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Local Musician Makes Name for Himself in Nashville

A former Coventry resident has gained a following and released an album.

Most kids go through a stage in their life in which they want to be a musician. The thought of having a ton of fans, recording CDs and performing shows seems glamorous and exciting, but the majority of these dreams never come to fruition. 

Justin Nault is a different story. The 25-year-old who grew up in the Hopkins Hill area of Coventry has been singing with his dad and uncles as long as he can remember, playing piano since he was eight and writing his own music since the age of 13.

After showcasing his talent in high school, through talent shows like the Varsity Review, he began getting offers for paying gigs, then moved to Boston where he earned a Bachelors degree in songwriting from Berklee College of Music.

"I knew I wanted to make a living playing music some way," said Nault. "My junior and senior years at Berklee, I went to Nashville for spring break and took songwriting workshops and got to meet Vince Gill and Reba McEntire."

From these trips came the decision to relocate to Tennessee in October 2008 and try to get his foot in the door of the music industry.

"It was the Berklee trips for sure that convinced me to move," he said. "The big three locations for Berklee kids is New York, LA or Nashville. I was sick of winter and LA is crazy expensive, so Nashville it was."

"For a while, I wasn't interested in the spotlight. I was going to write songs behind the scenes."

However the desire to perform took over, and after the move, his first gig was at a venue called the Big Bang Dueling Piano Bar.

"The Big Bang was huge for me. They have a ton of connections."

Nault plays from three to seven gigs a week, frequently solo at the Big Bang and at college bars or in downtown Nashville with his band, Cougar Petting Zoo that he formed about a year ago.

"We call ourselves a 'party band'," he explained. "I took the concept of a dueling piano where the entire show is run off of requests and turned it into a band. Nobody had done that in Nashville that I know of, so it's become really popular."

Depending on who is available to perform on a given night, Nault is joined by four or five professional musicians who never rehearse together prior to shows. Based on what songs are popular at the time, he will send out selections for the guys to learn for a gig.

"It can be difficult because we have 400-500 songs that we can play. Most Nashville bands have a repertoire of about 60 or so."

As far as his solo music goes, Nault has been compared to acts from the Electric Light Orchestra to Steely Dan, Rob Thomas and Something Corporate.

"I call my original stuff pop music," he explained. "I'm doing the opposite of what everyone here in Nashville does. I want people to relate to my music, that's all I want. I love it when people text me and say that they know exactly what it is that I'm singing about."

Nault recently released his debut album, "It's Just Me", a feel-good album that he describes as a "narrative of my love life over the past five-and-a-half to six years."

He began pre-production in May of last year with producer Danny Smith, and left for Austin, TX in February, spending 16 days rehearsing, recording and mixing the album's eight tracks.

A digital download of "It's Just Me" can be purchased from iTunes or in CD form from CDbaby.com

When asked if anything about the "musician lifestyle" has caught him by surprise, he admitted that some things have.

"There's one aspect of it that I did expect, but I didn't expect the severity of it- drinking and drugs and that kind of thing. I was prepared for it, but I was still overwhelmed by it," he said. "I don't do drugs or even smoke cigarettes, but it is still all around you. That was a little intense. I guess I was also surprised by the lack of loyalty - some bands are kind of cutthroat."

Nault explained that the biggest piece of advice he would give to someone looking to break into the music industry is to learn the ins and outs of it.

"Business, 100 percent," he said. "You can be the most talented dude in the world, but have no clue how to function. It's called the music business for a reason. The biggest problem with kids is that they don't want to work and be in the real world, but it is work. If you don't treat it like that, you'll fail. Get a lock on the music business in general and learn about being in the real world…it matters."

Although he visits home twice a year and talks to his parents daily, Nault says he misses the beach and wishes he could come home more.

When asked if he'd like to tell his friends back home one thing, he responded; "I miss them, like a lot. It kills me. I still talk to them all the time, but I do miss them."

As he continues to book more shows and build a bigger following, Nault has also set his sights on introducing his music to a wider audience. He recently signed a contract with Wayne Ledbetter, a song-plugger who has previously worked with the band, Third Eye Blind, in hopes of getting his music onto film soundtracks.

"I'm hoping that will lead to some big stuff," he said.

Nault's career is a perfect example of what someone can accomplish if they stick to their goals and go after them. To keep an eye on Justin's progress, preview songs off the album and learn a little bit more about what makes him tick, check out his website, justinnault.com or "like" his Facebook page for frequent updates.


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