About 2 years back I was working with an early stage video game company that had a pretty cool concept. One of the individuals on the team asked me to speak to a friend of his who was scoring (or writing the music) for the video game. In short order we were having in depth discussions about the meaning of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, the indelible nature of memories, the confusing reality of how our world takes beautiful souls like Gandhi, MLK, John Lennon, etc. by force (ironically out as I was weeping in front of Extreme Pizza of all places!) and many other deep worthwhile topics.
Justin Lassen has opened my worlds in ways that I never dreamed possible. He's completing his second symphony in Budapest titled A Suite of Grimm in the Mind of the Darkly Inclined. He's an acclaimed remixer having worked with worldwide known super groups like Nine Inch Nails and Linkin Park. We exchange our art regularly. He sends me a song, I send him a poem. We both feel comfortable sharing our honest points of view about each other's work.
The great thing about it all is that my friendship with Justin has a sturdy foundation of honesty. Sometimes it takes a while to understand where we're coming from (noir symphony composer and MBA from Wharton are not necessarily...well normal I guess). That's the beauty, we're both comfortable with that. We share how it feels if we get uncomfortable with feeling abnormal patiently letting the other person express.
The last twist to our relationship is that we've never met in person. We've exchanged emails to fill a novel and have had a few lengthy phone convos. Yes, I know, it's not normal but that's us.
Justin Lassen steps into The No Blah-g Zone.
- What painter do you think is closest to you as a musician and why? And what flower do you think is closest to you?
"Leonardo da Vinci, definitely, while he was a painter he was a cornucopia of other things. I've done a broad range of things beyond composing but not really in the traditional "well rounded" way, in fact there is nothing round about me." (you know only cool artists like Justin can come up with that AND make it work!)
Among the many things that Justin has gotten into during his life: Chemistry, Computer Programming and even Tumbling & Gymnastics. In all of these pursuits when he did follow them, he did so with passion, diving into them. In fact because he was so passionate about Microsoft software, Microsoft asked him to come down for an interview when he graduated....from high school.
"I remember how excited I was as a child learning that I could program my computer to do anything I wanted it to do. This is the same kind of enthusiasm that I still take in all of the subjects I have done after those and ones that I'm still working on now. I think Leonardo Da Vinci was quite like that as well, in that he took a broad range of titles and interests completely and wholeheartedly and crafted some amazing stuff."
"I haven't reached my peak with music, I think this is why I love it so much. There are really so many things you can still do with music and sound in today's world. There is something really unique even supernatural about music. Without it, I do not think that we could stay alive, or continue to operate as a normal, growing society."
That's about as fascinating as it gets. Can you imagine a world with no music? It's surreal just to consider....
"Music is emotions put into sound and putting lyrics and meaning aside, nothing means as much to music as the stream of audio. It can heal you, help you understand how you feel, hypnotize you, make you high, low or level. They say a picture speaks a thousands words, music speaks a bazillion pictures" (note I am looking into the statistical defensibility of a ba-zillion, apparently on the playground it gets you serious cred!)
"Music to me, is the glue of all human existence. People may dislike certain types of music but I challenge you to find someone hates ALL music." Touche.
"I don't think I would have stayed in high school if I didn't have Concert Choir or access to the stage piano." This is one of the things I admire most about Justin by the way, he just can't help himself, he's totally honest.
"As for what flower I think I am...this was a tough question because I don't know a lot about flowers. I think though, I'm more of a sunflower if I had to choose anything. I like how it opens up for the sun to see it and it has little treats for people to taste and becomes a timeless classic. I don't what the deeper meaning of why I like this flower or why I think this is the flower that fits me, I just do. Maybe a smarter flower person can tell me why."
- If you could teach a group of children one day what's the most important thing you would tell them about music?
Hidden in those 12 tones and infinite octaves, are the colors to paint anything you can possibly dream of. Never let anyone tell you that there is a "right" or a "wrong" way to create music and ultimately new revolutions. There aren't any real rules after all, just the ones you make up for yourself. If it's music to you, then that's good enough reason as any to create it, love it or listen to it.
(For my money, this should be put up in front of EVERY music class in the world, it's absolutely beautiful.)
- Which do you like better re-mixing or composing? And if you could remix anyone's music from history who would it be?
Justin is known worldwide for some of his fabulous re-mixes and I thought I would ask him which he likes better. Brief context: Re-mixing is what happens to a song when the finalized version is given to a remix artist or remixer who then cuts it up the pieces that he/she likes most about the song and alter beats per minute (BPM), adding new effects, etc. Justin likes to add orchestral elements to it. The remixer is awarded a new copyright due to it being a new arrangement or variation on the song.
Composing of course is creating the music, essentially from scratch.
"Remixing is a strong growing culture of which I consider myself a pioneer in that I've always turned my remixes into something new and different, usually adding 70% of my own material int my versions of the remixes."
Software has made it easier for individuals of all skill levels to get into remixing. In fact recently Nine Inch Nails (NIN) gave away the masters of its songs allowing fans to remix them for a contest. Justin thinks it's okay because it does let new people join in. I've found that software that enables a non-skilled professional to do potentially professional quality work often waters down the overall quality and passion in the industry it is implemented in.
"My favorite remixer is Charlie Clouser (who scored Saw, Saw II and several TV shows). If you buy NIN remix albums you will find the Charlie Clouser re-mixed songs are of the better ones on the album. A friend of mine shared one of my remixes with Charlie and he thought it was amazing. This was a total honor for me. I remember the day I shared it for the first time quite clearly because jaws dropped and I got the warm fuzzies."
By the way, no matter how skilled the musician or any other artist is I've found that there is always a certain amount of vulnerability and fear that goes along with sharing their gift. Justin is uber-talented and at the same time is always aware of whether or not his music is appreciated. I can understand, it's his soul (remix or composing).
"I prefer composing because I'm given a clean slate, an open canvas and I can fill it with whatever I want. No one is saying "you must use Red, Blue and Brown. Go!" There isn't enough freedom in traditional sound design. The movies that have the really great soundtracks are the ones when the director gives the composer freedom (like Peter Jackson and Howard Shore (Lord of the Rings) or Steven Spielberg and John Williams (ET, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Cloe Encounters, etc.))."
"I love filling the space with something extraordinary."
"If I could have worked with any historical figure's music I think I would have liked to have recorded and mixed for Mozart. I think that if Mozart were alive today he would fall in love with digital technology and MIDI. He'd probably never leave his studio with all of today's amazing technology that he could have had at his finger tips. He would enter his own bat-cave and shut the world out until his next opus was completed (kind of like me). I love the idea of a hidden bat-cave with a mad scientist composer concocting a new brew of magicalness, that he will unleash upon the world in due time."
I suppose if Colbert can get away with truthines then Justin can say magicalness and it's all good.
- When did you know that you were meant to be a musician and how close have you ever come to quitting?
I knew I was meant to be a musician in the mid-90's when I was about 16. I loved how powerful music felt. It's a light form of hypnosis and at times can be pretty heavy. I loved being the wizard of this magical power and finding creative ways to help other people's lives through music. The reward is the fans and hearing from them and hearing their stories, it's awesome!
- What instrument do you not play that you would like to learn?
Cello and Trap Set. (Which of course for me brings up an image of Yo Yo Ma on some Classical Musician Survivor or something like that. By the way, a trap set is a type of drum kit.)
- If you could change one thing about the music industry what would it be?
I think the dismemberment and removal of the RIAA and "major systems". They were meant to protect artists which is good but they are doing that by suing grandmas, dying people and 13 year old girls to make a point not to steal music. They take human beings for granted by making everyone out to be a thief.
They "protect" the industry by protecting the six major labels and their artists ignoring the independent artist. They will fight to the end for Brittney Spears and Madonna but if you are "insert obscure unknown band name here" they don't care. The point is to make the "big six" money , whom actively compete with the independent bands (whom, thankfully have been giving them a run for their money). When the big labels feel threatened they buy the independent label or re-sign an artist with a bigger cut of the money (that he or she will have to pay back later anyway).
If I could personify the MPAA/RIAA, I would call them "The Borg" from Star Trek when they feel threatened by you they assimilate you. Stealing music is bad, but they've got their own dirty past, hidden agendas. Read the books Confessions of a Record Producer or Secrets of Negotiating a Record Contract if you want to learn more.
- How does it feel to be so talented in a music form that is such a small part of the music scene?
"I think that symphonies are becoming an expensive lost art form for the youth today. Young producers and composers are so infatuated with samples that they forget that just because you can play a violin or flute or keyboard doesn't mean that they are obsolete. I like bringing the old and new worlds of music together.
Can you imagine if every soundtrack was pop and rock music? We NEED strings. I find that in LA they are more impressed if you've remixed a contemporary artist rather than the new and creative work done in Europe. I think California's industry towns are name dropping towns (NOOOOOO....come on, LA name droppers....you've got to be kidding me!!)
Fans take for granted how today's biggest bands use "classical" elements in their music without understanding the roots of those strings. And it isn't in Metallica's latest metal/album release with the SF Symphonic Orchestra layered on top of it. It stretches out centuries before that. Classical isn't just tuxedos and bow ties."
Fair enough, I actually thought tuxedos and bow ties were what the arrogant stuffed shirts wore that went to go see classical music.
- When you achieve greater financial success what will change about your life and how will you trust people?
I will be smarter with my money. I will invest in artists and continue to create artistic masterpieces with super talented teams of people, nothing beats a great team. I will continue to trust people as I have already. I am sometimes too kind in that I give everyone the benefit of the doubt I have faith in my fellow humans that eventually they will get it right (maybe this is the wrong way to think). I love life, no matter if success comes or not, I want to be on this planet as long as I can.
- Describe a person who you'll never meet who will listen to your next symphony who will be moved.
First they will notice art on the album and be thankful that some artists still care about the album art experience. They will be excited and love what he or she hears and quickly come to a point where they wish the songs would not end.
The person is probably an artist, maybe even a dark artist. They will use the CD as inspiration in their art. They will feel safe, warm and at home within the confines of the world I created for them. The person is more introspective and will most likely share the music with people that understand them, or are in their same shoes.
Though, because he's an artist, he knows that he should ask his friends to buy their own copies of it in support of this amazing composer. He will profess his support of the album in forums and get a nice word of mouth campaign. He and his friends will be excited that there are still artists who dare to try something different and not so popular but brilliant, like they are. It will give them hope, amidst their dark artistic landscapes and they will continue on with their life work and their work, wholeheartedly.
- Anything is possible:
- I disagree with that
- I think that
- I believe that
- I know that
I like to believe this but I see obstacles. USA is a free country and anything is possible IF you have a car, job, etc. if US is tough go to Europe...which he did.
However, I do believe this because I have so many examples in my life of achieving things on my own. If I say I'm going to do something I will, no doubt. Don't stay locked up in your room the whole time. Get some face time, get seen, get heard and eventually someone will notice. The universe will only give back to you what you give to it. It's a strange symbolic relationship that a human being has with his or her universe but it's also magic.
- What one piece of advice would you give to my 5 year old daughter?
NEVER EVER EVER RELENT, STAY INSPIRED....RESISTANCE IS FUTILE. Life unfortunately is not fair but I would say not to let that get in the way of anything. Keep your blade sharp and cut through as much of life as you can, all the way till the end. Holster your knives when you feel overwhelmed but definitely pull them out again and spear ahead into whatever positivity your heart desires. For me it's music.
Is it any wonder that it's been easy and magical and rewarding for me to get close to Justin and call him a friend? It's no surprise that I've been able to do it without ever looking him in the eye.
The fact is you can't fake passion and keep it consistent the way he has since being in my life. Check out Justin's work and ideas, they rock! I'm blessed to have brought him into your lives.