When you go to a Justin Shapiro show, prepare to have a good time as you bounce around to his energetic, groove driven rhythms and signature percussive guitar. A Bethesda, MD native, Shapiro came onto the DC-area music scene in 2007 developing his sound, fine tuning it, while playing in local bars and venues around the area with his band Green River Junction. Now based in sunny Tequesta, Florida, Shapiro has a renewed energy and perspective on his new album, Away In Your Dreams, the follow up to 2018’s Campfire Party, which saw him receive praise from outlets such as DCist who called out the album for its “…laid-back, feel-good vibe…,” DC Music Rocks who described Shapiro as “… a singer-songwriter who takes his love for 90's grunge, acoustic rock, folk, blues, funk, and jam bands, he puts it all together to make his own unique, signature sound…,” and Alternative Nation who praised Shapiro as “Sweet, earnest and undeniably charming…Taking a page out of the book of singer-songwriters such as Dave Matthews and Tom Petty and Neil Young. Shapiro goes a long way towards getting his own chapter in that book with his unique take on good old-fashioned rock music.”
It’s no wonder you hear all of Shapiro’s biggest musical influences Pearl Jam, Ben Harper, Dave Matthews Band, Dispatch, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, The Grateful Dead, Neil Young and more rolled into the ten tracks on Away In Your Dreams.
The lead single, “Cool Blue River” evokes Jimmy Buffet’s aura with hints of Dave Matthews Band’s sonic style. Listen to the song and you’ll be immediately transported to a place that has special meaning to Shapiro, “It was written after I went to Washington State to see Dave Matthews Band at the Gorge. Seeing the band perform was amazing but even more so was making the trek across country on my own only to meet the most incredible group of strangers who welcomed me with open arms. There, those strangers became friends as I went around playing and singing my music for them. It was three days of fun, joy, love, nature, and sheer happiness. I just wanted to capture that feeling.”
Other tracks such as “Brother” was written for an inspiring yoga teacher named Elias that Shapiro met after a trip to Greece. “My wife led a yoga teacher training at a retreat center on the Island of Karpathos,” says Shapiro. “I was in need of opening up to myself and was searching for a little peace and stillness to do that. There, Elias and I would have endless talks about music, spirituality, and energy. The words he said to me during that experience have stuck with me ever since, and ‘Brother’ is my thank you to him.” “World So Strange” is the first song Shapiro wrote for the album. “I had terrible writer’s block when all of a sudden I got a message from an old high school friend who had gotten into a serious accident and woke up with amnesia. He couldn’t remember his kids and wife, or that his parents both had passed… During his recovery, it was recommended that he try to get a song written to help trigger some things about dreams he was having. I was honored to write about such a personal story that wasn’t my own to help him try to regain his memories.” The title track “Away In Your Dreams” and “Like Bonnie and Clyde” is about Shapiro’s wife, while “Where The Hell Did 10 Years Go?” is a self-reflective song looking back at the last ten years of Shapiro’s life. “Once I wrote it, I always knew I wanted to end the album with that song.”
For Away In Your Dreams, he enlisted the help of his musician friends such as Dave Chaletzky, who helped him produce the album, plays drums and “also added a few lead guitar parts on ‘Brother,’ and ‘Pull Together,’” says Shapiro. He owns Kokopelli Music Studio in Sterling, VA where the album was recorded. Dan Messeca is on guitar, Avi Walter on bass. “Avi, Dan, and Dave all helped write their music parts for the album.” And finally Rich Cairns, his old band mate in Green River Junction, who Shapiro asked to play percussion on “Away In Your Dreams.”
Expressing himself more freely and writing better songs was always the goal, and on Away In Your Dreams “my lyrics have definitely matured,” says Shapiro who is always a student, searching himself and looking for inspiration along the way. “I was listening to a Trey Anastasio interview where he talked about a book that changed his life: Writing Better Lyrics by Pat Pattison. It talks about the practice of object writing for 10 minutes every morning. While I don’t do this EVERY morning, I do it a lot, and has significantly improved my writing. Sometimes, I write music first, coming up with a melody in my head and start spitting out sounds and words. Once I get the right feel, or theme, I start making a little more sense out of it.”
Even though touring is on hold at the moment due to the Coronavirus and people can’t see Shapiro play live, he plans on playing more online shows and getting out on the road as soon as he can. And his philosophy on how he performs live has transformed since he read Questlove’s book Creative Quest. “In the book he talks about building a set, the psychology behind song selections, and getting people to take off their coats and stay for one more song. Making them forget they have a train to catch or something important in the morning.” Since then, it’s become a regular practice of Shapiro’s to put time and effort into building his setlist, to focus on what he wants to say, and what he wants people to take away with them when they go home. “I love joking with the crowd, but I know I’m a singer, not a comic. I know when to shut up and play.” And when it comes down to it Shapiro simply just wants people to have a good time when listening to his music. “If it helps them get through something, or just to make someone smile, and dance, and sing. I think that is an amazing reward.”