Juston Stens doesn’t seem to prefer the easy way.
In fact, the former Dr. Dog drummer suffered from a few bouts of Murphy’s Law on his cross-country journey to collaborate with artists in the process of making his new album, which currently has no set release date.
Stens decided a car wasn’t fitting enough for the journey, so he ditched four wheels for two and relied on his 1972 Triumph motorcycle as his main mode of transportation. He also forgot his goggles on the first night, relying only on sunglasses to shield his eyes from the wind – a method of protection that became trickier as the sun went down. Not to mention a handful of scheduled collaborators dropping out or double-booking, leaving Stens to scramble for last-minute replacements.
“There is nothing I did that was easy,” Stens said.
Parts of Stens’ cross-country journey was captured by filmmaker Drew Stubbs for a documentary titled “I Lay Where I Fall,” also with no set release date.
Stens, best known for his work behind the drums, has moved to the front of the stage as singer-guitarist for Juston Stens and the Get Real Gang – a project that began mere months after he left Dr. Dog to pursue the spot he felt most comfortable in on stage.
“I felt like the whole time I ended up as a drummer when I didn’t really want to be doing that,” Stens said, who started his music career as a singer-guitarist. “You find as a drummer that if you want to be doing something else, it’s like the hardest spot to get out of.”
For Stens, self-contemplation was necessary to embark on the next chapter of his career, he said.
“I took some time away from that band and looked around and thought about what I needed to make myself happy,” he said.
Juston Stens and the Get Real Gang will headline Johnny Brenda’s on March 1.
THE TEMPLE NEWS: How did you end up in Philly?
JUSTON STENS: A friend of mine, one of those bass players [from my high school band] named Brad went to West Chester with all those guys in Dr. Dog, so I’d come over to Philly to start hanging out with Brad more. I got introduced to this bigger group of friends. In a way, I kind of lost touch with everyone I grew up with, so when I moved over here, I kind of stepped into this existing group of friends that was already there. Little by little, bands formed, different people played with other people, and ultimately I ended up playing with those guys for a couple of years.
TTN: You drummed in Dr. Dog, and now you’re the front man of your new band. What position did you start with?
JS: This is where I originally started. As a teenager, I played guitar, wrote all the songs and sang. Guitar was the first thing I picked up, and then I broke my wrist skateboarding when I was 22. I couldn’t play guitar for six years without pain. The drumming didn’t hurt so much – it still hurt, but it was a different kind of hurt and pain, so I could handle it. It was more of the gripping of the guitar neck that I couldn’t do. It’s actually been messed up again lately, so anytime I play guitar there’s a good amount of pain going on, so I just wear sunglasses, and no one can see me crying onstage.
TTN: They just think you look cool.
JS: Yeah, they think I’m really feeling it – and maybe I am – but I’m feeling something else, too.
TTN: When did you leave Dr. Dog, and when did the new project start?
JS: I left at the end of ’09, right after we recorded the album “Shame Shame.” That was late fall. Then, in late January, just a couple months later, I took off and I recorded. I went to Tuscon, Ariz., and Black Mountain, N.C. I went to these two different places to meet old friends I had that have studios just to get a kick in the butt, you know? To have someone that’s there to help you for being lazy. I was just reaching at all these songs that I had written over the last 10 years. I didn’t know which ones to use or where to start.
TTN: Did being in new surroundings help the creative process, too?
JS: Yeah, it sure did. I picked them for a reason. I knew I had a handful of friends out there that would be supportive and make me feel good about what I’m doing. Also, when I’m not recording, I get to hang out with them or walk around the desert or do nothing or just watch the sun go down. It’s the kind of thing that, yeah, you really can’t get around here. I mean, you can, but you have to look for it. There, it’s like, which way do you want to go? And in North Carolina, it was the same thing. I have a friend there named Seth Kauffman [of the band Floating Action]. He’s a relaxed kind of guy. We’d get up, have coffee and maybe go for a hike. It wasn’t all business. It was, “What do you want to do today to make you feel like you’re in a great mood to do what you want to do?” I can’t imagine being in the studio any other way.
TTN: You recorded the album that you’re mixing now in a pretty unique way. Can you elaborate?
JS: Basically, I rode my motorcycle across the country. I spent about four months doing it. I was followed by this guy that I met that wanted to make a documentary film out of it. The trip was pretty crazy. It was Aug. 8, 2011 to Dec. 8, 2011. I went up to Boston, then headed west to Chicago, then all the way down to Nashville, Tenn., then back to Black Mountain, N.C., where I recorded the first record, then to New Orleans, all the way through Texas, and out to Tuscon, Ariz. Tuscon was the last stop where I recorded, and from then I just drove out to the West Coast to finish my trip.
TTN: How’d you get the idea to make the album that way?
JS: It happened one night. I was sitting with an ex-girlfriend over at Johnny Brenda’s having some dinner. I was like, “I have all these songs, I want to make a new record, and I had such a good time with the first one recording it in two different places that weren’t the place that I lived that I thought maybe this time I’ll do four places.” Somewhere between her and another old friend that stopped by, one of them said, “Why don’t you call everyone you know and do it across the whole country?” and the other one said, “You’ve got to do it on your motorcycle. Why would you plan something that crazy and go in a car?”
TTN: Did anything really crazy happen on the trip?
JS: You know what’s funny, the craziest times on this whole trip were the times when [filmmaker Stubbs] wasn’t with me. The one time I ran out of gas, and this guy on a motorcycle brought me gas. He would ride his bike with a bunch of friends and ride into prisons and kind of motivate the prisoners and say, “Hey, when you get out, let me show you what good value and hard work can do.” I bought him lunch and talked to him for a long time. I ended up meeting all kinds of weird people.
Jenelle Janci can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.