interview by Michael McCarthy
Today I am pleased to present you with part two of my interview with Justin Masters. As I said in my intro to part one, Justin and I were friends back in the mid-’90s but lost touch when I was in the thick of publishing my heavy metal music zine Ant, The Only Cool Magazine That Bites. That said, Justin’s new album, Good Life Bad Liver, is not heavy metal. It’s singer/songwriter rock and it’s superb, just bursting with precious melodies and irresistible hooks. Not to mention grade A lyrics. I’m not saying that because we recently reconnected, though. Of course, you might think I’d say that even if it wasn’t excellent because we’re friends again. However, you would be mistaken. As my longtime readers must realize, I’m very selective about what I promote here. So much so that when I used to write reviews most of them were positive because if I didn’t like something I simply chose not to write about it. But not because of the old saying that if you have nothing good to say you should say nothing at all. It’s because there’s so much good music out there that if something didn’t strike my fancy then I’d prefer to write about something that did. Why? Try because there are never enough hours in the day to cover all of the great music that comes my way, so why waste my time writing coverage of lousy music when I don’t even have enough time to write about all the good stuff? So, yes, I’m promoting Justin’s music because I genuinely think it’s fantastic. Listen to it below and I’m sure you’ll agree.
MM: So, what can you tell us about the bands you’ve been in over the years?
JM: You know what, just because of where these people are now I feel it would be disrespectful to talk about them. So, what I feel comfortable writing is that I played in a band that was more of a show band called Erocktica. It wasn’t about the music. We had dancing girls in the band. I was in that band throughout my 20s for eight years. They actually played in Europe a lot. So, I did not get to do any of the Europe shows and I’m actually not even on the records. I played the live dates in America and a few shows in Canada as well and the problem is that with that band – because of the nature of it – no musicians took us seriously. And there was another existing band that was a big band out on Long Island called Hollow and we would open for Bret Michaels or Sebastian Bach and Ratt and Warrant and L.A. Guns and all these guys. So, whenever these bands came to town, we would open up. I felt that that was a little more redeeming. But musically that band was more like Motorhead kind of rock ‘n’ roll. It was a lot heavier and a lot faster, whereas the show band was more of a Motley Crue, Kiss, AC/DC kind of a band. So, that was really cool. But, still, the songs that I was writing were just staying in the guitar case. And I will say the singer from the one band passed away. The singer for the other band got divorced and moved away. So, that was a heart-breaker and I’ve been retired ever since. So, this is also my coming out of retirement record. The entire time I’ve been recording this I have not been in these other bands. It was really like going through a divorce. It took me years to recover. And this is really me shaking the dust off and, you know, living my own life again. So, it’s very possible that I gave the best years of my life to these bands. And here we are, you know? Fortunately, you do get wiser as you get older, but, unfortunately, you get older. So, you relate to things differently. And people relate to you differently. But, you know what man, this record, it’s been sitting on a shelf for fifteen years. I could not have put this record out at the time because it wasn’t done. I didn’t have all the songs. And, I’m telling you, Zach is my favorite singer in the world and Jason is my favorite drummer in the world. So, without the two of them, I would’ve done it all over again anyway.
MM: One thing you mentioned that I wanted to ask you about was the off-Broadway show.
JM: Yeah, yeah. That was toward the end, the singer of the band Erocktica, Pink Snow, wrote Porn Rock, the musical. The band was originally called Porn Rock. You know what, I can’t remember the name of the festival, but it was one of those festivals in New York where you can buy a pass for the entire week or whatever it was and get into any of these shows. Yeah, Porn Rock: The Musical was an off-Broadway play and we did two weeks and it was really her life and the band played the songs as interludes. It was really cool. And I’d read the screenplay – because she’d had an official screenplay written – but one thing that was missing was that there was nothing in the screenplay that made you fall in love with her. That made you really want to like this person. All my favorite movies, there’s always a character you identify with, whether they’re the hero or the villain or whatever they are, and they’re the one that make you want to like it. And there was nothing there. So, going back to Rocky now, I referred to her to Rocky III. There’s that one scene where they’re running by the beach and at one point Rocky just stops and Adrian goes to Apollo and Apollo just says it’s over, it’s all over. And they get into a real argument by the water there and Adrian just starts yelling at him and then he looks at her and asks, how’d you get so tough? And she goes, I live with a fighter. I love that scene. So, I said, that’s what you’re missing. So, I actually wrote it. A scene where she goes to her father and asks for his support and he says no, I don’t support you, but I’m your father and I love you. She was a stripper and in a porn band and, no, he’s not gonna support that. I thought that was a nice little hook that was gonna give people chills. I’m your father and I’m always gonna love you. And that was my contribution to the play. And even though I don’t play on the record, I do have three songs that I wrote on the second record. I wrote “Paint it Pink,” “I’m Wet” and “Phone Sex” with Pink. So, that just shows you the kind of band it was.
MM: Have you written any songs for other artists? Have you thought about being a professional songwriter?
JM: At one point, absolutely. Because I had all these songs written and I really didn’t know what I was gonna do with them. I thought they were gonna be demos. I thought they were gonna be demos and I was gonna go into a record studio and shop them around. But, I’ll tell ya, you know, who took our rock ‘n’ roll? There ain’t no record stores anymore. I’m the last person that’s gonna talk about the music business. Because there are a lot of guys that got hit really hard by that. You used to sell two million records at record stores and now nobody’s buying CDs. I had a connection to somebody at a record label and I thought that they were gonna be like, hey, you know what, I’ll sign you, I’ll put it out. He calls me back and he’s like, I listened to your album and I can tell it was a labor of love, but our audience is 14-year-old girls who are into electronic pop. [Laughs] So, I guess, you know, people say go country or something. But, you know what, fuck it. I’ll just give you the definitive version. These 12 songs here are exactly how I want them to be. As far as somebody else doing them, of course, if the opportunity comes up, you’re welcome to. But I don’t think some 14-year-old electronic pop girl is gonna do a good job covering, you know, “Whiskey Turns to Gold.” [Both laugh] But if there is a 22-year-old country guy that wants to do it, maybe it can happen. I wouldn’t mind getting hooked up with a publisher and seeing if something like that is possible. Or perhaps getting one of these songs into a movie or a television show.
MM: There have to be agencies or – I don’t know what they’d call themselves – that work on getting things into shows and stuff.
JM: I’d love to see that happen.
MM: I was thinking you could probably be a successful songwriter in Nashville because they could put the country twang on your songs a little bit and they would work really well.
JM: I think so, too. Everybody wants to pick up a guitar and write a song and be famous one way or another. You know? In my particular case, yeah, absolutely. I just want people to hear this stuff. I’m not comfortable with this whole thing. This whole digital website Spotify streaming. I’m not comfortable with this at all, man. As far as I know, people are only listening to the first thirty seconds of every song, you know? Saying yeah, it’s cool or yeah, I don’t like it. It’s really tough. Again, I’m not crying because I know you’ve interviewed so many people that have it much worse than I do. So, all I can say is I finally got something to show for it.
Goddammit, I would love for people to just grab the CD and read the lyrics and play it in their car. I just hope people are listening all the way through and really understanding what it’s all about here. On the flipside, what is cool is that because I’m a little older now and it’s 2017, the 20, 25 and 30 year old that listens to this, they might not associate it with who my actual influences are. Like you had mentioned Butch Walker. And I’m like, no [Laughs], not at all. But, at the same time, I think that’s really, really cool. Where people are gonna hear different things. I was originally influenced by all the ’80’s rock guys. I play guitar because of Whitesnake and Winger. Reb Beach. And Vito Bratta from White Lion. These guys I absolutely loved. And Poison. But I never wrote like that. Because by the time I was an adult it wasn’t cool to write songs like “Girls, Girls, Girls” or “Wild Side.” What am I gonna do? Wake up in the morning and go to fucking work and write “Wild Side”? That’s not my fucking life. I love it. I love the song. And Motley Crue were the best Motley Crue they could be. But at the same time they’re not gonna write “Born to Run.” So, that is why I like bands like that. Even though I love when Poison would do “Something to Believe In” or “Life Loves A Tragedy,” and I love when those bands would show that side of them, but that’s not what that music was about. Like Billy Joel. It’s weird when you go see Billy Joel and he breaks into “Highway to Hell.” That’s two totally different worlds. But he does it every once in a while. And it’s just weird.
MM: Have you performed any of the songs from your album live yet?
JM: There was one band I was in that did some acoustic shows. So, yeah, me and another guy named Nick Riggio. I’m actually on his album. I don’t know if he has a website or anything. He did the same kind of singer/songwriter thing that I did but every time he accomplished something he would close all the doors and start all over again. So, he ended up actually recording the same songs five times with five different bands. It was really weird. So, I would call him up five years later and he’d be like, I’m doing some demos. And it was the same fucking songs. [Laughs] He kept doing that. But he and I played a few shows together. It was a lot of fun. So, I played a couple of these. His stuff was professional. It was recorded at a professional studio and I did play guitar on it, but I don’t think it was officially released. I think he just did it on his own. Independently and what not. All three of these guys, Hollow, Erocktica and Riggio, I don’t know what you can find online about those guys anymore. I even played in a cover band, too, called The ’80’s Invasion. I had to learn 120 songs in four months. But that didn’t last. I was only in the band for four months. That didn’t work out.
MM: Do you feel like doing some random questions?
JM: [Laughs] I’ve been waiting for this for 25 years. [Both laugh] Let’s go for it.
MM: Are you currently binge watching anything?
JM: Oh, I’m always binge-watching something. Let’s see. I’m flipping between the Rocky Movies, season one of This is Us and Mad About You with Paul Reiser.
MM: If you could have any one artist cover one of your songs, which artist would you choose and which song would you have them do?
JM: Oh, baby, that’s a nice one. Well, we were talking a little bit about country and Nashville. So, my favorite country artist is George Strait. I’d choose “90 Minute Love Affair,” but that song’s got a lot of words. Although, you know what? I’ll tell ya, I really thought “Let’s Ride” was gonna be… Let George Strait do “Let’s Ride” and make it a big hit.
MM: Name three artists people would be surprised to know that you like?
JM: If you only know me from the album, you may be surprised to know I like bands like Motley Crue. I don’t think anybody is gonna be too surprised by what’s in my record collection. It’s mostly 70’s and 80’s rock. Then you’ve got Sinatra, Dean Martin and Barry Manilow. So, maybe those 3 artists stand out since they are not rock related at all.
MM: What was the first concert you attended?
JM: Actually, it was the band Firehouse They were on their first tour. It was Warrant, Trixter and Firehouse, however, this was actually a free show at an amusement park so it was just Firehouse and Trixter. I didn’t get to see Warrant. Not at that free show.
MM: What was the last album you bought and what format was it?
JM: As a matter of fact, my good friend Michael [meaning me, the person doing the interview] recommended me to check out The Killers. So, I’m checking out The Killers. And you mentioned Butch Walker. I actually already had Left Of Self-Centered so I’m gonna dig that one up again. So, I’ll check those two guys out at your recommendation.
MM: If you could resurrect any one musician from the dead, who would you bring back?
JM: On a personal note, of course, my friend Pink Snow. You know what? I’m gonna tell you. Going back to Dean Martin or Frank Sinatra or Elvis, even. I would’ve loved a chance to be alive when they were putting out new music. Seeing them on tour. I think would’ve been real cool. Can you imagine growing up and Elvis was playing in your town? That would be damn cool.
MM: It seems weird to me now with Prince and David Bowie and some of these others gone –
JM: – I think with those guys, though, at least I know those guys. I got to see them in concert. I feel like they lived. To me, Elvis died before I was even born. To me, Elvis is like Jesus. Like a character almost. So, I think maybe that has a lot to do with it. I didn’t get to even know these people.
MM: That’s what I was getting at. Now there will be generations growing up knowing David Bowie and Prince as people who were dead before they were born and that just seems so bizarre to me.
JM: You said it. That’s exactly what I feel.
MM: What’s one of the most useful pieces of advice you’ve ever been given?
JM: The best advice I ever got was from my Uncle Sonny after he had his heart attack. He was a strong, powerful man that I never got to talk with much. I was at his house one day and he told me, “You have to go through the hard times. You have to go through the depression. Just let it happen. Accept it.” That always stuck with me and I’d like to pass that along to anyone reading this.
MM: Tell us about an awkward encounter you’ve had with another musician.
JM: Does it have to be a famous one or can it be a backstage moment?
MM: It doesn’t have to be a famous one, I guess. It could be an interesting story.
JM: I was playing a show with the Erocktica band and the guitar player in the band before us had this awesome leather guitar strap. And I was admiring it. I was like, that’s a really cool guitar strap. And he takes it off his guitar and he gives it to me. He goes, you know what, I’m gonna give this to you because you deserve it. You’re awesome. I thought that was so cool. I put it on the guitar and I’m going out on stage and my bass player looks at me and he goes, hey, man, what are you doing with my guitar strap? [Both laugh] How’s that one for you?
MM: So, it was your bass player’s?
JM: It was his. The other guy had stolen it from him.
MM: What is your biggest pet peeve?
JM: It’s really tough to choose just one, but how about, you know, when people get out of the subway and they check their phones and they stop when they’re walking up the stairs. People that stop when they’re walking DOWN the stairs. [Laughs] You get a lot of that in New York. That’s the first one that came to mind.
MM: Who’s the coolest musician you ever met?
JM: I’m gonna say Ted Poley because for a little while there he was out of Danger Danger and he had actually put out a couple of CDs with a band called Melodica and I actually really enjoyed those records. They didn’t get good reviews, but I actually really liked them. But he had done a couple of shows. This is actually awkward and cool. He did a few shows in New York and I swear to God, he’s such a cool guy, I hate even saying this. But six people showed up for the show. And he was so damn cool and appreciative and we had a nice conversation after the show. I actually went to see him two more times within the next month or so and he actually recognized me. He was like, hey, Justin, nice to see you. That was really, really cool, yeah. So, I’m gonna go with that. So, Ted gets my vote for coolest and most awkward.