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NOTHING BETTER THAN TODAY

an interview with
JUSTIN HINES

written and produced by Robert Silverstein for mwe3.com

Being handicapped didn't always mean that an artist would not make it. In modern pop history Stevie Wonder, blind since birth, became a huge sensation, starting in the early 1960's. Legendary songwriter Doc Pomus—one of the key architects of the early rock ‘n’ roll sound—spent much of his time in a wheelchair. One of the true song writing geniuses of all time, Doc would have loved Days To Recall—the 2011 CD from Canadian singer-songwriter Justin Hines. Although Hines himself is wheelchair bound, his spirit is clearly undaunted on an album that sounds inspired by the upbeat, multi-faceted music of legends like Elton John and Paul McCartney. Commenting on his physical limitations, Justin states, ‘There have been so many blessings. It’s afforded me so many other opportunities. It’s a bit of an attention grabber. But then my job is to keep people interested and keep their attention with my music.’ Hines is at his best on upbeat tracks here like “Nothing Better Than Today,” “Tell Me I’m Wrong” and “Come Around”, all of which mix solid backing with a memorable hook and melody. Justin gets solid support from his band including co-producer Justin Abedin (guitars), Kevin Adamson (keyboards), Marc Rogers (bass), Kevin Fox (cello) and Jorn Juul Andersen and Roger Travassos (drums). Among a rising, elite group of 21st century singer-songwriters who are expert at combining heartfelt, upbeat pop and rock, Justin Hines is in a class of his own. www.DeccaRecords.com

The following interview with Justin Hines took place by phone on September 19, 2011

mwe3: Where are you now? Are you in Canada now?

JUSTIN HINES: Yes, back home in Canada. We just got back from a tour of the midwest. We were doing promotional stuff, which was fun.

mwe3: What do you like about Toronto? That’s where you grew up right?

JH: Yeah, I’ve always lived a little bit north of Toronto, Ontario.

mwe3: I guess you’ve been to New York City?

JH: Quite a few times actually. Love New York. By far, one of my favorite cities in the world, easily. Where have you been in Canada?

mwe3: Long time ago I was in Montreal!

JH: Oh, nice.

mwe3: Which was pretty illuminating for a New Yorker like me, because New York can be a pretty rough place right?

JH: For sure! (laughter)

mwe3: It’s different in Toronto right?

JH: It’s very diverse. Actually it’s funny, Toronto has always been described as a little bit of a smaller version of New York. We have a lot of diversity, a lot of arts...a lot of good things going on so...

mwe3: I’d love to go there sometimes. New York you can get an overdose.

JH: (laughter) It is stimulus overload for sure! A lot to see. Were you born and raised in New York?

mwe3: Yeah born and raised in New York City and grew up on Long Island. That’s where I’m calling from. Little Neck is the last stop in Queens! (laughter) It’s so little here, they even cut the bus route to the trains!

JH: No way! (laughter)

mwe3: Can you say something about a quote you said, “It’s not the height of the wall, but the hammer that you swing.” I guess we all feel small sometimes but I guess you have to set your sights high. I guess that’s what you meant.

JH: (laughter) Yeah for sure. The reality is, we all have our challenges. In my case I guess everybody can see what my challenges are, but for most of us, it’s sort of an internal thing. You know, we all have them and to us, they’re the biggest, most important things. They’re the hardest things to tackle but I think we’re all very capable of rising above those challenges and coming out a better person at the end of them. So...we can’t escape them though. (laughter)

mwe3: It’s about building inner strength...

JH: For sure. There’s this amazing story coming out of Joplin. We shot a video around the town of Joplin and how the people there decided to turn this tragedy, this disaster that happened to them...and they just decided to flood themselves with hope. They look at it as sort of a new beginning for their town. It’s amazing, the spirit of that and what that can do for people.

mwe3: It didn’t seem like Canada got impacted by all the hurricanes and tornados like the U.S. did this year.

JH: Canada’s an interesting place. We’re certainly like the little brother, I guess, of the United States. We’re all, for the most part, pretty laid back. One thing I noticed, being Canadian, watching what’s been going on in the U.S., is how amazing the U.S. sense of camaraderie is. When people are kind of down, they really do tend to rally behind, especially small town communities, and there’s so many examples of that. That’s a pretty amazing thing.

mwe3: Your Days To Recall album is brilliant.

JH: Thanks man, I appreciate that.

mwe3: How did Days To Recall come about and how do you think it compares to your earlier CDs and how does it represent your musical evolution so to speak?

JH: Well first and foremost I feel pretty fortunate that I have the opportunity to keep making albums. That is a huge blessing and as an artist, it’s always a big honor when you have that chance. So for me on this one...you mentioned the word evolution, we decided we wanted to try different things, using strings and horns and just kind of...for us, taking the next step. I’ve always been sort on acoustic guy but I guess every artist goes through that period where they just want to expand a little bit. That’s what this is about. My life’s changed so much in the last two years and I guess this is sort of a reflection on that.

mwe3: So Days To Recall is more of a band album in places?

JH: There’s definitely more of a band on this one. My first couple records were primarily just acoustic instruments. Not a lot of electrics and no strings or anything like that. It was more kind of stripped down I think. Now it’s both—in a lot of ways it’s stripped down but there’s a lot of more lush sounding tracks. I’m singing out a little bit more I guess. Like I mentioned, my life’s changed so much. I’ve been married in the last couple years and on a music level, things have shifted quite a bit. So, there’s just a lot more going on, I guess musically. It feels still kind of right though—you take a little bit of a step out of one temperate zone every once in a while.

mwe3: I got married too about four or five years ago. I got married a little older in my life. I’m 57 now. I’m kind of older now, but the music keeps you young right?

JH: Absolutely man. It’s a beautiful thing in that sense. I think that’s a cool story that it was a late thing for you. I know for myself I never thought it was going to be a reality at all, so it’s kind of an amazing thing when it does happen...almost unexpectedly. (laughter)

mwe3: I guess you don’t get too many chances to find the right person...Once you find that person it changes your life, hopefully for the better.

JH: Absolutely! Well the funny thing is with music, there’s been so many love songs written over the years, as you know. And everybody has said, seemingly everything there is to say about love. So I was always kind of nervous about writing any love songs because I didn’t want it to sound like everything else. I want it to mean something. So it wasn’t until I actually had the true love experience, then I was finally able to write the kind of song I wanted to write. But it’s an amazing thing having to change your whole perspective and I agree, definitely for a good thing.

mwe3: Decca did a great job on the Days To Recall album? How did you start to work with the legendary Decca Records label?

JH: It’s still a little surreal to be honest. I’m a lucky guy because here in Canada I found a great home and record company called Orange. They’re very much about having more of a family rather than just being a label. And then in the U.S. to sort of hook up with, like you said, one of the most legendary names on that side of the business, it’s a little surreal. It’s the best of every world and it’s just a privilege. I gotta be honest, I never really saw myself being in that position. It’s just been a real trip and a real ride. It’s just an honor. I’m just enjoying it while it’s here.

mwe3: Days To Recall has both lush sounding, band based moments and then there’s the more acoustic based tracks. I’m just curious, which do you prefer?

JH: I’m not sure I have a preference. My heart and my original inspiration will probably always go back to the more sort of sparse, acoustic thing but now that it’s sort of taken a little bit in this direction, I’ve come to really appreciate and see the emotional beauty in what can be done with more instrumentation. I’m truly a fan of both and at this chapter in my life, this is kind of where we’re at. I’ve heard stories of artists coming full circle in their journey and for whatever reason, this is where we’re at right now. I like all kinds of music, but in my heart, definitely will always be rooted in acoustic music.

mwe3: What was it like working with your co-producer Justin Abedin?

JH: Yeah, I’ve been working with Justin actually for about seven years now and he’s produced all my albums and he’s my guitarist for that period as well. He’s just a really solid, talented guy. I personally don’t know a lot about musical theory so it was great to work with somebody who would essentially transcribe what I’ve been trying to say for years. He’s just a great interpreter of music and really kind of understands what I’m trying to get at. So, he’s been a great bridge, and a good friend. It’s been a cool journey. He actually introduced me to Aubrey and the record label I’m with now, Orange, so he’s been a great link in the process.

mwe3: The playing is superb on the new album. Do you want to mention some of the other musicians you’re working with?

JH: Oh, thanks man. Well, Justin did all the guitar work on the album. We actually have a couple guys that we use for basically every instrument. So, we have a couple drummers that we use and a couple of bass players. It’s great, because in Canada, in Toronto specifically, there’s so many amazing musicians and each, I find, brings such a beautiful thing to the table and it’s just a pleasure to get to work with them. Canada is just a great hub for guys like that.

mwe3: Canada is so vast. Are there big differences in different parts of the country up there or do you think it’s more unified?

JH: Well Canada is such a huge country. I don’t know if people really realize how big the landscape of Canada really is. And per capita, we don’t have that many people. There’s a lot of open space in Canada, but within that, there’s actually quite a bit of diversity. Like if you go to British Columbia, which where my wife is from, it’s a completely different experience than...say here in Ontario. It’s a very different experience. In B.C. it’s more of a relaxed way of life and in Ontario, there’s a lot city and a lot of city life...an urban kind of thing. So, it’s like the U.S. It’s just a miniature version, I’d say, of how diverse the U.S. is. It’s really interesting traveling in the U.S. recently, seeing so many different cultures and lifestyles kind of amalgamated in this giant place. Pretty amazing actually.

mwe3: How about England? That seems like a great place for your music.

JH: We just actually got back from London. They’re big fans of Canada Day out of London, so we had a huge celebration in Trafalgar Square. They essentially brought in a whole bunch of Canadian artists to play for tens of thousands of people. It was unbelievable. That was quite exciting. It was pretty unreal actually. London is an amazing hub for music and very much its own scene in a lot of ways. Have you been there?

mwe3: Yeah, Finland and Sweden too. Have you been there yet?

JH: No I haven’t been to a lot of these European countries. I would like to get out there one day. We spent some time in Italy recently but not so much in Sweden or places like that.

mwe3: It’s a big world!

JH: It’s a huge world, yeah...

mwe3: Everybody meets online so it seems small but it’s really big!

JH: Yeah, it’s an amazing thing ‘cause the more I think you travel, the more you learn to appreciate people in general. You know, we have cultural differences and we’re all doing our own thing but for the most part, there’s a certain thread of humanity that’s pretty much all the same. We’ve just got something that ties us all together and it’s pretty neat, going around the world seeing what that really means. It’s pretty awesome.

mwe3: You had actually gotten to perform in China.

JH: Yeah it was quite an experience. The interesting thing about China and how they react to music...it’s very different than here in the west. How they applaud, for instance, is much different. Like they’ll applaud really feverishly and really quickly and then just stop, so you don’t really know if you really connected or not. But as it turns out, it’s a big compliment when they go feverishly. So it’s really fascinating. Little differences like that was amazing and of course, singing in English was an experience because there’s a huge language barrier so you’re kind of forced to try to connect with people on a real deep, emotional level and hope that they’re sort of feeling you rather than hearing you. Fascinating, really fascinating.

mwe3: I’ve been following you on Facebook and I was reading how you’re trying to shake the Monday blues today! With all the songs about Monday, it seems if you can get past Monday, you’ve got half of it licked!

JH: Yeah...the funny thing is, it’s just another day. People are sort of stuck on the whole negativity of Monday, but I was kind of thinking it’s just a new start, the beginning of something new. It’s a good thing. (laughter)

mwe3: One of the highlights of Days To Recall, “Nothing Better Than Today” is totally brilliant. How did that track come about?

JH: I appreciate that. Funny enough, it’s actually the one we probably spent the most time on. It was one of the ones we did sort of go through a few incarnations of. We were trying to paint a picture of hope for everyday and not just the days that are are just good. There’s something we said about everyday and every challenge as well as all the good moments in our lives. So I guess that was kind of the message we were trying to put out there, so I really appreciate you mentioning that one actually.

mwe3: Tell me about the PBS special that you recently filmed.

JH: Honestly, it was incredibly quick. We were actually in Italy at the time that we got confirmation that we should go ahead and do it and it literally took about two weeks to plan and film and then another couple weeks to edit so it was just like a whirlwind. We had to sort of get the guests together quickly, get the venue...it was just madness but it was such a...I’ve watched PBS my entire life and always thought the programming had so much credibility. They were always saying something in the programming. To be a part of that family, it’s amazing actually. We had so much fun filming it. It was just a crazy, crazy day. We started ten in the morning and wrapped up at night time. I was so glad that we decided just to do it. (laughter)

mwe3: So the PBS special was filmed in Toronto?

JH: Yeah, actually this old cinema called The Royal. I think the cinema’s been around since the 1940’s or so? Not really used as a concert venue, until now. I think we were one of the first shows they ever had in there. It had a lot of built-in character already. So we turned it into a concert venue for one night. The crowd was great. It was great to play with an orchestra. It was just awesome.

mwe3: Who are your biggest musical heroes and some favorite albums of yours?

JH: Well my dad is a really great folk guitarist and, growing up he would often, well all the time, play people like Cat Stevens, James Taylor, Jim Croce and Carole King. Sort of a bit more story telling artists. So I grew up totally wanting to be in that realm because I really thought they were saying something. Being in my situation, I was never going to be a really flashy, choreographed kind of pop thing. (laughter) so I thought I could always be one of those story telling kind of artists where I could convey something through a song. So definitely, those people have stuck with me over the years. Actually I just saw James Taylor in concert a couple months ago. We were in the front row and it’s been a while since I’d seem him. Here’s a guy who’s been at this for so long and during his entire intermission, which was like twenty minutes long, he stood at the end of the stage and signed people’s things, talked to people and took pictures. For the entire intermission he didn’t go backstage once. So basically he went right from the stage, back to the stage. I thought, here’s a guys who’s been at this for so long and has nothing to prove and is still so connected with the people that support him. I thought, wow that’s definitely something to look up to in that regard. So he just goes out there and plays the songs and does his thing. Definitely those kind of artists will definitely be my heroes...the kind of artists I strive to be.

mwe3: Not only does James Taylor have such a great voice but he’s such a well rounded player.

JH: Unbelievable guitarist. Some of the most memorable acoustic guitar licks I’ve heard. Great stuff. Funny thing is, I think a lot of those singer-songwriters often don’t sort of get kudos for their musicianship, like in their playing. I find that quite often that as they become known as a singer-songwriter, often their playing gets pushed in the background. Which is not bad...but it’s good to appreciate it y’know?

mwe3: Can you say something about the Justin Hines Foundation work?

JH: Well, there’s people doing wonderful things all over this planet and sadly, only a small portion of people actually get any kind of attention for the work they’re doing. And most people don’t do it for the attention. It’s kind of an honor to be in a position now where we can help shine a little bit of a spotlight on just normal people doing amazing things. So doing charitable work...it’s people coming together. I don’t really look at it as one guy going in and helping. It’s more about people helping themselves and like I said, to be in a position to sort of be a catalyst for that, or to make a contribution. It’s a pretty amazing thing and it’s definitely a huge blessing for this journey that I’m on. The only thing we have is the love and support of people around us.

mwe3: How do you think all this Facebook social media has affected your music?

JH: I’m just getting into it now. I haven’t been resisting it but I haven’t been the greatest at it up until...I’m still not really good at it but...but I’m just sort of getting my head around what it really means for people in music. I can see how much of a tool it can be. There’s some people that are so dedicated to it. It’s almost a full time job in itself. I’m doing the best I can and it seems like you can really develop a great network of supporters and friends on there. It’s really incredible how connected we really are, through these kind of things. (laughter) For musicians it’s an amazing tool to build a base...a fan base and really get more connected to people that are supporting your journey. There’s definitely sort of a yin and yang of it. I’m sort of learning to find that balance and then, in the meantime, it’s been fun connecting with people.

mwe3: How about plans moving forward?

JH: I haven’t really had a chance to play in the States very much, so I’m really excited to have that opportunity and then keep visiting more and more cities and seeing what you guys have to offer! (laughter) Truthfully, I’m excited just to keep going and to have the opportunity to keep going. I think that’s always been my goal. As a kid and growing up, I always swore that I’d be happy doing this if nobody was listening...so I remind myself of that, that everything’s that’s happening is just a big, giant bonus and I kind of enjoy it while it’s here. That’s my goal.

Thanks to Justin Hines @ www.JustinHines.com and to Jodie Thomas @ www.DeccaRecords.com

 







 
 
 
 
 

 


 

 

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