When music is your first language, one needs patience when life puts that expression on hold… 

Justin Kniest (1969) started playing the guitar at a very early age. He has lived his life to the fullest in the music business but needed 50 years to find the right words. Dark Days is the first track of many that gives the listener a fair share of JUST’s personal and heartfelt tale.

At an early age Justin was already fully focused on music. It started out by playing the guitar and shortly after he joined his first band that led him to perform live for several years all over the Netherlands. Even though he was born and raised in the east of the Netherlands, he could not resist the call of the big city when a job was offered to him at the famous Paradiso in Amsterdam. After all, this is the most iconic music hall in the Netherlands up to the present day. From U2 to David Bowie, almost all bands that are part of the soundtrack of Justin’s youth have performed here at least once during their career. 

After several years working at the Paradiso Justin launched Fabchannel, a company that was the first to record and stream (Paradiso-) concerts from international bands live on the internet. The future looked bright as artists like Elbow, Keane and over 1000 others joined Justin’s platform. But sadly, after 9 years this dream fell to pieces, when the lawyers of a few major labels pulled the brake. 

Disillusioned, Justin left the music business. The stress of years of hard work caught on to him, resulting in a burnout and health issues. Which then resulted in anxiety and depression.

Years of recovery, soul searching, therapy and lots of love from the ones near him taught him one thing: Follow your heart! And his heart told him to get back to his first language.

On his 50th birthday, Justin received the ultimate gift from his wife. A so-called writers’ camp at the coast of Spain with fellow music enthusiasts. Far from daily life, in this peaceful little town and powered by focus and renewed energy Justin found it in his heart to come up with the song ‘The Saddest Song’. A beautiful but sad song about his dementing father which he could not imagine to have written years before as he had never written melancholic music before. The song actually hurts and is very personal and exactly these components are what his best music seems to be made of. After recording this track in his home studio and above all, getting great response via both radio airplay as well as the internet, Justin decided to go all the way, JUST was born.

Transparent, heartfelt, melancholic: only a few terms that come to mind when listening to the music of JUST. In the beginning of 2020, when Justin had decided that JUST should be produced by producer Minco Eggersman everything started to fall into place. Eggersman is a well-known producer and international soundtrack composer with an extensive network. More importantly, Eggersman has proved to know his way around the world of melancholic music and immediately caught on to what Justin brought to the table. Showing brokenness through beautiful and musical textures is after all Eggersman’s first language, a perfect connection was made. Together they started working on the first demos and after a short period of time both Rene de Vries (one of the best arrangers in the Netherlands) and (high-end) engineer Theodoor Borger joined the team and JUST was finally beginning to get its final form. As great songs followed during the rest of 2020, the whole year was filled with the production of JUST’s debut album that Dark Days is part of.

When listening to the music of JUST one immediately recognises the quality in songwriting as well as recording of the late 80s and early 90s. The depth in both the recordings and mixes are second to none and sometimes remind you of bands like Talk Talk. Song-wise it’s a mix of the song structures used by Mike Lindup and David Sylvian, yet these songs definitely deserve their place in between the works of more present-day songwriters like Thomas Dybdahl and Emmet Tinley.

In all, JUST’s music comes to life because of the excellent performances of the different players as well as the warmth and transparency of the equipment used in the analog days that was immediately recognized by for instance Phill Brown who is known for his work with Talk Talk and UNIFONY (by Eggersman and Borger). All this is the result of the excellent recording technique by Theodoor Borger (that is very similar to that of Phill Brown) and his top notch gear list (the Nagra (t) multitrack tape machine, Bechstein 8 piano, and vintage Neumann selection to name a few), Rene de Vries’ ever so creative arrangements and Eggersman’s precise and lush 3d mixes. As friend Ronald Prent (known for his work with The Police and Depeche Mode) puts it, Justin’s vocal performance is simply excellent. Add this to the fact that famous German session guitar-player Lothar Kosse (who worked with Nir Z. of Genesis as well as the brothers Bissionette and Abraham Laborial) added his typical sounding ‘swell’ guitar sounds to the tracks to create some lovely and verby textures. 

Last but not least photographer Maarten Corbijn joined Justin on a trip back to the place Justin grew up for some stunning black and white pictures that accompany the music of Just. Dark Days that sees the light of day on October 30th makes the listener look forward to more of JUST’s personal story.

File under: Autumn Pop, Avantgarde, Melancholia, Pop, Singer-songwriter, Indie, Alternative, 80s.

Recommended if you like: Talk Talk, Tears for Fears, Shawn Colvin, Phill Collins, Thomas Dybdahl and David Sylvian.