We visited Sony Music to speak with American singer and songwriter Justin Jesso about his new EP Finding The Opposite Of Loneliness.
Justin is a multifaceted artist, whose creative output isn’t just high in demand, but luckily also plentiful, averaging at an incredible 5-6 self-penned songs a week. He writes enough to cater to his own solo career, and additionally provide hits to the likes of Ricky Martin, The Backstreet Boys, and world famous DJs Steve Aoki and Armin van Buren. His hit single, “Stargazing” with legendary artist Kygo, has garnered him hundreds of millions of streams, views, gold and platinum certifications in countries all across the world, and even received a Grammy nomination.
Congratulations on the launch of your new EP, Finding the opposite of loneliness. What was the thought process behind that title and is there a theme for the EP?
Finding the opposite of loneliness comes from one of my new songs. It’s called “Miracle” which is going to be the lead single off the EP. My favourite lyric from the pre-chorus is, “I’ve been trying to find the opposite of loneliness. There ain’t a word for it”, and there is no word for the opposite of loneliness. It’s not togetherness. It’s not happiness, it’s not contentment. There just isn’t a word for it so I was always fascinated by that. I feel like in a way that once I was aware of my feelings, depression and anxieties, which happened to me in college, it has really all been about some form of trying to find the opposite of loneliness.
So the EP is broken up into two parts. The first half are songs where I’m struggling to find that feeling and that I need a lifeline or I’m trying to get over somebody or something, you know, trying to drink my way out of it or trying to party my way out of it.
And then the second half of the EP is about songs where I feel like I found some version of it, whether it’s in the finding of a significant other or finding it through something else. One of the ways that I cope with my depression is by acknowledging it. So to me, that’s the most powerful tool I have in my arsenal. Because I can’t change my depression. I can’t change the way I feel when I’m really down on myself and think I’m having a shit day or that I’m a shitty person. It’s kind of twofold. It’s the acknowledgement and then it’s the idea that not only do I feel this way and acknowledge this and I understand what’s happening to me, but that’s okay. Like it’s okay that I feel today like I’m a shitty person, or like the world is ending or whatever, because it then allows me to go, okay, well I’m going to feel this way and that’s okay, and I can move on quicker from it.
Do you have a favourite track from the EP?
I do. “Lose Ya” is my favorite track this year. I mean, I love them all. The reason it’s my favourite is because during the pandemic I had a lot of time to think about what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it. I love old soul music. So my influences are like Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, James Brown, Otis Redding, Bill Withers, Aretha Franklin. Currently, I love Bruno Mars, Lizzo and John Legend. But I also love this arena stadium vibe like Queen and Elton John. I’ve been performing in stadiums and arenas for years now, whether with Kygo or by myself, and during the pandemic, I missed that terribly, that ability to be on a huge stage. I’m a soulful vocalist, and I love this giant, larger-than-life energy that songs can bring when performing them live and “Lose Ya” is one of my favourites for this.
You started your career by writing for the likes of Ricky Martin, the Backstreet Boys and the list goes on. When co-writing with others for your own projects, how do you maintain that they stay true to your vision?
I try to let go of my vision when I collaborate, even if we’re writing for me. Especially because I started off as a songwriter. My job is to hit their target and hit the label’s target. I mean, it’s sometimes even threefold. It’s the producer’s target, the label’s target, the artist’s target. And that’s a really hard balance to juggle. I want to do something that’s unique. I want to do something that is 1000% them and that they resonate with. And then I want to do something that the label is going to ship as a hit. So for me, it’s trying to get the trifecta of those three things.
A goal is always to create something unique, with a new perspective because I think that’s important, for me, those are the records that stick to me, not the more generic lyrics that we have had over and over.
I kind of go by let’s just write whatever the fuck we’re feeling because that’s the beauty of collaboration I guess.
You have released some amazing music videos in the past, with your track “The End” winning several awards, including Best Music Video at both the 2021 Big Apple Film Festival (BAFF) and the 2021 Irvine International Film festival. Will you be releasing music videos for any of the tracks on your new EP?
For this EP we are working on a music video right now for one of the songs and I had an idea today for “Drink Alone”, but it’s not a full-fledged music video. I love storytelling and I love storytelling in a visual medium, and I always want to tell stories. I think I am also really drawn right now to more long-form storytelling, the way that I put this EP together, it didn’t lend itself as well to doing a long-form piece with everything, that’s what I’m going to probably do with the next one.
Also congratulations on your first headlining European tour! What was that like? What’s your opinion on Europe and the crowd?
It was great. First of all, just being back on the road after so many years of not being able to was awesome. My favorite thing to do is to meet people. I love meeting people and hearing how the music has affected them. One of my favorite stories about this actually came around one of my songs, “400 Trillion”, which is another one of my favorites on the EP. I just started the tour. I was like two shows in and then I was reading through Instagram messages and this woman reached out to me. She’s a mom and she has a kid, and her son is like eight or nine, and her son has some learning disabilities, and has trouble connecting words and feelings. And so she played him “400 Trillion” and he asked her what it was about. And she explained to him that there’s a one in 400 trillion chance that we are born and actually alive today, like that’s the actual odds. And that’s a miracle. And that’s insane, those odds are crazy. So how much crazier are the odds that you would actually find love in your life? So when you find love, you have to hold on to it. You have to cherish it and you have to tell the people around you that you love them. And so this kid looked up at his mom at that moment and said, “I love you, mom.”
Hearing that gave me absolute chills. It’s one of my favorite stories of music that touches people.
You can tell from your videos of your performances that you live through the crowd as much as the crowd lives through you.
Yes. That’s a great way to put it!
This summer you have been playing back-to-back shows and festivals, do you have a preference between festivals and playing your own headline shows?
It’s very different. I love my shows. They’re more intimate. I’m not at the level at the moment where I get to play to hundreds of thousands, however, I do get to do that with Kygo and it’s great, it’s huge and it’s fun. One of the coolest things about this headline tour for me is that when I toured in the past, people knew some of the major hits like “Stargazing” and “Closer”, however, when you go to my show now, people know the lyric to every song, even to the unreleased songs that they’ve seen online, it is like a whole different vibe and it’s amazing.
Something we always ask is what’s the most OffTheRails thing that you have ever done?
Oh fuck yea! There is a lot I probably can’t say but one that comes to mind is probably breaking into people’s swimming pools and swimming naked.