Sobriety might not be the sexiest subject but with the return of live music no longer just on the brink but basically here, I think it’s worth taking a moment to talk about all the musicians who found a healthier lifestyle during this year off. Without the grind of touring, the pressure of performance, and the anxiety of constant socializing, I wonder how many musicians also found themselves reevaluating their relationship with substances and the part that the music scene plays in their abuse of it.
While we might not have those statistics on hand, we can count LA’s Justus Proffit as one of them. Often looked at as the second coming of Elliot Smith, Proffit has been enmeshed in the LA music scene since he was 13. Starting with drumming in a band with his brother and sister, by 16 he was touring the States in a slew of hardcore and punk groups. In 2015 he dropped his first solo album, Magic, and by 2018 he was collaborating with beloved indie-pop musician Jay Som.
But making music was far from his only involvement in the Los Angeles music scene. For years, Proffit ran the underground arts and living quarters known as Topspace. The all-ages venue held tightly packed performances in its cavernous Inglewood location but came to a halt shortly before the pandemic. As you can guess, it was all just too much to handle.
With the onset of the pandemic, Proffit thought he may never make music again. The years of grinding had taken their toll and he needed to reassess his relationship with music and the lifestyle that accompanied it. Thankfully, for us, he came back around and his forthcoming album Speedstar is a result of the months of rumination and a stab at sobriety.
Today, KEXP is excited to share the second single off the record, “Big Mistake.” Unlike prior single “Burning the Ground,” which was appropriately slow-burning, “Big Mistake” barrels in full-speed with the lyrics spilling out of Proffit as if he’s been holding them in far too long. “Do you find yourself cutting deep?” he asks. “I have a trick you won’t believe.”
From there, Proffit recounts alcohol-fueled nights of falling in rosebushes and shaking hands with people he won’t remember or care about the following day. All things that anyone who’s on the path to sobriety can relate to but the most poignant line, to me, is “Entertainers start inside of the maze.” If the maze is alcohol and/or drugs, you can bet your ass entertainers fit squarely in the middle with a far trickier path to getting out.
Alongside the single, Proffit shared a few words via email about the new album, how he ended up at Phil Elverum’s iconic Anacortes studio, and his respect for those who run DIY shows.
KEXP: The press release for Speedstar cites this record as a reintroduction of sorts since your last solo album. With only two years in between LA’s Got Me Down and Speedstar, what does a reintroduction mean to you?
Justus Proffit: I feel like reintroduction is a must with any sort of artistic endeavor if you want to grow, reintroduction is one of the many pieces to the puzzle in creating a record for me. This time around I think I tried to not take myself too seriously. The record kind of just came together with ease.
The album was made during the pandemic, did Covid play a role in the thematic concepts of the record?
Not really, this album has a lot more to do with understanding my emotions and being present. I just used the time to break down dynamics with friends and loved ones and just reflect on everything going on. Also, I think I simply didn’t want to go down that path with the record considering it will probably be talked about for years to come, respectfully so.
What were you listening to during the making of the album?
I was listening to a lot of trip-hop in the beginning, Saint Etienne, sneaker pimps, Candy Flip etc. Some oldies, The Tremeloes, Blue Magic. I also really like this Honeybus anthology “She flys like a bird”
You recorded the album at Phil Elverum’s iconic Unknown studio in Anacortes, which is obviously a heavy-hitting and oft-used studio for Northwest artists but what drew you to come up from LA to record there?
I literally had no plans to record there, in fact, I didn't even come up there to record, my friend Drake Elliott lived in the Guemes Islands, I went up there to get away from LA for a little bit. But naturally, I ended up writing some songs with Drake and we recorded them at the studio because they were friends with Nicholas Wilbur. It was really fun, the church is absolutely beautiful and set up so cool. Recording there was a really fun experience.
Covid obviously forced you to shut down your underground arts venue, Topspace. With the country on the verge of complete reopening, what does the future of Topspace look like?
To be honest, I had shut down the venue before Covid, I have been running a venue for years and it was literally aging me. So top space will never be a thing ever again. So much respect to anybody who throws DIY shows, it is so much work and so much stress and God bless your soul.
I see you’ve got some Justus Proffit shows booked starting in July. What aspect of playing live music are you most looking forward to? Transversely, what aspect are you least looking forward to?
I just had our first jam session last week and to be honest, I got super emotional after, I legitimately already said goodbye to music last year, so it feels like a dead friend came back to life. I’m excited about everything, to be honest, I am looking forward to everything. I just want to play and have fun and see my friends play. I guess just loading and unloading equipment is the only thing that sucks, but I’m here for that.
Is there a venue you’re dying to play?
I don’t really care about which venue I play, I grew up playing back yards and basements. I am always just more excited about who I am playing with.
KEXP is premiering the Speedstar single “Big Mistake,” can you tell me about the story behind the song and how it came to be?
This song is about partying and losing all your memory. It’s also about when you are young, you first drink or get high for the first time and you are always trying to chase that feeling as you get older and it just feels sad and hollow. I have been sober for almost 5 months now, I am very proud of myself for that accomplishment.
Because KEXP is the station “where the music matters,” I often ask artists what music means to them. But, I’m curious whether, after this year from hell, the meaning of or your relationship to music has changed at all.
Honestly, I’m just insanely grateful to be doing this again, I just feel gratitude towards all the people I’m involved with and so excited to be playing shows again. Thank you so much for the interview. God bless.
Speedstar follows 2019's LA's Got Me Down and is out August 20 via Bar/None Records.
KEXP scored a follow-up interview with the stylish singer-songwriters to hear some deeper cuts about how they started this project, humorous connotations of the album, their favorite collaborative duos, plus what’s next for them.
The collaborative EP from Justus Proffit and Jay Som "crystalizes their poignant stylizations of singer-songwriter that transcends their signature, bedroom rock modus operandi."