Meet the positively magnetic Justin Emord, bassist of LA-based hard rock band, Love and a .38.
An advocate for music education, Emord has dedicated a large portion of his career to fostering creativity and the arts through positive outreach programs like Keep Music Alive and NAMM Foundation. When he’s not providing the low end for Love and a .38, or speaking to other independent artists about how to navigate their careers on their own terms, he also moonlights as a photographer. Read on to find out what makes the instantly likable Emord tick.
You were actually a guitar player first. What prompted you to move to bass?
Back when I was in high school, the bass player in the band (I played guitar and piano back then) would just read the charts and go root note to root note. With 5 years of jazz piano already in my pocket, I started suggesting transition notes and ultimately started crafting bass lines for her on a regular basis.
Because of that, I went out to Guitar Center and bought my first bass during junior year. When senior year rolled around, I was quickly moved by my music teacher to bass in concert band and even filled in for the bassist in jazz band for a few concerts and competitions when he was unavailable.
The learning curve to get up to speed on a somewhat new instrument in a school band setting was very steep and sudden but I still look back on those days very fondly and with a lot of pride. At the time, I was also working on my first solo EP so getting a bass and learning was a crossroad I was very rapidly approaching anyways so it all worked out.
As I got into college and wanted to find a band, the work for guitarists was very slim so I started putting out ads as a bass player and I haven’t looked back since.
Originally, you were a D’Addario guy, but you made the switch to GHS Strings recently. What is it about the GHS product line that made you want to change over?
It’s funny, back when I was a guitar player, my string of choice for YEARS was a standard 10 gauge set of GHS Boomers, so honestly being a GHS artist now is kind of like coming back home.
Throughout my career as a bass player, my desired sound has changed a lot, so my basses and strings have changed along with it. As a Fender artist, I feel like my basses more so now than ever each has a distinct personality and characteristics that make each one unique but still play well with each other.
The thing I like about GHS is the wide range the strings sit on across the tonal spectrum, which allows me to pair each bass with a set that compliments it as opposed to being locked into one or two types of strings to do everything.
Your philanthropic efforts with Keep Music Alive and NAMM Foundation (to name a few) have been so amazing and inspiring, and you have dedicated so many hours to teaching young kids how to play an instrument. What made you want to start doing all this charity work, and how did you get involved?
For me, all the charity work I do is very natural and is somewhat surprising I didn’t fall into it sooner.
When I was very young, my parents put me in private lessons for both piano and guitar at different points in my childhood. To this day, I can remember understanding how to play and be ready but lacked the passion and motivation to practice and get better.
Fast forward to my fourth-grade year and my school finally got a music teacher (a problem I didn’t realize was a problem until I began my advocacy work), so my parents put me back in lessons for the third time. This time, the planets aligned and the passion was there. Practicing my scales and exercises became a daily thing along with my homework and suddenly I possessed a skill I had no idea was locked up inside me this whole time.
From then on, I played in the concert band, jazz band and was involved with everything my school had to offer relating to music. By the time I graduated high school, I had learned piano, bass, guitar, competed in various competitions across southern California and national awards for musical excellence and even received my first sponsorship. All of this led to music being an integral part of my life that I decided a career in music was the only way to go for me.
All of those wonderful experiences in school as well as everything I’ve been able to do as a professional musician is thanks to my music teacher and my education in music. It only made sense I would dedicate part of my life to making sure future generations of students have access to music education so that they have the same opportunities that I did.
My venture into music education started 5 years ago when NAMM began their Day of Service events in Anaheim, which is a day when NAMM members get together to teach kids at a local school in Anaheim how to play guitar, drums, ukulele and chorus and movement.
As I approached high school graduation, I volunteered and gave guitar lessons at my school for community service hours so the idea of teaching again was enticing. As I continued to teach with NAMM through the years, I have had the pleasure to work closely with them on their advocacy efforts both at the state and federal level in Sacramento and Washington D.C. Since then, I’ve been able to work with the Anaheim Elementary School District during Keep Music Alive Week and also mentor young talent on the rise through the House of Blues Music Forward Foundation, which aims to empower young artists through showcases and panels and equip them with the tools needed to sustain a successful career in the music industry.
You spoke as a panelist during Winter NAMM 2019 about acquiring sponsorships. How many would you say you have now? I’ve lost count! I think it’s safe to say you are the king of endorsements.
Yes, throughout the majority of my career I have had the pleasure of receiving the support and backing of many companies and I am very thankful for all their help. Currently, I endorse (*gasps and takes in an extra long breath*) Fender basses, Taylor Guitars, Get’s Get’m Straps, Loxx USA Strap locks, Hipshot Products, Graphtech Guitar Labs, GHS Strings, Pinstripe Pedals Rocktron USA, Temple Audio pedal Boards, Loknob, Barefoot Buttons, Voodoo Labs, Stage Ninja Cables, Ashdown Engineering, Drklght Clothing, Grover Allman Guitar Picks and Gator Cases.
One thing I’ve always admired about you are your people skills and your ability to connect things together, whether it’s acquiring product from your sponsors to hand out for the charity events you do, or getting your band featured in an unconventional way. Was this a learned skill, or were you always just naturally great with people, and marketing yourself?
My dad was a ghostwriter, so growing up I always had him checking my work when it came to essays, speeches and presentations in school. I think that definitely planted the seeds to having a leg up in those situations.
As I got older and made it known to my family that I wanted to pursue a career in music, the only way I could get their blessing (because Italians ALWAYS need the family blessing) was if I went to college and got a degree so I had something to fall back on should music not work out. I ended up going to Cal State Northridge and majored in Communication Studies because I felt like that would help in the non-music side of music. Through my professors such as Peter Marston and others, I worked on my public speaking skills, reading nonverbal signs and many other aspects of communication that would be invaluable to me in my career. So I would definitely say it was a learned skill once again going back to the classroom. Go Matadors!
You and your mom (who is an accomplished photographer) have a very special relationship. She is your biggest champion and is often seen snapping photos of you and your band at live shows. Do you bring her on the road with you to take shots as well, or would that cramp your style (ha, ha)?
Yeah, she has always been supportive of my career and I always make sure to remind her that her and my dad insisted that I take lessons, so they’re really to blame for this circus of a life, ha-ha! She has always had a camera in hand as long as I can remember, so much so that I joke that I wasn’t really born, I was actually just developed in a really weird dark room.
Being around photography so much has led me to pick up a camera and find my own voice and eye behind the lenses, which has been fun for us. However, she has a pretty busy schedule running around various clubs in southern California shooting bands so she usually just ends up catching us when we play local and then shutterbugs with other bands when we are out on the road.
Love and a .38 recently performed in Tijuana, Mexico. Was that your first time playing out of the country?
This was our first international show, which was pretty exciting because you know… we’re an international big deal now (*cough cough*).
Playing in Mexico was a really cool experience; the other bands were awesome and very supportive, the venue was super hospitable and wanted to make sure we had the best experience we could and put so much work into the show element of the whole night, which was awesome. The people down there are just so passionate and care so much about music, and it showed.
You were solo for quite a long time before finding Love and a .38. What about Love and a .38 made it feel like it was the right fit?
It’s funny actually; I tried to audition for .38 back in the MySpace days because I was really into the vintage DNA that you could hear in the music. Growing up on the Beatles, Aerosmith and AC/DC, the modern twist the guys put on the guitar hero type of bands from yesteryear was something I really liked. I ran into the guys at NAMM 2010 (because of course NAMM, right?) and that’s when I got the audition and ultimately joined the band.
You guys released an EP entitled “7th Street Shuffle” late last year. What’s next? Will you be doing some touring, or are you writing toward another EP?
The cool thing about this band is we are ALWAYS writing. Even when one batch of songs is off to mastering to be released, there’s another batch of songs that we are already working on for the next release so yes, there is definitely new music in the pipeline that we will release when we feel the time is right and we’ve let “7th Street Shuffle” run its course. Besides that, there is definitely going to be some extensive touring on the horizon, which we are thrilled about and can’t wait to share with everyone. See you all in 2019!