The Young View
Seems like just yesterday when Justin Young was a senior at Kalaheo High School and, along with other students, required to choose a product they could market on campus as part of a Junior Achievement Economics project. Almost immediately, Young’s classmates voted his yet-unrecorded music as the item they would attempt to sell, then helped swing a deal so that he could get the necessary studio time at Neos Productions.
That was nearly 18 years ago, and little did Young know he was setting the stage for a long and productive career in music.
“I was always carrying and playing my ukulele around school – everyone knew that about me,” Young says. “Even though a life in music is what I had been planning since I was in the eighth grade, I still look at the project as a fortuitous opportunity. Fortunately, I ran with it.”
And fortunately for us, he hasn’t stopped running, or strumming his guitar, since. Even when facing world-turned-upside-down moments – Young split from his girlfriend, pop singer Colbie Caillat, last year and his mother, Jan, passed away recently – he’s kept his 6-foot-4-inch frame moving forward.
Nothing better illustrates Young’s ability to carry on than his latest release, Makai, the first of a two-album concept that offers the singer-songwriter’s perspective of growing up in a place surrounded by water. Featuring 10 songs, the refreshing album boasts the familiar island and R&B vibe – but with much greater polish than any of his earlier material. Of particular note are the album’s lead track, Hana Hou, which is already garnering air play on local radio stations, and Young’s personal favorites Amnesia and Puzzle Pieces, the latter of which he co-wrote with Caillat.
“Puzzle Pieces is a song I first started writing four years ago,” he explains. “I had the melody and first verse, and presented it to Colbie. She liked it, and later added the second verse to fit her voice.”
His next album, Mauka, promises to have an edgier, urban sound. Young tells me the plan is to start recording in August and have the CD out before the end of the year.
Here’s what else he told Musical Notes about a particular non-music obsession and his ever-interesting relationship with Caillat:
MN: Besides your songs, you know what I like about you? You’re a Chicago Bears fan. Go Bears!
JY: Yeah, I’ve been a fan since I was about 7. It’s, like, the only time I ever act like an immature baby is when I have to miss a Bears game. Let’s see: I had a bear face tattoo done to me back in 2006, and a couple of years ago for my birthday, Colbie got me a pass to watch the Bears warm up on Soldiers Field before a Monday Night Football game. So, yes, the Bears are an obsession for me.
MN: It’s been about 10 years since you left on a jet plane for L.A. Why did you move away from the Islands?
JY: I just woke up one day and felt this urge to go there. Much of that desire came from seeing an ad promoting an extension entertainment studies program at UCLA. So I enrolled in the program and got a pretty broad education of the business. In fact, (
American Idoljudge) Randy Jackson was one of my teachers there.
MN: And then you met Colbie?
JY: Well, not until about a year before she came out with her first album. I actually met her through the girlfriend of a friend, who kept telling me I was the male version of this musician named Colbie Caillat, and that I had to meet her. So I did. Eventually, Colbie’s team had need for another guitarist and backup vocalist, a guy who could hit the higher notes. I auditioned and got the gig. It was scary, though. For the first few months out on tour, I lived in fear of screwing up!
MN: And then last year, you made the decision to leave the band. Why?
JY: Much like when I left Hawaii for L.A., I woke up one day and decided it was time to move on. After five years, I had pretty much hit the ceiling and accomplished everything I could as someone who was totally invested in Colbie’s music. To Colbie’s credit, she was very supportive of my decision.
MN: Any chance the two of you will get back together again?
JY: We’re trying to work things out. What’s nice about our situation is that we started out as best friends and we’re still best friends today.
Back in the early 2000s when she was first breaking into the predominantly male-oriented sax business and gigging regularly in L.A. night clubs, contemporary jazz musician Jessy J would not only carry her trusty woodwind instruments on stage with her, but a fake wedding ring as well – just to keep the prowling patron-wolves at bay. “I was kind of getting tired of all (the advances),” admits the Mexican-American artist, born Jessica Arellano. “But I quickly learned how to say no while still acting like a lady. You know, just because you work with men, you don’t have to act like some of them do.” Eventually these patrons, and a host of other people, began noticing that beyond her obvious good looks, Jessy J (the J stands for “Jazz”) could play a pretty mean saxophone, too. Soon, she was out of the night club scene and rubbing shoulders with the industry’s best, performing with The Temptations, Jessica Simpson, Michael Bolton, Neil Diamond - even working with Michael Bublé and producer extraordinaire David Foster in studio. Not a bad group of friends to hang with for this accomplished multi-instrumentalist, who’s also quite smooth as a pianist, flutist and vocalist. “It’s all the same to me,” she says of her musical talents. “I look at music as one big category. Piano was my first love as a child, and I was seriously considering becoming a classical pianist. But I got some great advice early on that playing the saxophone would open up more avenues for me, especially when it comes to getting more studio work. And what I’ve found is that the more versatile you are in this business, the more work you get.” Indeed. Work continues for her at Saturday’s Apaulo Music Productions’ Smooth Jazz Concert at The Hawaii Convention Center-Liliu Theater, where she’ll be joined by fellow sax player Warren Hill. The performance starts at 8 p.m. “It’ll be a fun night,” says Jessy J, who jazz lovers best know for her Billboardand Groove Jazz chart-topping songs Tequila Moonand Tropical Rain. For tickets, visit TIX.com or call (951) 696-0184 … It’s still a few weeks away, but the third annual “Kanikapila Under the Nuuanu Moonlight” concert series will feature a fabulous lineup of local talent, led by Na Hoku Hanohano Award winners Na Hoa, Kuuipo Kumukahi and Kenneth Makuakane. The event is set for July 24 at Queen Emma Summer Palace, but seating is limited and reservations must be made by July 14. Call 595-3167 or reserve your seats online at daughtersofhawaii.org.