As an introspection addict, there is nothing I praise and revere more than the transient epiphanies of a purposeful road trip. This is exactly what Juston Stens did, wayfaring across the country on a 1972 motorcycle, after his departure as drummer for Dr. Dog. Having broken his wrist at age 20, Stens forewent his role as a guitarist in a punk band, and began playing drums for the Philadelphia-based indie rock band. But after six years with Dr. Dog, his need to realize the creation of his own music, as a singer-songwriter and guitar-player, had boiled to the surface, and he left the group and his home to nurse the project to fruition. Travels through the American landscape resulted in the release of his debut album, as well as a documentary, “I Lay Where I Fall,” that conveys the path from drummer to solo artist, harnessing the power of an individual creativity, and features collaborations with members of Spoon, Those Darlins, and Wilco, among others.
“Those were the kind of guys who had a bag full of songs since they met each other, and I came into the game a little bit late… So it wasn’t fulfilling for me in a creative way,” Stens says in the documentary. The collaborative spirit of bands is always an interesting, if not taboo, subject to bring up with artists; it’s rare that more than one or two people are crafting the lyrics of songs, those of which are often born from personal experiences and observations. In a raw and honest portrayal of having worked with one of the defining bands of our time, Stens sheds light on what it feels like to be disconnected from this process, to be swimming through the motions of rhythms and backbeats, without having much of an intuitive investment in the creation that follows. In a sense, he represents the mark of a true artist; he is someone who would give up everything, the semblance of a home, the familiarity and coziness of modest musical success, to support the guise that when you’re not creating, you’re dying.
The resulting album and documentary are matured works, expertly showcasing the emotions that accompany an individual spirit, the strength and resilience of someone born to express themselves through the amalgamations of musical creation.
Below is the exclusive track premiere of “Blink of an Eye,” which was recorded here in Nashville with singer-songwriter David Vandervelde.
You can pre-order the album here, where you will also receive an instant download of “Blink of an Eye.”
The film debuts tomorrow night at the Nashville Film Festival, and in conjunction with Record Store Day, Juston headlines our Exit/In Show April 19, with RIcHIE and Samantha Harlow.