Justin Young has come a long way from singing in the closet because he didn’t want his neighbors to hear.
The Oahu-born singer/songwriter had previously harbored boyhood dreams of playing for the NFL, but he soon turned his focus to music, calling it a “slightly more realistic goal.”
Young released his first album when he was a 17-year-old high school senior and he hasn’t stopped making music. Now 37, Young has a new album set to drop that showcases what he describes as his “R&B-influenced singer/songwriter” sound.
Young draws upon eclectic musical influences. In addition to Hawaiian artists John Cruz, Gabby Pahinui and Fiji, he has also been influenced by reggae superstars Bob Marley and Gregory Isaacs as well as by R&B artists including Brian McKnight, Boyz II Men, Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway.
“Reggae is so big in Hawaii, so yeah, Bob Marley, Gregory Isaacs, all those people are just constantly a part of your -- every party of your life,” he said, explaining the reggae influence.
As for R&B, he remembers singing the harmony of songs from Boyz II Men over and over again to get it right. He got even more experience when joined a few island bands and started carrying his ukulele around in high school to jam with other students during lunch (and sing to girls who would ask to be serenaded).
He eventually believed he was good enough to pursue a full-time musical career. His debut album “No Better Time Than Now,” features a mix of soft ballads, native Hawaiian tracks and the island reggae-Hawaiian hybrid style known as Jawaiian music.
Young, who is now based on Los Angeles, confessed to feeling some embarrassment over his first album.
“I mean it’s embarrassing to have your first songs you’ve written and the first time you recorded something publicly consumed by everyone and still online,” he said, adding: “At least I feel like I’ve progressed because when I look back at my old stuff I’m definitely embarrassed by it, which means I must be getting better.”
His new music features a more contemporary R&B-influenced sound. A new song titled “Until the Morning” showcases Young’s vocals while he plays guitar.
And even though Young describes himself as having heavy R&B influences to his music, he says has also been falling in love again with traditional Hawaiian music, the music that he initially sang when he was much younger. “E Kailua E,” one such song, showcases Young’s soaring vocals prominently backed by ukulele.
“I still love playing it and singing it and it’s like, very nostalgic. I’ll put it on in my house in L.A. and it’ll make me feel like I’m home ... it’s just intrinsic in what I do because it’s just a part of me,” he said.
Young said he has had “a little bit” of formal vocal training, but he is mostly self-taught. That’s the same way he came by his skills on guitar, ukulele and the piano. He noted that he took piano lessons when he was young but said: “My teachers hated me because I never practiced, and I just kind of started playing by ear after that.”
The indie artist’s gigs run the gamut -– from playing at private events such as weddings, to music festivals, club dates and college performances.
The life has definitely had its ups and downs.
“I’m a strong believer that you should do something that you love and that your community will eventually find you and appreciate you and you’ll be provided for ... I love making music but it’s not always giving me back what I’m putting into it, so maybe I should be open to doing other things and see where it leads,” he said.
He added that he has recently explored documentary filmmaking and learned that it “was also not easy to make a good living,” then wondered whether would be smarter for him to go into real estate. But he said that's not the life for him.
“I’d rather be passionate and excited and broke,” he said.
Among the highlights of his career is being able to tour with -- and play guitar for -- Colbie Caillat, the pop singer/songwriter to whom he’s engaged. Together, they’ve performed at venues that he’ll never forget, including once at the White House for the Obamas. He called that “a very surreal moment.”
“Good Morning America” is featuring the work of Hawaiian artists as part of our 2016 Summer Concert Series sponsored by King’s Hawaiian.