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Not Just a Singer/Songwriter
Justin Heron moved to Milwaukee for its music scene. The young musician is starting to reap the benefits.


Photo courtesy of Justin Heron

Music controls a lot of things in Justin Heron’s life. The 25-year-old bandleader selects work shifts that will allow him to squeeze in more (and more meaningful) practice time. At times, he’s subsisted on nothing but tuna and saltines because he’d spent grocery money on a guitar pedal or recording equipment. Even his move to Milwaukee from Memphis three years ago was done with his music in mind.

To this point, Heron’s dedication has yet to be rewarded with many favorable breaks or much notoriety in his adopted music scene. Yet the tides seem to be turning, as Heron has struck bonds with area bands – some of which ask for his musical accompaniment – is finding his name on more show fliers, and (with this Q&A) even some local press.

How would you describe your music?
It’s technically folk rock, but the rock is a heavier version of rock. I try to perfectly blend folk music with heavier music. I like metal a lot so there are flashes of something that would be in a prog metal song, but it also retains a lot of the structure of folk music.

What are some of your influences or some artists you’ve been likened to?
I like Silverchair’s later stuff a lot. I’m a really big Opeth fan, but oddly enough, people have compared my music to Snow Patrol [laughs], which I thought was really weird. I’ve also been compared to Bright Eyes, but I don’t particularly listen to Bright Eyes at all.

Why did you move here?
I tried my hand in Memphis, but it just wasn’t the romantic dream come true. I had all these romantic ideas of going to Memphis and it being the home of rock ‘n’ roll, the delta blues and I wanted to go and, essentially, join the ranks of the people that came before me. When I got there, there was no music. So that endeavor was a failure, but out of that failure I was like ‘Oh, shit. I gotta figure out something different.’

Somebody had said ‘What about Milwaukee? I think you’ve got an uncle that lives in Milwaukee.’ I gave him a call, and he’d mentioned that there are quite a few venues here. That was a big change from what I was going because in Memphis, the only bands that get big gigs are cover bands.

And you’ve also lived in Indiana and Ohio, right?
I’ve lived in Indiana, Ohio, I’ve lived in Chicago, Arizona… do you want all of them [laughs]?

I guess I’m asking because I’m wondering in which ways does the Milwaukee music scene differ from those places and why you were led here.
It’s really hard to say because there are so many things I don’t like about it, but there are also so many things I do like about it. I like how small the community music is, and that’s what I like about Milwaukee in general. Other cities seem like there wasn’t this huge, diverse melting pot of music. It was blues cover bands, then singer/songwriters than rock bands. In Milwaukee, it’s very obvious who’s working out.

What are some local bands you’d like to play with and local venues you’d like to play?
I’d like to play Shank Hall, if nothing else, for the Spinal Tap reference [laughs]. Of course, I’d like to play the Pabst. As far as bands go, I’d like to play with everybody at least once – anyone who’s serious about making art. Not throwaway songs, but pieces of art. Anyone who wants to do that is somebody I’m interested in playing with.

And your first album will be out in August?
Well, it’s weird. We actually decided not to do an album anymore. Some of the songs I felt like were going more toward singer/songwriter. And I don’t want to take that route. I don’t want to be an acoustic guy. I want to do bigger arrangements, so I cut all the stripped back things, leaving just the bigger arrangement stuff. It went from being 11 songs to being five songs. We’re just going to do an EP, so that way when I write my first album, it’s going to be a lot bigger, a lot better and a lot more focused. And that (the EP) is probably going to be released in October.

What are you going to do with the six songs you got rid of?
I’ll play them live, but I don’t want to release the recordings.

With your next album, you said you had plans to record in a farmhouse or something?
I think I’m going to end up writing it in a farmhouse. My friend is going to have a farmhouse, but I think I’m actually going to record it in a place called Evanston Space. There’s a venue down in Evanston (Indiana) and there’s a recording studio in the green room, so you go back to the green room and there’s this really amazing recording studio. They’ve got all these vintage amplifiers. It’s just a great live room and I think that’s just the feel and vibe I’m going for.

Heron will play second tonight (Friday) as part of a four-band Riverwest Public House $5 (or $10 all you can drink) show sponsored by Do414.com. Netherfriends (Chicago), John The Savage and The Gazettiers will also play. Download demo songs from his The Four Track Tapes EP on his Bandcamp page.





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