Catch up with JD Shultz aka Human Brother and listen to his new album, Back To Music, out now.
What got you interested in the arts?
JD Shultz: I was born into a family of artists, my mom and dad raised three kids with my mom's sculpture and my dad started painting about twelve years later in the early '80s, so I've just been around art my whole life and, as far as music, you know, I grew up in the early '70s, I was a teenager in the '80s, so I got the best music that was coming out; just hearing bands like Zeppelin and The Beach Boys and The Cars and all the great new wave that came out in the '80s and the '70s classic rock, I just couldn't put my records down. I was kind of a hyper kid so I was always beating on the dinner table and finally my parents caved in and got me a drum set when I was eight years old. I didn't get serious about playing the drums until I was in my late teens, because it was more of a hobby. While I just loved music, was an avid concertgoer, I didn't buckle down and become more of a serious musician until my late teens; I was more of an athlete growing up.
Were there any artists who inspired your work, visually or sonically?
Well, concerts, I missed the Led Zeppelin boat, that was ahead of my time, but I had all their records. But yeah, going to concerts in the early '80s, I was at US festival in '83. I was kind of a rocker, I got into the heavy stuff like ACDC and Black Sabbath and I went to these concerts in the '80s, but I was actually a big fan of The Cars and, to this day, Ric Ocasek, has left the biggest impression on me as a songwriter; his songs, they just spoke to my heart in a way that not too many artists have really figured out a way to do. The Cars were probably my favorite band growing up. As far as artists, Pablo Picasso, Basquiat, I'd say those are my favorite artists that inspired me but, to tell you the truth, just growing up in my household, I would say my biggest inspirations were my parents and siblings, my brother Adam and sister Rachel are both artists and we've just been painting our whole lives; painting, drawing, writing poetry and stuff like that. So my family would have to be my biggest influence I would say, artistically speaking.
When you're working on something new, how do you decide which medium to use to express yourself?
It depends. Painting is a job for me, it's how I make a living, so if I sell paintings - and I do sell a lot of paintings - when I sell them I have to recreate new paintings to have a full inventory for me to sell. I get a different feeling from music than I do from painting. Painting is very therapeutic; when I paint, I don't even listen to music, I enjoy the quiet and just focus on what I'm inspired to be painting at that very moment but, with music, it's usually just if I'm feeling the bug. If I'm inspired to do a new song, I kind of just buckle down and enjoy the comforts of my own studio. It just depends on how I'm feeling and if I have work to do, to pay the bills [laughs].
Why choose the name Human Brother?
I'd been trying to think of a cool name for either my band or my solo stuff because I didn't start singing til’ a bit later in life but I was always in bands, since my late teens, and I could just never find the right band name; there was always something that was stopping me from coming up with the best band name, and one day it suddenly came to me. It came to me because I was trying to think of a name that was universal but also fit the music I was making which was kind of my own take on alternative funky rock with some MIDI instruments and some world sounds. On this record, Back to Music, you can find everything from Asian flutes to Turkish violins, some African choir samples, and tribal drum beats. So, I was trying to think of a name that could reach people all over the world, that kind of connected us all on this Earth and brought us all together in the form of a band name, and it just came to me one day: Human Brother. I just was like 'wow, how the hell did I think of that?' [laughs] because it's the best band name and it's not even a band, it's kind of just me. It's kind of like my own little name for my music, but I do have a three piece band that plays live with me, not to confuse the name, it is my alias. JD Shultz aka Human Brother. So I am Human Brother.
Did you record all the instrumentation on this album yourself?
Yes, I play all of the instruments on this record - aside from the few samples I used - but I'm thinking about doing it a little bit different for the next record. I'm thinking about having my band lay down the rhythm tracks and going for a different approach. A “Jimmy Page” style of recording.
How does Back to Music compare to your earlier releases?
Sound wise, I think it goes very hand in hand with my last album, released in 2010, which is called Vision Days on the Life Ride. I think this is kind of a continuation of that kind of approach but I think it's much more mature because I've grown, not only as a songwriter, but as a singer and as a mixer and an engineer; I think I did a better job this time around in capturing the best I could possibly capture with these songs, so I think, yeah, it definitely is a continuation from the first album. It's kind of the sound that I've been trying to put together for about six, seven years now and I just think this is my best foot forward for this particular approach and I couldn't be more thrilled with what I've achieved.
How would you sum up this album in one sentence?
Music for the people.
It's music that can get people dancing, get people thinking about playing instruments again, reminding people of some of the music that came out in the '70s and '80s and just bringing back instrumentation, you know. I play a lot of lead guitar on this album so I'm trying to kind of bring that back to the forefront but doing it in an interesting way that can get the young kids excited about it, not just showing off. I'm trying to do some tasteful, unique instrumentation on this album, so I think I'm doing my own little thing. Not reinventing the wheel, but just trying to carve my own little niche in the world of music.
What's been most influential to your career, as an artist and songwriter?
My art is a wonderful way to express myself and I get a completely different feeling when I'm painting than I do when I'm creating music; it's a completely different outlet. I make a living from art so that's my job, but it's a wonderful job that I feel blessed to have every day, but music is, I would say, my number one passion. It kind of just grabbed a hold of me at an early age and, since my late teens, it's just been a dream of mine to be able to get out there and touch people with my music. I play four instruments and I've given my heart and soul and, god, about a hundred thousand hours plus into just learning how to play these instruments - and that is a kind estimate, could be even more when I think about all the time I put in - and it's not for money, it's not for financial gain. For the most part, it's just about my passion, it's about expressing myself and leaving my mark in this world and a great legacy for my kids and their kids. You know, when I'm not here anymore, what is a better way to leave your stamp in this world than recording your own music, it's here forever, just like a painting. Music and art are really two of the best gifts that have been given to this planet and I just feel so blessed to be able to express myself in both mediums.
What message do you try to get across in your music and art?
It's positivity, it's happiness, it's cheerful. It's funny, because if you look at my art and you listen to my album, I think that anybody can see how the parallels exist; my lyrics are very positive, just trying to bring us all together, and I don't try to be the deepest guy in the world, I'm just trying to unite people and have people that don't even speak our language relate to not only what I'm doing sonically, but what I'm saying lyrically. “Be true to yourself”, you know, just staying true and staying on your path and never giving up and just really, really focusing on what makes you happy.
If I had to think of one word to describe my music and my art, I would just say “happiness”. My paintings seem to make a lot of people happy when they look at it because the colors are so vibrant and they explode off the surface that I'm using, so I think that what I'm trying to do is just make people happy and be a positive influence for the next generation and for whoever discovers my music and art. I just want them to know that I was a very cheerful, happy, uplifting soul living on this planet and trying to give back music and art.
Never give up on your dreams. When you find something that you love to do in this world, don't let anybody tell you you can't do it, because the key to happiness is finding something you love to do and just doing it at all costs. If you can't figure out a way to do that because you're stuck and there's something that you love to do but you have to pay the bills, try to find the time to express yourself creatively because I think we all come into this world and we all love bright colors; when we're babies, we love looking at bright colors, we love to play with crayons and express ourselves and make drawings and then, what happens, is you just grow up and society says 'no'; society says there's no time for that, you need to focus on this so you can do this, and I just think that if everybody expressed themselves creatively and continued to nurture those gifts that are given to all of us at an early age, that you'd be able to take that into your adult life and it would just never go away. So, whatever you're doing in this life, even if it's a mundane 9-5 job, if you can approach it in a creative way and use your creative brain, I just think that it can help you in any form of what you're doing in this life. In any job, in any medium, creativity is the key to reaching human potential; it's reaching out and nourishing those beautiful gifts that we all have from day one.