By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
His keyboardist Mark Pellizzer plays a mix of chords on a synthesizer for the introduction to “Down in a Cold Dirty Well.” Soon, drummer Alex Tanas and bass player Anthony Lavdanski join in.
Justin Nozuka begins each show “quite dark” singing, “Painted a picture of how it’s supposed to turn out. Down in a cold dirty well and I cannot climb out.”
The 20-year-old singer pointed out that “the order of the songs is very important to the emotions we want to bring out.” From there, he says his show moves to a “feel-good section.”
Nozuka will perform live with The Gabe Dixon Band on Oct. 12 at Neumos in Seattle – the 19th out of 24 scheduled concerts in his first U.S. tour. The tour follows a world tour that began last year in the U.K. and continued throughout Europe and Canada.
He said working with good people and playing his blend of neo-soul, folk, old-time blues and pop has made life on the road enjoyable. The Toronto-based singer admitted, “It’s definitely an addictive lifestyle. When I’m home for a week, I want to get back out on the road. It’s just exciting to go to new places and see new cultures.”
His biggest challenge so far is handling the “un-artistic” or business side of music. He dealt with it by being independent, turning down Universal Records when they wanted him to sign a recording contract.
“I thought that that was probably the best way to do it. Just do things on my own for the time being until I meet people that I’m 100 percent sure that I want to work with,” he explained.
Half Japanese and half white, Nozuka was born in New York and grew up in Toronto. “I’ve been to Japan a few times now. I’m a huge fan of where my family’s from – Fukuoka. It’s in (the island of) Kyushu. I just love it there, and I get more of a sense of my culture,” he said.
Raised by a single mother who is the sister of actress Kyra Sedgwick, he is the sixth of seven children. Nozuka named his debut CD, “Holly,” after his mother and released it under the Glassnote Records label in the U.S. in the spring of 2008.
He has four brothers, and his brother George is an R&B singer who is working on his own CD in Los Angeles.
Nozuka has come a long way from performing at school talent shows with his brothers at the age of 12. “It was always part of what we did. We wrote melodies, we sang melodies, and I carried around a notebook ever since I was young and just wrote down lyrics,” he said.
At 15, he wrote the first of 11 songs that would later be featured in “Holly” and finished recording the CD at Wellesley Sound and Soleil Studio at age 17. He also listened to Motown, folk and hip-hop and learned how to play the acoustic guitar.
He admits he’s passionate about the lyrics in the three songs, “Don’t Listen to a Word You’ve Heard,” “Supposed to Grow Old” and “Down in a Cold Dirty Well.”
The music video for “After Tonight” premiered on MTV’s TRL back in June and became the number one most played video for nine weeks in a row on VH1. The song recently ranked in the Top 40 on the Hot AC radio charts. He finished working on the music video for “Be Back Soon” last month.
He said, “I just want to make music, and if I can make a living from this, then I’m happy.” ♦
James Tabafunda can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.