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Caleb Justin diversified its sound by turning a solo act into a group effort

(Andrea Grigsby/Illustrations director)

By Brooke Cuzick

May 28, 2020 12:41 a.m.

The band Caleb Justin morphs the titular musician’s vision into a multi-layered psychedelic R&B journey.

Justin, a third-year world arts and cultures student, said when he auditioned for this year’s Spring Sing, he dreamed of creating the ultimate live performance. This vision would be realized through the addition of a drummer, keyboardist, bassist and guitarist to his previously solo sound. He said the instrumental layering over his track “Too Close” brought a sense of individuality through the nuance of the musicians’ styles. And although the group’s song will not be presented on a stage, Justin said the instrumentalists’ flare still translates through their improvised portions that made the cut for the final recording.

“I am a solo artist, but I just love collaborating with other talented individuals,” he said. “When I saw the opportunity to perform at Spring Sing, I wanted to be able to incorporate a real concert feel – so I formed a band.”

When the band started rehearsing together, Justin said he and his four other bandmates took a relaxed approach. Instead of tediously planning out every aspect of “Too Close,” each member was allowed to improvise with their instrument over the basic chords of the song. In one instance, Justin said his guitarist added in his own guitar solo, which ended up playing a crucial role in diversifying the song, giving it some partially rock-oriented moments. Combining similar moments of instrumental freedom across all of the members’ work in the track gives it a sonically rounded feel, he said.

“I love the idea of live instruments, which is very uncommon nowadays,” Justin said. “Being that the song has keyboard, piano, electric guitar, bass and drums, I really wanted (each instrument) to come alive, and that’s when everyone else came into the picture.”

But it is Justin’s intuitive songwriting style that leads the band’s instrumental contributions, said Sebastian Feo-Lacau, the group’s drummer and producer. Feo-Lacau said when Justin writes, he already has ideas for the song’s beat rattling in his head, quickly vocalizing them to put a song together.

Feo-Lacau has worked with Justin in the past, so he said adjusting to produce a band’s plurality of instruments as opposed to a single artist’s ideas required a new mindset. In this experimental way of thinking, Feo-Lacau said he had to open up the layering of the song to let each instrumentalist be heard. The end result offers a multitude of live recorded playing styles from each musician, as opposed to being something that sounds more passive and blended, he said.

“I was listening to some of the lyrics that (Justin) wrote and some of the melodies that he already had, and we went from there,” Feo-Lacau said. “We started building the song up and making the beats. We just took the main ideas of the track and started to flesh things out and how it would sound live.”

To achieve a sound that mimics a live experience, Justin’s keyboardist Jane Shin, a second-year English student, said each band member took their time individually recording over the basic song mix. She said the separate recording time allowed them to control where they can improvise without being influenced by other members’ ad-libs. The combined recordings came together to create a unified, cohesive sound, Shin said, while their recording format gave them the opportunity to offer their own creative contributions.

“Our rehearsal felt a lot more like a jam session than practicing for an audition,” she said. “As soon as you do put that pressure on, then it becomes a lot less fun. … We all love music and we all love playing instruments and singing with other people, so (the band) came together very naturally.”

The unified feel of the instrumentals in “Too Close” is meant to elicit positive feelings in listeners, Shin said. Although Justin wrote the track about a potential relationship gone wrong, she said the track’s improvised guitar solo – along with upbeat drums and playful chord progressions – create an optimistic listening experience. She said Justin’s belting vocals act as a duet between his voice and the frequent guitar riffs, but they also help paint the bright perception of the track.

“Too Close’s” duality between its sound and lyrical content guides listeners to its final message. The song encourages that while love may be something most people want, everyone should take a step back and explore what makes them happy, Justin said. And for him and the rest of his band, that happiness comes from the healing power stirred by creating, writing and playing music.

“The good thing about music is it does definitely bring people together,” Justin said. “(Music) allows people to just sit in the moment and just feel whatever they’re feeling. That’s what we’re all trying to do.”

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Brooke Cuzick | Alumna
Cuzick previously served as a senior staff writing for Arts and Entertainment. She was the Music | Fine Arts editor from 2019-2020 and an A&E reporter from 2018-2019.
Cuzick previously served as a senior staff writing for Arts and Entertainment. She was the Music | Fine Arts editor from 2019-2020 and an A&E reporter from 2018-2019.
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