Justine Blazer is no stranger to the music industry. As an artist, songwriter, podcast host, producer, and record executive, Blazer has carved her path as a well-rounded industry leader.
Blazer’s seventh album, Pioneer Soul Shaker, released in April, showcases the Michigan native’s prowess across many of her aforementioned talents, as Blazer wrote, engineered, and produced the album in its entirety.
Read along as Blazer describes her wide array of influences, all things Pioneer Soul Shaker, the various music industry roles she is a part of, and more!
Pro Country: Who were your biggest musical influences growing up?
Justine Blazer: My biggest influences would be everything from 90s country to alternative rock to Motown. Those three things really inspired me growing up. Alanis Morissette, Reba McEntire, Faith Hill, Martina McBride, The Cranberries, and Shania Twain; those were a lot of big influences. There was a lot of Motown music as well like Aretha Franklin and Martha Reeves. Growing up in Detroit, I was exposed to all different types of music. Country wasn’t that popular yet when I was growing up, so I kind of gravitated to that because a lot of my friends were listening to it. LeAnn Rimes was really big at that time, so I really started to like a lot of her stuff. All of those influences are how I got to where I am today with my music.
PC: Was there a specific moment you knew you wanted to pursue music as a career?
JB: My mom grew up in the entertainment industry as well. She was a model and she owned a dance studio. I was literally born into this industry because it’s what my mom was doing full-time. I always sang around the house, and my parents really encouraged us to get into arts and music. It was something I did naturally as a young girl. I was in my first pageant two years-old. I started taking dance lessons at three, and then I started taking singing lessons at around five. It’s just something that I always did. I got the bug at a really young age, and I knew I didn’t want to do anything different with my life; this is what I wanted to do forever.
PC: You won the Nationwide Ram Trucks Battle of the Bands competition in 2011, and it helped launch your career. What did winning that competition mean to you at that time of your career?
JB: Up to that point, I was trying to get my identity. I wanted something that would get me recognition. I was playing different gigs and in bands prior to that competition, and it wasn’t really cutting it, and it wasn’t helping me cut through that glass ceiling. When I won that competition, it was an opportunity to really showcase my music and create an identity for myself as an artist. It really put me on the map. I took it one step further, and I decided to contact Ram Trucks’ CEO, and I proposed that I would love to be a part of the actual team, and they decided to bring me on. I did shows for them for about 3 years all over the country. It turned into a really great opportunity where I was able to make money to invest into my career.
PC: You were featured on the MTV show American Super Group in 2016. What did you take away from the experience of being on that show, and how surreal was it to see yourself on TV?
JB: It was surreal. It was something where they approached me, and I didn’t really believe it. They asked me to audition, and I got a call, and we started the filming process! They didn’t renew the season, but there were a couple episodes out there. I learned a little bit of how reality TV works. It’s a bit more confusing than how it looks on TV. It seems pretty straightforward, but they really try to confuse you and you don’t know what’s going on. They don’t tell you anything, you’re just there and they just create the plot how they want to. That was an eye-opener, but I’m really grateful for the opportunity to have a chance to do that. I also got paid, so it was cool to get money for doing a TV show [laughs].
PC: You achieved great success with your Gasoline album. As you were preparing to release Pioneer Soul Shaker, were you feeling any type of pressure to match/surpass the success you found with Gasoline?
JB: Four five years ago, I would totally say yes. However, I’m at a stage in my life and my career where I don’t need the validation of other people to tell me what I’m able to do and what my worth is. Gasoline was a breakout album for me because it really put me out there on more of a national level. I had a few different promoters that helped me get on a few different charts. I was really touring heavily, so that was probably the most tangible outward success from the outside looking in.
Stepping back and being able to produce things, that was much more gratifying on a much more complex and deeper level. From that aspect, Pioneer Soul Shaker surpassed Gasoline. With Gasoline, I just sang on it and wrote the songs, but on Pioneer Soul Shaker, I did everything. That was a bigger personal victory, even though I didn’t promote it on the level that I did with Gasoline.
PC: Why did you decide to release “Pioneer Soul Shaker” as the lead single from its album and name the album after that song as well?
JB: I signed a distribution deal, and they suggested that we release that song first and put it out on International Women’s Day, which made sense because the song talks about women persevering through challenges. It talks about dealing with a personal struggle, and being able to break through and persevere, and to be a pioneer in their world, and we wanted to celebrate that.
PC: “Broken Girls Don’t Cry” is my favorite song on the Pioneer Soul Shaker album. Can you talk about the inspiration behind that song?
JB: I wrote that with Luke Holden, and there was something about that song that embodied a lot of soul and grit. This song is a little more complex and deep, where I think a lot of the songs might have been a little more fun. I didn’t have a specific inspiration other than the fact that I was trying to tell a story, and sometimes the most broken people may appear so strong, but deep down, they have personal battles that you may never even know about.
PC: You closed Pioneer Soul Shaker with an interesting ballad cover of “Sweet Child of Mine.” Why did you decide to add that song to the album, and what drew you to record it in that way?
JB: I love the way that track turned out! I’m really proud of it. This time last year, I was working with a company and I was doing licensing production. One of the interests from my contacts in LA was a cover of “Sweet Child of Mine” to be shopped, and they wanted a lullaby type of version of the song, and they asked me to try it out. I had never done anything like it before, but I gave it a try, and I ended up really liking it! It’s funny, because I don’t really like that song. It’s a cool song, but it’s so overdone. I think the version that I did was really original, and I’m really excited to get it out there! It’s been picked up on a lot of Spotify playlists, and it’s at around 15,000 streams, which is really cool!
PC: What do you hope listeners take away from the Pioneer Soul Shaker album after listening all the way through?
JB: I want them to know who I am as an artist. I represent so many different facets of my brand: from singer to songwriter to composer to producer to storyteller. This is really the first time in my whole career where I really felt like this is about me, and this is a true takeaway of who I am, so I hope people can see that.
PC: You’ve opened for major artists such as Jason Aldean, Justin Moore, and Lee Brice, among others. What can you take away from those experiences that help you in your own career?
JB: Any time you can see an artist who has “more success than you,” I like to study what they’re doing that I can be doing in my career. It’s never a competition, but you learn from different people to make yourself better. You just respect their artistry, and enjoy the show and get to meet more people and friends!
PC: Along with producing your own material, you have served as a producer for Pro Country artist Sarah Martin. What is it about the creative aspect of producing that appeals to you? What did it mean to you to see “Heartbreak Song” go to number one on She Wolf Radio?
JB: First of all, I’m very excited that you guys were able to give Sarah this platform to become the Pro Country Female Artist of the Year! I’m so happy for her, I can’t even believe it! I’m really proud of her because she came to me in a little over a year ago, and she didn’t really have much in her catalog; it was just a couple acoustic songs. She took a chance on me, and I took a chance on her. Prior to Sarah’s project, I didn’t have a whole lot of professional projects under my belt. I had a lot of demos that I had done for myself, but I had never done anything as a commercial producer for legitimate releases on a national level. I didn’t have that prior to Sarah. Sarah was a benchmark project for me, and it was a big catapult for it for me as a music producer. It really pushed my ability and all of my thresholds. I worked really hard on Sarah’s stuff. I worked harder on that stuff than anything else that I had done because I wanted it to be right for her. It paid off, because now she’s getting a lot of recognition. She’s also putting in the work; she’s making music videos for her brand, and we really worked hard on getting her brand out there. We worked hard on her image and everything that goes into it. We’re working on a Christmas album that’s going to be out in late fall, so we’re really excited about that!
To see “Heartbreak Song” go number one; I can’t believe it! I’m happy for her, and it’s just unbelievable. I can’t believe that we’re having the success that we are, so I’m just extremely grateful, happy, and excited.
PC: You’ve been trusted by a lot of people in the music industry, including your work as an artist and repertoire representative for two labels and as an American Idol scout, but what does it mean to you to have that trust from your peers like Sarah to help them with their music?
JB: It means everything. I put my whole life into music; it’s all I do. I eat, sleep. and breathe this stuff, and I can’t think of life any other way. For somebody to trust in me, I take that extremely seriously. I will do anything I can to make sure that person is happy and satisfied. It’s really rewarding and cool to have people come to you and that they’re willing to take your advice and recognize that we can work together and create something really cool together. It’s really cool to be a part of both sides of the industry!
PC: You are nominated for Music Producer of the Year and Female Artist of the Year at the Josie Music Awards at Dollywood Celebrity Theatre. What does it mean to you to be recognized on both sides of the industry in that way?
JB: It’s a dream! I didn’t expect this at all. I literally just submitted it, and I think some other people nominated me as well. I don’t know who it was, but there were 22,000 submissions. There were a lot of people being considered. I’m not sure how it’s going to go down, but even if I don’t win, it’s fine! I just feel really happy to be at this level. I’m a newer producer as far as people who’ve been doing it for 10 or 15 years. I’ve just been doing this for a few years, so it blows my mind. It’s been an amazing ride, and I’m super excited!
PC: You recently launched a podcast called Sonic Female, where you have conducted interviews with artists of various different genres. What drew you to launch the podcast, and what have you learned now that you are a several episodes in?
JB: I just launched my ninth episode this week! Sonic Female is something that I imagined as a platform for not just artists, but anyone that I feel is doing substantial things in the music business. I’ve had music managers on it, as well as Josie with the Josie Music Awards where we talked about being on the award side and the radio side of the industry. I try to look at what I’d like to take away from listening to the episode. Every guest has a personal element from to talk about, from drug addiction to mental illness/awareness, to different charities they may be involved in. It’s been a vast array of different people and outlooks and political views. It’s been great conversation. Every single episode has a different tone and different paths that they go down. It’s very organic interview. I try not to script anything, and just let the guests run with it. I’m really careful of who I get on the show because I want people to get something from each episode. I want to dig a little bit deeper into what makes them “them” and how they contribute to society and the music industry in general. It’s been really fun so far, and I love it!
PC: What are your plans for the rest of 2019 and beyond?
JB: I have the Josie Awards in September, so I’m definitely looking forward to that! I have a conference in November that I’ll be going to in Las Vegas that will have 150 producers from all over the world. I was the first female that attended last year, I think there’s going to be another female this year, so we’re making progress [laughs.] I’m going to go there and represent, learn more about audio producing, and do some networking. I’m also working on all kinds of projects right now with a bunch of different artists. As they release it, I’ll be able to announce it, but there’s several different projects that I’m in the middle of right now.
With my own music, I was on the Ty Bentley show last week, and I’m on the show in Clarksville every month where we recap what’s been going on. I’m just looking to put together more songs for myself and to continue to release one song a month in 2020. I’m always working. I also play downtown Nashville every week with my band, so we’re always working on our show, and we encourage people to come and hang out with us and check out the band, because we have a good time!
*Images courtesy of Justine Blazer and Justine Blazer Facebook Page*