Q&A with Justin Trawick

Justin Trawick is a local singer-songwriter, band frontman, and musical entrepreneur.  In addition to his exhaustive solo performance schedule he has created a series called The 9, that packages nine singer-songwriters into one show, joining their forces to create a theatrical and diverse night of entertainment. We Love DC’s Alexia Kauffman sat down with Justin to talk about his endeavors.

Alexia Kauffman: So first can you tell us a little bit about who you are, what you do, and what is on your plate right now?

Justin Trawick: I’m a musician in the area. I’ve been doing music full-time for about four years. I live in Arlington, and I play most of my shows in the Washington, DC area, and then I go out of town, a lot of east coast shows up and down from Boston down to Georgia. And I play in a lot of cities around the country via airplane- I go to Austin and L.A. a lot.

AK: Can you tell us a little bit about your music?

JT: The music, I feel like my genre is a mix of everything. One of my biggest influences growing up, well in college was this guy named Bob Schneider, who played a little bit of everything, which is what I do. I’m playing bluegrass into a rock and roll song, into a funk song, or like a folk-ish song or a waltz, into a down-right hip hop song, with, you know, DC rappers sitting in with my band. I would be bored to tears if I was in a group that played the same song the same way, the same set every time. The guys in my band have described what we do as kind of like a rock version of jazz. What we do a lot of times is I’ll have a different lead player playing one show than the previous show, and we’ll do a song differently than we did it the night before. Which makes it interesting for everyone. It makes it interesting for the people who are going to the show, it makes it interesting for the people that are playing- it makes it interesting for us. I don’t want to get bored being a musician and playing my songs, so we reinvent the songs all the time.

AK: Can you tell us about The 9 series? What is it, and how did it get started?

JT: I created The 9 back in 2008. The original venue was DC9, which is where the number of 9 came from. The 9 was created because Adrian(Krygowski) and myself and all of our peers around town, even in our prime drawing areas we may have a hard time of getting into clubs that we really want to get into. Because clubs like Iota, or even Galaxy Hut- the venue wants you to pack the place. It’s hard, especially as a singer-songwriter, it’s hard to pack places. The nice thing about bands is that you have a little bit more power behind you in regards to drawing. I’ve always been jealous of bands in that regard- I think they have an easier time drawing, from the beginning, because they have a lot more people that are helping. But The 9 was created as a way for us to get into better venues. By combining our small draws (we could) make these venue owners happy that their club was being filled. And it has really worked!

With 9 people on the bill it’s a very theatrical-based show. We can’t all play thirty-minute sets, or we’d be there for…whatever thirty times nine is. Instead we go through the group twice- there’s two sets. The first set is two songs. The rules are you show up solo- you don’t bring your band. But the other people in the lineup can sit in. So like, when I play, I may ask Adrian to come up and sing a song with me, or somebody else that plays some other instrument. So we go through the entire group once, everybody plays two songs, and then we go through the entire group one more time. It’s kind of like the encore set- you just get one more song. The reason why I split it up was I don’t want it to seem like a showcase, I don’t want it to seem like we’re trying to promote one person- we’re trying to promote the thing as a whole, and make people a fan of The 9, and the artists that do it, rather than the artists individually. It’s split up into two sets because there’ve been so many showcases before where like your friend has probably called you “Hey I’m gonna play this place” and you’re like “What time do you go on? I’m going to get there then.” You get there then, you see your friend play three songs, and then you split. By splitting it up into two sets, you can’t split, you have to stay, which is great, and it totally works. The other thing is, the night of the show we pick the lineup out of a hat. It really works. I’m really proud of it. I think it’s an excellent way for artists including myself to be seen in front of more people than would normally see them.

AK: So do you have a set group of people, or is it a rotating nine?

JT: Right now it’s a rotating cast, with a heavy lean on a group of regulars. Some of the regulars are Adrian Krygowski, Amanda Lee, Andy ZipfRene Moffatt, and Victoria Vox.

AK: So what is the future of The 9? What’s on the horizon?

JT: I just bought wearethe9.com. Rene (Moffatt) was telling me a couple days ago that he was seeing this, and I agree with him, as there being two versions of The 9. A local version that’s kind of helping the community, and then there’d be a touring version. Also, I just booked the first hip hop show. I think there’s a lot of potential in this. I have a lot of DC rapper friends, largely due to the fact that I have enjoyed encorporating rap into my music.

AK: So for this hip hop show what’s your role?

JT: I’m going to be the host. That’s at the Velvet Lounge on March 29th. And it’s going to feature Flex Mathews and eight other rappers. I’m excited about The 9 hip hop because I think that for the most part there’s not something this organized happening in the hip hop community in DC. I think also that the average rapper is not playing as many shows as the average singer-songwriter or rock band, so I feel like this might be taken a little bit more seriously on the hip hop side as a really cool event to go to, rather than just another show for a singer-songwriter. I think it’s a great event for singer-songwriters, but I think it’s a really original event for rappers. And lastly, I’m a very big comedy fan. I think a 9 comedy one would be fun too.

You can catch the next performance of The 9 on Wednesday, February 15th at The Hamilton, and  Justin Trawick and his band perform at the Black Cat on Friday, February 24th.


Alexia Kauffman

Alexia was born and raised in Arlington, VA. She has been a cellist since age four, and a lover of rock & roll soon after. The first tape she owned was “Make It Big” by Wham, and the first tape she bought was Nirvana’s “Nevermind,” and she still loves both. She was a member of local synth-rock outfit Soft Complex for several years, and has recorded with bands including Engine Down and Two if By Sea. By day she works for a non-profit distributing royalties to musicians and labels. She currently plays cello, lap-steel guitar and tambourine in the DC post-folk/Americana band The Torches.

14 thoughts on “Q&A with Justin Trawick

  1. This guy is such a tool. Why do people who write such unintelligent music/lyrics given spotlight articles so often? Because the people who are making real music are too busy being true to themselves to send a million annoying emails to get a write up.

  2. Dear Ug,
    Thank you for reading. Regardless of whether you like Justin’s music, I think what he’s doing with The 9 showcase is a really interesting idea, which is why I proposed this interview, and kept the focus on The 9 showcase. It’s an interesting concept that seems to be doing well and gives local singer/songwriters a chance to perform and be heard in different venues than they’d be able to do on their own, while also helping local venues draw crowds on non-peak nights. Also, regardless of his music, Justin is actually a really nice guy.

  3. Dear Ug,
    Not cool. Justin, Adrian and everyone else on the 9 roster busts their ass to make the music machine roll. And yes, Justine does work social media like an animal… and he should be respected/commended for that.

    Granted, you are entitled to your own musical taste/opinion. But, the 9 is a good show, with good people and I am glad that it is getting press.


  4. Dear Ug,

    Justin certainly does bust his butt doing this and thanks to him, I’ve gotten to play two venues I never had a chance to play before and had the best audience at a recent Strathmore gig. Being a musician is so many things, not just fame and perfection. It’s about expression, community, hard work. Someone who can unite so many musicians, create a platform for them and get people out to watch, listen & enjoy, that is an awesome thing in itself and he should get praise for it.

    #People who make “real” music don’t hate

  5. Neat article! I’ve seen a few of these and it’s a great concept and show. Definitely more engaging than your typical multi-bill, and the sit-in or “helping hand” songs are really fun to watch since they are often improvised on the spot.

  6. Dear Ug,

    You’re a tool. Just don’t go see him then. To each their own for musical tastes, but if you don’t like it (and plenty of people do)… Voicing your opinion in this forum is just completely douchey.

  7. Well said, Alexia – “It’s an interesting concept… that gives singer/songwriters a chance to… be heard in different venues than they’d be able to do on their own”

    Justin developed this series with the idea of collaboration in mind. Pretty smart, if you ask me.

    I respect his work ethic and the inclusive, rather than exclusive, theme of The 9.

    Get positive, Ug.

  8. Dude: Hey, Ug, you wanna hang out?
    Ug: Nah, man. I’ve got a lot to do this week.
    Dude: Oh, cool. What are you up to?
    Ug: Well, I’m really busy being true to myself. It’s hard work…

    So, Ug, when are you going to dazzle us with your superior, intelligent, real music/lyrics?

    Big ups to Justin Trawick for not only making music but for working hard to bring his own music and others’ to the community.

  9. Ug,

    The reason Justin gets so much press coverage is because “The 9” is a brilliant concept and has been an overwhelming success based on what I have seen. Rather than hogging the spotlight for himself, he has provided a medium that gives back to the music community and provides great exposure to artists all along the East Coast.

    Besides, anyone who has spent any length of time as a working musician knows that even the best artists have to spend countless hours sending emails, mailing CDs, making calls, shaking hands and getting thousands of doors slammed in their face before they achieve any sort of success in the post-Napster DIY music business.

    In addition to being an outstanding songwriter/performer and shrewd businessman, Justin is above all else a class act. You would do well to learn from his example.

  10. I’ll add a voice of thanks and support. The 9’s has taken to the road in other cities, offering local musicians in many places this same great opportunity that started in DC. As someone who is in the business of supporting musicians, I love seeing how Justin’s concept encourages us towards community as well. Playing together and promoting together creates a great camaraderie. This helps reduce unwelcome attitudes of competition and criticism.

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