In the year 2000, at the dawn of his adolescence, singer Justin Nozuka began trying his hand at songwriting. By his own admission, Nozuka’s earliest tunes were little more than naive rehashes of popular tracks he heard in his Toronto, Ontario hometown. “I used to write songs that mimicked other songs… ‘cause I was 12 years old,” the singer explained in a 2007 interview published by British webzine SoundsXP. “I never wrote personal songs.”
Nozuka’s compose-by-numbers approach came to an abrupt end at age 15, after the singer experienced his first heartbreak. Consumed by pain, Nozuka penned a bittersweet ballad that heralded his creative awakening. Entitled “Supposed To Grow Old,” the song’s mature lyrics provide insight into the lovesickness that unlocked Nozuka’s expressiveness: “Lock the pictures away, hide the letters too/anything to get my mind off you… there’s no way that you could have forgotten all of the memories I thought we shared /we were supposed to grow old.”
“That was at the start of my real writing,” said Nozuka. “… it was real, you know what I mean?”
Today, nearly three years after that musical epiphany, Nozuka is winning international accolades for his courtly original songs, including fan favorites like “Don’t Listen To a Word,” “Mr. Therapy Man” and “After Tonight.” Initially released in Europe in 2007, Nozuka’s debut album, Holly, showcases the singer’s urgent tenor voice, which combines the lounge-soul sensibilities of John Legend with the dreamy vocal mannerisms of the late Jeff Buckley.
Holly was an immediate hit with critics. In an enthusiastic 4-star review, the BBC described Nozuka’s album as, “eleven impressive pieces of thoughtful acoustic-soul … filled with understated melodies, minimal production and an interesting, sometimes dark take on song-craft.” The UK-based Q Magazine called Nozuka’s album, “superior acoustic soul.”
Now, with the recent U.S. release of Holly, stateside fans can finally hear what all the shouting is about. While many of his troubadour peers hide behind frilly metaphors, Nozuka delivers sentimental lyrics like “a day without you is a day without the sun” with soulful urgency. Like the blues singers of yore, Nozuka seems to understand that simple lyrics and deep-felt performances trump arty contrivance.
The son of a Japanese father and an American mother, Nozuka grew up gorging on the sounds of Motown, Lauryn Hill and various pop, rap, jazz and reggae artists. In his mid-teens, Nozuka became a regular on the Toronto coffeehouse/club scene. A recent graduate of Toronto’s Etobicoke School of the Arts, he hails from a creative family. His mother, actress Holly Sedgwick, is the sister of TV/movie star Kyra Sedgwick, while his brothers are r&b singer George Nozuka and actor Philip Nozuka.
This apparent inborn ability helps explain Justin Nozuka’s ease on stage. Having performed on bills with greats like John Cale, Crowded House and Ziggy Marley, Nozuka speaks of the stage with almost churchly reverence. “It’s like a sacred place,” the Canadian wunderkind says. “When I’m on stage… I’m in my own world.”