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Shine: Spotlight on a Singer-Songwriter
In a downtown Minneapolis coffee house, patrons flow in as the rain picks up outside. Beside the stage, Justin Roth (UMD '97) carefully removes his instrument from its case, and places his trademark capos onto the head of the guitar. He steps into the spotlight, cordially addresses the audience, and begins to play. Although he is categorized as a modern folk musician, the sound Roth makes with his guitar is amazingly unique and the lyrics he sings are sincere. He taught himself how to fingerpick and uses intricate guitar-playing techniques, like using two hands on the fretboard, to make the listener think he is playing more than one instrument at once. Roth’s style is uniquely his own and its obvious the audience recognizes it, from the way they give their attention to the stage.
Roth writes all of his own lyrics, exhibiting his sense of humor along with his storytelling abilities and capacity for creative thought. He combines his talents as singer, songwriter and guitarist in order to make an interesting brand of acoustic music that has been praised by critics across the country.
Roth’s writing conjures images of childhood and relationships. He sings of kites, old men, starry nights, and bonfires. Some songs are more serious, with stories of jealousy, broken hearts and romance. The music suggests moments from his own life and yet they are somehow universal. The song “Break the Water,” illustrates Roth’s personal philosophy on life, "Break the water, break the tide, I’m going as far as the river is wide. Break the water, break the tide, I’m setting my sails to the other side."
Roth performs over 100 shows a year at coffeehouses, clubs and colleges from California to New York. He has opened for David Wilcox, Martin Sexton, and Cheryl Wheeler, and he’s currently working on his sixth CD. His most recent solo production, Shine (2003) contains the song "She Dances" which was nominated for 2004 Best Song Award - Just Plain Folks. In it, Roth wrote: There's no other place I'd rather be, When she dances the way she dances with me. Roth’s live CD, along with fellow singer-songwriter Chris Cunningham, 2 forms of ID was recorded at Amazing Grace Bakery & Cafe in Duluth, in November 2000 near the end of a 60-city tour. His other albums include, Solo Guitar (2000), In Between (2000) and Up Until Now (1997).
Although devoted as a performer, Justin is breaking from years of touring to focus on writing new material. “I made a conscious decision to make new music and grow as a writer,” he points out. “After a while, your creative growth plateaus if you are constantly performing.” When penning songs, Roth finds that a relaxed environment is most suitable for him. “My best writing is when I’m by myself. Downtime is important.” Roth is most aptly described as a character writer. “My songs don’t necessarily consist of ‘slice of life’ kinds of lyrics,” he notes. “I like to elaborate on my own experiences. Things get fictionalized and expounded. That’s one thing I enjoy about writing --- you have the poetic license to take a story in any direction you want.”
Roth is eager to return to the studio. He’s determined to keep producing, and his track record is good. His last album, Shine, was given accolades both for its musicianship as well as its lyrical content. “Justin Roth has a gift for writing meaningful lyrics, stirring melodies, and hooks as memorable as anything you are liable to hear on a major label “pop” release,” (Taylor Guitars Magazine).
Roth graduated from UMD with a major in Performing Arts Management and a minor in Music. “It was an interdisciplinary degree catered to music,” Roth says. “The teachers in the business school were very helpful in finding art-related projects for me.” Roth has used that knowledge in his career. He books all of his own gigs and sells his own CDs. Aside from learning the ins and outs of the business aspect of the music industry, Roth concentrated on his growth as an artist while in college. He devoted a substantial amount of time to playing and listening to new music.
Roth says that a crucial figure in his development as a musician was John Ziegler, a program manager for Duluth’s campus radio station, KUMD. “John exposed me to a lot of music I still listen to today. He was key in my musical growth.”
As fate would have it, Roth veered away from a career in music behind
the scenes, and has instead opted to be onstage. The decision has paid
off for Roth and his fans, as his music continues to grow and mature.
With an album in the horizon, Justin Roth is excited for what the future
holds. His song, “Yesterday’s Gone,” hints at a need
to move forward: Yesterday's gone and tomorrow's too long, not to
seize the day.
— Tom Gadbois, UMD Communication Student
UMD Homepage 2007
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