Justin Nozuka: An interview with the soulful singer-songwriter marking his return to music
Justin Nozuka first shot to global fame at just 18, and has since released three studio albums with a fourth on the horizon. His latest EP High Tide features the lead single All I Need and has been supported by a European Tour following his time away from the music spotlight. We caught up with Justin at the Omeara, which marked his first performance on a British stage in three years, and talked London, lakes and life lessons…
Hi Justin, welcome back! Congratulations on the fantastic new music and it’s great to have you back in this city too. What has your return to London been like?
Thanks! Well we were by Tower Bridge earlier, which has this really great view of London, and now we’re in a really cool venue. The last time I was here was about 2015 but I like London a lot. In this area (Borough), you can really feel the culture plus the culinary scene seems pretty cool too! There’s a good overall energy in the city.
You’ve also been touring around Europe recently. Have there been any highlights so far?
Rotterdam was definitely a highlight for us. We’ve played some pretty nice rooms and have been enjoying ourselves, but Rotterdam just felt really magical and impactful.
And before the tour, you were away from the spotlight for a few years. We hear you’ve been busy writing some new music…
So I made a record on my own in 2011-2014 and for me it was like my final record. But after I toured that album, I was really hungry to be busy again and I wanted to write some music that was more uplifting, as the last album was really mellow. I really like the feeling of going for a jog or dancing – something uptempo – so I pursued that for this album. There’s something summer-inspired, that kind of feeling… Like swimming in a nice lake! I’ve been working on it for two-and-a-half years with a lot of different processes, writing and rewriting songs, then finally teamed up with [music producer] Chris Bond. I had discovered him through Ben Howard’s records and he had the energy that I’d been after for my new music. We reached out to him and were fortunate enough to have some time together to record some music in Devon.
What did you think of Devon?
I loved Devon! We were at the edge of the country… It was magical.
You’ve been working on the album and you’re releasing music in three stages. Can you talk us through the first stage, which is your EP High Tide?
There’s the lead single All I Need, which is a song about summertime and reminiscing. When I’m on the road it can get lonely and lethargic, so revisiting these memories of being by a lake with close friends can be comforting. It’s about positive feelings and warmth. Hourglass is pretty self-explanatory. It’s getting on with aspirations and getting up and doing the work! Just reach for the stars, you know? For No Place in Mind, the concept is waking up, getting a knapsack of essentials and just hitting the road without a destination or purpose. It’s a travellers tune.
What do the words “High Tide” mean to you?
It ties in with the album – also naming it something like “Part One” would just be boring. We shot the video for All I Need and there’s an image of this tree in Ontario. The water has been rising over the years so some trees are actually submerged in water. That’s the picture you see on the cover, and that’s the high tide.
And what can you tell us about the next two phases?
I don’t want to give away too much but it’s slightly different moods with a similar production style. There’s definitely a strand running through each piece, and there will be a lead single for each release. You’ll have to wait and see!
With your new music, what is the overall theme or message you’d like your fans to feel?
I’d like my fans to feel comfort and nostalgia… Like childhood warm memories. There are definitely some tunes that are deeper in terms of tones and message and a bit darker, but overall you should hopefully feel ease, letting go of stresses and a depth that you can get from nature. You know when you look at the stars, you get that deep feeling! We’re trying to emulate the magnificence of nature.
Your new single is called All I Need. We’re on your tour bus – what is all you need?
Definitely water! We need food, obviously. And space – I do a lot of vocal rest on the road, so I’m trying to get accustomed to it again. A lot of vocal rest is all I need, and a lot of sleep!
And of course, you get to play to your fans every night too.
That’s really all we need; to play the show, that’s why we’re here. It’s such a gratifying feeling when you’re vibing on stage and the crowd are vibing with you.
You tell a lot of powerful stories through your lyrics. Is there a line from the upcoming album that means a lot or stands out to you?
Oh man, it’s tough to choose as there’s so many on this record. There’s one that sticks out from All I Need: “Told me what to want but he didn’t know me, not at all, summer’s run and winter’s settled already.” There’s something about that lyric that resonates with me right now. It’s a warm song but there’s a little bit of grief to it.
You’ve had such an impressive career spanning an entire decade so far! What’s the biggest life lesson you’ve had in these 10 years – what would you tell younger Justin?
To not overthink things or be too critical. Go with the flow and don’t be too hard on yourself. Let nature take care of it because it knows what it’s doing and there’s no need to get in the way of that.
How does the world around you inspire your songwriting, particularly with everything we see going on in the news?
Yeah – I’ve been revisiting some of the songs that I wrote when I was younger, songs about war and stuff. When I sing them now it feels like they’re so true.There’s a line in Swan in the Water that goes, “World War Three trying to convince me, you were shouting on the radio and TV screen…” At the time it was still relevant – war is a constant thing that’s so crazy. With this record, there’s a slight bit of that, but the focus is on the warm stuff. It’s a nice thing to feel those warm emotions even though we’re living in such a crazy time. But there’s also a need to hit home with all the issues that are going on in our world. I’ve been less intentional about writing about the times but some of it naturally comes through in the music.
Have you gained any musical inspirations in recent years?
Tonnes! I got really into Neil Young’s Harvest Moon and that’s been a huge influence. I’ve been soaking up a lot of Simon and Garfunkel, and also Ben Howard has been a game-changer for my latest musical direction and all.
Finally, what’s coming next for you?
We’re gonna tour a little bit for this EP and play some Canadian and US dates. We’re just re-approaching the road again. I’ve taken so much time off so we gotta do some work now for the EP. I’ll be working on the new video and the second batch… I want to be on the road for the next couple of years.
And we can’t wait to see you there! Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today, Justin.
It’s been a pleasure!
Photo: Courtesy of Justin Nozuka
For further information and future events visit the Justin Nozuka website here.
Watch the video for All I Need here: