in the morning at sunrise. So it gets cold. It gets cold in the desert when the sun’s not up. [Laughs] So despite being in the desert it was about 33 degrees, and the wind was blowing at about 20-25 miles per hour, so it was pretty insane conditions.
Oh man, that sucks. Well, I’ve gotta ask. Have you seen Star Wars?
Well I’ve seen it three times now. [Laughs]
So is it safe to say that you liked it?
Yeah, I mean I loved it. One thing we got to do – so, we actually performed this song at a premier for the film in Utah. Like a Thursday night, seven o’clock showing. We played it at the Scera Theatre. This guy, Caleb Chapman, who owns a music school in American Fork, rented out the theatre. He put on this huge event where they had dinner, and he had his jazz band playing cantina music and there were costumes and games. It was awesome. There’s a stage in front of the main screen. They played our video while we were performing it live right before they put on the actual film. So everyone was in the theatre. Excitement was through the roof for the movie. We got to open for Star Wars, I guess you could say. [Laughs] So that was a really cool moment. Honestly, as far as like nervousness and excitement goes, I was just as nervous for that as I was for opening for Kelly Clarkson. Even though there were only 600 people at this event, I dunno, Star Wars is a really big deal to me because of how much it affected my childhood and inspired me to do things. I wanted it to be good. So, yeah, that was a really great experience.
Alright, so now I’ve gotta ask you a personal question.
I absolutely love your photo shoots that you did last year, but I’ll be honest, seeing keyboards underwater and pianos on fire made me want to cry because I can’t afford any of the stuff that you were destroying.
Where did you get all the gear?
Well, the piano that we burned was in the house that I lived in with Myles and Marcus and the other guys from The Strike, and it had been there for who knows how long. It was a piece of garbage: unusable, un-repairable, and it was taking up room. Nobody played it. It sounded like garbage. So we were like, “You know what? Let’s just make art out of this and send it off with a bang!” And so we lit it with lighting fluid and set it on fire. We turned it into art. I feel like it was a good way to send it off. It was almost like cremating the dead body of a person that had lived a long and glorious life.
That’s a good way to put it.
[Laughs]. Yeah. There’s no way I would have just gotten a nice piano and burned that. There’s just no way.
One more question. I wanted to know. With the Provo music scene in general, how does it compare to LA? In your opinion, what do we as a music community need to improve on in order to gain the reputation as a hot spot for the music industry in the United States?
Honestly, I think the talent’s there. I think that while there’s a lot of people here in Los Angeles numbers wise, I think the level of talent is not superior here, as far as musical talent goes. I’ll even say the ratio of, like, talented musicians might even be higher in Provo. It might even be higher there than most places, or any place in the United States. I genuinely believe that. I think if Provo just keeps doing what they’re doing it’ll work. I think the one thing that I will say is that a lot of people have the tendency of becoming really comfortable. That’s fine if that’s what they want in life. But if people really want to change the world, you have to get out into the world and reach as large of an audience as possible. I would hope that people in Provo continue to do everything they can to play outside of Provo, keep making viral YouTube videos, and doing everything they can to get out into the world and to get that exposure. That’s the only thing. Because the talent’s there. I think sometimes we have this sort of mental block of thinking we’re like scared of the world, or thinking that people will reject us or that we’re not good enough, but at the end of the day I see so many more people who are like, average talent, that work insanely hard, and those are the people who make it. They will make it long before someone who is insanely talented who hides under a rock.