Music inspires the soul and allows listeners to feel joyful and free, and behind every piece of inspirational music lie a songwriter and a story. Throughout spring quarter, columnist Kaitlyn Peterson will sit down over tea with UCLA singer-songwriters to explore their musical goals, personal inspirations and what makes their songs so special.
When I first listened to “Intro/Destiny” – the first song on Justin Loera’s album “Faded Dream” – the complicated guitar melodies and haunting vocals made me feel like I was in a dream.
This week I sat down with Loera, who started creating his own music in January 2016. The third-year anthropology student has released two solo albums and one acoustic album, in addition to performing in two bands and working in Costco’s electronics and jewelry departments. He plans to start working on his third album by summer.
In “Letting Go,” a song from his first album “Untitled Album,” he sings, “Every feeling has gone away/ You were everything.” Loera’s music has haunting, deep melodies, featuring a raw vulnerability. The lyrics speak boldly from his soul.
Loera laughed as he told me that at 6 years old, he swore to himself that he would never like any band other than The Beatles, since they were all he listened to at the time. He constantly played the band’s songs on his parents’ portable CD player.
But when his dad played him Iron Maiden’s album “Brave New World,” he said he became obsessed with its heavy metal sound and compelling guitar melodies.
In his junior year of high school, he discovered death metal.
The first death metal band he listened to was Opeth, a Swedish heavy metal band from Stockholm. Loera was amazed by the band’s ability to merge aggression with soft acoustic sounds.
“My biggest inspirations are the guys who write all the songs themselves,” Loera said. “Those guys are the masterminds behind their band – like Steven Wilson from Porcupine Trees and Mikael Akerfeldt from Opeth.”
When I asked Loera about his own music, he excitedly leaned forward, resting his arms on the Kerckhoff patio table.
Loera didn’t start seriously writing music until last year when he felt comfortable enough playing guitar to create his own songs. Using his iPad’s GarageBand, he spends hours listening to his songs on repeat while studying or driving in the car to make sure they’re up to his standards. If he ever gets tired of the song, he knows it’s not good enough.
Loera told me that he didn’t want to casually make music – he wanted to create an album full of material that tells a narrative, similar to a film or book.
Six months after his first serious attempt at songwriting, he released his first album, “Untitled Album,” in July. He took inspiration from painters who named their works “Untitled,” which he said represented his journey to find his identity as a songwriter through experimentation with pop, rock and metal genres.
The last studio-recorded song on the album, “Hope,” is one of Loera’s favorites. The 10-minute song was made in one day, and it closes “Untitled Album” on a positive note compared to the melancholic music that he usually writes.
In the middle of the song, Loera sings, “It’s alright, we’ll come together soon/ You’re the one to save me from myself.” Its acoustic tone is happy at the beginning, darker in the middle and hopeful again by the end. The mid-song key change signifies being hopeful for good fortune amidst personal difficulties.
In addition to his solo career, Loera plays with two other bands. He and his co-worker comprise the rap duo Little Pink Cooks, for which Loera plays the guitar. They practice together Saturday nights in Loera’s garage studio in Van Nuys, California.
In November, Loera joined the metal band Ashes in the Water. Although its members are all around 40 years old, they reached out to Loera after hearing him sing the Eagles’ “Hotel California” on a Facebook video. Every Friday night, Ashes in the Water practices at a studio in North Hollywood. Loera talked about their practice sessions, where they are free to play as loud as they want and stay up as late as they want.
Although Loera labels his music as progressive rock, he said he doesn’t want his music to sound the same. He admires the rock band Rush for changing their sound with synthesizers in the ’80s, even though they received negative feedback for it. He plans to have a more electronic sound in his next album, inspired by the bands Tears for Fears and Depeche Mode.
“I want to appeal to any emotion; I just want (listeners) to feel something,” Loera said. “The music that touches you the most is that one song or album that you heard just at the right moment.”
Listen to some of Loera’s favorite songs: