Written by Kelly Holm
Are you a fan of Jason Derulo? Then you might want to check out Justin Garner. A Louisiana native, his melodies range across the board from soulful to spirited. One recent single, a collaboration with Garry Ocean entitled “In for the Kill,” secretes similar vibes to Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber’s “I Don’t Care,” and utilizes the word “bae” more times than a guided tour of San Francisco.
Growing up, Garner was influenced by a plethora of artists, including Beyonce, Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie and Earth, Wind & Fire. He first knew he wanted to be a musician at age 11.
“As a child, my mother played tons of classic oldies and soul R&B,” he said. This early exposure proved pivotal to Garner’s musical development, shaping the direction he took as he got older. He journeyed from performing at the F.G. Clark Center in his hometown of Baton Rouge to opening for Katy Perry and Leon Bridges at the 50th annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival earlier in 2019.
“I performed on [the] historic Congo Square stage to an amazing crowd,” Garner said. “One moment I’ll never forget is just being backstage in my trailer remembering how I had dreamt of that very moment.”
Another New Orleans milestone Garner participated in was the 25th annual ESSENCE Festival, where he got the idea to make his new EP, Garner.
“I was so inspired and filled with energy. I immediately hit the studio to create,” he said. And yes, you read that right…the EP title is simply his own last name.
“Garner is self-titled for a reason,” he said. “This body of work, sonically and lyrically, is the truest representation of me as an artist and a person.”
His goal for the record, he stated, was to explore love, vulnerability and sensuality from a male perspective.
“It’s [okay] for men to want love, be vulnerable in a relationship and also enjoy making love,” Garner said. “I want fans to take away the understanding that I am my own artist and I have my own identity.”
And he’s been slowly showcasing that identity over the years, carrying on the torch for those who have gone on before him while still experimenting outside of his comfort zone. His recent tracks range from “Thrill Me,” a track featured on the upcoming EP Garner which he dubs an R&B singer’s “Teenage Dream,” to “Caught in the Moment,” which diverges far beyond his traditional path.
“It’s a bluesy-rock guitar ballad with gritty, soulful vocals,” he says. “I am able to fulfill my inner rock star every time I hit the stage with that song.”
Garner decries the idea of pigeonholing an artist into a single niche. He simply tries to write what’s on his mind and take new risks while remaining true to the arts of music and creativity.
“Why am I here? To create music that will inspire and move my fans and listeners,” he says. “I’m often compared to other R&B contemporaries, but when you listen to my work, I have my own narrative and sound. I am a songwriter and a performer. I write each and every song that I release [and I’m] not carbon-copied or a manufactured artist.”
He wears his heart on his sleeve, whether he’s singing about being filled with love or about breaking some hearts.
“I want to show the world that big things come from simply remaining humble and honest to who you are,” he said. And it’s no one other than Fantasia herself who perhaps sums up Garner the best:
“You have a God-given gift and it’s more than just your voice. You have a pure glow.”
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