Justin Llamas finally released his debut EP, Gold, to the world in May. We say “finally” because the man has been stirring up the internet with covers of songs from your favorite artists–covers he has executed phenomenally. Needless to say, his fans were long awaiting some new material. We got the chance to ask him a few questions about this whirlwind career of his, to which he was all too happy to oblige. World, meet Justin.
If you could introduce yourself to our audience in any way–money not being a factor–how would you do so?
Honestly, I think an interview like this is a great introduction! I mean, I would love to be introduced in a televised award show, haha… But Impose Magazine is a music-passionate company, and I’m very honored to be featured here. Hopefully your readers will get a sense of who I am and really get to know me. Hello, everyone!
You are from the Bay Area. How do you think that has helped to shape who you are and how you approach your music?
The Bay Area is full of such great talent that so often goes unnoticed on a global scale, so the artist community here is all about supporting each, and I love it. From the engineers, to the producers, to the distribution company–everyone who contributed to my EP has been referenced to me by other artists here in the Bay. My music literally wouldn’t be what it is without the support, and I definitely pay it forward to other local artists looking for resources.
Your sound has been described many times over, but how would you classify it?
I would say my sound is a mix of bright Pop and dark Soul, and I carry that mix into my writing as well. With most of my songs, I try to juxtapose the lyrics with the sound. A happy-sounding song with dark content, or vice versa. I think it’s ear candy–something you weren’t quite expecting, but it serves as a nice treat from what you’re used to.
Your rendition of Sia’s “Chandelier” was shared on social by the singer herself. That’s more than kind of a big deal! What was that like for you?
Oh, man! Sia is pretty much my favorite artist ever, so it was a big deal for me! The Internet is a crazy place, and I’m so glad it opened that door. The video took off, I got a lot of hits, and she even put it in her playlist of favorite covers. What a compliment. I love her.
You gained massive popularity on YouTube covering hit songs. What has the transition been like from singing others’ songs to performing your own?
At first, terrifying. I’m known for my cover videos, so taking that step into original music was huge for me. I had already been writing for years, but I had never shared original work until now. So many things I wanted to say, but would they like what I had to say? And so far, they do! Feedback has been great, and I’m happy I took that step!
What’s your writing process like, by the way?
I keep a notepad (well, my phone) with me and throughout the day I write all sorts of song ideas and song titles. When I get around to writing the lyrics for those ideas, I typically write them all a cappella (with no music accompaniment). I’ve acquired music theory knowledge over the years, as well as some piano skill under my belt, so my next step is comprised of figuring out the chords/key to my song, and creating a simple piano track for it. After recording demo vocals in my home studio, I then take that piano/vocal demo to my producer and we put together the final track!
I prefer this method over writing to pre-made tracks because I get to be more creative from conception and I get to have more control. Though, I still write to instrumentals if the beat really inspires me!
We know that the EP’s title GOLD came from pursuing your dreams, much like the historic California Gold Rush. What inspired the rest of the songs on the album? Any personal anecdotes?
I was hoping you’d ask this! Yes, each of the 5 songs has a story behind it. I’ll try and keep them short and sweet.
“Got It Out For Me” is basically the story of my life. When being introduced to a new place or group of people, too often I’ve found myself being hated on by a complete stranger who, before then, I’ve never even met! My biggest question is “Why? What did I ever do to you? Please, tell me!” And so birthed this epic song.
“Last In Line” was first inspired by the success of my friends after graduation. I felt like I was the only one who didn’t land that dream job right away… But I decided to turn it into a love song. And it just so happens that it’s still incredibly relevant to my life haha…ha… I might be last in line, but I believe my true love is out there somewhere. 🙂
“Tile Floor” is probably the most artsy song on the record. The message is simple, yet powerful: What if love could literally knock you down?
Yes, “Gold” is inspired by the California Gold Rush, but I wanted to add that this song features guest vocals from Amina Harris. Amina is known for her features with Keyshia Cole, most notably on the song “Shoulda Let You Go.” It’s been an honor to work with Amina and I’m lucky to have her!
And finally, “Figure Things Out” was written during the hardest time of my life. I had just graduated college, was still looking for work, I had a serious condition of voice loss for 7 MONTHS, and on top of that, my friend died. I needed to figure things out, and I needed to do it alone.
In the future, we imagine you will tour constantly. What do you intend to put on your rider? (Be ridiculous.)
Hot tea, in every flavor under the sun.
Ginger, in every form you can think of.
Bottled water. I prefer Voss.
A full bar and experienced bartender. Bartender must be knowledgeable in tequila.
Nachos. Lots of nachos.
Pretzels, not the hard kind.
More melted cheese.
Popcorn, with melted butter, lightly salted.
Personal chef with knowledge of my mother’s gumbo recipe and my father’s Caesar salad recipe. More recipes required in future. Must be a quick learner.
A full catalog of current movies. NO old movies. Preference in superhero movies.
Wi-fi, better and faster than you can get me.
You are signed to independent label Black Rose Entertainment. How amazing has that been? What do you think being on an indie label can offer over other outlets?
I’m so proud to call Black Rose my home. I hear all these horror stories of artists being trapped in a nightmare contract with their label, but that’s completely not the case with me. BRE and founder Vena Brewer keep my best interests at heart.
Being on an indie label has its advantages, for sure. For instance, I’m not one of many artists–I’m one of few. So I definitely get the attention I need. And not only that, but my relationship with them has become a family one. I’ve truly found “gold” with them!
What’s coming up next for you?
I’m continuing to push my project through every avenue I can! My songs have been playing a lot on internet radio, so that’s great. And I’m continuing to do live shows, which you can stay updated with on my Facebook Fan Page. I’m planning on international radio and a music video in my future, and I’m currently working on getting TV placements for my songs! Wouldn’t that be the best? Right next to performing with a major artist on tour… The future is endless with possibilities!
Gold is available now.