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Black Music Month: Justin Garner

Black Music Month: Justin Garner

June is Black Music Month, so it is only right we celebrate some of our local artists who are making a name for themselves in the music realm. Baton Rouge native Justin Garner is a local musician that is doing just that. Not only has he opened for Trey Songz, Fantasia, Monica, Dru Hill, and Big Sean; but he has created his own brand and is getting ready to release his latest album.
Garner grew up just across the river in Plaquemine. He graduated from Southern Lab and went on to earn his degree in marketing from Southern University, something he promised himself that he would do. Getting that degree has set him up for his career by allowing him to have a hand in every aspect of his brand and music. He says because the degree goes hand in hand with his music, he is able to be successful.
At the young age of 11, Garner was introduced to music, like many black artists, in the church. He started singing gospel and thi is where he developed his love and passion for performing and singing.
“I learned around 13 or 14 I liked to create my music, and create my own lyrics, and my own feel for what I was actually singing. That gave way to learning how to write songs and write music, it started initially from singing melodies and those melodies turning into words, and those words turning into concepts, and I pretty much learned how to write songs.”
Developing his music and songwriting lead Garner to open for major acts that came to Baton Rouge. It developed his personal style and it was while performing as an opening act for Trey Songz, he saw how things worked behind the scenes giving him inspiration and later what helped him put on his own successful shows.
Being a musician can take a toll on oneself, and it is easy to get lost, but Garner has managed to stay humble, is very engaging with his fans, and stays in the center of every aspect of his music and career. Every time he drops music it hits within the top 20 on the charts. With his current three singles out, Spotify editors selected his music to be on their top playlist, his streams are close to a million on some songs, and all of this  without a label at this time.
The city he still calls home today, Baton Rouge, has helped mold him into the down to earth person he is, and continue to deliver passionate music. We sat down to get to know Garner a little more and what inspires him and what the city of Baton Rouge really means to him.
Justin Garner inspired by Baton Rouge
Who are some Baton Rouge or Louisiana artist that inspire you?
My father (Ernest) was a drummer for the Rockin’ Imperials and they toured all over. I was two when he passed so I didn’t really get to know him. But a couple of years ago I found some old vinyl records and the vinyl of what they recorded really inspired me. It was really soulful, funky with some influence of rock. I know in Baton Rouge everybody; all of the bands have this rock type soul sound. So, with the new music that I am working on, I kind of reached back and touched on it. “Caught in the Moment,” one of my new three singles has that vibe. It talks about love, has the high energy, and it encompasses the feeling of where I am from. It showcases that I am from Louisiana.
I feel that my father is with me when I am on stage. It feels like I am following in his footsteps. When I get a chance to see some of his friends, they say, “man if your dad was alive, he would be so impressed.” No one never knew I would go this way in life. We are so much alike, everyone keeps saying we are so much alike and in musical ways.
Who is your musical role model/inspiration?
Lionel Richie, I call him like my musical father, because I feel like his style, swag, and energy is definitely like mine. He is a songwriter and very chill. He has these huge hits, but I feel like he is sometimes underrated. More contemporary artists of this day, I love Maroon 5. This is funny, she is a female but Beyoncé, because of her marketing technique, basically the way she couples her music with different innovative ideas to get her music out. I feel that every artist should strive for that, how to get this incredible music you just created out.
Outside of music, who has been your biggest motivator?  
I would definitely say, my mother. My mother was a momager for the longest. When I was a kid she was at every show. She was teaching me the business as well as being a better performer and singer. She was super critical in a loving way, so I feel like that is why I am so on my P&Qs right now. And honestly my fan base. They go by the name JG Army. It is basically from kids to teens, to adults, and basically who I touch with shows or online. I get them to sign up on my website and I stay in contact and communicate with them and they honestly push me to go harder and harder each time.
What did you do before turning to music full time?
While I was in undergrad I was always performing and I just recently released my very first body of work and I was invited to do a tour over in Japan for two weeks. It was in Tokyo and Yokohama. Basically, it was a promotional tour for my new music. My distributors in Japan said there was a lot of interest in my music. This was during Myspace and the rise of social media, so I was able to get ahead of it. Ever since then from that tour and the success I knew this is what I wanted to do full time.
Prior I was a marketing coordinator for a marketing firm. It was kind of a cheat code to developing my marketing to get my music out. I am a marketing nerd on the side.
What is something Baton Rouge has taught you?
That’s a good question. I think Baton Rouge has taught me how to be humble. It feels like home. I have been all around the world, Los Angeles, New York, overseas, and Baton Rouge to me has the friendliest people because they are so genuine and authentic. It feels like here I don’t have to be someone I am not. It isn’t a plastic city. It is genuine down-home, good energy.
How does it feel when you perform here at home?
It feels like home, naturally. It doesn’t feel like a show because it is so natural. It just feels good.
What advice would you tell upcoming artists here in Baton Rouge?
Definitely stay in school because the skills you will learn will teach you things you think you wouldn’t use. No matter what accomplishments you have, stay humble and always remember there are millions of other artists and singers out there. You just have to focus on yourself, your craft and to believe in yourself. Third, have fun and be yourself. If you are weird and crazy, be weird and crazy. Find your lane and stick to your lane and guns. Trust yourself.
So, what are you working on now?
I’m working on my album. What is so exciting about this album is that for the first time, I am exploring multiple genres. In the past, I have stuck to the R&B lane and some pop that was geared at radio. This time we entered the studio and just created music. I worked very hands-on and booked some time at PreSonus studio here in Baton Rouge. We just got in and created music in the most organic way. Just got in there with the guitar and worked around that. The process has been crazy. It is more soulful but still pop, but we aren’t restricting anything.
How do you celebrate black music?
I think it is just a celebration of music in general. Black music influences so many areas of music its almost like it should just be a general celebration throughout the whole year. Music is music. Music to me is a form of self, a form of expression. I really don’t like when people label music a black or white thing. I see a lot of artists breaking the color line and now it’s just about good music.
What do you like to do in Baton Rouge?
My favorite thing to do is Movie Tavern. That is my number one thing on like a Tuesday or Wednesday. I will go by myself and just relax and watch a movie and have dinner. I will just relax. I also like running the levee and hanging out in Perkins Rowe.
Favorite place to eat?
Probably would have to be Louisiana Lagniappe. Favorite dish would be Fish and Paper (Fresh Fish en Papillote) It is really good.
Louisiana staple food?
Crawfish definitely.
What is your favorite time of the year here?
Definitely fall. Football is a plus with all of the SU and LSU games, and also the weather in the fall to me is just great. Sometimes it is breezy and chilly, and I like to wear bomber jackets so that is the perfect weather for that.
One thing we should all understand about Baton Rouge?
I think locally when you grow up in Baton Rouge, people say it is so small and there is nothing to do. But if you really emerge yourself in the environment you will see there is a lot here in Baton Rouge with the different festivals, the music movement is great, the art movement is great. Every weekend there is something to do in Baton Rouge that involves the arts and music. To some that are not from here, I know people rave about New Orleans, but the food is really great here too. So, we have a lot of great restaurants, like Louisiana Lagniappe, Kalurah Street Grill, and French Market Bistro on Highland Rd. Everyone seems to love the charm of the city too.
 
Garner has some projects in the works and you can look for him locally this fall at some upcoming festivals. Keep up with Garner by following him on Twitter at @justingarner or visit his website.

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