Texas born, and Austin-based, Justin Stewart tends to write about the places he inhabits. He grew up splitting his time between Houston and Galveston Island. Family vacations were not to Colorado like many Texans, but to the more "modest" Austin, which his mother liked best because “the air and water were cleaner.” From an early age, Justin knew he would never leave Texas and likely land in Austin.
Stewart experimented in bands through college (Last Free Exit) and grad school (Buicks) but it wasn't until he lived on Galveston Island after Hurricane Ike that a vast voice surfaced. "The landscape I knew so well had this void and sadness that allowed me to fill it with song. It was a dark time for me but the important thing was that I was moving. Playing solo was the way forward." Stewart's first solo record, Flagship (2013) was produced by Kevin Russell (Shinyribs/Gourds).
A bit of intimidating praise came Stewart's way when Russell called the record "remarkable or extraordinary," Stewart's response: "That kinda scared me because I did not have my process down to maintain such vulnerability."
Stewart's sophomore album, City Fox (2015) was produced by George Reiff (Joe Walsh, Jacob Dylan, Chris Robinson), and is the gem that came from a 2014 west Texas residency. Stewart lived and wrote in the dusty border town of Presidio. Stewart went west after finishing his first record Flagship to write. The record rings of a raw "process" possibly inspired, in part, by the raw terrain and expansive skyline.
"I knew a metamorphosis had to occur for me to develop as an artist. I started working at the piano more and my writing opened up. I rode a lot of horses in West Texas, one in particular that helped me on my way. It became clear that I needed to make another record. I found some reins, so to speak. That's my unsolicited advice for writers on the edge of something, make records and make a lot of them."
Stewart's third record, Renaissance was produced by Stephen Belans (Radney Foster, Billy Cassis). Players include Bukka Allen on keys (Ryan Bingham, Jack Ingram), Chris Searles on drums (Alejandro Escovedo, Shawn Colvin), Geoff Queen on guitars and pedal steel (Kelly Willis, Randy Rodgers), and John Mike on bass (Hayes Carll, Ray Wylie Hubbard). The February 2017 session was held at Ronjo Studio. Jim Vollentine was on engineering. The record was released in the spring of 2018.
"I wrote this record from my 100-year-old house in East Austin, an encouraging first for me. The songs lined up rather quickly and seemed assessable and relevant. During the recording session, I was on a little wall-piano and that opened up my voice some. We recorded it live, with everyone in the same room. It was a great vibe. Working with Stephen is great. All those guys are about the higher song, and idiosyncrasies that make your music unique. Those are the same things that make you want to keep writing and give you faith in artistic longevity."