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Introducing Justin Meldal-Johnsen!

Discussion in 'Ask Justin Meldal-Johnsen' started by paul, Mar 17, 2008.

  1. paul

    paul Staff Member Founder Administrator

    Jul 20, 2000
    I'm very pleased to announce our newest TalkBass "Ask a Pro" forum, featuring Justin Meldal-Johnsen! Justin has enjoyed great success as a bassist, working with artists from the Dixie Chicks to the Black Eyed Peas, from Courtney Love to Nelly Furtado (and most recently touring worldwide with Beck). I'd like to extend many thanks to Justin, for making some time to share his experience with the TalkBass Community :) As with all our Pro forums, you can post a new question by making a new thread in this forum.

    Official Bio (http://www.justinmj.com/)

    Justin Meldal-Johnsen was born in Eugene Oregon in 1970 to his music-loving, art-oriented, "hippie" parents, Trevor (a novelist) Marcia (an artist). Shortly after Justin's birth, the young family headed south to the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco for a year, continuing to Los Angeles, which thereafter became the family's true hometown.

    A gracious family friend gave Justin the present of a junky old bass guitar at the age of twelve, right about the time MTV went on the air. Justin literally learned to play the instrument at first by diligently accompanying the videos, and then from the steady stream of 45's and occasional LP's from the local record store where his tiny weekly allowance always went. Of course, he also raided his parent's record collection, discovering newly for himself all sorts of music from a budding bass player's perspective: Ray Charles to ELO, The Temptations to Pink Floyd.

    During high school, Justin was expanding his musical lexicon rapidly; the frontiers of alternative rock, punk, funk, and experimental music were beckoning. "There was a sensibility around that time of the mid-Eighties that you could cross-pollinate genres with ease, and nothing was taboo." Justin explained. So he formed his first band at school; one that broke up before it even played its first backyard party. Yet it was a joy regardless, and of course another band would spring up from the ashes of the previous, and so on. By the time he was finishing high school in 1987, he had straight A's, and a higher education option to consider.

    "I decided to try and make something happen with my band, and get a day job in the music business," he explained, adding dryly, "My first job wasn't exactly glamorous or exactly 'day': the night-shift janitor at Cherokee Recording Studios. The pay was $3.35 an hour, and the chores included scrubbing toilets, turning away the homeless at the door, and dusting the cocaine off of the consoles." However, there were admittedly some cool experiences at the recording studio: he got to meet Gene Simmons and Lou Reed, among other interesting characters.

    At that studio, a still only seventeen year-old Justin also met David Campbell, a successful string arranger. David offered him a job as his personal assistant, saving Justin from a probably dead-end career as a studio janitor. Instead, he found himself working for someone who was doing something interesting in the music business. Justin was learning something new every day, while simultaneously getting his own musical life together.

    Shortly after starting with Campbell, Justin was introduced to his son Beck, an aspiring musician of the same age. "Beck was shy and quiet," Justin said. "But this was coupled with a very strong, self-aware artistic sensibility which immediately struck me as being very unique and powerful." The two of them hung out, listened to music, and played their instruments together. Beck turned Justin on to all kinds of stuff, from Tom Waits to traditional American blues and folk. And Beck taught him how to use a 4-track, leading to the recording of one or two jams.

    Around this time, Justin and a drummer friend were combing through the ads of the local classifieds. They met a young, artsy guitarist from the Valley called Tony Hoffer, which began a long association that continues to this day. Their first band, Last Carousel, developed some small renown in the LA underground, making the rounds of house parties to dingy clubs. After a change of singers, their next band, This Great Religion, did quite a bit better. The music was a mix of English sonic sensibilities and a So-Cal punk ethic. The band got what Justin modestly describes as "a decent following" in LA, a real challenge in those days of "pay-to-play" clubs and hair metal. They released two 7" singles, which were eventually distributed by Rough Trade. The band also did some college tours, got some radio play, and even did some shows in Japan. This continued until their eventual breakup in 1993, right on the eve of their first legitimate recording contract offer. Two members, including Tony Hoffer moved to San Francisco to pursue other career opportunities, and Justin was off to other musical pursuits in LA.

    1993 to 1995 was a mishmash of cross-genre recording and touring activities. Justin began getting his early footing as a musician-for-hire, working on projects such as underground hip-hop notables Circle of Power and ex-Gang of Four bassist Dave Allen's band, The Elastic Purejoy. It was during a long period and touring and recording with The Elastic Purejoy that Justin met his wife-to be Corinne Heinzman, an AR assistant at the band's label. At the end of '94, Justin was given a golden opportunity: to join one of his favorite bands, Los Angeles art-rock legends Medicine. With Justin on board, the band recorded "Her Highness", released in late '95 on Rick Rubin's American Recordings label. A lengthy and grueling U.S. tour followed. Yet, as Justin put it, "The shows were physical, cathartic and dangerous, drifting into endless noise freak-outs and moments of amazing contrast between chaos and melody…followed by a ten-hour drive in the van." Due to inter-personal issues, Medicine broke up in early 1996.

    Just prior to Medicine's demise, Justin began collaborating with bandleader Brad Laner in the form of the experimental music project called Electric Company. The first album, "A Pert Cyclic Omen", was released on American Recordings in 1995, as well as a rare vinyl-only release on a local independent. Further opportunities arose later in 1995, including performing and recording with the band Pet, known for their unpredictable live shows and interesting blend of heaviness and angularity, fronted by the wildly dynamic Lisa Papineau on vocals. Tori Amos signed the band to her Igloo imprint of Atlantic Records, and the recording of Pet's self-titled debut took place in dramatic fashion at Tori's castle home on the south coast of Ireland in January of 1996.

    In April of that year, Justin faced a pivotal choice in his musical life. Beck, who had obviously developed into a great success, called one day to suggest getting together for a jam. "I showed up for this 'jam', having no idea at all that myself and this guitarist Smokey (Hormel) were being officially auditioned to join Beck's recording and touring band." The audition went well, and both Justin and Smokey were offered the gig. Justin wisely decided to opt for the Beck experience, which was definitely going to be a full-time venture. "I don't think myself or any of the guys had any idea what kind of fantastic whirlwind we were about to embark on. The 'Odelay' tour alone was hundreds of shows over two-plus years, starting at little clubs and ending in arenas."

    Starting then, Justin became a regular component of the Beck world: recording the "Mutations", "Midnight Vultures", "Sea Change", and “Guero” albums, doing several world tours, making videos, doing TV appearances, and eventually becoming Beck's live show musical director. As an aside, Beck hired Justin's former band mate Tony Hoffer (who had been developing his own studio talents in San Francisco over the years) on Justin's suggestion, to engineer and co-produce some of the "Midnite Vultures" album. This work facilitated Tony's move back to LA, thereby re-kindling Justin and Tony's long-time collaborations.

    Along with the Beck activity, Justin has had the opportunity to begin two other long-term musical relationships: He has recorded so far three albums with Tori Amos, "From The Choirgirl Hotel", "Strange Little Girls" and "Scarlet's Walk". In 1998, he toured North America and Europe with the French group Air in support of their debut album, "Moon Safari". Following that, he contributed bass, vocals and engineering to Air's second album, "10,000 Hz Legend".

    While following those main pursuits, many other recording experiences have filled the time span. Justin has worked with artists such as Marianne Faithful, Seal, Dixie Chicks, Black Eyed Peas, Courtney Love, Frank Black, The Mars Volta, Sean Lennon, Goldfrapp, Mark Eitzel, Pete Yorn, Ladytron, Turin Brakes, Nelly Furtado, and many others. In addition, Justin co-wrote and recorded Macy Gray's 2003 release, "The Trouble With Being Myself” and her 2007 album “Big”. He has also contributed to remixes for artists such as David Bowie, Moby and Jamiroquai, as well as film scores such as "Team America: World Police", "Charlie's Angels", and "Starsky and Hutch", “30 Days of Night”, and “Ocean’s 13”, with composer David Holmes.

    In 2002, Justin embarked on his own band project, Ima Robot. "That was the first time in years that I had worked in a classic, traditional ‘band’ scenario, though I’d say the music was anything but”, he says. "It was very gratifying to take the risk with it, and to see it go from tiny clubs to a record deal to actually selling records." Ima Robot signed with Virgin records in 2002, and released their debut in 2003. A solid year of touring followed, during which the band had the opportunity to play Letterman, open for the White Stripes, Hot Hot Heat, The Raveonettes, Janes Addiction, and others. Justin left the group 2005 after completing work on the second album for Virgin, “Monument to the Masses”. He remains the “helpful uncle” to the band as they continue touring and recording.

    In late 2005, Justin received a new invitation from Beck to again be the “right-hand man”, and work with him in the touring and recording worlds as before, as bassist and musical director. During 2006 and 2007, he toured worldwide in support of Beck’s “The Information” record. “It’s been amazing…like finding that great, lost pair of shoes in the back of your closet that feel perfect on your feet. I definitely love working with Beck, for all the obvious reasons, of course. But we have a synergy that has been remarkable to revisit, and he lets me come to the table with my own ideas. I’ve found that isn’t the norm in the world of side musicians.”

    Justin plans to continue recording, writing, and touring for a long time to come. Over the past two years, he has found time to dive headfirst into producing records. He produced Holly Palmer’s “Songs for Tuesday”, Ken Andrews “Secrets of the Lost Satellite”, and the debut record for LA band Canon entitled “Wide Awake”, and tracks with Interscope recording artist Reeve Carney. “Early in my career, I had this concept that producing records was something one did when they don’t like to tour anymore…now I’m feeling like I need to do both!” says Justin. “There’s been a lot that I have learned being on the other side of the glass in recording studios over the years, and I’ve found that it translates pretty well into production.” He says: "To put it in the simplest terms, I just want to make excellent music and have a great time with the people I work with. Fortunately, I've been able to hook up with artists who have a similar ethos: making music with a sense of real adventure combined with good taste. I refuse to approach music as a sort of business opportunity, which goes the same for most committed musicians I've encountered over the years. Ultimately, if you're moving people emotionally and physically, you know you're having a great time."
  2. EricF

    EricF Habitual User

    Sep 26, 2005
    Pasadena, CA
    Awesome to see you with your own forum, Justin! Well deserved :D
  3. jmjbassplayer

    jmjbassplayer Justin Meldal-Johnsen Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 25, 2005
    Aww shucks! Thanks, such a pleasure. I love it. Gives me an opportunity to learn too, really.
  4. Rob Mancini

    Rob Mancini Guest

    Feb 26, 2008
    Yay! Justin rocks! Glad you finally got your forum going, bro!
  5. James Hart

    James Hart

    Feb 1, 2002
    Endorsing Artist: see profile
    Thanks for hanging with us Justin!
  6. Joe Gress

    Joe Gress

    Dec 22, 2005
    Pueblo, CO
    Sweet! Welcome to the fourms man!
  7. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol Supporting Member

    That's a fantastic addition. Very talented player with a personal style.
  8. Excellent addition.... I've been following the other thread for weeks and loving every post of it.
  9. awesome. boy, do I have a bunch of questions for you.. you're going to get sick of me quick :)
  10. Yvon

    Yvon Supporting Member

    Nov 2, 2000
    Montreal, Canada
  11. Hey Justin, I'm Justin. I see that you have a Malekko B:assmaster. How do you like it?
  12. jmjbassplayer

    jmjbassplayer Justin Meldal-Johnsen Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 25, 2005
    Love it. Gnarly. Different than a Prunes, more like a, well, a Brassmaster, I guess.

  13. Peter Montessi

    Peter Montessi A-Designs Audio

    Nov 15, 2006
  14. Wow, this is great!

    Hi Justin, Glad to see you here.:bassist:
  15. sgraham


    Aug 30, 2000
    Tyler, TX
    JMJ - thank you so much for doing this - I've always enjoyed your interviews in BASS PLAYER - this has been a WEALTH of information. It's always great to hear from a true big-time PRO that's been "in the trenches"! :bassist:
  16. jmjbassplayer

    jmjbassplayer Justin Meldal-Johnsen Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 25, 2005
    Hey, thanks all! I really enjoy the interaction.

  17. I am super delighted you decided to do this!
  18. bigfatbass

    bigfatbass Banned

    Jun 30, 2003
    Upstate NY
    Endorsing Artist: Karl Hoyt Basses
    Welcome Justin, you've been a fav player of mine for some years now.

    Not only a virtual slab of granite in the studio, but also one hell of a dancer!

    While my current full-time gig is a roots band, I have stolen so many of those little twitches and hitches you throw at the downbeats.

    It's all about the show when you take it out on stage, and you sir are a grandmaster freak.

    Just letting you know that you inspire folks in ways you may not even realize.

    Hope you enjoy the interaction here, these guys could really learn a lot from a pro like you who works so much in the studio AND on stage. That's a rare commodity with todays touring market, making your full date book all the more impressive and deserved.

    I had a quote of yours as my sig line for years, I hope I get it close to right, but it's been a while:

    "It's amazing I earn my living and derive such satisfaction from manipulating some wires on a piece of wood."
  19. jmjbassplayer

    jmjbassplayer Justin Meldal-Johnsen Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 25, 2005
    bigfatbass, you have made my week! (Which has had a couple of ups and downs already, so now Wednesday onward is looking great, starting with me reading this!)

    Actually, that may have made my month.

    "you sir are a grandmaster freak". That might have to be quoted. :)

    Thank you so much.

  20. bigfatbass

    bigfatbass Banned

    Jun 30, 2003
    Upstate NY
    Endorsing Artist: Karl Hoyt Basses
    Come on, the madness you guys threw down with Beck and that puppet stage-set was absolutely legend building! Gut Gawd that looked like fun!

    For a project as heavy on the production/meticulous crafting of Beck's records, when you guys go out and do it live there is still a whole 'nother level of crafting/grandmaster freak-ness at work.

    Consider acts like say Tracey Chapman who didn't even tour with the guy who co-wrote 90% of her biggest record. (Although, I think Adam Levy landed on his feet with the Nora Jones gig, lol.)

    Glad I could brighten a day on your side, the music has brightened a whole bunch of mine!

    Rock on then. :bassist:

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