I’ve been a fan of Justin Utley and his music since his 2005 CD “Runaway.”
With his muscular country/rock voice, hunky good looks, open smile and public activism on behalf of the LGBT community, it’s easy to be drawn into all things Justin Utley.
Before moving to New York City, Justin lived in Utah and spent time involved in the Mormon Church’s same sex attraction “conversion” therapy program. Since then, Justin became an activist for civil rights and for LGBT equality. He began to speak out against the Mormon use of “conversion therapy” and speaks out as a role model for anyone struggling with the Church and spreading the truth about ‘therapies’ that faith based religious groups prescribe.
Nominated for four 2010 OUTMusic Awards at the LGBT Academy of Recording Arts in NYC, his song “Stand For Something” won Best Country/Folk Song of the Year. The song was Justin’s personal musical response to the passing of Prop 8 in California.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with the handsome artist and what I thought was going to be a 15 minute segment easily became a full hour.
Justin is charming, disarming, direct and open in talking about his music and life journey so far.
Randy: You’ve spoken out about your experience with “ex-gay therapy” – can you tell us about it?
Justin: I can tell you that it doesn’t work. After coming back from my Mormon mission, I went to my bishop and told him I was having these feelings that I might be gay. So they sent me to a facility run by the church which is like the church’s “therapy/counseling” type thing. It’s all bound by church social science, so they can’t really explore outside the realm of that. So he sent me there to ask for a specialist in “same gender attraction disorder” – because homosexuality means that you’re sexual and they didn’t want you to be sexual so you have an affliction, it’s like a disease.
So I went to this one on one therapist for two years and then group therapy for the same amount of time. It was kind of like AA where everyone sits in a circle and talks, but with “ex-gay therapy” everyone is still gay the next week. At first it was liberating because I had met people who were in the same boat because I had spent 20-something years thinking I was the only one who was having these ‘issues’. But then, like, a year into it I was like “so when do things change?”
In the end, the therapist had me convinced I had been molested as a child. So before I even came out to my family I had told my parents I had been molested as a child. The one who called it out was my mom. And she was like, there was never a day when you ‘came home from piano lessons an hour late.’ The way your conscious works, I would have known if something had happened. So this whole idea of whatever you’re going through, this repressed memory that never happened needs to stop and you need to deal with your bullshit. So I decided to stop the ex-gay therapy, and I decided to start dating someone.
Let’s talk about your music. You were nominated for 4 OUTmusic Awards in 2010 – winning for “Country/Folk song of the year” – how cool was that?
It was very validating. In 2009, I decided to stick this out and do what I came here to do. When I submitted it for the OUTmusic Awards, I felt like it would be great to just get a nomination. And then they came back with four nominations! And at that point I thought: Wow! I’ve definitely struck a chord – this is me. I’m meant to do this. It was amazing.
What is the process of writing like for you? Do you sit down on a regular basis to exercise that muscle? Or do you need to be inspired by a thought or experience?
I get inspired. Like when I recorded “Behind My Eyes,” a few years before that my aunt had just committed suicide in Utah. She had called me a few weeks before and I thought that was really sweet – she had always supported me even though she was the ‘black sheep’ of her family, she was always defending me, she always had my back… and then she was gone.
“Behind My Eyes” was born out of that unfinished conversation that I wanted to have with her. The problem was that I had stopped writing it when I started putting down the earlier material. I had started writing it when I was feeling moved and inspired. So I had to lock myself in a room and listen to the orchestration of the song over and over again until my mind and my emotions went right back to where I was when it all happened. And that allowed me to keep writing the song.
Tell me about writing the song “It Is What It Is”…
I remember coming home one day and my boyfriend was there. We had moved in together after about two months – which I found out was pretty quick for relationships. He was still at home and I was like, “I thought you were a manager at Equinox (prominent gym in NYC)? And he was like “oh no, I’m a personal trainer.” So I said “when do you train clients?” and he said “I don’t have any right now.” And I was like “how are you paying your share of everything…?” And he said his mom sends him a check. And I thought, wow – it’s not that I judge you because you don’t have a job. It’s that you don’t have a work ethic.
We ended up having this argument and I asked him “what do you want to do with your life?” and he said “I want to be a back-up dancer for Madonna.” I said “dude, you are like 6’4″, 200 something pounds and thirty-something. You’re probably not going to be backing up Madonna for anything.” I mean, I ‘m all for people pursuing their dreams but I also want to be a realist… and I thought to myself “what the fuck? really?” He really didn’t like that answer and… he broke the top of my nose. LOL… There’s even a line in the song “I never felt so out of place, I took one step back just to save my face.” Yeah, he got a little angry. So I moved out and that night I wrote “It Is What It Is” which is one of my favorite tracks on the album.
You have a concert coming up in New York City on March 30th at The Triad.
Yes! It’s this cool place on the Upper West Side – red curtains, little big theater, perfect for the setting and it’s the first time in NYC I’ll be performing with a full band. I’m very, very excited and it’s going to kick off my summer of gigs.
Now, I’d like to ask some of those “odd interview questions” because I love to see what people will say.
If you were a super hero, which super hero would you be?
Ok! good answer. That was easy 🙂
I have to say, my temperament has changed a bit – the gym used to be a real intense goal for me. So maybe a morph between that and Superman. I think that may have something to do with the cape and the briefs and all that stuff for Superman, but…
Who was your first celebrity crush?
Ummm… probably Tom Selleck. My grandmother had this poster of him that I remember as a child, and I remember thinking “oh lord… that’s a handsome man…”
What’s your biggest turn-on in life?
As cheesy as it sounds, I get the biggest rush from putting together the first layers of a song – the first ‘beginning, middle and end’ of a song. When I can sit back and say “X amount of time ago this was dead space – there was nothing. And now I’m looking at this creation. A blank canvas that had nothing now has this depth and this emotion in it. I really, really love that feeling.
What is your life philosophy in ten words or less?
“Be the change you would see in the world.” That’s really what it’s about for me right now. There would be so much more happiness and so much less bull-shit in the world if people lived by that. I talk to people about my music these last few years, and talk about equality. And people say to me “I’m on the boat but I want someone who’s going to lower my taxes…” And I think – I’m not willing to sit at the back of this bus or go back to what I was. I’m worth so much more than that. I would pay 90% taxes to be able to feel and have the same rights, to be able to love, and be able to have the same life as anyone else in this country. I don’t see how there’s any other price that you can put on that.
And you can follow Justin on his Facebook Fan page.
Here’s one of my favorite Justin Utley songs – “Great Escape” – from his new CD Nothing This Real