By Nicole Fitzgerald
Who: Justin Nozuka
When: Feb. 18
Where: Garibaldi Lift Company (GLC)
Most musicians would jump at the chance if Universal came knocking at their door offering to front the money to produce their debut album.
Most, but not Justin Nozuka.
So dedicated to ensuring he allow himself the time to delve and explore his sound and create honest music entirely his own, he turned down the giant record label and instead accepted a loan from his mother Holly, which is also the name of his debut album.
“I decided it wasn’t right to jump into a label right away,” Nozuka said. “I needed to make sure to give myself some time to discover my music before getting into that bubble… My mom, she was really open to me following my dream. She allowed me to be free and never put boundaries on me. She gave me the opportunity to record.”
Nozuka followed in the footsteps of musicians he always admired such as Jack Johnson, Ben Harper and Dave Matthews by first focusing on playing live shows and selling music out of the trunk of his car – but not quite, with EMI and Warner distributing his album. However, Nozuka stays true to the indie way, having just completed a six-song EP recorded live off the floor, leaving the producing to his own creative zeal.
“That was my mission, to do it on my own from the ground up,” he said.
He’s making good on his promise to play live shows as well. The Toronto native has set off on a one-month cross-Canada tour, and is coming to Whistler on Feb. 18 to play the Garibaldi Lift Company (GLC).
He and his four-piece band bring a blend of neo-soul, folk, old-time blues and pop to the stage. His music has been described as having the guts of Ray LaMontagne and the soul of Lauryn Hill. He delivers a dark bluesy Americana vibe with a warm acoustic soul over insightful and passionate lyrics that travel all of life’s highways — from shedding light on an abusive relationship in Save Him to weighing the pain of intoxication in Criminal.
“I am mostly into songs that I can cry through, that enable me to get to that emotional place and release my blues – that’s my passion,” he said.
The blues have never been more beautiful with hits such as Down in a Cold Dirty Well taking his music around Canada, Europe and the United Kingdom.
One BBC critic praised, “In his debut album, Holly, Justin Nozuka has created eleven impressive pieces of thoughtful acoustic soul. Filled with understated melodies, minimal production and an interesting, sometimes dark take on song-craft… 4 stars.”
Nozuka was also recently nominated for a Juno Award as Best New Artist of the Year.
We’ll have to wait until the Juno Awards are hosted in April for the judges to decide whether he is the best, but no one could argue right now that he isn’t the truest.