Justin’s journey in music began at the tender age of 4. From early studies in violin, he ventured into electroacoustic compositions during his university years. He seamlessly fuses classical violin with electronic beats and bass, a theme that echoes through his diverse musical career.His orchestral and chamber ensemble compositions bridge baroque violin training with a love for modern electronic sound processing.
After years in Vancouver and Melbourne, he now calls West Cork home. Beyond the stage & studio,, Justin is a passionate advocate for music’s role in society, dedicating time to teaching, workshops, and volunteering.
In this episode we chat about how music has been a constant presence throughout his life, his move to West Cork and becoming embedded into his community, his influences and inspirations and his unique musical style.
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Duration: 54:05 mins
Justin's Takeaway Tip
“If you’re going to go and be an artist or composer, like it really just has to be the thing that you just have to do.”
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[00:00:00] Geraldine Hennessy: Welcome to the Cork Creative Podcast. With this podcast, we hope to promote local creative businesses and people. I’m your host, Geraldine Hennessey from Flux Learning, and today I have the pleasure of sitting down with the incredibly talented Justin Grounds, a musician, composer, and music producer surrounded by his beloved musical instruments in his home studio here in Clonakilty.
Justin’s journey in music began at the tender age of four. From early studies in violin, he ventured into electro acoustic compositions during his university years. He seamlessly fuses classical violin with electronic beats and bass, a theme that echoes throughout his diverse musical career. His orchestral and chamber ensemble compositions bridge Baroque violin training with a love for modern electronic sound processing.
After years in Vancouver and Melbourne he now calls West Cork home. Beyond the stage and studio Justin is a passionate advocate for music’s role in society, dedicating time to teaching, workshops, and volunteering. In this episode, we chat about how music has been a constant presence throughout his life, his move to West Cork, his influences, and his unique approach to music.
You’re very welcome to Cork Creative, Justin.
Justin Grounds: Thanks for having me.
So tell us a little about yourself and what drew you to music and how did you come to live in Clonakilty?
[00:01:23] Justin Grounds: Okay. I’m a violinist and a composer and a sort of music producer in lots of different ways now. What drew me to music was this is the story, right.
Okay. When I was a baby, I cried every day.
You were one of those babies?
Justin Grounds: And I would only let my mother hold me. I wouldn’t let anyone. I was just this complete like nightmare, you know, and I had an older brother. So the only time I would stop crying and screaming and having tantrums and stuff was when my mum would wheel me in the buggy to the, like the musical instrument shop window.
And I would just look at like string instruments, cellos and violins basically, and just be like mesmerized by these string instruments. I’m actually looking at you – behind you at this violin, that I had when I was a kid. And then they wheel me away and I’d start screaming again. So there was like this thought, like this kid needs, somehow he wants music.
And I remember being like, the only things I would draw on paper were the shapes of violins and cellos. Okay. Yeah. And anytime music came on the radio that was like classical, I would be tuned into that, you know, and my mom’s Australian and my dad’s English. So this was in England where I was born, but we went to Australia and I started school when I was just four in Australia.
And my uncle was like, to my mom, apparently he was like, God, this is crazy. Like, can’t you see this kid is crying out for the violin. So this woman, whose a violinist, professional violinist in, Australia, made me a cardboard cutout violin and I had a stick, you know, just a stick. And then I would stride around the house.
I kind of have this memory of it, like playing, you know, playing my violin. And I think I even did like a busking concert, you know, and weirdly enough, I was still in touch with her and I ended up playing with her, you know, so then we got home from Australia and I started going to school in England.
And there was nothing like, my mum didn’t know anything about where to even begin, and I was still as terrible as ever. And she was on the bus coming home to pick me up from school, coming home to the village. And she was crying on the bus. She was so distraught. She was just in tears. She just broke down in tears on the bus.
And this stranger came and sat next to her and was like, put her arm around her and just said, this lady, this lovely lady just said like, Oh, what’s the matter? You know? And my mom said, well, I’ve got these two boys and my youngest boy is just crazy. And he just desperately wants music, especially the violin and like none of us in our family know anything about where to even start with this, you know?
And then like this lady kind of consoled my mom a bit and then she got off the bus, you know, at one stop. And then my mom got off at like the next stop. And an hour later there was a knock at the door and this lady was at the door, this stranger. And she just said, I went to the post office and I asked the post mistress “Where does the Australian woman with the two little boys live?” And they told me where you live and here I am. And she just handed my mum a piece of paper and it had like a violin teacher’s number on it. She’s like, here’s the violin teacher’s number. Call them now. You like, you need to do this. And like next day, I have a memory of walking into this old house and being given this violin and having my first lesson at age four, you know.
And then from that day on, I just played the violin, even to now, like, even to now, and I’m 42 or whatever. And even now, if I don’t play for like three days or something, I get really weird and kind of distraught and grumpy and like, well, not grumpy, I sort of get, and my wife will just be like, what’s the matter with you, just go upstairs and play the violin, you know, as soon as, as soon as the bow hits the string, I’m kind of like, Oh yeah, thank God I’m back with this thing. Yeah. Isn’t that weird? Yeah.
And even more than that. Like the year before COVID. So what? 2019 my old high school in the village that I grew up in where I studied music built this like beautiful, modern auditorium for concerts. And they did this series where they invited past students who are now professionals to come and give concerts.
So I went and did this concert and after the concert I was like milling around in the foyer greeting people. And this woman hugged me and she said, I’m the woman on the bus who gave your mom the number. And she was like, and here you are, like playing for everybody on stage.
Geraldine Hennessy: Oh, my God.
Justin Grounds: Yeah. And it was like this amazing moment for me because I was like, you just do one kind thing in your life and it changed my life completely, you know, because my dad, my dad even said one time at dinner, he said, Oh, Justin would probably be in prison or something if he hadn’t got that violin.
Geraldine Hennessy: It’s amazing.
Justin Grounds: So, weirdly, you know, I just….that was sort of what I just had to do and it was like sort of vaguely knew that I needed it or something I needed to be able to create sound and it’s just what I’ve done ever since. And it’s like the best thing, like it’s a wonderful life, like, yeah, people go like, Oh my God, you’re a musician.
How’d you make a living? Its like, I have a great life. Yeah. I get to do this thing every day that I love and never grow tired of it. I never, I could, you know, it’s just…
[00:06:59] Geraldine Hennessy: It’s really part of you though, isn’t it?
[00:07:01] Justin Grounds: It’s like, I think I was lucky that I found that early on, you know, cause it gave…. in my teenage years and stuff, it gave me a focus, you know, I didn’t get in loads of trouble because I was just playing in bands, you know, so everyone was like drinking and I was the one on stage, you know, performing. So I got saved from, you know, going down some of those routes that you might, you know, and I think a lot of teenagers, they just don’t know what they want to do.
They haven’t got the right, they haven’t found the direction yet. Whereas I was like, I just want to do this. Whatever it is, it doesn’t matter what it is, you know,
Geraldine Hennessy: And why Clon?
Justin Grounds: How do I get to Clon? There’s another long story. Well, I…after graduating college, I didn’t want to live in England. I just, something about England doesn’t never suit me really.
And I went to like California and I went all around, I lived in Canada and then I ended up living in Australia because I’m half Australian. I lived there for ages, you know. And then I met my, who’s now my wife, who’s Canadian on the street on New Year’s Eve, randomly. And when we decided to get married Alison was like, well, I don’t really want to live in Australia anymore. And it was like, you know, if you’re not both from the same town, like you end up just one person entering the other person’s dominating life…life of their friends and their work. So we just said, Oh, let’s go somewhere totally new where we don’t know anybody and just start our life again.
You know, like, afresh. Yeah. Alison had been to Ireland. I’d actually never been to Ireland in all the time I lived in over the water. She was like, “Oh, you do, you play violin, like let’s go to Ireland, like they have great music, you know, fiddle music.” So we… I just said it to my mom on the phone from Australia, like, “Oh yeah, we think we might go and live in Ireland for a bit, just for a bit, you know?”
And then like literally a couple of days later, she went to mass in England, in Cambridge where I grew up. And this lady said, “Oh, do you have any interest in going on holiday? I’ve got this holiday house in, in West Cork.” My mom says, “no, I can’t, I’m busy, you know, but what’s with this holiday? “ ”Yes. Oh, well, it’s a family house and we’re looking for a house sitter for the winter, really.”
You know, my mom sort of pounced on that and said, “well, my son and his wife are getting married. They’re getting married and they want to stay.” She’s, oh yeah. So we ended up traveling all the way across the world. We put everything we owned in our old 1970 Volkswagen Beetle. Oh, lovely. And it got a ship and a ship…and we met the beetle and we drove it in Southampton and we drove it here.
Oh my gosh. And the house was on Inchydoney beach. Oh wow. And there was just a key under the mat, you know, we were like, we didn’t know anything about Clonakilty. This was 15 years ago, so there wasn’t like a huge Facebook, you know. So we were thinking, well, we’re going to be in the middle of nowhere on this rugged coastline and turns out we’re on this amazing beach and Clon has like this incredible music scene.
Like the first week I was here, I was like, wandered into DeBarras, you know, everyone, you know, it’s like we landed in somewhere just so great. So we never left. I mean, I think a lot of people in Clon have the same story. They came here and they were just like, Oh, there’s such an enriching community.
And I, I’m just kind of a little bit mystified. I don’t understand. I mean, there’s so many good things about it, but yeah, it’s just an amazing place to live. And I’ve lived all over. You know, and it’s my favorite place to live.
[00:10:27] Geraldine Hennessy: That’s great.
Justin Grounds: You are from here!
Geraldine Hennessy: I’m very lucky, but we kind of forget how lucky we are sometimes.
[00:10:29] Justin Grounds: Sometimes you need a stranger to come and remind you, don’t you?
[00:10:33] Geraldine Hennessy: Or we need to go away and when we’re away, we realize
[00:10:36] Justin Grounds: Thats important. Here we are anyway. Yeah.
Geraldine Hennessy: Up Clon!
Justin Grounds: Up Clon. Yeah. Yeah.
[00:10:44] Geraldine Hennessy: Yeah. So as a violinist and composer and music producer with a diverse musical background, could you share some of the key influences that have shaped your unique musical style, whether it’s specific musicians, genres, or even non-musical sources?What elements have left a lasting impact on your approach to creating music?
[00:11:02] Justin Grounds: That’s a lovely question. It’s a long question. Yeah, it makes me think a lot, you know, cause, oftentimes, Geraldine, I don’t even know where the music comes from. I might hear a piece that I’ve written, performed and I’m like, did I write that?
You know, it’s just such a strange thing, but I mean, ultimately, like going on from when I was four, you know, and then I got the violin and then I started playing in the local youth orchestra on Saturday mornings. And then, and there’s this picture of me with my feet can’t even hit the ground, you know, And when I was six, I saw a poster for Mozart Requiem, which is a super intense classical piece.
Yeah. And he died writing that piece. Okay. And for some reason, the six year old me was like, that is what I want for my birthday. I want a ticket to that. Wow. Yeah. Like, this is like, these are all these weird stories about me and my family, you know? And, I badgered like my mom and dad for months to like, that’s what I want for my birthday.
I want you to get me a ticket. My god. They ended up getting me a ticket and took me, it was like, I was like the only seven year old. And I remember people coming up and being like, are you sure he’s going to be all right? You know, it’s quite a long piece. From the moment, even from the moment they were tuning, I was just like, yeah, yeah, this is it.
Yeah. Yeah. So I think those early experiences of like that magic of when an orchestra plays together and some of those pieces, but I mean, ultimately I studied Bach, you know, and the solo violin stuff with Bach and, and then I ended up playing tons of Bach. And for me, that was like the foundation, you know, I think if, if all I had was Bach Violin studies.
That’d be enough. Yeah. But then you see a lot of kids go to like the classical studies, they play in orchestras, they can just read the music, you know, they’re really good, but that’s their thing. Whereas like when I was nine, then I was like, I just saw this thing of Jimmy Hendrix and I want, now I want an electric guitar, you know, and I saved up for a year and bought this electric guitar.
Wanted to be in bands and it was like Nirvana, you know, grunge and heavy metal and just anything that excited me. I wanted to do it. So I was one day like I’d be playing an orchestra and then I’d be in a band playing guitar and no one could quite get it. They’re like, what don’t you, you know? And then, so as I was like, by the time I was 17 or something, I remember one night having two gigs in one night and one of them was in this like really posh Cambridge university college in a string quartet and I had a bow tie on and a suit and I had to quickly after the gig run to the toilet, whip off like my suit, put on like my denim jacket and then go down like to this where the motor bikers hang out and play in this pub.
[00:14:03] Geraldine Hennessy: Oh my gosh. Completely different.
[00:14:04] Justin Grounds: Yeah. Yeah. So then when I went to study music, I was playing violin in a live electronic dance band, like drum and bass, really fast, heavy, electronic beats. And I think that is then when everything kind of came together where I was like, oh yes, like the Bach and the Mozart thing can, can work with this.
These amazing new technologies of beats and samples, really heavy base and stuff. And that was sort of where I started going “this is really interesting now because this is the two elements of my life”
[00:14:40] Geraldine Hennessy: You’re complete. You’re a complete Nirvana.
[00:14:42] Justin Grounds: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. I love both of those. And I love it when, you know, I really love it when you’ve got one foot in the past and one foot in the future.
You know. And that’s when you start to make really good work because you’re being informed by the two polarities. So that’s kind of, I think where most of my work comes from now is like trying to straddle that. Yeah. Interesting. In different ways, I suppose. Yeah. In loads of different ways.
[00:15:07] Geraldine Hennessy: And you mentioned there about living in various different locations around the world.
How have the different locations influenced your music or have they?
[00:15:16] Justin Grounds: Well, obviously like where you live, you end up meeting people who, you know, for me, I end up meeting people who are doing a certain kind of music. And then I kind of end up being influenced by that. I think, and this is quite interesting because I was interviewed by someone on the Irish times about this, about how I’m like not living in Dublin, you know?
Cause I think like the other places I lived were like big cities, like Vancouver in Canada, Melbourne, Australia, you know, different big cities. And when you live in a city. You’re kind of anonymous and you just have to sort of like find your community. So you end up, like when I lived in Melbourne, I just, all I did is hang out in music studios and go to gigs and talk to people my age who did music and it was all like really nerdy about like gear and microphones and you know, it was like, like we just sort of lived in this very claustrophobic world of our own.
Yeah, a little bubble.
Justin Grounds: Yeah. But when I came here, like living in Clonakilty, there’s only like 4, 000 people and like no one else here plays Bach. So it was like, oh, I’m meeting all these just humans who are my community, whether I like it or not. And so I need to interact with them. I think that is like really healthy for an artist because you actually see how your music is like tangibly, you’re like, you know, you’re creating something that, that other people might never have heard before and you’re bringing something new.
Geraldine Hennessy:The bigger picture.
Justin Grounds:Yeah. And you’re seeing how like life is happening in real life and, and how then you might be able to create art that feeds into that. And so I actually super appreciate that, even though it’s a different kind of career in a way. I think it is quite rich, you know, yeah, where you live does affect how you make your art because it’s, it’s a different world.
[00:17:04] Geraldine Hennessy: Yeah. Okay. Yeah.
And you’ve collaborated with many musicians, including a previous guest of ours, Alan Tobin. How do these collaborations impact your creative process and what do you find most inspiring about working with other musicians?
[00:17:18] Justin Grounds: Yeah. Collaboration’s are just so interesting because it’s, it steps me back into a different position because it’s like, there’s a bigger thing going on here.
And how can I be a part of this in a way that will elevate it, you know, rather than, you know. So many artists that are just in their studio, like, you know, musicians, like everything revolves around, like, what does this mean in my head? Bit narrowed. Yeah. And then in so many ways, when you start to collaborate, you open everything out.
So you’re like, you might not be so emotionally involved in the thing, but you might be able to have another kind of involvement, you know, like a more practical involvement or more like, you know, you can help it take on a new life. Yeah. And I think I work really well in collaboration because I love people and I love working with people.
And like the last say five years I’ve done like lots of collaborations with this group, The Vespertine Quintet, which I set up and we did stuff with like people like Liam and Wayne Lee and Adrian Crowley and, you know, and it’s just like a way of my artistic training, helping other stuff happen. And then I started doing contemporary dance pieces at the Firkin Crane in Cork and at the Ilen working with choreographers and creating like live music for dance.
And now I’m kind of being pulled into doing, being part of the dance as well.
[00:18:50] Geraldine Hennessy: Oh my gosh.
Justin Grounds: with the violin. Yeah. Cool. Which is fascinating because it’s suddenly my body is a part of the work.
Geraldine Hennessy: It’s a whole like three, 360 degree kind of experience.
[00:18:54] Justin Grounds: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And then, and then like you said, working with artists like musicians like Alan Tobin, ADT, and lots of others, it’s like, it just, it’s like you meet someone and you just kind of go like, yeah, this is gonna work.
The first day Alan came here-he came just for the afternoon to the studio and it was like, we did like four songs that we got recorded because he was just warming up and I’d start programming drum beats. And then instead of having a click track, it was like, well, let’s just use the beats, you know?
And then, and then he would send me stuff. And there’s like, so I think like collaborations are lovely too, because there’s this element of trust and connection that has to be there. And if it’s not there, then it’s just so hard to create something. When you trust each other, you know, when you work with someone -just trust that what you’re going to do is good and, like Alan would send me, he’ll send me like a, he’ll record in his studio, like a vocal and a guitar, like acoustic guitar. And then he’ll send it to me and he’ll just be like, right, I trust you just do whatever Justin does. And I’ll be like, by the time I finished, there’s like his vocals in there and the guitar’s gone.
Yeah. There’s all these weird electronic sounds. There’s all this kind of stuff going on. And then I’m always like really nervous. And then it’s like, Oh my God, I listened to it like five times and I love it. Great. Yeah. Yeah. So it’s like, I don’t know. There’s this kind of like, you know, I just did a film score and it was so last minute for the Cork Film Festival.
It was so last minute that I didn’t have time to make loads of edits and I was like sending it off to the director going like, Oh my God, your heart’s in your mouth, but they trust you. People trust you. They wouldn’t have asked me to do it. Exactly. And then you get it back. Like, I love everything in there.
Like, so there’s something really encouraging about that , you know,
[00:20:41] Geraldine Hennessy: The relationship you must form -it must be very, must be very close like.
[00:20:45] Justin Grounds: Yeah, yeah. Alan and I are super close. Yeah. Yeah. It’s just lovely that it carries on and, and it just keeps developing. That’s lovely.
[00:20:56] Geraldine Hennessy: Okay. Okay. And are there any dream collaborations or projects you’d like to pursue in the future?
[00:21:00] Justin Grounds: It’s a good question. I don’t have an answer because I was thinking about it going like, you know, obviously everyone wants to collaborate with like, you know, Bon Iver or something, but you know, you never know when you meet them, if you’re going to trust each other and have the same way of working, the same vibe or whatever.
Yeah. And so I think it could end up like, you could have this dream, you know, and it could just end up being a total nightmare and horrible, you know, and you might just feel terrible. Yeah.
[00:21:27] Geraldine Hennessy: But don’t they say that like, you know, you never meet your hero, you know, cause it’s always going to be like, so disappointing.
[00:21:32] Justin Grounds: So yeah, I think I’d love to just keep being open to whoever’s arrives, you know. Yeah.
[00:21:39] Geraldine Hennessy: Your door is always open.
[00:21:41] Justin Grounds: Kind of. Kind of. I do. I mean, I like, that’s another thing is like, I’m busy now, so I do have to say no to stuff. Yeah. Yeah. Cause there’s a lot of good things to do. And it’s like just having to trust my gut that like, I have to just focus on the things that are important.
Yeah. Okay. Okay. So yeah. Anyway.
[00:22:00] Geraldine Hennessy: And can you walk us through your creative process when composing and how would you balance classical and modern elements?
[00:22:08] Justin Grounds: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, everything kind of starts differently. It all depends. Like, so if I’m just here and I’ve got nothing to do, I just go on the piano sitting where you are and I’ll just start playing.
Even just play one note, you know. As soon as I play one note, enough times, other notes start to emerge. You know, and stuff starts to happen and so natural and everything’s set up. Like the mics are all set up, so the piano’s always mic’ed. So I just hit record, you know. And play and, stuff starts. Oh yeah. That’s leading to that. And that’s leading to that. And suddenly there might be something done. If it’s a commission, you know, that someone else has commissioned me to write a piece, then they’ve already got like their preconceived idea about like certain elements of what it is. Okay.
So like, this is for an orchestra, you know. So then I’m like, all right, think orchestrally, you know? But generally stuff usually comes on to piano and one of my kind of tricks is I think like limitation is really important because when you begin, you’ve got this blank canvas and it can be, for some people it can be super paralyzing.
Yeah. And also because nowadays. Like with computers and stuff and sample packs, sample libraries. You could have any instrument. You know, I’ve got a sample library in here that’s the BBC symphony orchestra and I can play it on a keyboard, you know, so you can have anything – you’ve got everything at your fingertips.
Everything just sounds, it just washes into like, you know, too many colors, you know. So I have this sort of creative process where I just go, okay, I’m going to limit myself, you know, limit myself to like, if it’s an orchestra, okay, I’ve got the whole luxury, but I’m only going to use certain notes, you know, so like this minimalist thing of like only these on those first violins, they’re only going to play these.
You know, and then we might add another note because otherwise everything may as well just be better.
[00:24:09] Geraldine Hennessy: That’s too much. Its overwhelming
[00:24:10] Justin Grounds: It’s been done. Its already done. So by limiting myself, my kind of, you know, you start to have to think more creatively about how can I structure a piece? How’s this going to sing with these limitations?
And then the other, so like right now I’m about to start on a new show, solo violin going through with electronics. Okay. Now you could have as many electronic samples as you want, but I’m limiting myself to go “The only beats I can use are, are made with what’s called a sine wave”, which is like when the electricity goes like this.
And then you can make that as long or as short as you want or filter it, but it has to start with this electrical pulse. And then that limitation, suddenly you’re playing with what is possible, you know, and you’re creating this whole new palette of sound that you wouldn’t have done if you just loaded up a preset.
Yeah. You know? So it’s like you’re mixing your colors and then, if I’m going to use anything else, I have to have recorded it myself on my Zoom thing or whatever, or I had to have been there. So then any kind of ambient sound that comes in, I was there. Okay. I’m not just. Pulling stuff. Yeah. Okay. Cause everything’s so available.
So by making stuff a little bit less available, I think it brings out that then you’re in a creative. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. So that’s kind of where everything begins. Like it’s a limitation and then you kind of go, all right, I can kind of feel where this is growing now. Yeah. But the piece sort of emerges.
Yeah. In a weird way. I mean, you hear artists talk like that and it sounds a bit strange, but actually it does.
Yeah, no, I get that. It does.
And it’s partly having, as I’ve got older, I’ve sort of become more comfortable with getting to that point of the project where I’m going like, I have no idea where this is going.
I feel like the director’s like, you know, there’s a schedule and then kind of like being comfortable with that and continuing to keep going every day to it. Usually I’m asleep at night in the bed and I wake up and I hear it all very clearly. And I’m like, why is it always 4 in the morning? You know, I have to go …
Geraldine Hennessy: So inconvenient,
Justin Grounds: But it becomes clear in my mind. Maybe that’s because my mind’s unconscious and I’m not getting in my way, but I’m a big believer in that. Like when you’re asleep, a lot of creativity is happening.
Geraldine Hennessy: Oh yeah, definitely.
Justin Grounds :So writing in the morning and having a practice that allows that to come out is important too. Okay. I don’t know. This is all me.It’s kind of hard to talk about creativity.
[00:26:40] Geraldine Hennessy: Yeah. It’s very individual though, isn’t it? So yeah. What works for you might not necessarily work for someone else.
[00:26:45] Justin Grounds: But yeah, I think like one of the things is just try and work quickly, like don’t mess around for a whole day. Don’t overthink it. Trying to set up a microphone. Just have it ready and go and just keep going. And because you can always edit it out.
[00:27:00] Geraldine Hennessy: And is that why it’s so, it must be great to have your own like studio.
[00:27:03] Justin Grounds: Yeah, I mean having that is perfect. Yeah, you can just like fall in here. Yeah, I can run up here. Yeah. And quickly, you know write something. And then like, obviously the more technique you have, you know, you can, you can’t really learn creativity.
You can learn all these techniques that help. Right. So like obviously having like classical violin training and orchestration training, being literate with a pencil that just speeds up the process. Helps. Yeah. Yeah. And then being literate with the technology too. I’m kind of hyperactively creative. I’m like, I don’t have any problem making music all the time.
Geraldine Hennessy: That’s great. It’s just in your bones.
Justin Grounds: I don’t have a creative block.
[00:27:43] Geraldine Hennessy: That’s good. Okay. And your compositions often melds Baroque violin with modern electronic sound processing. What challenges or opportunities does this present?
[00:27:52] Justin Grounds: Yeah, that’s a good one. Well, the first challenge is like the violin itself.
When you’re trying to mic it up, so say you want to combine it with like really loud bass and beats or electronic sound, which kind of come out of speakers. Then you mic the violin. And I’ve spent like 20 years just trying out so many different ways of trying to amplify the violin and collect the right frequencies and make it sound right. But then without it feeding back and stuff, cause it wasn’t really designed to be done. You know, it’s a very temperamental instrument. It’s highly strung. So yeah, that’s one of the challenges- like really trying to get that right. So that when you’re on stage and you have all this sound coming at once.
[00:28:36] Geraldine Hennessy: But it doesn’t get lost.
[00:28:37] Justin Grounds: Yeah. Yeah. It doesn’t get lost, but it also doesn’t like become super horrible to everyones ears.
The other challenge I think is. It’s still a very divided world, like most people who are into violin, don’t get electronic stuff. And most people who are really into like electronic stuff, sort of think violin is very conservative.
Why would you, you know, it’s very sort of old, you know. So I’m a kind of anomaly because I’m in the middle and I’m like going, yeah, that’s really cool. And that’s also really cool. You know, cause I, like I ended up playing Baroque violin with ensembles and stuff, everyone in there, all they do is play on a 17th century violin, you know, and they don’t play any music that’s written after like 1720 and it’s like, wow, you know, there’s so much more that we can do.
Yeah. So I’m always thinking ahead. Yeah. I don’t think. I guess that’s, that’s also exciting, you know, cause you’re doing something new and interesting. But it can be like, it can be hard to find, like, you know, the right audience or the right…It’s not mainstream. Let’s call it that much. So, so you could, you’re trying to like.
You know, you’re trying to convince people to open their ears up a bit more to what you’re doing. Okay. Okay. Kind of a challenge
[00:29:54] Geraldine Hennessy: And opportunities, is it just the wide range of things available to you to use.
[00:30:00] Justin Grounds: Yeah. I mean, the opportunities are that it’s new and it’s interesting. So it’s sort of the flip side of the coin, you know?
Yeah. Yeah. It’s untapped. Yeah. And it’s trying to find people like, you know, Ray in Debaras is like, I’m so lucky to have, to live here. You know, and have him as like one of my friends and he’s just like, anytime you want to try something out on there, there’s that venue with a great sound system and an audience.
You can just try these experiments out, you know, that’s an amazing opportunity. And then it’s like trying to piece together where’s this going to then fit in the wider scheme of like the music or just the musical world. And I’m lucky enough that I’ve like found like, you know, these choreographers who are into it or directors of films and stuff rather than maybe just like following that indie musician path of like just trying to tour like Whelans and you know, whatever.
Yeah. Exactly. Okay. It’s trying to kind of walk a different path. I think. Okay. Okay.
[00:30:58] Geraldine Hennessy: Yeah. You’ve been involved in various teaching initiatives and community projects. How do you see music’s role in society and what motivated you to dedicate time to teaching and community engagement?
[00:31:11] Justin Grounds: Yeah. Good one. I’ve got a lot of ideas about music should be something that’s like in the midst of society, like we have this world where, you know, you go on a Sunday evening to see an opera and it’s very expensive and it’s in a very sort of elite thing or a concert or an orchestra, you know, that’s the sort of thing that happens on a Sunday evening and then Monday morning comes around and like life is hard. Yeah. Whereas I kind of feel like that music should be in the midst of all of that Monday morning stuff as well. You know, like it’s not just this pretty thing on the edge that you kind of do your bit. It’s like music has this amazing power to inform and connect us and help us resonate in so many ways as a sort of society.
You know, and even thinking now, you know, there’s these amazing videos of like Palestinian and Israeli singers singing together, you know, and it’s like, if we all did that, how could we be fighting each other if we’re making music? That simple phrase shows us how important it is, you know, but it, but like capitalism seems to have relegated it to like this expensive thing on the edges.
So I’m very passionate about it being something that I help in a little way, bring back to like. Normal people living, get to experience music and music making, not just hearing it on Lyric FM, but like being involved in participating.
[00:32:44] Geraldine Hennessy: Getting more involved in the everyday, I suppose.
[00:32:46] Justin Grounds: Yeah. And it’s becoming a part of people’s lives, you know, because nowadays you hear people say, you know, either you’re a musician or you’re a non-musician, whereas actually everyone is musical.
You know, like I said, you like listening to music, they’re like, yeah, we love listening to music. You’re super musical. You know, you know what works for you, you know, resonates with you. So we’ve got this weird world that kind of divides and I guess have this kind of thing like every action I do, could that be a little vote for what I want the world to look like in 10 years time for my son or for me, what I want the town to look like, you know. I don’t want to shop in a supermarket -I want to shop in local shops because I love going to the local shopkeeper. Everything’s like a little vote. So I guess I’ve always had this thing of like, putting my time into helping the next generation get music. And like, we started this little Saturday morning youth orchestra in Clon that went on for like nearly 10 years.
And the kids did it themselves. They paid, they collected the money, they did everything. And I was just there going, I’m going to help you with the music, but you guys are your own community. So that, and now I’m involved with the older generation of people. So now I’m doing work in hospitals, elevating older people’s creativity and giving them a creative voice.
I kind of believe that every town should have like a resident composer. Yeah. Yeah. That’s good. Yeah. Yeah. You know, and actually, if you like going back to what I studied, which was Bach and the Baroque era, like Bach lived in Leipzig, this town, he was employed by the church to write music for the community every Sunday that they would play.
And then in the week he taught the kids. Yeah. Yeah. And it’s like, so the music he was writing every week was super relevant to what they were going through as a community. You know, I think that’s just something amazing. And then somehow that became like really divorced from real life. And it just became this sort of highly elite thing that goes on on Sunday nights.
I want to bring it back. You know, I think it’s empowering.
Geraldine Hennessy: Vote for Justin.
Yeah, but I mean, I think like if we are going to do that, it takes everyone shifting their mindset towards what is creativity, what is music. And it’s available and it’s something you can do, participate in. You don’t have to be like playing Beethoven violin concerto, you know, you can participate.
[00:35:23] Geraldine Hennessy: So, like I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t be able to play any instruments. I’m not a great singer, but I still love music and I love the way you can have a piece of music that when you’re feeling happy makes you really happy. When you, when you’re feeling sad, it makes you feel like – just matches your mood. Yeah. You know, so I think music is very important to just, it’s kind of almost like a reflection of yourself and how you’re feeling.
[00:35:47] Justin Grounds: And when, you know, when Sinead O’Connor died, look at the reaction, you know, I love what she said.
And she said something about how when you’ve got a sad song, the sadness, when it gets sung with the melody, it gets like magically healed or something or it magically heals you, you know? And she was like, she embodied that for people that when, you know, that was just like, yeah, of course. Everyone’s so involved with music.
And years ago I wrote this set of scores called the human orchestra project that I had this idea that I could write a score and it was just an eight, the scores would just be an A4 piece of paper and there’s no musical notes or anything. It was just written instructions. You could go to a room of people, like I did it, I’ve done it with like a group of GP doctors or a group of CEOs, you go in and you just give the score out to everyone.
It tells them what to do. And then when they follow the instructions, they’re making music. I did a whole load of them. I did this Ted thing in Clon like, I did one there. And … but it’s like, you know, even if you can just open your voice and use your voice in a set, you know, even one note, just sing a note.
Then it’s a very simple concept, but you’re in a room with all these people, suddenly you’re creating this magic and you’re doing it, you know. And that’s quite transforming.
[00:37:16] Geraldine Hennessy: Yeah, and I think we need to get out of our heads a little bit. You know, like when you’re younger, you know, like I look at my son there and he loves music, loves listening to music and he’d be singing. Yeah. And then I’m like going, there’s going to be a point now, but he’s just gonna get, you know, stop doing that, you know, and it’s really sad.
[00:37:33] Justin Grounds: You know, like, you know, people who go, I’m tone deaf. You know, I meet people all the time in my work, you go, Oh, no, I’m tone deaft. And you know what it is is no one’s really tone deaf- maybe one in a million are actually -can’t perceive tonality.
Yeah. Yeah. But what it is, is they’re in the school choir and the teacher told them, open your mouth, but please don’t make any sound because you can’t sing. That’s what it is. Yeah. That’s actually what it is. And it’s like that one moment of that pivotal time of their life when they were surrounded by their peers and they wanted to just sing and they were told not to.
Yeah. And then they say, Oh no, I’m tone deaf. And they’ve been robbed of the experience for the rest of their life. Like, and it’s funny, but it’s tragic. It’s very sad. Really. Yeah. And it’s like. Yeah. It’s weird, isn’t it? So yeah, it’s, it’s something that all of us need to like, you say vote, but I’m not looking for votes, but it’s sort of like, we all have to empower ourselves and maybe I can play more of a role cause I have more expertise in it, but yeah, it’s something yeah.
[00:38:42] Geraldine Hennessy: What do you hope
audiences take away from listening to your music? Do you have any?
[00:38:45] Justin Grounds: Do you know what? I don’t have any. I hope someone enjoys it, but when you’re writing music or whatever, if you were worried about what people thought, I mean, that’s why, again, a lot of people stop because they listen back to the mix in the studio and they go, Oh, it doesn’t sound like Coldplay.
Doesn’t sound like what people like. If we went down that route. Everything just sounds like Ed Sheeran. Yeah. You know? Which is one thing, but there’s more things. Right. And, and so I, I think it takes time. I think when you are young, I don’t know, twenties, right? You, you worry about that.
But now I, I just don’t think about it because I’m like, the best music I can make is the music that I will just want to make, you know. If I can be as true as I can to what I hear and the vision that I have, thats the best I can do. Yeah. If you don’t like my music, you can buy the whole Beatles back catalogue or you can download it on Spotify, but I want to, like, I want to just make music.
Geraldine Hennessy: it speaks to you.
Justin Grounds Yeah. Yeah. And, I think that’s the only way to go as an artist. Isn’t it? You, you can get too bound up in : what the end listener’s going to be thinking of.
[00:40:09] Geraldine Hennessy Yeah, yeah. Yeah. How would you stay motivated and creative during challenging times in, in your career? You’ve never had an issue with that, so.
[00:40:21] Justin Grounds: Yeah, it’s a good question. I mean, like, there’s always challenges. And there’s always, you know, like life’s never perfect. And if you were waiting for it to, for there to be no challenges, then before you started making art or music or whatever creative, you’d just never do it. And actually it’s the challenges that oftentimes make the best stuff. If you’re able to embrace, like I’m looking behind you there, there’s a picture on my piano of me and Kath, I’m wearing a green shirt. Kath played cello with me in, in Australia, we travelled together and stuff, playing music and she got cancer, you know, she rung me just before she died and she was like, Oh, I’ve got one more request.
I just want you to make a piece of music for my funeral, you know? And it was like, talk about a challenge, you know, like I was distraught anyway, but then as soon as I went to the piano, all of like the memories I had of us together, just like, I was like, this is what I do with my challenge. I get, I use this process to create something, you know, and I created something that I was so proud of and I sent it to her on WhatsApp in Australia, she was in the hospice and she was able to play it on WhatsApp- would be played at her funeral.
Yeah. It was like my way of saying goodbye. Yeah. You know? So yeah. Yeah. If you can galvanize like the challenge, the challenges of that. For you to make music out of, you know, that’s what it’s about. It means an awful lot more. And the resonance of it, you know, the resonance of like… we used to joke at university- like all the best art came out of cold, horrible weather places like Russia, you know, what came out of like Miami, you know, but like, you know, the resonance of having to try and live and struggle and make something out of your life is what draws us to, to try and create these structures of beauty.
Yeah. Yeah. And so I like, look at people like Nick Cave, some of the work that he did after his son died -it’s just extraordinary. Yeah. Yeah. He’s, he’s managed to process it and embrace it in a way that, yeah, you know.
[00:42:37] Geraldine Hennessy: Good answer.
Justin Grounds: Yeah. Right. Okay. Cool.
And in a digital age where social media plays a significant role in connecting artists with their audiences and promoting music, how would you perceive the role of social media in the music industry? And do you feel that it’s possible to thrive as a musician without extensive use of social media?
[00:42:54] Justin Grounds: Yeah, that’s a really good question. I think that’s like, when I was sort of starting out after college, there was this thing called MySpace. Do you remember MySpace? Or maybe in Ireland you had Bebo.
[00:43:07] Geraldine Hennessy: Bebo. Yeah, Bebo. I remember Myspace
[00:43:09] Justin Grounds: When I, when I left college, I had this friend who was a computer guy and knew about computers. And he, when we were graduating, he was like, you need a website.
You know, so he’s like, I’m just going to make you a website. Yeah. For free or whatever. Or gave him like 50 quid or something. So that was like my first website. And I’ve had that website ever since. And I’ve changed it and everything. And I, I can use it to, you know, communicate what I do. And then suddenly it was like, I remember being in Australia and everyone was like, Oh, My Space, you’ve got to be on my space. So I got a my space page and everyone was like, this is like the answer for freelance musicians or for like people trying to make a career. And I was in my early twenties. So it was like, Oh, that’s me. Better get this my space page. And there was, and it was always this highlight of like, Oh, these MySpace success stories, like Arctic monkeys.
Remember that? It was like, Oh, they were on MySpace and, and now they’re like millionaires or whatever. And it was like, everyone was kind of like, Oh, cool. That means we can be millionaires, you know? And none of us quite saw the reality of it. And then I was in Australia, I was on MySpace, and MySpace was quite actually benign.
I don’t think they harvested anyones stuff, but it was kind of just having a page, but it was kind of a website. And then I came on tour and I played in London and all these old college friends came to the show. And then the next thing I got this email going, Oh, there’s all this pictures of you playing it in London show on Facebook.
And I’m like, what’s Facebook? I don’t even know what Facebook was. And so I joined Facebook to look at these pictures of me on stage going, you know, cause you’re interested in what you look like. And suddenly I’m on Facebook and none of us, like we were…. like the tech world, were like, Oh, this is so democratizing and this is going to be so great for artists, you know, to connect with the world.
It turns out like. All the people who got really famous on social media have these massive management teams and stuff. Like Billie Eilish. She has this incredible management team who have very strategically, you know, yeah.
So, over the years and years and years, I sort of realized. Well, we’re seeing it now that with all of the stuff that came out, like Cambridge Analytica.
Okay. It’s the business model is so dark that they set up. And I read this guy called Jaron Lanier, who’s a tech guy, but he’s also a composer and he’s very, very interesting. And he was one of the original guys setting up the internet in Silicon Valley. And he was like, Oh, it was all the best intention. It was, we wanted it to be free for everyone.
Now, if it’s free, suddenly they’re like, well, where are we going to make money? So then they came up with this plan that they’re going to monitor everything that you look at and create these algorithms. Cause they want you on it for longer and then they’re going to sell that data to whoever indiscriminately.
So then you see stuff like, I mean, look at Israel and Palestine now. I mean, I mean, obviously it’s a heart-breaking situation in every single way, but then when you go on in, in the social media, it’s just like this shit show of, of like misinformation put on fire, petrol on a big enough fire. So again, it’s that thing of like.
Well, I want to exist in a way that like does my little vote for the future, you know, and actually how many musicians like me has this social media world really enabled to make more.Like, are there more people making a living as artists? There aren’t.
[00:46:42] Geraldine Hennessy: No, they’re probably actually making less.
[00:46:43] Justin Grounds: Yeah. It’s actually like kind of killing the scene because people’s like are so manipulated by the algorithm that like, they’re not, they’re listening to like 10 seconds of a song and then their concentration has gone and they’re skipping and skipping and skipping. So if you’re like me and you want to write like these 20 minute pieces, like, you know, it’s just not going to work.
Yeah. So it’s sort of like part of me is like, yeah, this is a really great way of reaching everyone and everything. But at the end of the day, I think the negative side of it is too overwhelming to me. And it’s like, well, I want to invest in things that are to reach people in a more sort of deeper way and in a more constructive and positive way.
So I’m kind of investing in my community, you know, in doing things in a smaller way that might, you know. But one thing I do, I am kind of exploring is this Patreon. Okay. So that’s kind of like a site set up where people can subscribe to support and fund my music projects. So like for three euros a month ,people put that in and then every month I give them like behind the scenes stuff or tutorials about what I’ve done or like a bit extra. Yeah. And it’s just kind of a nice way of actually, yeah, it’s not collecting people’s data. It’s kind of like a direct way of people funding the arts. And I think that’s a really exciting use of the internet.
Geraldine Hennessy: A better model.
Justin Grounds: Yeah, totally.
[00:48:06] Geraldine Hennessy: Yeah. Okay.
[00:48:07] Justin Grounds: Okay. I’ve kind of just made this thing like when I have to pay for something, I’ll use it. So I pay Apple for my mail, you know, and to listen to music because I know they’re not, they’re not, they don’t have an incentive to sell my data and feed me more stuff.
[00:48:23] Geraldine Hennessy:
Well, yeah, there’s no such thing as, you know, something for free really. If you’re not paying for something, you’re paying for it another way.
[00:48:29] Justin Grounds: So, yeah. And it’s sort of, yeah. I mean, it’s getting out of hand now the social media thing. And, and there’s all these new things. Like someone invited me the other day to Blue Sky.
Have you heard of that? It’s started by the same guy who started Twitter. Oh God. But now it’s like a better social media.
[00:48:45] Geraldine Hennessy: There’s always going to be something new and better. And once you go on one thing, then it’s, there’s something new. I just can’t keep up. I’m just so not able.
[00:48:51] Justin Grounds: I kind of like, you know, I just made the decision to myself like, yeah, I want to connect with people through my music, but there’s so many ways of connecting, you know, even if it’s just connecting with your local community in a certain way.
[00:49:05] Geraldine Hennessy: A more positive and wholesome way of doing it. I’m up for that. Yeah. Okay.
And for someone considering a career in the music industry, drawing from your own experiences, what advice would you give them? Are there any specific lessons you’ve learned or key principles you believe are crucial for navigating the challenges and opportunities in this dynamic field.
[00:49:25] Justin Grounds: Wow. Yeah. I remember when I was like 21, I had a masterclass, like Baroque violin masterclass. And I was like, ready to start a career and I was like, I basically asked him that question.
Like, have you got any advice for me? And he goes, yeah, I got one piece of advice. Don’t. And I was like, wow. Yeah. Yeah. But in a way it kind of…. It galvanized me. Yeah. Like, I think if you’re going to go and be an artist or composer, like it really just has to be the thing that you just have to do. Like, if there’s another way of getting through life or whatever, or you can contribute to the world in another way, that might be a better way.
But for me, it’s just what I have to do because that’s what I do. So there wasn’t really any question about how, like, would I do it or not? It was like, okay, how am I going to do this? And I kind of started out by going, when I got to Australia, I was like, lots of artists get jobs in coffee shops.
Right. Do you know what I mean? They’re like, Oh, I’m actually a composer. Yeah. Monday -Friday, they’re in a coffee shop. Yeah. And I was like, I’m not going to do that. I’m just going to like, do anything I can to make a living. Yeah. So it was like, I just took all the jobs I could like in any band doing gigs or anyone needed a violin player in a studio, I just went and did it.
You needed a violin lesson. I taught you a violin lesson, you know? And it was like, by opening out of the net like that, I’ve, I sort of gradually found my way, you know, the things that I really was good at, you know, and the things I wasn’t good at. All the things I thought that I wanted to do, but actually I didn’t really want to.
So I think my advice would just be like, if you really, really want to do this and this is your life, just take every job you can. Yeah. Yeah. And do that and you’ll meet loads of people. Yeah. You know, like someone told me right early on was, actually two really good bits of advice. One was if you can live off like 10,000 a year, you’re twice as secure as someone who needs 20,000 a year. So that was really good advice because I was like, okay, cool. If I just have like really low expenses and then the other one was the three A’s, right? So when you keep trying to get a gig, Affability, Availability, Ability, and they come in that order.
So if you’re really affable, if you’re really likable, you’re going to get the gig. Even if you’re not, ability is lower than that guy who’s a genius, but he’s an asshole, if you’re available, you make yourself available, you’re going to get the gig and then finally ability. You know, you have to have some, but those other two are important.
So I kind of, yeah, I went with that.
[00:52:21] Geraldine Hennessy: Sounds good. Very good. And where do you see your artistic path leading you in the future? What are your future plans?
[00:52:28] Justin Grounds: Yeah. I don’t know. I’m, I’m open to anything really. I mean, I’m like, I’ve always been open to what comes up, you know, I’m kind of, I’m, I’m not projecting into some sort of, you know, fantasy of being uber famous.
I actually quite like my life as it is and I’m home-schooling with my, my kid. So I’m really enjoying that. He’s playing piano and he’s loving playing piano. So I’m just kind of open to learning all the time and yeah, I love just creating music. So I’m open to wherever the road will take you. I mean, I’ve been really, really loving doing the collaborations with dance projects and loving that.
It’s so interesting and beautiful and a different world. And I’ve, and I really loved doing film stuff. So independent film making is… I love that too. Okay. So, yeah. But who knows? Who knows?
[00:53:22] Geraldine Hennessy: Well, thank you so much, Justin, for chatting to us here on the Cork Creative Podcast. If you’d like to learn more about Justin and his music, you can find links on CorkCreative.ie.