Friday, July 13, 2012

''GUITAR GODS: Justin King''

- David "Skinny Devil" McLean
originally published at Tinfoil Music
Date: Saturday, January 10 2004 @ 17:02:43 GMT

Justin's official bio starts off, "Justin King has dramatically reshaped and extended the language of the acoustic guitar, introducing his own unique and outstanding techniques. With the intensity and passion with which he plays, Justin brings a quality to the music that is far beyond just his mastery of a dizzying variety of forms...". Most days, I ignore such hype, as it's easier to write a dazzling bio than to develop a dazzling guitar style, but in Justin King's case, this isn't saying nearly enough.

 I first heard a gorgeous and haunting piece ("Something About Angels") from this extraordinary guitarist and mentally bookmarked his name. Then a friend sent a link to Black Albino Films, which featured a film clip of Justin playing 2 minutes of absolute acoustic frenzy combining folk, fingerstyle, flamenco, and rock techniques with utter abandon. I knew right then that if this guy isn't famous yet, he surely will be soon.

Turns out Justin is very well known in certain circles. He's been all over the US and Europe touring as both a solo act and opening for the likes of Diane Krall, B.B. King, James Taylor, and Al Green. He's also an amazing multi-instrumentalist who played ALL the instruments on his CD, "Opening" (his second of three releases), which includes various guitars, bass, lead & backing vocals, drums, saxophone, and piano. In addition, Justin holds intensive workshops at his home in Oregon every month for aspiring and advanced guitar players.

King's latest release, "Le Bleu" (editor note: see the Tinfoil review of the CD here), was recorded at Peter Gabriel's Real World Studios, and manages to cover a huge palette of musical styles while retaining something uniquely "Justin". From the opening track, "Taps" (which features not only ultra-cool backing percussion, but a steady hammer/pull ostinato with opposing bass notes, wicked 2-handed touchstyle techniques, airy synths, and sophisticated rhythmic variations) to the closing quiet strains of "Ashes" (demonstrating flawless execution of classic guitar techniques, interesting compositional shifts, and emotive vocals), Justin's work on this collection is a must-have for any serious guitarist and music lover.

If you're already a Justin King fan, you know this Guitar Gods interview is way past due. If you're not, then one listen and you will be. For more info, check out his site JustinKing.Com.
I had the opportunity to speak to Justin recently. Check it out!


1) What are your current projects?

I've been touring like a stray dog, James Taylor, Al Green, North Mississippi All-Stars, Nickel Creek, Steve Winwood, Charlie Hunter, building a fabulous recording facility, Blackberry Hill Studios, and developing a kinship with Jamesons Whiskey.

I am currently working on two projects, the first is a more songwriting based record with vocals and a full band. I wrote all the tunes over the past two years and I'm doing lead vocals as well as guitar and piano. The second project is a record I've been working on with James West, the percussionist on my last record, 'Le Bleu'. Apart from loving 'World' music and more 'organic' acoustic music, James and I are both big fans of artists like Bjork, Sigur Roos, and some of the new Radiohead stuff, basically electronica done musically, sans techno and endless looping. We like making our own sounds in the studio and then mess with them and turn them into our own little monsters.... 

SO, the goal of the project is to mix instrumental acoustic guitar, with interesting and complimentary electronic sounds, and to do it so that it makes sense, so that it adds to the songs and does not trample the quality of the guitar, which is still the central focus. I'd like to think that we are trying to push the boundary of where you would normally think instrumental guitar would fit, its very challenging to find the balance within the tunes sometimes, and its a challenge to fuse the two styles in a way that when you listen to it your like: "Wow, that really works, that's different AND good".

2) How does this (do these) differ from your past work?

'Le Bleu' was very much influenced by my travels overseas, I think it was more based on various world music styles than the new guitar record is. I've spent a lot of time in large cities on tour and I think its rubbed off a bit on the new project.

3) Do you have one project that you are most proud of as a guitarist?

Constantly making music.

4) Can you give our readers a run-down of your basic gear (live and/or studio)?

I am a gear junkie, its actually kind of a disaster, I spend well beyond my means on gear.. Because all of my live guitars run stereo out and I travel with two guitars, I have to have a total of four preamps on stage. I love touring with Avalon 737s, they sound amazing, they're tube, they have a beautiful EQ and compression section, and they weigh as much as I do. Its really hard to tour with them unless you have a helper. So, when alone, I tour with some real basic Aphex tube preamps, no comp, no EQ, and I just hope that the sound person has done sound before... As far as the studio goes, there is way to much stuff to list, its all on the 'equipment' page of the Blackberry Hill Studios website.

5) Who would you cite as early influences, and who are you favorite new players?

I've never been able to answer that question well, even though it should be simple. I guess I am not really sure that there is a single artist who I could point to as an influence. Everyone asks that question and before I can answer they always say ' Michael Hedges I'm sure!" or "Leo Kottke, obviously!", but I had been playing around with tapping and acoustic guitar music long before I ever heard Kottke or Hedges, both of whom I have tremendous respect for I should say. I don't really listen to acoustic guitar music.

6) Can you give a few tips to aspiring players?

If you find yourself 'practicing' or dividing your attention between the guitar and a clock, try drums. Also, don't EVER be afraid to do something on the guitar that is not something you would normally do - everything stretches the imagination, everything leads to something else. Like, try making a song on the guitar without using your right hand, or make a tune using one string as many ways as possible, or some other stupid thing. Try to avoid habitual chords, scales, progressions, tempos, etc.

7) What are your future plans?

Just to keep making music to the best of my ability and pursue a musical life.

8) Thanx for talking with us, Justin!

Thanks for the opportunity to ramble, David. Cheers!

Due to the overwhelming response to this interview (not to mention private correspondence), I'll be writing a "Justin King Guitar Style" lesson at my site's "lessons" page.

As always, don't be shy - you can leave comments here at or drop me a personal note via e-mail.

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