When you listen to Justin Nozuka‘s music, you may feel you’ve found Canada’s answer to the the blue-eyed soul/rock made popular by artists like Ray Lamontagne, Citizen Cope and Gavin Degraw. Half-Japanese and half- American, Nozuka’s vocals soar with the gusto of Jason Mraz and the bounce of Bob Marley, making it hard to believe he is a mere 22 years-old. What makes it stranger is that some of Justin’s most popular songs, such as the haunting “Supposed to Grow Old,” were written by the singer-songwriter when he was as young as 15. Justin has already opened for Stevie Wonder, co-headlined an American tour with Missy Higgins, and gained large audiences in Canada, France and various parts of Western Europe (amongst other places). I got the chance to hang out with Justin during his New York tour-stop and discuss his writing process, his trip to Africa, and how his career came (and is still coming) to be.
You’ve got great fan bases in markets around the world, but for those who don’t know, Let’s talk a little bit about where you got your start.
Sure. I started in Toronto in the open mic scene there. I was playing a lot— I was singing a lot before that too, with my brothers. But I kinda started doing this full-on, my own thing, writing songs on the acoustic guitar and playing on the city. And one thing led to the next, I went to this songwriting workshop and met a few people and it just kinda spread from there.
You mentioned your brothers— I know your family is very talented. Did you garner a lot of influence from them to go into performing or was this just something you always knew you wanted to do?
I think always [we are] feeding off each other, we’re always around each other— we were always around each other and we always had effect on each other, I think. And I do believe that everything and every person and anything we come in contact with, or even things that happen overseas or other places all have an affect on everything.
What are some of the talents people have in your family?
We have some musicians, some songwriters— yeah, artists.
So have you found yourself working with them in your professional life?
Well, I don’t like to look at anything professionally. I try to keep everything life-orientated. And with them, we always write together and we always create together.
Oh ok, so it’s a very natural thing, you working with them.
Your style is very hybrid, it definitely speaks to the idea that you like to keep things “life-oriented.” What do you think helps to create that style?
As an individual, for a while I tried to be something— like I tried to step into these shoes, be this type of person, be that type of person. But the truth is, it’s not as small as that. We’re not as small as that. We’re not as small as a style or a genre. So I’m trying to be open to all the different sounds that come my way and be open to creating different sounds and allowing myself to go to different styles and exploring different kind of feelings.
Have there been any musical influences that brought you to this mentality?
I love Stevie Wonder. Bob Marley & The Wailers. And I would say his sound is more specific to what they have and they’re expressing….
It’s very personal.
Yeah. He has this sound and he’s kinda tuned into something deep within. It comes from a cultural place as well.
So you capture that in your own way?
(laughs) Uh, well I try to, definitely try to. I feed off of it, I eat that stuff. I try to eat stuff that’s coming from that place. It feels so juicy and full of life.
You mentioned Stevie Wonder, and I read that you got to open for him at a festival in France. What’s that like?
That was really cool, man. It was a very special, special experience. Stevie Wonder is full of love. So positive and very warm. From the moment he walks on stage, it feels very light, and easy and accepting. I really love that environment, and getting to meet him was very special.
Had he heard your music?
He listened that night, with this guy that he was walking with that was taking care of him. It was also really beautiful— they said “We really enjoyed your set,” as he was walking. It kinda put me in a different perspective. To me, Stevie is the same kind of human as Bob Marley or John Lennon, that same kind of power. It just shows the potential of human beings. Stevie is such a powerful person and he’s still alive. So to be able to meet him or even listen to play live was really special for me.
You’ve toured a lot, including around America with Missy Higgins and other artists. Has that helped you prepare for this tour, where you’re headlining alone?
Definitely. I’d say all of it has really helped me as a performer and an individual. The whole thing has really strengthened me and affected me in a positive way.
Would you say people connect with your music differently in different parts of the world you have performed?
I think down to the core, it is similar. I think people are connected to the same kind of thing, from my experience. But different people, different characters. Different spices.
Where else have you traveled?
We’ve done a lot of Western Europe. We did some UK. We’ve done America a few times, We’ve done Canada. We did Japan and Australia. We did Africa.
Wow, what was Africa like?
We went to Tunisia, North Africa. It was really special, really cool. It wasn’t what you think of when you see pictures of Africa, it’s kinda different. But it’s still nice.
I’m very curious about your writing process. Do you work in different ways?
Yeah, it’s always changing I find. Just like anything, when I find one good way of writing a song that feels great and I try to do it again—but songs are just like life, it’s not like that. You really need to learn how to flow because things are always changing. Songs come in different ways. Through emotions, through experiences, through the mind. And sometimes they just happen without thinking.
What’s next for you?
So we’re going to finish this tour in America, and then we are going to go to France. We’re going to go to the UK first actually to open for Joshua Radin. And then we are going to go to France and do a big French tour. Then we’re going to go to Holland, and Switzerland and Germany too.
That’s a lot of moving around.
Do you feel most natural when you tour?
I feel most natural at home. Just kinda in my space. But I’m learning to just relax on the road. It’s definitely a challenge.