FOLK ON THE ROCKS
A CONVERSATION WITH JUSTIN NOZUKA
Although it may seem like just yesterday, Justin Nozuka, a 28-year-old Torontonian musician, has already been in the music industry for over a decade. Since his debut back in 2006, he’s gone through a long and rather intense musical journey, with his sound, objectives, and personal growth changing throughout.
“It’s always a push and pull I think, [it’s] just the nature of the industry, and also the nature of art in general. Pushing it a little bit further, or exploring new territory in terms of your artistic expression. You experience new things in your life and you put stuff out and reflect on it.”
Nozuka is planning on releasing his new and long-awaited album this summer. The contrast between his last one, Ulysees, and his current record is something he feels defines his growth as a musician.
“The third album [Ulysees] that I put out in 2014 is a lot more experimental. It’s a bit of a curve-ball I suppose. The new record that I just finished is my present sound, which is [an] acoustic, folk-rock-roll sort of a sound.”
Not only did Ulysees give Nozuka a chance to experiment, but it was also something he felt inclined to create, having no idea what the future would hold following its release.
“When I was making Ulysees, in my mind I was potentially making the last record I’d ever make. That record was extremely scary, because I was doing something so different and kind of saying ‘F*** you’ to my whole team in a way (laughs). Maybe not my whole team, but at least my whole situation. But it was something I had to do.”
Although making that album was a vulnerable time for Nozuka, he has no regrets.
“[Making Ulysees] felt very intuitive. I didn’t really know where it was going to lead me. I just knew I had to start moving forward with it, on this search for something. I wasn’t really sure where the path would lead me, and it ended up taking a long time.”
Despite the risk of losing support from his team, Nozuka completed the album. After going on tour for it, he was eager to return and embrace what he had learned from the experience.
“I was like, okay, let’s bring it home now, with everything that’s been learned in the past. [Making this current album] was still a stressful experience, because my whole team had been through this whole slowdown [from Ulysees]. A lot of it was bringing them back on board. All that stress lingered and was part of the process for this last album, and it wasn’t until I delivered the record that they said ‘We get it. We like it. We’re excited’. Once that happened, all the stress melted away.”
With many influences in his life, which have subsequently echoed throughout his music, the city of Toronto is one of the ones that has resonated the loudest. Although born in New York City, Nozuka was raised in Toronto and has since called it home.
“I feel most comfortable in [Toronto] than any other city that I’ve been in. It feels like home. It’s just a great balance. Especially for the first record, I did pick stories of actual things that went down in my life while being in Toronto. Especially Holly, I’m picking certain situations that were lived in this city.”
His debut album, Holly, released back in 2007, earned him a Juno nomination for Breakthrough Artist of The Year. The album also happened to be his mother’s namesake, perhaps his most vital muse.
“She’s just a very nurturing mother. She gave me a lot of support during that time. I was in the midst of potentially signing a record deal, and she encouraged me to do the album independently. And that was, without a doubt, the right move.”
Nozuka was raised by his mother and is the second youngest of six other siblings. Upon reflection of his upbringing, he thinks a lot of why he got into music had to do with finding his voice within such a large family.
“I actually think that’s kind of why I got into music. It was for me, to be able to express myself. [When] you’re in a big family and you’re around the dinner table, there’s just no room to really speak, and be heard, you know.”
Aside from music, Nozuka also credits his love of nature as a necessary comfort, one that he carries over into his artistry.
“My intention with music is to uplift, [to] incite feelings. One of the big feelings that I’d like to ignite is this feeling of being out in nature. I think there’s a universal feeling that human beings get when they’re out in nature…being at peace, feeling connected. You look up at the stars and say, ‘Hey, why am I stressing out about all this other stuff?’. Just sending that vibration of peace, calm, inspiration.”
Along with the new album comes a new project for Nozuka. He’s collaborating with SideDoor, a youth resource centre “providing housing and lifestyle development” to youths around Yellowknife. In partnership with Ice Wireless, a telecommunications company based in Northern Canada and a strong supporter of community engagement, the three have teamed up to provide a songwriting workshop on July 13th.
“It’s to reach out and give youth who are from situations that are difficult a safe space to create. Songwriting for me was such a big part of dealing with some of my emotions that were difficult to share with people. I know it can be a really powerful healing tool. There’s so much stuff going on in the world, and it’s like, am I just going to be a spectator? [The partnership with SideDoor and Ice Wireless] seemed like a good opportunity.”
Nozuka hopes a similar, if not the same, initiative can be deployed in Toronto as well.
“It’d be nice to do something [locally], and to do it in a meaningful way. You have to really understand and learn about some of the things that are going on before you go [and say] ‘Hey I’m here supporting this cause’. You have to be effective.”
While in Yellowknife for his workshop with SideDoor, Nozuka will also be performing at Folk on the Rocks, an annual music festival held on the coast of Long Lake. Having been couped up in the studio as of late, he’s eager to get out and travel.
“Right now, I really want to be on the road. I’m really hungry, I feel like I’ve got my energy back.”
His songwriting workshop with SideDoor and IceWireless, Folk on the Rocks, and upcoming album release is sure to keep Nozuka busy over the next few months. However, no matter his past and what the future may bring him, he’s always focused on giving the world the best work he can.
“It’s been such a journey. I think the last two records have been the most intense. But it’s all come together. It was definitely a sort of maneuvering, a lot of obstacles, and having to overcome and push further, [with] ups and downs. Just being open-minded to changing things and not being too attached to things. Really at the end of the day, it’s just about reaching the highest potential of the record.”