“For what I want people to take away from this,” says Justin Golden of his newly released LP, Hard Times and a Woman, “I’d say I want people to understand that the Blues is not always sad music. Sometimes you sing the Blues because you’re down, sometimes you shout the Blues cause you’re on top of the world. I want people to know the legacy of the Blues and how it’s influenced so many parts of American music and culture.”
Golden, a Richmond, VA-based artist, caught up with us in 5 Questions to discuss the new record and what it was like to work with producer/engineer, Chip Hale, why he’s wary when things start going too well, what his musical journey has consisted of to this point, and more.
5 Questions with Justin Golden by Sam Shansky
1) You live in Richmond, VA, but that’s not where you’re from, right? Could you tell us how you got there and then describe the current music scene and what you love most about it?
I moved here back in 2014 because of a job I was working at the time and I felt like there was something great cooking up in the music scene here. I love the scene in Richmond. There are amazing artists creating fantastic music in just about every genre I can think of. You can find a great show any night of the week and the musicians are generally very happy to support other people and their projects.
2) Your new album Hard Times and a Woman dropped April 15th. What do you desire listeners to take away from the record?
I’m just really excited for people to hear this record. It’s an opportunity to make my mark in a big way. It’s been a very long time coming and I’m so proud of how it turned out.
For what I want people to take away from this – I’d say I want people to understand that the Blues is not always sad music. Sometimes you sing the Blues because you’re down, sometimes you shout the Blues cause you’re on top of the world. I want people to know the legacy of the Blues and how it’s influenced so many parts of American music and culture.
3) What was your experience working with producer/engineer Chip Hale and where did you do most of the recording?
Working with Chip on this was such a positive and inspiring process. It can be so nerve racking to bring very personal songs to someone and ask to share their input. You have to really trust that they understand your vision for the project and that they understand where you’re coming from sonically. I trusted that Chip could help elevate the impact of these songs with more production, but also for him to be mindful not to change my sound too much.
I’ve known him since college and he’s been there since probably my first gig ever, so I’d say he knows my sound and sensibilities as well as anyone could. We did most of the recording at Minimum Wage Recording with some additional recording at Elephant Ear Recording and Chip’s place 6807 Studios. All here in Richmond.
4) Throughout the album, you lay out a caution: be wary when things start going too well. Could you elaborate on that thought?
Absolutely. I think if my life has taught me anything, it’s to enjoy the good times while they’re here but always be prepared. When I wrote “Can’t Get Right,” I was on my way down south for a tour. About 30 minutes before my first stop, I get a call telling me my job is shutting down the next day. This is after working years to get to a point where I felt like touring consistently would be doable. I felt myself peaking with excitement for the tour and then, seconds later, filled with worry and doubt for my stability.
Nine months later, the same thing happened. I had just flown back from some shows in Boston and opened for a sold out show here in Richmond, then the pandemic shut everything down. I understand that the hard times make you stronger, but as I say in the final song on the record, “Oh lord, oh lord. Did it have to be this hard?”
5) Talk to us about your song “The Gator,” where great sounds are at work. Who’s responsible for those guitar tones, and how were those achieved (from a gear head perspective)?
My goal with the song was that I wanted the tone to be thick and I wanted the guitar solo to feel “urgent.” For the detailed gear rundown, I’m actually going to hand this question over to Chip. He knows way more about the gear than I do.
Chip says — Across the record, there are plenty of great tones to be found, but this track in particular was a labor of love to get all of the pieces to fit, and for each track to serve a purpose within its sonic space. The guitar tones were worked out between myself and Justin before going to the studio. We relied heavily upon two amps for Justin’s sound on the record, specifically the Fender Blues Jr and a cranked low wattage Supro Combo.
On this particular tune, Justin’s guitar was run through the Hamstead Subspace which provided the clarity and grit of the rhythm guitar. For the lead guitars, Nate Hubbard used predominantly his Coodercaster guitar, or a 335, into his Benson Dizzy Bird and through truly the MVP of the record, the Kalamazoo Model 2, which I can say all stomps, claps, vocals, etc… were run through this amp at some point throughout the recording process. It’s the secret sauce on a lot of these tunes.
He was using the BAE Royaltone fuzz quite heavily throughout the session through these two amps with a Strymon Volante providing some delay texture. The guitar solo was tracked through this two amp setup, with one of the mics on an amp running through the JHS Colourbox absolutely dimed which I think is the only signal being used for the solo section. There’s one more fuzz guitar on the track as well adding some chunking rhythm, this was done with the Catalinbread Giygas. So lots of fuzz, multiple amps, and a super gained out preamp achieved the guitar tones for the track.
Bonus: On the album artwork, who designed the imagery, and what themes are you addressing there?
I’m really glad you asked that. I absolutely love how the artwork turned out. Dan Macdonald at Dan Macdonald Studios designed the artwork and helped me narrow down the concept. The idea is that the blues can represent both the hard times and times of joy. The album title reflects this as well. So I wanted to feature objects that create a sense of longing, but also a sense of hope.
Bonus: Looking back to your 2016 releases, “I Hate When She Calls” and “Walkin’ Blues,” you seem to have come out the gate with a good grip on the whole singer-songwriter thing. What’s your musical journey consisted of to this point, and when did you first know you wanted to be a musician?
I’ve been on a long journey to find myself as a musician. I’ve been known primarily as an acoustic blues musician – and that’s a big part of where my sound comes from. I love learning, performing and listening to traditional blues and gospel music, but I don’t only write songs in that style.
For a while, I tried to keep myself in that box because it’s what people expected of me, but it definitely held me back a little bit creatively. Once I realized that I could still honor the blues tradition and expand my sound at the same time, I began writing songs nonstop.
I was watching an interview with an elder bluesman and he said “the blues ain’t nothing but hard luck and a woman” or something to that effect. At that moment I felt a sense of focus and started writing specifically for this record.
I started playing music and singing in the choir during college. My original intent was not to play music professionally. But, by my final year in college, I felt called to do this. I remember talking to Chip one night in college and he asked me, “Are you trying to ‘make it’, Golden?” and I responded, “Yeah, I think I am.” Up until that point I had never thought about it, but something told me to say yes.