Local Listens: Justin Trawick of the Justin Trawick Group

Welcome to Local Listens, where we profile some of our favorite Washington musicians. This week, we shine the spotlight on the Justin Trawick Group.

By: Jesseka Kadylak

The folk-rock group the Justin Trawick Group is led by mastermind Trawick, who rocks out on acoustic guitar and lead vocals. He’s been playing in Washington for about five years, and during that time, the other musicians have rotated in and out. The current lineup is composed of Jean Finstad (upright bass), Ben Tufts (drums), Josh Himmelsbach (electric guitar/mandolin), Ken Wenzel (saxophone), and Malik Starx (rhymes). The band has an extended family of musicians who help out on fiddle, cello, and the like on occasion.

Early inspiration for Trawick’s music came from playing at a retirement home on Tuesday nights with the Loudon Bluegrass Association—a group of people who Trawick says were four times his age. With influences such as G. Love and Special Sauce and Joe Purdy, Trawick combines blues, funk, and rock to create a sound that can be sustained through solo shows or with a full band.

He says he plays a variety of shows with usually one other member. “Most of the time it’s at least Jean and I,” he says of his upright bassist. “We have a good rapport onstage. But if we want to get the blood pumping and the crowd dancing, we add the rest of the guys: drums, sax, electric guitar, mandolin, rappers, and backup vocals.”

In the past, Trawick juggled a day job and an evening music career, but he finally quit the job to focus on music. Since then, he’s had time to record with some of his band members in South Carolina, and today he’ll present the final product—Starting Over—at the group’s CD release show at Iota.

If you can’t make it there, don’t fret: The group has shows lined up in Washington through March.

Learn more about Trawick in our Q&A below.

Name: Justin Trawick.

Age: 27.

Hometown: “Leesburg, Virginia . . . yes, where the outlet malls are.”

First song that made you want to play music:
“ ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ by the Rolling Stones—by the way, the best driving song ever.”

First instruments:
“Piano and saxophone. Well, actually, the recorder was between those two.”

Local spot to seek inspiration or write music:
“A coffee shop somewhere or 3 AM on my bed at home in Arlington.”

Best local venue:
“Iota Club and Café in Arlington.”

Best bar to hear music:
“Iota has a bar.”

Favorite local band other than your own:
“These United States. They’re amazing. Oh, and Vandaveer and Last Train Home.”

Best thing about Washington’s music scene:
“There are lots of places to play.”

Worst thing about Washington’s music scene:
“They’re just not all on one street like in Austin.”

Craziest tour memory:
“We drove out to a show in West Virginia once to find out that the venue had gone out of business that morning. There was also the time that we were late to the show at the Purple Fiddle in Thomas, West Virginia. Being late to a show in the mountains and driving on roads with hairpin turns at night in the winter is really a bad idea and something we don’t try to do on a regular basis due to the fact that it’s very detrimental to your health. Wow, two stories from West Virginia.”

Finish this sentence: “When not making music, you can find me . . .”
“. . . drinking coffee, watching 24, Lost, and Heroes, and going to concerts . . . and drinking more coffee.”

Rolling Stones or Beatles?
“Rolling Stones, of course!”

Digital download or hard copy?
“Both. Buy the hard copy and put it on my iPod.”

Rolling Stone or Spin?
“Rolling Stone, of course!”

Club show or festival?
“Both.”

If you could listen to only one album for the rest of your life, which one would it be and why?
“Only one album? Well, it would have to be Jim Gaffigan’s Beyond the Pale. (You didn’t say it couldn’t be a comedy album!) Whenever we’re on tour, we listen to hours and hours of standup comedy. It helps pass the time and keeps us from killing each other.”

What’s the best thing about being in a band?
“Free food. Oh, and yes, we get to make music for a living . . . but really, the free food.”

When introducing your music to someone for the first time, what song do you play?
“My music spans a lot of different moods and styles, so when I play a song to someone for the first time it’s usually based on whomever I’m playing to and their background. You always have to judge your audience and play to them, or at least that’s what I do. Two years ago, we opened for the Ying Yang Twins (a hard-core Southern rap band) and so we played a bunch of upbeat, funky, hip-hop-type songs to a crowd who had never heard us before. Last summer, we opened for the Hackensaw Boys (a hard-core bluegrass band) and did an entire bluegrass set.”

What goals do you have for the group in 2009?
“Find a booking agent and a manager.”