R n’ B, Gospel Music And Piña Coladas: In Conversation With Singer/Songwriter Justene

Written by Jack Andrew Cribb

“My inner thoughts, that’s what 2am is about really.”

A few weeks ago we wrote a review on the Leicester-born, London-based R n’ B maestro that is Justene and her second EP 2am, and were very pleased with what we heard. It’s a heady mixture of 80’s funk-pop, power ballads, glazened with the touching depth that comes with the flavours of contemporary R n’ B. Fortunately for us we got to catch up with the singer to ask her a bit about herself, her story, what inspires her, and what the future holds for the music of Justene.

Please state your name, and your hometown.

J: My name is actually Justina. My mum actually wanted to call me Justene, but when I was younger they got it wrong on the birth certificate. But my family call me Justene. And I’m from Leicester. 

When did you start making music?

J: Music is something I’ve always done, even from a really young age. My mum told me a story about when I was two years old, after a church service I wanted to grab the mic, and I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t sing. When I went to school, primary school, junior school, I was always in the choir. And I used to sing in church. So yeah, it’s always something I’ve done, but it’s like when you don’t even realise you’re doing it, you just naturally gravitate towards it. It wasn’t until I got to the second year of uni that I realised ‘This is what I want to do.’

Have you ever drawn inspiration from your hometown of Leicester?

J: Maybe indirectly. It’s a peaceful, laidback-kinda town. So I think that approach is what’s in my music. It’s rubbed off a lot in how I perceive music and how I write. Whereas here in London, everything is much more fast-paced, everyone is in their own world. It’s quite isolated sometimes. Leicester has more of a community vibe.

Which artists do you think have influenced you the most?

J: I’d say growing up a lot of Gospel, like Kirk Franklin. Whitney Houston. Brownstone. Just like a lot of girl power anthems. My mum used to play that in the house a lot. And when I grew up I was very much into 90’s R n’ B, so I loved Aaliyah, Destiny’s Child. And from then I’ve branched out and become a more eclectic listener, so I like Coldplay, I love Keane. Kasabian. My taste of music has grown a lot since I was younger. I can draw from any genre.

How would you describe your sound in 3 words?

J: 3 words? I’d say, sensual. Relatable. And maybe honest. Is that the same as relatable? I’m not sure. For this EP (2AM) I think it’s definitely those kind of things. Relatable slash conversational? They feel like they’re conversations that I have.

You took a four year hiatus from making music – do you think your sound has changed in this ‘second coming’?

J: I think it’s evolved. I don’t wanna say changed because I don’t think it has changed dramatically, as if I’m doing a whole different style, but I think it’s more mature. Both EP’s I’ve released have been R n’ B, but 2AM is a much more mature sounding version of myself. More honest, more open. 

Who are you listening to right now?

J: I love Drake, that’s my dude right there. If I could do a collaboration, I’d love that. I like Grime aswell, like Giggs. I’m also liking SZA, and H.E.R. I think they’re fairly underground at the moment.

What were your inspirations for your 2am EP?

J: I think I got the vibe to the instrumentals first. Vibing to what they sounded like you know? And my inner thoughts, that’s what 2am is about really, it’s just me when I’m in my room, when I’m not working, when I’m not talking. I’m just in my room, thinking, and all my thoughts catch up with me. Just thinking through ‘Wow, I actually feel like that’ or ‘I didn’t realise that’s how I felt’. It’s conversations I wish I could say out loud I guess. I’m very private, so I don’t always share that kind of information. And when I was talking to the producer about what I wanted the EP to sound like or who I wanted it to be for, I said I want it to be for everyone, like mums, or people who are my age, or kids. I didn’t want it to be so isolated so that only one demographic can listen to it.

What do you hope to accomplish with your music?

J: I just really want to be a respected artist. I want to make a living from doing something I love and enjoy, and so that it doesn’t feel like work. With the sacrifices you make you won’t think ‘Oh my god, I actually hate doing this.’ If you really enjoy it, you’re not going to feel like you’re hard done by. I’d love to win a grammy, I’d love to reach the top really. I want to make music that I want to make, not necessarily what other people think I should be making. 

How important have you found being in London when trying to make music?

J: Definitely important. Moving to London opened my eyes to how you have to be well-connected. It’s all about networking, which is not something I’m good at because I’m quite introverted as a person. I can be outgoing, but say I go out with a group of friends I don’t really mix that much. But if it’s something that you want to pursue, you just have to make that move to where it’s happening, and London is where things are happening more for artists. As much as I love Leicester, it’s always going to be my hometown, there is less opportunity there to try and make a mark.

What does the future hold for you? Any upcoming releases?

J: At the moment I’m just focusing on promoting 2am, trying to get it as far and wide as possible. I’m also currently drawing inspiration for new songs, so hoping to be in the studio again soon, looking for collaborations and people to work with, to make bigger and better things. I’m quite happy with the standard of this EP.

Who would be your dream collaboration? I feel like I know the answer already.

J: Who are you gonna say?

Is it Drake? I assume Drake would be on the list.

J: Yeah definitely Drake! I’d love to be able to, not necessarily sing with them, but write for them, I’d love to write a song for Beyoncé. I’d love to collaborate with Miguel, I absolutely love Miguel. Who else is there? Bryson Tiller! Also, Coldplay, I’d love to work with Chris Martin. 

If you weren’t making music, what would you be doing?

J: When I was younger, I used to want to be a paediatrician. Until I didn’t get the grades, so I had to rethink that little idea. I think something to do with management, because at university I studied business and management, so that’s something I’d want to pursue. I’d like to work with the homeless, and also with disadvantaged children. And I’d like my music to be a platform to help me do that. That would be great.

What would be your idea of musical hell?

J: Oh my gosh, being told what to do. 

What about the worst artist to listen to for the rest of your life?

J: The rest of my life? I think just heavy metal. I can deal with Kings of Leon, but not anything harder like heavy metal. 

If you could be a cocktail, what would you be and why?

J: I feel like I need to have one now! I would be a Piña Colada, because it’s a bit fruity. Pineapple juice, rum, and coconut milk. It’s sweet! I like sweet drinks. And it’s fun. And it’s underestimated. Everyone’s like ‘What, Piña Colada, really?’ And then they taste it, and they’re like ‘Actually, this is really nice’.

Ok, final question, do you like getting caught in the rain?

J: I actually do. I actually really like the rain. 

Justene’s EP 2am is out now.



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