September 26, 2008

Justin Nozuka Shows Ability, Wisdom Beyond His Years

By Regis Behe

Justin Nozuka doesn't sound like a guy who is about to turn 20 on Monday.

He doesn't sound as though he's caught up in the angst that affects so many young adults, whether it's the melodrama of first love or the general rebellion against authority figures of all stripes.

And he's definitely not caught up in the Nickelodeon hype where musicians often are cast as heartthrobs for screaming tweens and teens.

"My main focus is on making quality music," says Nozuka in advance of his show tonight at the Rex Theatre, South Side. "Everyone has their own options, and you can sort of tell the difference when someone is focusing on other things. ... My focus is on the art."

Nozuka's most recent release, "Holly," features his buoyant vocals and acoustic guitar, presented with a soulful flair. He allows that questions of genre can be difficult to pin down, but says "Holly" is basically an acoustic soul album. The production is spare, the presentation is simple but effective, and in some instances -- notably the songs "Down in a Cold Dirty Well,""Mr. Therapy Man" and "Criminal" -- the musician exhibits a maturity beyond his years.

"But I'm not doing the typical soul thing," he says. "I'm not thinking too hard about it."

It's the way Nozuka sings that is most notable. He has a confidence, a flair for performance, that tends to make him appear older.

"I've heard that from different people, and they are surprised," Nozuka says. "I guess something like that is to my advantage. But I've been working at this for so long, since I was 12 years old, that sometimes I do feel a little old."

His maturity is a byproduct of a few things. Nozuka, born in New York and raised in Toronto, is the sixth of seventh siblings. A brother, George, is an R&B singer; another brother, Philip, is an actor; and two other guys in the Nozuka clan are in the creative arts.

Thus, growing up, Justin was engaged by a healthy sibling competition, but by music that wasn't mainstream, noting Ben Harper as an example.

"I'm not one to listen to sofa music," he says. "The type of music I've listened to is from the underground."

That Nozuka should take so readily to performance should not be surprising. His mother is Holly Sedgwick, the sister of actress Kyra Sedgwick. And yes, he's met his rather famous uncle, Kevin Bacon, but only a few times.

"We try to keep in touch, but I'm not really close enough to ask for any advice," he says.

His mother, on the other hand, has exerted far more influence. Thus, "Holly" was named for her.

"She was really touched by that, and she still is touched, as are a lot of her friends," Nozuka says. "She's very proud of me."

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