Artist Spotlight: Justin Jahnke
Poetic. Raw. Honest. Justin Jahnke is his music. The Louisiana born singer, songwriter, and guitarist of local band Midnite on Pearl Beach captures the spirit of the often overlooked in songs that reflect the intimate moments of his daily life. His passion for creating is what continues to drive him as an artist and musician. After a couple friendly, late Saturday morning beers, we sat down with Justin for a Light Post Conversation.
Light Post: So, Justin, what’s it like being an independent musician?
Justin Jahnke: Well, independent musician is an interesting term. It usually means you’re poor (laughs), so it’s a struggle. There’s no denying that. On one hand you wanna do your craft, you wanna play and be involved in it as much as you can. The con would be your independent, so you don’t have a lot of backing. So independent is a very diplomatic word, in a lot of ways. But I would just say it’s a struggle. Especially as you age, it’s a little hard to remain in there and keep at it.
LP: What’s it like being a musician?
JJ: Oh man, being a musician…I’m not really a musician’s musician. I’m more of like a creative person. So there’s certain musicians who can play funk, latin, big band, jazz, or rock. And they can move in and out of those genres because they’re musicians. Or they’re musicians who can read music, like a cellist. I’m kind of like a folk art artist, where I just sort of learned the trade throughout the years and the craft throughout the years, and I’m able to interpret it through music. But I’m not a musician’s musician. But I love those guys, those guys are the best. I respect them a lot. I kind of wish I was sometimes (laughs).
LP: What are some of your Influences from back home?
JJ: My influences from back home would have to be country music, just because I’m from northwest Louisiana and it’s very cowboy culture there, so there’s a lot of country music. But there’s also blues music and stuff, which I love. I sort of grew up listening to 50’s and 60’s pop music, so that was definitely an influence as a kid because that’s basically what I was exposed to.
LP: Chicago influences?
JJ: In Chicago, the influences are more about the city. I’m very influenced by the city and the surroundings and what I see day-to-day, specifically sort of the grimier side of things. I really have an affinity for, kind of, down on your luck folks. So a lot of the lyrics, or the imagery, and the sounds and stuff was sort of inspired by, sort of like the underdogs of the city, you know. There’s a few bars that are open all day and all night…the third shift workers, you know. I don’t know what it is about those third shift workers, but there’s something about those people coming in at ten in the morning that was an inspiration specific to Chicago. And then just sort of seeing stuff as I walk around. The alleys and the trash, the neon signs and the noise…that kind of thing. It plays a big part in the imagery of the lyrics.
LP: What’s the vast difference from back home to this?
JJ: It’s not as different as you might think because where I’m from is kind of the dirty south. It’s dirty and it’s hot and it’s old and crumbly and crusty…all that stuff. But Chicago is the big city so there’s the energy of the big city, and it’s sexier here. I don’t know if that makes sense, but there is sort of a sexual energy that runs through the city, and where I’m from doesn’t have that. So I think pulling from those two things definitely make me who I am.
LP: Where do your songs come from?
JJ: So, the songs come from all over the place, but I do have a habit of being very observational and very personal. So they’re very autobiographical and very true to life. And there’s very simple observations. So I might see a dog and a beer can and a chair…and that will be the start of a song. They sort of originate from observations and then a desire to explain those observations or talk about the observations. There’s a strong desire to make them. I don’t know why, but it’s there, definitely there.
LP: So you find stories between the lines of daily life, it seems.
JJ: That’s a wonderful way to put it…finding stories between the lines of daily life. That’s an excellent way to put it, yes!
LP: What’s that moment of discovery like when you know you’ve got all the pieces of a song coming together?
JJ: I think I used to be a lot more excited about spontaneous creation, which is really exciting. I’m sure everyone has heard before about how nobody knows where the songs come from and they just sort of appear, and that’s really cool and it’s a great way to write songs, but as I age, I’m almost more interested in the craftwork of making songs that require more effort, so they don’t just come. And I have to sit there and work on them for weeks or months, maybe even years. And as I get older those songs are little bit more satisfying for me to make. So I kind of flip flop…the spontaneous creation is super great and it’s really cool and exciting, and it does produce some wonderful songs, but it’s very satisfying to work and work and work and work, and chip away chip away, and you see your sculpture, eventually come out as a finished product.
LP: What do you think that struggle does for you then?
JJ: What does the struggle do? That is a great question. The struggle is also a blessing and a curse. The struggle is part of who you are, and it pushes you forward, but at the same time it kind of keeps you, in a way, chained down a little bit because you’re kind of a slave to it, unfortunately. And that may be the wrong attitude, but that’s just how it’s been for ten years or so, you know.
LP: Is there something that needs to be accomplished going forward? What’s the “dream”?
JJ: There’s always things to be accomplished with music and getting better. I mean, it happens naturally as musicians work on their craft, but it almost seems to be a bit of a lost art, in terms of looking at it as a craft where you can get better and better, and keep working at, you know. I’m more interested in guitar playing now than I’ve ever been, and that’s really cool. But the dream, in terms of what do you wanna do as a dream…pie in the sky? I’d love to have an audience. I would love to sort of, just have the music be heard. That would be a huge success. I honestly believe in it, 100%. Of course, there’s doubt just because everyone is a person, but I do believe in it, and I think if people listen to it and really hear it, they’ll get what it is that it’s saying, or they’ll feel something from it, and that’s a huge goal, too.
LP: Do you feel what you’re playing, or what you’re doing, is more of an art or craft, or is it really an extension of who you are and how you express yourself? There’s the difference between the art and the act of doing it versus just the innate person that you are.
JJ: t’s an innate thing. It’s definitely an extension of who I am. Like, I don’t separate the two at this point. I wish I could, I wish it was like oh go to work and punch in or whatever, but my brain is constantly filtering and turning over and stuff, so it would be a huge success and relief to be able to be involved in it everyday. That would be a really big moment in terms of being a person. I mean, to be like ‘this is what I do for a living,’ because this is what I’m good at or what I enjoy doing…or what I feel compelled to do every single day. And I work on the songs everyday, and it’s at the expense of a lot of things. I’m not a huge Townes Van Sandt follower, but he said something a long the lines of your music and your art is at the expense of everything - your relationships, family, friends, loved ones, even your own life. To me, that’s a really scary thing to say and I don’t wanna take it that far, because I think that’s really selfish and foolish. But I would love to take it to a job. That’s the dream.