Photo courtesy of Justin Biltonen
For me, there’s nothing more interesting than when the rock world somehow crosses into country. In Justin Biltonen‘s case, it was kind of a full-circle formation, country to rock and back to country. Find out why by joining in our CRS 2021 conversation right now.
Patti McClintic: Hello, I’m Patti from Think Country.
Justin Biltonen: Justin. I appreciate you having me.
Patti: Why don’t you give us a brief rundown? Tell us where you’re from and what your background is.
Justin Biltonen: Short version. I’m from Western North Carolina, outside of Asheville, in the mountains. I have been playing music since I was probably 10 or 11, started playing guitar. Really took to it. I enjoyed playing and performing for folks. I started playing in bands in church, playing worship music and stuff quite a bit. That was a time when that kind of music was kind of rock-driven, country-driven, different than just singin’ hymns. So, we had full bands and this was my first real exposure to playing in bands. So, all through high school I started playing different kinds of music and started getting into punk and ska and all sorts of different stuff, and playing with different folks. Then I graduated high school, started a rock band, started traveling quite a bit. That’s when you could book a whole tour on MySpace.
Patti: MySpace. I wonder if that Tom guy is still alive or not?
Photo of “Tom” from MySpace courtesy of twitter.com
Justin Biltonen: Really. (Laughing) I started touring in a band and got to do some fun stuff. Around that same time, I started writing country music, and had a good passion for it, it’s what I grew up on, was always listening it, it’s what all we related to. So, while I was playing with the rock stuff, I always had country in my mind. Riding in planes it was what I was listening to all the time, and that was 2004, 2005. So, in that time, did a lot of recording, a lot of traveling, playing music different places and meeting different people. When I started coming to Nashville quite a bit about 10 years ago, I started writing with a guy named James House. He wrote a bunch of stuff for Martina McBride, Dwight Yoakam, Diamond Rio. A lot of the hits in the 90s and still an extremely active writer, he kinda took me under his wing and started showing me how Nashville did their songwriting stuff. Started doing co-writes with him and coming over here to Nashville as much as I possibly could while I was still living in Asheville.
Justin Biltonen: Traveling back and forth, and a couple years later about that same kind of time, I got approached by the guys from 3 Doors Down to come play bass for them. I’d been friends with everybody for many years, had the same management for many years, and was just kind of part of the group anyways. I was always at charity events or different kind of record releases or whatever was going on, and they asked me if I wanted to play bass, so that was eight years ago. Started traveling the world with them, wrote a record with them, did a bunch of different stuff all over the world, and about three years ago I started putting out my own music as a country artist, as a solo artist. I had my friends that I was writing with and my family and stuff that were really pushin’ for it. They liked what I was doing. It was something that I really hadn’t considered because I was always like, the lead guitar player, bass player or side person in a full band.
Photo courtesy of 3 Doors Down
Patti: So, you don’t just play bass. You didn’t just play bass, you just joined the band (3 Doors Down) to play bass? You’ve played lead guitar also?
Justin Biltonen: Yes, guitar was my first instrument, and then I kind of dabbled with bass for different reasons, and then whenever the 3 Doors opportunity came up, it became a main instrument for quite a while.
Photo courtesy of 3 Doors Down/Photo credit: Matt Walsh Photography
Patti: Yeah. Now are you still playing with 3 Doors?
Justin Biltonen: Yeah. We’re still active as much as we can be with all the COVID stuff going on. We had a tour last year, had it booked this year and everything just keeps getting canceled and pushed around. It’s kinda tough, everyone’s got different rules so nobody can really string a tour together.
Patti: Yeah, I hear that, it’s unfortunate, but, the guys in 3 Doors Down are obviously fine with you doing this, you know, your own project here?
Justin Biltonen: Yeah, I’m younger than everybody by a good bit and was always active doing this stuff, and they’re supportive of it, they think it’s cool. Whatever I have going on, or a song hittin’ radio or different publications, post stuff they think it’s cool. They support it. It’s something totally different too, it’s not like I’m trying to get out there and play music that sounds exactly like 3 Doors.
Patti: No, it sure doesn’t. I mean, I’ve always been a 3 Doors Down fan for years, and then when I listened to yours, I went, “He’s definitely not trying to be a 3 Doors Down country version. I mean you have your own sound completely, but I gotta tell you, I listened to your stuff and I think it’s, you know, I write for a country music website, so I have to think of ways to describe people’s music all the time, and you know, you do it over and over again, and sometimes it’s difficult to describe somebody’s music, after you’ve done it over and over and over again. Sometimes you feel like you’re being repetitive in describing different music, but with yours, I felt yours was so unique. How did I even think of it in my head? It’s a very, very traditional sounding country, but it’s kind of got a little bit of an edge, just enough of an edge that it’s almost kind of like you’re taking something and kind of scraping it along the concrete, just to give it a little bit of a roughness. It’s not like you’re headbanging or anything, it’s just got enough of that edge. It’s so cool. It’s so unique and it’s so different. It’s not like anything else I’ve ever heard and I listen to so much country music you wouldn’t believe it. It’s not the second coming of Waylon, I mean, you’re not trying to be the reincarnation any of those old guys, it’s just different. I don’t know, I guess you brought in some of all your experiences and you have just enough of that to have created something really cool and your own.
Video courtesy of Justin Biltonen and YouTube
Justin Biltonen: Thank you very much. That’s a hell of a compliment. Thank you for that.
Patti: It’s just it’s really unique and I really like it, and I’ve got to tell you, one night I put your song, “Wild Mustangs” on in my earbuds to listen to it. I fell asleep with it on and it was on a loop. I woke up at, like, four in the morning, and it was still playing. I’m like, “I wonder how many times I streamed that?” So, if you look at your Spotify for last week someday, and you see in Hendersonville that “Wild Mustangs” streamed like, eighty-five times, it was probably me. I might have bumped your numbers up a little bit. (Laughing) So, can you tell me about that song a little bit? Who wrote it? That sort of thing.
Justin Biltonen: I wrote that with my buddy Richard Mitchell. I think he came to Nashville in the 90s, and was writing in that world of 90s country stuff, which is what I grew up on. I love the storytelling and the tones, the harmonies, everything that they do. Like, Shenandoah and Restless Heart are two of my favorites, but they just have kind of a different way of tellin’ a story and different melodies, and I always really enjoy writing with Richard. I had a title and I had an idea for the chorus. Whenever me and him would get together and write we would just kind of sit there and talk for quite a while before we actually do any writing. He just happened to bring up a story about riding through the desert where he grew up in Southern California, but more inland, like, closer towards Arizona, Utah and stuff. But for dates, they would go ride around in the desert. Like in high school and whatever, they would take a girl out and cruise around the desert, and he said one time he’s out driving and they saw all these wild mustangs running through the window. That kind of sparked it. I thought we should definitely kind of write this story because that’s exactly what I had in mind with that to begin with. So, that’s where that first line came from, his actual experience back in, probably the 70s, riding around in the desert with a girlfriend, seein’ wild mustangs runnin’ through the desert.
Patti: Sounds like a kind of like a dream date to me, I mean, I would have loved to have had that experience, but yeah, it’s a really great song.
Justin Biltonen: Thank you, thank you.
Video (audio) courtesy of Justin Biltonen and YouTube
Patti: Now, obviously pandemic life, it’s no fun. I mean, nobody can really get out and do a whole lot, but what are you doing as far as shows? Have you got anything, even live streams coming up?
(Just as Justin was about to answer the question, I became distracted. He put his arm up for a second and I noticed he was wearing a really cool looking turquoise bracelet. If anything can stop me in my tracks quickly, it’s a beautiful piece of turquoise jewelry. I almost cut this portion of the interview, but then listening back, it actually adds some flavor to it, so I put it back in.)
Photo courtesy of Justin Biltonen/Photo credit: sarahelizabeth_k
Patti: Hold on, hold on. Put your arm back up for a minute, let me see that. That is the coolest… oh, my goodness, look at that. That is gorgeous, where did you get that beautiful, turquoise… oh, my gosh…?
Justin Biltonen: I find ’em all over the place. Something I’ve been doin’ since I was a kid. Where we grew up we were really close to the Cherokee reservation and they always had that stuff in the little gift shops and stuff. My mom always had it, she always collected it, so it just kinda carried over once I started travelin’ and findin’ stuff all over place. That, in turn, kinda turned into part of my “look,” or something. (Laughing)
Patti: It’s a good look. That’s beautiful. Don’t leave that around me, I might steal it. No, I would never do that, but anyway, so yeah, shows? Live streams, anything?
Justin Biltonen: I’m going to do a live stream on Friday. I enjoy doing those, they’re fun. It’s a good way to kinda engage with fans,
Patti: Where can people find your live streams?
Justin Biltonen: On volume.com
Patti: Alright, great. Wrote it down. I’ll be trying to catch one of those.
Justin Biltonen: A couple hours to just kind of jam around. Check out their stuff at volume.com it’s a new streaming site. Just trying to kinda book some other stuff wherever things are kind of opened up. It’s been kind of a crapshoot, sometimes you find a place that’s good and the bars are great, and they’re doing the social distancing stuff and wearing masks, and then you try to book stuff consistently and it just gets cancelled still.
Patti: It’s kind of a pain, it really is, but that Friday (it was 2/19), that’s my birthday, so I could tune in and have a birthday cocktail virtually, and watch your show.
Justin Biltonen: I’d like that. I could give you a shout out.
Patti: That’d be awesome. I would love that. I turn older than dirt, you know, and it’s always good to get a shout out while you’re doing that. I’ve got one more thing. I’ve got this, which is a Chat Pack, it’s random questions, there’s like 20 billion cards in this box.
Justin Biltonen: Yeah.
Patti: Okay, are you ready? Okay, I’ll try not to pick one I already picked. I did that earlier and that was so lame, like, how does that happen with this many cards in the box?
Justin Biltonen: Okay. Wow.
Patti: The card says, “If you could pick up any book and instantly memorize it cover-to-cover, which book would you choose?”
Justin Biltonen: Maybe an encyclopedia, a thesaurus maybe. Or, like, the Bible, something with a lot of knowledge in it.
Patti: A thesaurus is probably really useful for a songwriter.
Justin Biltonen: It would be extremely useful because I’m constantly thinkin’.
Patti: Yeah, you’d always have another word,
Justin Biltonen: Yeah, trying to find another word, and nowadays everybody gets on their phone and tries to find stuff, like, “This word rhymes with this,” and this way I would just have it right there.
Patti: Yeah, you’d be just like Rain Man and be spitting it out all the time, it’d be awesome. All right and finally, because we are Think Country, Justin, when you “Think Country,” what do you think?
Justin Biltonen: Maybe it’s kind of a feeling that I get, that it’s hard to describe. It’s like a comfort. It’s like something old that makes me feel good. Reminds me of growing up and a bit of independence to think just the things I’ve been able to do on my own because of country. Stories. Probably the story. Yeah, something like that, probably a bunch of different stuff mashed up that I can’t quite explain.
Patti: That’s so funny. I got an answer that was almost identical to that earlier. They said “comfort” and they said, kind of a whole mix up of things, that’s so interesting. It’s like everybody’s on the same vibe today, and I love your picture behind you with the buffalo on it (there was a really cool picture of a buffalo hanging on the wall behind him) I have a buffalo on my hat (which I did) because I’m originally from Buffalo, New York. Buffaloes are cool . Anyway, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today and I really hope I can catch you at a live show that’s really live soon.
Justin Biltonen: Thank you so much for having me and keep an eye out. Even if it’s writers’ round stuff in Nashville, it’s still gotta happen.
Patti: Absolutely. I’ll be watching. I’ll check into your pages and all that good stuff.
Justin Biltonen: I appreciate it.
Patti: Thanks Justin, bye.
Justin Biltonen: Thanks, bye.
Whether you’re a 3 Doors Down fan and you’ve never heard Justin Biltonen’s solo work or if you’re new to him entirely, you’re going to want to find his music. All the links below will lead you right to his door, his one door, as opposed to the “3 Doors” he sometimes hangs out with. Go check him out and tell him Think Country sent you.
For more news, interviews, reviews and features that always bring country closer, visit thinkcountrymusic.com
Photo courtesy of Justin Biltonen/Photo credit: sarahelizabeth_k
JUSTIN BILTONEN CAN BE FOUND:
FACEBOOK: Justin Biltonen on Facebook
INSTAGRAM: Justin Biltonen on Instagram
YouTube: Justin Biltonen on YouTube
*Featured photo courtesy of Justin Biltonen