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Behind the Band: Carlos musician talks travels, gigging and recording

Robb Justice always loved music, from repeatedly listening to Summer of 69 by Bryan Adams, learning Beatles songs in elementary music class, and performing at venues across the country.

Musician Robb Justice of Carlos
Robb Justice poses in front of one of his many guitars at his studio in Carlos.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press
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Editor's note: This is the first in an occasional series, "Behind the Band," which will profile musicians who play in the Douglas County area.

CARLOS — Robb Justice ’s love for the beautiful, raw and unfettered emulates through his rockabilly-Americana music and rustic art.

Justice has always loved the arts and the untouched beauty of nature. But music holds a special place in his heart and soul. It's a way for him to release emotion, a saving grace and how he provides for his family.

"The positivity of it. The vibrations. The beat. The pulse. It is all very human and very connected. It's a connection thing," said Justice when asked what music does for him.

Growing up, 45s spun on his record player and engulfed his childhood home in Villard with tunes by his most beloved artists. One of his favorites is Summer of 69 by Bryan Adams, which he said he would play “over and over and over again" and whose voice he emulates today.

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His love for music took root in grade school after falling in love with the sound of The Beatles. His music teacher, Mr. Schlangen, taught Justice and his classmates by practicing the songs of the Fab Four. A moment that Justice said, "really planted a seed." He was hooked.

At 16, he received his first guitar and turned previously written poetry into lyrics and string picking into music. He combined both into songs.

After graduating from Jefferson High School in 1996, he moved to Montana where he began seriously working on his craft and kick-started his performing career at the Haufbrau House – a “legendary bar” in Bozeman, Montana according to Justice. A while later he moved back to Minnesota, and met his wife. Together, they went back to Montana and eventually to Alaska where he and his wife had two children and lived for 12 years in a mountain cabin. Somewhere in the timeline, he spent a brief stint in Hawaii so he could experience the surf.

While in Alaska, he became co-owner of a music store, joined the band 907, recorded his first album, evolved his performing career through bars, clubs and festivals and recorded his second album, "The River," which features his painted interpretation of the Alaskan Kenai River as the cover.

In 2017, he moved back to Minnesota to be closer to family, and started performing around Douglas County. In 2019, he recorded his third album "Say No More" at Pachyderm Studios in Cannon Falls where notable acts like Nirvana, Trampled by Turtles, Soul Asylum, Mason Jennings and more have recorded. The cover for "Say No More" was designed by Alex Zablotsky , a Californian who has created work for The Simpsons, American Dad, KISS, Joe Rogan, Alice in Chains and many more.

He's opened for artists like the Wailin' Jennys and Eilen Jewell and jammed with a member of Hootie and the Blowfish.

Today, he writes music and prepares for gigs in his garage turned jam-studio. A space filled with his old 45s, posters of Alaska and the Beatles, pianos and a growing collection of guitars. It's also where he plans to use to teach music. But for now, it's where he jams.

Outside of music, he paints and creates jewelry and wooden utensils for " Rock and Sol " — a website featuring his necklaces made from guitar strings and agates and homemade cooking utensils.

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"I love to create things. I don't know how to not, you know?" said Justice.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity. Listen to part one of the interview in podcast form by going to https://www.echopress.com/echo-press-minute , or by downloading the episode on the Echo Press Minute Podcast through Spotify , Apple Music , Google Podcasts , and Audible .

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Robb Justice inside his home studio at his Carlos property.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

Q: Besides music, do you have a full time job?

Justice: Music is my main work, and playing gigs. And I do a lot of other stuff as far as art — painting and I make jewelry and wooden utensils and tables. I'm just kind of constantly making stuff. And working on houses. We bought and sold a couple of houses. And so, you know, with a couple of kids, I'm busy. When I lived in Alaska, I had a partner at a music store too. So I was teaching as well, which I'm going to start doing down here.

Q: Did you take lessons yourself? Or were you mostly self-taught?

Justice: Mostly self-taught, yeah. I just pay attention to people that know what they're talking about. I was fortunate when I lived in Alaska. The guy that played bass with me was a Nashville studio musician. He played with Garth Brooks and he really knew his stuff.

Q: With the art and the houses and music, how do you find time to balance all that?

Justice: I'm lucky to have a very understanding wife and family.

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Q: What challenges come with making music a full-time job?

Justice: I work more than everybody. I don't really ever stop working, you know. I mean, as far as the practices and the rehearsals and the writing and the promotion, and the contacts. It's all really time-consuming.

Q: If you could collaborate with any musician, either dead or alive, who would you pick?

Justice: It might sound kind of funny, but I really love Jack White. I really think he's in touch with a lot of genres of music like I am and we have a lot in common. I think he would be my living choice. It's a tough question because I have so much respect for so many great songwriters. I love Chris Stapleton. I love Bob Dylan. I Love John Lennon and Paul McCartney. The list goes on and on — I love John Denver and John Fogarty. It's hard to say because they've all done so much for music.

Q: Besides Jack White, who inspires you today?

Justice: My kids have me listening to a lot of pop music. I love Post Malone and AJR. Those guys are fantastic. Chris Stapleton would be probably the act that I would be closely associated with as far as my style, my voice and my presentation. I have that punk and rock and roll in my blood but I'm very country-western. I'm a country boy.

Q: What keeps you in the country roots and blues and Americana area?

Justice: It's more grounded. I think I like that. The humbleness of Johnny Cash and just the realness of it. I kind of like to be really raw and truthful, you know? Yeah, I think that's the best way. Kind of raw and truthful.

Q: Your website says you're inspired by the untrammeled landscape you surround yourself with, could you elaborate on that?

Justice: Yeah, that comes from the longing to be somewhere where you think that nobody's ever been before. It is really inspiring. And Alaska is full of those places, and Montana as well. But Alaska was just a huge inspiration to me living there. I just loved the land and the untouched beauty. It's unreal. I don't know how to explain the inspiration that you get from it. It's really to me where everything makes sense You can really get a good perspective on how everything works when you go to those kinds of places. The way the rivers are eating away at the banks, to the way the animals behave. It's really important to soak some of that stuff in and I think it reflects in my art and music.

Q: Do you prefer performing live? Or would you rather just be more of a studio musician?

Justice: Both. I absolutely love it when we connect. Sometimes I'm not good at connecting. Sometimes the audience isn't wanting to be very connective. When we connect, playing live is the best. I absolutely love working in the studio because you are able to.... pull it all the way apart and then put it back together. That is fascinating to me, and I really enjoy that part of the process.

Q: You said sometimes the audience doesn't connect, but when they do, what kind of feelings come over you?

Justice: That friendship feeling, you know? It's more like when you're dancing with somebody. It's that experience together. Doing something together, something fun together that is making you both uplifted, you know, and that's cool. That's the best. I feel so fortunate to be able to get to do that.

Q: Would you say the magic of music can bring together two strangers?

Justice: Oh, absolutely. Big time. I've had short periods of time with people where you move them or there's an experience there. A shared thing. And it's like you've known each other for a long time.

Q: You've opened for some pretty big acts. Who is your favorite person to open for and what was that experience like?

Justice: The Wailin' Jennys was a really special experience. That was at the Kenai River Festival. There were thousands of people there and they were just as kind and nice as can be... Last year, Mark Bryan from Hootie and the Blowfish came up and sang a Hootie song with us. That was at the Lake Darling Resort over the Fourth of July.

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Justice's homemade table from a salvaged barn door displays his paints, two most recent albums and handcrafted utensils and necklaces.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

Q: Do you prefer those bigger types of shows? Or would you rather do like more intimate?

Justice: Those bigger shows are really fun, high-energy. There have been times where you connect with the whole crowd and you can feel a pulse and that's really powerful. It's a different type of thing than singing Amazing Grace for somebody at a really special time when they are crying. That's really special too.

Q: Does performing ever take its toll?

Justice: It sure can. There have been many want-to-quit moments. You feel like you've given your heart and soul, and it just gets bounced off a wall or you're not getting that reciprocal connection when you're really trying. I've learned how to kind of manage that, you know, to not take things so personally. As a younger person, that's tricky. I've learned sometimes that when people aren't even clapping, they're still just enjoying the heck out of it. And physically, it definitely can, too. I've had some issues with my neck and shoulders from playing guitar so much.

Q: What keeps you doing it?

Justice: I think it's sustainable. I could fail at being a plumber, or a painter or contractor or I could fail at being a musician. My point is, do something that you believe in and love. I might fail at it. But I might fail at trying to do some other business. And this is what I feel like it's sustainable for me. I probably wouldn't ever stop unless I have to, physically. It's very rewarding. It keeps me going.

Thalen Zimmerman of Alexandria joined the Echo Press team as a full-time reporter in Aug. 2021, after graduating from Bemidji State University with a bachelor of science degree in mass communication in May of 2021.
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