Artist spotlight: The Justus Trio

July 6, 202416 min read

John Justus singing and playing guitar

John Justus is frontman of The Justus Trio and baby brother to local rock legend Dellacoma Rio. John describes his band as “sunshine rock-n-roll”, with fast-paced rock, upbeat tempo, and grunge-punk flavours. Their single, “Distant”, is out now. Catch The Justus Trio at The Presynct on July 20.

How did The Justus Trio find each other? 

Caleb Reno-Sanger, Bailey Walker and I met in September, last year, as three-fifths of the touring band for Dellacoma. I had actually never played with my brother before and he’d been on a bit of a hiatus for a few years, so it was cool to be part of the comeback tour.

The other guys had played together a couple times in Australia, but I literally met them a day before our first show together in the US. During that rehearsal at the beginning of tour we were trying to think of some songs to cover and I just said: “Hey, maybe we could play one of mine?” And I forgot I had sent an old demo of “Distant” to Del. He was like: “Oh yeah, that one you sent me is good, let’s try it.”

John Justus and Dellacoma Rio in Lincoln, NE

I fumbled around for a minute trying to remember which one he was talking about… we rehearsed it like twice and then we played it at for about half the shows on tour and Bailey and Caleb just dug it. We kind of just started talking about playing together if I would come over to Australia. We got along well too, always an important factor for being in a band with someone.

Then I did come over and I took a bit of a break from playing shows for a few months, and they rang me up and said: “Hey we’re keen, let’s hear some more of your stuff and get practising.”

And the rest, as they say, is history…

“Distant” became your debut single, what’s it about?

Distant Song Quote John Justus

This song began it’s life-wearing clothes that could be a Jack White B-side, but has slowly morphed through different iterations of the band (shoutout to Hallowtribe, feat. Kevin and Will)! The lyrics were finalised within days of recording, after eluding me for three years of playing it live (I still forget them sometimes). Now, featuring smooth bass-lines by Caleb and driving drums and haunting harmonies by Bailey, “Distant” finds its stride as a locomotive of a break-up bop.

What’s it like playing with Bailey and Caleb? 

It’s quite good fun! I can tell they’re really into their craft and they push me to be better as musician because they take it seriously, so that helps me be in the moment on stage.

We’re still getting to know each other musically I think. We haven’t really played that many shows together in the grand scheme of things, but I already trust them a lot and they follow my lead. I can’t really ask for more than that in a band! They really listen to the songs and bring stuff that I never would have thought of, which is great for me as a songwriter and frontman. 

Del is a pretty successful dude. Tell us a little about your relationship with him… Do you ever feel like you’re playing in his shadows? Is this your moment to shine? 

He deserves it! He has been grinding for a long time and he’s a really good performer, so I’m glad for any success he has. I think we’re in different lanes to be honest, so I don’t feel like I’m in his shadow. We do different things well, and if I can be so bold I think we learn from each other.

He’s been in the game a lot longer than I have and I’ve always thought it was cool that he has pursued this passion for music for a long time. I’ve always been a bit wary of the speed bumps I’ve seen him face in the industry and I’m starting to realize I have to make my own mistakes. I can’t just try to learn from his experience on everything. 

Why did you move here from the US?

I actually moved over here with my sister and her son in late 2023. I was playing shows all year and I didn’t have anything on my calendar after October, and she asked if I wanted to come and we found some cheap tickets through one of her friends. I just felt like the time was right.

The Band Dellacoma in Lincoln, NE

I had actually sold everything I owned and attempted to move over here in 2021 but my flights got cancelled several times because of the Covid situation, so I had settled back into the US, assuming I wouldn’t make it over here.

But the stars aligned I suppose! Del has lived here for basically his whole childhood and then again since about 2006, mainly down in Sydney and Melbourne, but he moved up to the Sunshine Coast in 2021, and my sister and I came to this area because it’s always nice to have family around, especially when you’re in a new place. 

My sister and I were born in Tasmania but we moved to the US when we were little kids and I’ve always had a bit of a wanderlust to come back here. It’s about as simple as that really. 

How would you compare US crowds to Aussie ones? 

I don’t have a ton of experience yet, but I think some US crowds get a lot more drunk, because they don’t have RSA over there. I’m coming from Wisconsin too, which is the drunkest state in the whole US. But generally the people that are into music are really supportive and really appreciate when people pour out their heart and soul on stage in both countries, and that’s been really nice to see. 

@baileydrumer | Pic by @farq_photography

Fave music venue of all time? 

I cut my teeth in a venue called Linneman’s Riverwest Inn in Milwaukee, I gotta shout them out – Jim and Marty are the best! 

Fave music venue on the Sunny Coast?

Support from The Presynct has always been the best for me so far. The Trio has played there a few times so far and it’s been great! Shoutout to Solbar too, we played our first show ever as a direct support for a show at Solbar, it’s a great sounding room. 

What are your dreams for the Trio?

I’d like to make a sustainable band, in all senses of the word. I want it to be good for all of us and I want us to keep making music that excites us and pleases the fans that we have, wherever that takes us will be just fine for me. I have penciled in April 26, 2026 to play on Saturday Night Live, just gotta sort out the details with management.

Pic by @farq_photography

Tell us about your latest album…

We’ve got six songs on the new EP, and thanks to Bailey for helping me stay focused on a manageable number of songs. When we started I said I wanted to record an album and have it done by the end of February. That was the end of December, so he talked me down to six and we ended up finishing recording in May. But that’s just because we all have jobs and busy lives (mainly me, the other guys got their parts done really quickly). It’s kind of a showcase of songs I’ve been writing for the last four years, with some great new clothes courtesy of the Trio. 

What inspires you the most in life when it comes to writing music? Is there a theme to your songwriting and can you elaborate on the writing process for one of the songs?

I think my own experiences of life have provided the main bulk of the inspiration, especially for these songs. Trying to help myself get through tough moments, either through inspiration or just the catharsis of saying what I need to say, has been the main theme so far.

I’ve written a fair amount about the passage of time as well, and one song, “All In Good Time”, is a perfect example of all of this. Back in 2021, I had switched from being a therapist to being a musician and I was about six months into it, and it wasn’t happening as fast as I wanted it to. I was complaining to my own therapist about it and wondering if I should keep trying, and she just said: “All in good time.”

Initially it pissed me off, because it didn’t give me anything tangible in the moment, but that night a hook came into my head with those words and I fleshed it out a little bit more over the next month or two. It took me a couple more years to actually finalise the lyrics and the general arrangement, so the song itself is a testament to its own message: “your dreams are really happening, all in good time.”

I’ve got to say a shout out to Travis Worth, a great friend of mine and a stellar musician, for helping me retrieve that song from my junk room of song ideas and encouraging me to keep working at it and finish it. The song has had several versions with totally different lyrics and melodies but the hook has stayed just about the same and it always feels good to sing. 

Who has influenced you musically throughout your life?

From my early life and throughout, John Denver has been a big influence on me. And from when I started listening to music on my own, Jon Foreman, the songwriter and lead singer from Switchfoot, has been a big inspiration as well. I would also say Matt Thiessen from Relient K, Matt MacDonald from The Classic Crime, and all the members of Mutemath have inspired me quite a bit, and I think their influence shows in my music. 

My family is also pretty musical, and I grew up singing in church without a band, so my sense of harmony and melody is pretty strong as a result. My mum also always made sure we had a piano around, so we could play If we chose to, and I spent a lot of time doing that when I was younger.

How are you finding your new Aussie lifestyle? Do you surf? What do you do in your downtime?

It’s great! The vibes in Australia are so good, way more chill than the US. I have not surfed yet, but chilling in the ocean getting dumped by waves is still a good passtime. I’ve enjoyed checking out a lot of the local waterfalls and going on hikes, otherwise just been playing music really and working too much! This is a good reminder to really soak it in!

Do you like Vegemite?

In moderation lol.

What one thing could the Coast do to make it a better live music destination? 

I think the Coast, and everywhere to be honest, would really benefit from some kind of venue that focuses more on experiencing the wonder of live music creation, without such a high focus on alcohol sales.

I think decoupling live music from the bar scene, even if it’s just in one or two spots, and advertising it as the main event could be really cool. I see it advertised a lot as kind of an add-on, like “come down and party at our place and also we have live music”… but it’s not really a show. I think some kind of a campaign to remind people that witnessing proper musicians really communicating with each other, and pouring their heart into a performance is like watching a magic show and is worth spending money, time and attention on. 

The Justus Trio will celebrate the release of their self-titled EP at The Presynct, in Nambour, on July 20, accompanied by local legends Chamber Lane and Will Clift. Limited tickets are on sale now at Humanitix.com/thejustustrio.

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