Justin Serrao; singer-songwriter, live performer, strategic networker, and successful music business entrepreneur. Justin describes his music as a fusion of acoustic and country rock. Few know the years of hustle and heartache that carved out his career.
Justin owes much of his influence to his charismatic uncle and older brother, Jayson. The youngest of three, he was born on a cold May morning 32 years ago to “Portu-kaans” parents. Justin recalls being transfixed by his uncle’s fingers moving up and down the fretboard. Ever keen to absorb musical experience, seven-year-old Justin insisted on attending music lessons with his brother Jayson - despite not having an instrument to play himself.
“Jayson introduced me to bands like Blink 182, Dashboard Confessional, Green Day, Offspring, Staind. Because of Jay, I got years of lessons before I conceded that I needed to stop taking advantage.”
At ten, Justin decided to try his hand at playing the bass guitar. With a little help from his parents, he purchased his first bassfrom Matt’s Music in the West Rand. Following his years of tail-gating with Jayson, he convinced his parents to start letting him go to his own lessons with Wonderboom’s Martin Schofield (guitar) and Wade Williams (bass).
“I still visit Martin whenever I need a refresher, 20 years after those first tag-along sessions. He’s the guru!”.
Not long after those first legitimate lessons, Justin and his brother began to write songs together. Much of this material ended up on setlists for their first band, 74% Stupid (named after Jayson who got 26% for math that year in school). Justin was around thirteen, lead singer and bassist.
Justin was soon headhunted by Grounded as a bassist. The bandregularly played at Tempos and Roxy Rhythm Bar. Grounded was signed by Peter Lacey and Brian O Shea’s indie label; Musketeer Records, who also signed and developed Shaun Morgan’s great SA export; Saron Gas/Seether. The band toured nationally, and the charming, fearless and confident Justin developed and cemented relationships with many other secessionists and musicians over this time. Two weeks before Justin’s final matric exams, the lead singer of Grounded left the band, and the group came to a grinding halt.
In 2008 Justin took on the role as roadie for rock group Wickhead, on their tour to Los Angeles.
“During this period, very little music was being crafted by me, until I returned to SA and got inspired.”
Ever-optimistic, Justin recalls seeing the disbanding of Grounded and his experience in LA as an opportunity to develop something new. He spent the next few years crafting his songwriting skills before joining up with KJ Forde (Man as Machine & 1st Project), Gareth Norwood (16 Stitch & Newtown Knife Gang), Andrew Corbin (now an accountant) to form the group Smash & Grab Hotspot. This group’s end happened to fall serendipitously in the same week that Justin was convinced to enter Idols in 2011, a far cry from the rock n’ roll and Country Music that he’d been used to, but the experience led to other paths.
Idols saw Justin sitting in line side-by-side with one David Van Vuuren for 2 days awaiting a call to audition in front of the Idols Judges. Dave and Justin formed a close friendship, they’d share music, swap CDs and bunk together when they reached the Top 100. Dave went on to win the competition, with Justin reaching the Top 33. There remains a palpable sense of respect between two rock singers who formed a relationship in a more pop industry.
“I got a better understanding of the SA industry and realizing how I needed to play my cards further. It wasn’t about being a sad singer-songwriter anymore and I needed to understand the market a whole lot better if I wanted to reach people with music”.
Career-wise, nothing remarkable came of the Idols stint, but the experience connected Justin with the musicians from The Parlotones and other local bands and he became increasingly inspired to develop something great. He started exploring more Country Music and looking West gave him a great appreciation of the genre.
In 2011 Justin approached Sally Corbin for work. She is the mother of his previous band mate Andrew who taught piano at Summit College in Johannesburg. She asked him to develop a basic curriculum to extend beyond her piano tutelage. That same year, appreciating Justin’s entrepreneurial spirit and tenacity, the singer was offered an ambassadorship from Matt’s Music: the very music retailer where he’s bought his first bass guitar ten years earlier.
In 2012, Justin released his first solo album, Touching Toes Without Clothes, produced and recorded at Antimotion Studiosby David Grevler.
“The album was about my young love life, the on-and-off relationships in my early 20s. Looking back, there’s a lot of residual heartache that came out in those early lyrics.”
The album was self-funded, using the proceeds from giving guitar lessons. Two thousand copies were sold - all from his car boot! Justin went on a campaign to ask as many artists if he could open up for them at any club, just to be on ‘the circuit’ and have his name somewhere on any poster! The slog was hard!
Justin’s Promotion business ‘Yoh Yoh Yoh Shows’ was born from a need to produce his own shows.
“I could book myself as the headliner every time!”
Guitar lessons also paid for a PA system and digital desk. Yoh Yoh Yoh won the account to run all the entertainment at ‘Mama’s Shebeen’ in Greenside. Week after week Justin would act as promoter, roadie, sound engineer, lighting engineer, booking agent and performer. The years on the road proved exhausting.
“I worked had. But partied harder during this time, and there’s probably a lot of things I wish I could’ve done differently over this period of my life.”
Forget and Let Loose was released in 2014.
“The album was really about fixing mistakes, the realization of wrong doings and the desire to change. Health played a big part in my life, I had an insatiable yearning to eradicate anything negative from my diet, down to caffeine!”
Friends was the biggest single from that record and it was the first album of Justin’s to get onto iTunes when the digital platform launched in South Africa.
“I remember Friends being ahead of Prime Circle on the iTunes charts. I was playing a show in Potch at the old Arcade Empire and I messaged Ross to say we were neck-and-neck. He was super supportive about all my successes and remains to this day. The top slot didn’t last too long, maybe half a day, but I’ll still take it!”
This was the first solo album where Justin included two other band members, Quintin Askes and Pano Nicolaides. The three toured that record for two years while Justin continued to build the promoter and gear business, YYY Shows.
In 2014, Justin took a bold risk to produce, promote and fund anoutdoor large-scale music festival, Mo Rock.
“The losses on that first edition of the festival set me back about 6 months. We only had 500 attendees, but the finest artists in a rad setting.”
Artists like Die Heuwels Fantasties, PH Fat, Gangs of Ballet, aKing and more all graced the Mo Rock stages for the next three years. The festival never made money after its inaugural one, but it cemented Justin’s name as an honorable promoter in the SA music business.
“In 2015, I did my first UK and Ireland tour with The Parlotones and I learned a lot about touring, promoting and being on the road. I wrote a lot of the material for Happy Saturday Morning Face over that time. The album was comprised of a collection of singles released over 2016.”
Songs like Sucker; Kinders Van Die Wind (a Koos du Plessis classic made famous by Laurike Rauch), which helped open Justin to the Afrikaans market; Raining in my Soul and Winding Road with punk-pop band CrashCarBurn, were all responsible for creating a household name in his brand. Very soon after the successes of HSMF, the follow-up album, One Year Warning was released: a cathartic collection of songs from a relationship that didn’t last and about his relationship with his father.
Fast forward to 2021, Justin remains loyal to his love for Country Music and has seen the South African musical landscape embrace it more and more. Justin also remains loyal to the West Rand, where he still lives today. He continues to learn from his musical mentors and works hard on his song-writing and networking. As always, he strives to amplify opportunities for up-and-coming artists on stages across the country. Justin is one of South Africa’s hardest working acts andis continually seeking ways to develop the business and develop inroads for new talent. The country-fusion genre that is so sincere to his sound has always been ahead of his time. 2021 has embraced it with open arms! New music and a new live show are presently being carefully created. Audiences can expect a new album in 2021
#1 chart topper Winding Road ft CrashCarBurn
Wall-to-wall video play for Are You Lonely and Walk Away
Opening for The Pixies in 2017
Opening for Seether in May 2018
5 x UK tours between 2015 and 2019
Highly sought after blue chip clientele base
For bookings, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 076 402 4507
Connect on Social media @JustinSerrao or Justin Serrao on all platforms
YouTube channel: TheJustinSerrao