Interview & Photos by Keira Zhou
Known for its towering steel factories, ironclad work ethic, and hometown pride, Pittsburgh serves as the perfect backdrop for country music. It was only a matter of time before City of Bridges gave the genre a new voice. Meet Justin Fabus, capturing country spirit with soul and style, the singer and songwriter shares thirteen honest and heartfelt anthems on his 2018 independent full-length debut, Remedy.
When did you start playing music?
Justin: My whole life, for as long as I can remember. I can’t live a day without it.
Who are the musicians that inspire you?
Justin: I have a ton. I just was raised on so many great musicians. I’m not a big fan of the word “genre”. I love all different types of music. I don’t understand when people say, “oh I only like country music”. So well you are not giving other music a chance. My opinion is that if a certain song or a certain artist or a certain genre makes you move, then it’s good music. I find it funny when people are like, “well I hate country music, but I like this song”, for me then it’s like “well you like country music”. I grew up on singer songwriters like Billy Joel, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline. I was very fortunate that I was brought up on such amazing musicians.
Does your family have a huge influence on your music?
Justin: Yeah, I have a big family and we are very very close. We are very fortunate. And music played a huge part in my upbringing. There was always music playing. My grandfather listened to Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong. My grandmother listened to Patsy Cline and Billy Ray Cyrus. And my mother listened to The Doors and Led Zeppelin. You can hear that in my music. There are certain songs that have very country feel and some have very rock feel. There are some blues in it, some R&B. I’m a huge fan of Motown, like The Temptations, huge fan of Sam Cooke. If you listen to my music, you can hear so many different elements. My goal is that every song I put out has a different feel.
Has your music evolved over the years? Is it very different from when you first started playing?
Justin: When I first started writing songs, I didn’t know how to play any instruments. So I was just writing words. Even when I was just a young kid, I would just write words. I would just take instrumental songs and buy CDs of instrumental songs, and I would write words to these songs, because the music is already written. As I got older, I started to write actual songs and I started to play guitar, and my music became better sounding songs.
I write my own songs, and I’ll never write from an experience that I didn’t go through. I wear my heart on my sleeve and I’m very true. For some reason, it’s very hard for me to write from a second person. I write everything from my personal experience. A lot of people would say, “Oh you are from Pittsburg, it’s a city, how are you a country artist. You are not from the south.” In my opinion, Pittsburg is very blue collar. And country music is all blue collar. More importantly is that typical people think, “Well, country music is about you being on a farm”. I didn’t grow up on a farm, so I’m never gonna write a song about being on a farm. In my opinion, people who are fans of music, when they listen to your songs, they know right away if you are singing from the heart or not. So I will never write a song about living on a farm cause I’ve never lived that life. But I will write a song about love gain, love loss, heartache, relationships, working hard. When I sing my songs, I feel what I write. That’s what I want to do, is one-day maybe I’ll write a sound track to someone’s life. I want to write those songs when people hear it, it can take them back to a certain moment. It can take them back to their senior trip in high school, or take them back to their first kiss cause it was playing; it could take them back to their first dance at a wedding because that was their song.
I also read that your last album related a lot on your personal experience and your mom. Could you tell us a little more?
Justin: When I decided to go into the studio, prior to this album, I put out two EPs, which is like five or six songs. And I was going into the studio to release my first full-length album. I was like, oh man you only get one shot of putting out a full-length album. I really wanted to put out an album where you could listen to it from to back and not skip a song. There are albums that I love that I would just listen to it from to back. You know, there are no filler songs. And when I first started writing for the album, I was in a very happy, good place in my life. So I was just writing about love gain, good things and fun things. I decided to write with other songwriters too. I kinda just want to put the best music that I could. I knew that working with other songwriters would really make me work harder and make me write the best songs I could.
So when I first started writing the album, I was very happy, and very bright. And then when I was about to go into the studio to record the songs, my mother got diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. And of course, she was everything to me. She was always my biggest supporter. There were times when I was starting out, where I did shows and there were two people in the audience - there was she and the bartender. She would come to every show she could.
So I decided to put everything (recording the album) on hold, but her being an amazing woman that she was, she was like, “no no no, you gotta keep going.” So obviously that took a toll on me. I started to write in more of a dark manner, just because that time was very heavy for me. So I went into the studio pretty much ready to go, and when that happened with my mom, I wrote six or seven new songs that ended up going on the album replacing some other songs. It’s weird that, after I recorded it, put it out, it has this weird balance. If you listen to it from front to back, it’s this concept album that I have, you can feel it like, ok this is a fun song, ok this is heartbreak. And if you listen to each song in the direction of the album, it kinda tells a story from start to finish. The whole album definitely portrays what I was going through on that journey, and I wouldn’t change it for a word. I’m very proud of the album, and it just makes me realize that there’s pressure coming on the follow up album. But there are so much that has happened since that album, even more intense and crazy things, so I have even more to tell now.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music?
Justin: When I’m not playing music? Hmm I’m always playing music. (laugh..) It’s terrible to say but it’s whether me writing music or listening to music, I always have music going.
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