Written by Jenn Pelle on Pitchfork
Justin’s name has felt inescapable as of late. Like many, I first became aware of his work as a writer and producer with Sky Ferreira’s Night Time, My Time, where he co-wrote every song. This fall, when Kim Gordon released her debut solo single, “Murdered Out,” it also bared Raisen’s credit. Perhaps most intriguingly, Raisen paired with Angel Olsen earlier this year to co-produce her filmic masterpiece, My Woman.
Over the course of our sprawling phone conversation, it became clear to me why artists—like Santigold, Kylie Minogue, and Charli XCX, with whom he co-wrote half of True Romance—might be attracted to Raisen. He is eccentric and electric, prone to spirited stream-of-consciousness monologues on topics such as the conspiracy of radio, ’70s krautrock, and the virtues of golfing. Discussing methods he’s used in recording, he mentions Brian Eno’s “Oblique Strategies” deck, “power manifestation,” and the Self-Realization Fellowship center near his home in L.A. In fact, Raisen came to collaborate with Gordon only after he and the singer-songwriter Lawrence Rothman experimented with chanting her name. “As you can see,” Raisen says, “I’m super heavy on energy.” (That Raisen and I are both natives of Massapequa, N.Y. was but another cosmic force at work.)
It’s this alchemy—West coast free-spiritedness and a no-bullshit New York edge—that makes Raisen magnetic. His productions keep things raw; indeed, he has a project with Ariel Pink called Raw Deal. He speaks reverently of everyone from Bowie to Royal Trux to Sinatra to Sinead O’Connor. Growing up, he won karaoke contests singing “I Am the Walrus.” Several times, he wonders aloud, “What the fuck is pop?” The seed for this work was planted back in 2004, when a then-21-year-old Raisen met Ariel Rechtshaid, who fostered his songwriting and producing—but Raisen’s still asking this question, and stretching its answers.
His collaborations with Gordon are ongoing, and his solo project, True Happiness, is forthcoming—a single debuts here. “I thought the name was almost like Nirvana,” Raisen says. “The whole idea is, ‘true happiness comes from within,’ like, your thoughts. It’s going to sound like Jackson Pollock audio.”
True Happiness: “#” (via SoundCloud)
Below, we discuss Raisen’s background, making My Woman sound like “a milkshake,” and what it means to really “get it.”
Pitchfork: You’re from Long Island—were you involved with the emo or hardcore scenes there?
Justin Raisen: I grew up playing in a pop-punk/emo thing. I would play with bands like the Anniversary and the Get Up Kids. People refer to me as “Justin Raisen, pop producer guy,” but I like so many kinds of music. At one point this guy from Capitol Records wanted to manage my band—he said, “you're going to write five songs a week and send them to me, and I'm going to tell you what I think.” I did that for like 60 weeks. We agreed on 12 songs for the record, and the person producing it was Ariel [Rechtshaid]. From day one, we were weird brothers.
How did you start writing and producing for other people?
My band Tall Hands was this deadpan three-piece without a drummer—Ariel Pink has heard it and been like, “This shit’s crazy.” Once that band broke up, I started working more with Ariel [Rechtshaid]. He started to write with artists, and I started to write songs for him that could possibly be used in his projects. He actually—out of his own pocket, for a good year and a half—funded me to write because he believed in me. I feel like I had something. I just hear shit.
It started with Sky as far as production and continues to catapult. I'm from New York, so I just don't give a fuck. I don’t mind giving anyone a fucking holler. I want to get in touch right now with Kanye about some shit, and if I had his phone number, I’d call him.
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