Friday, July 1, 2011

Interview with Justin Cross

1. First things first, how did you get into playing guitar and writing songs?

I actually taught myself how to play after finding my dad's old guitar at the fire station he works at. I guess he tried to learn but gave up and put it away. I found this dusty old guitar in a closet and asked him to teach me something. He showed me a G chord (which was the only thing he knew) and I just went from there. I couldn't get enough of it.
As far as writing, I have been putting down my thoughts to paper for as long as I can remember, so I guess after picking up the guitar, the most natural thing to do was to write down what I was thinking or feeling and put music to it. Writing songs just felt like the next step after learning to play.

2. Who or what provides your biggest influence when it comes to writing?

I would have to say that my biggest influence is a man named Bill Mallonee. He is a fantastic singer-songwriter from Athens Georgia. He has been playing since the early 90's and is just the most honest songwriter I have ever heard. Every time I write, it is my goal to be as transparent as he is in his songs.

3. What lyrical themes do you find yourself coming back to?

I am a very introspective writer, so, if I accomplish my goal of being transparent in my writing, I write a lot about my failures, fears, hopes, and love. I am actually a recovering cynic, so a lot of the songs I am working on now have themes of brokeness or hurt, but are centered around hope. But really, each song to me is a snapshot of who I was when I wrote it, so the are kind of like journal entries in a way.

4. You're originally from GA. How did you arrive in Birmingham and how did you get into the music scene?

. I came to Birmingham for school originally, but got into the local music scene after taking a break from school to pursue music. My first show was at my friend's apartment and I played to about ten or fifteen people. I loved performing songs that I had previously kept to myself so I played more and more. I was introduced to Caleb Chancey, one of the founders of Grey Haven, by my friend Corey after recording a demo in Corey's home studio. After getting in with Grey Haven, I met most of the guys I play with now and have had a lot of great opportunities to play at some great places with great musicians.

5. Describe the inspiration behind the name "Listening to Ghosts" for your first record.

"Listening to Ghosts" was really just something I started singing while playing one day. The album is definitely a break-up album, and I wrote the song as a closing statement to a relationship that ended in a way that really affected me deeply. I remember letting go a lot of hurt and bitterness as that song was being written. It was my way of saying "I'm over it." I felt it was a fitting title to the album because of what the song meant to me.

6. How were you able to get on with the Birmingham SXSW crew and could you describe the experience?

I actually wasn't with the Birmingham crew in Austin. The label that put out "Listening To Ghosts" got me the sets for SXSW. I remember getting the call that I would be playing in Austin for SXSW and having to sit down... it was a bit of a dream come true. Austin during SXSW is unlike any other place I have ever been. There is so much talent and influence in a five block radius that it can feel completely overwhelming at times. It was a great honor to play though, and hopefully I can go back next year.

7. What are some of your plans for the rest of 2011?

I am getting ready to start work on a new project this year. I wrote most of the songs on "Listening To Ghosts" when I was in High School, so I have written all of these songs that are much more new and exciting to me that I cannot wait to get on record. So, I will be working on that, as well as playing as much as possible.

8. How would you say you've progressed as an artist over the last few years?

Oh man. I don't know where to begin. I have grown a lot as a songwriter and performer in the last few years, and I would say that it is because I made it a point to surround myself with and take in great influences. I listen to music now to study other artists crafts as performers, lyricists, and musicians. This has been my main source of growth. Determining who I wanted to influence me. What I wanted to sound like. Another way has been being able to play with and for great musicians and artists here in Birmingham. It is an amazing center of untapped talent. Birmingham's music scene has more of a sense of camaraderie than most other cities, and I think it is because we know we have to work together to get Birmingham noticed as a legitimate base for a huge number of up-and-coming artists. I am very proud to be a part of it, and it has influenced me in deep ways.

9. Any shows lined up that you would like to promote?

Yes! I will be opening for my hero, Bill Mallonee, for the second time on July 6th at 8:00 pm at the UCF House. I am very excited for the opportunity, and really want a lot of people to come out and discover what I discovered four years ago. Bill's performances are second to none. He has a way of truly feeling every word and note that comes out of his mouth, and it is truly an amazing thing to see. Can't wait to see everyone there.

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