If you were to step into my 2002 blue Nissan Sentra and do a ride-along as a passenger with me this week, you would most likely hear Justin McRoberts‘s latest album, because it is pretty much all I’m listening to when I’m driving these days. The album, Through Songs I Was First Undone, is a cover album featuring many of my (and Justin’s) favorite songs. The one I tend to listen to on repeat mode is “Fly From Heaven,” Justin’s rendition of the haunting and beautiful Toad the Wet Sprocket tune.
Besides being a great musician with an impressive body of work (I count ten albums in his online store), Justin is a super great guy. In addition to his touring and performing, Justin is a spokesperson and advocate for Compassion International. I interviewed him for IAM Conversations last year (watch or listen), and have enjoyed crossing paths with him in New York, Grand Rapids, and Pittsburgh over the years.
7 Questions… for Justin McRoberts
What book are you currently reading?
I’m in a pair of books right now. One is Steve Martin’s book “Object of Beauty.” Apparently, along with being a world class comedian and Grammy Award winning musician, he’s an art collector. I like his mind. I also like being intimidated/inspired by his greatness.
What’s the last CD you bought or downloaded?
Well, I just pre-bought the new Radiohead. Previous to that, I became part of the growing throng of folks who are digging Joe Pug. About a year ago, a friend in Chicago was going to set up a show during which I would have had the chance to open for Pug. Our calendars didn’t line up but since then I have been listening regularly to his “Nation of Heat” EP.
Who is one person who made an indelible mark on your life and why?
Shoodang.. this is predictably hard to lock down. I’m going to step outside the parameters of the question (shocker) in order to answer it. My relationship with the community I belong to in Concord, CA has made such a mark on my life and for a list of reasons. Here are a few:
a. I am not a celebrity nor anything like it among my church family. My value has never been determined by my success or failure as an artist. This has been wonderfully grounding.
b. I often write about the needs, struggles etc… of this particular community as opposed to some nebulous or undefined “general person.” This makes some of my work less accessible in the traditional ways and more poignant in others. I am more moved my work for and about actual persons than the evasive “them.”
c. I sincerely believe that a person is not a whole person until or unless she or he belongs to others. My wife, son and I are not just part of this community, we “belong” to them. We celebrate, mourn, work, rest, learn, grow and die together. I am more whole because of this and I think my work reflects this as well.
How many countries have you visited?
I can think of 13: Canada, Mexico, Uganda, Kenya, Ecuador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Italy, Germany, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Holland… and Texas.
If you could have coffee with one person, dead or alive, who would it be and what would you ask her or him?
As of today, I’d really love to sit down with Tom Waits. I’d like to ask him about his lyrical choices and how much of his work is actually autobiographical is some way or if he keeps a distance from the characters in his songs.
Paper or plastic?
I’ll bring my reusable bags to Trader Joe’s.