By Nicholas Jason Lopez
This year, Maryland-based pop-rock artist LJR declared his arrival upon the music scene with the release of his debut album ‘When The Sky Began To Fall,’ centered around themes of self-identity and his personal evolution over the last decade.
One of the highlights is “I Can’t Say,” a whimsical piano-driven power ballad akin to past predecessors like Daniel Powter, Gavin DeGraw and Jason Mraz, with the emotional music video to match and it even has its own dramatic cliffhanger ending.
The Music Bugle had the chance to talk with LJR about ‘When The Sky Began To Fall’ and more.
Music Bugle – What excites you the most about your style of music?
LJR – I love pop/rock music for the energy, beats, chord sequences and how easy it is to blend it together with new ideas. While my style stays mostly pop and rock, it varies a good bit from The 1975-inspired songs to the grit, nostalgia and world-colliding music of X Ambassadors, Coldplay and Peter Gabriel.
Music Bugle – What is your favorite aspect of being a singer-songwriter?
LJR – I love being able to express my story honestly, without filters. It’s been a huge part of my healing from past trauma and it’s been especially powerful to see how it also frees other people to experience healing in their own lives.
Music Bugle – Which of your songs were the hardest to write?
LJR – Depends on if you mean technically or emotionally. I’ve found that songs usually end up flowing out when they come, so technically, I don’t feel like they’ve been too difficult. Emotionally speaking, I think it’s one of the tracks on the album, called “Save.” It was incredibly hard to connect with the pain of that particular song, because when I first wrote it, I was so lost without a firm identity that I severely questioned the validity of my feelings that were coming out in that song. It left me feeling so vulnerable, but when I revisited the song having done a few years worth of healing, I discovered I was actually connecting with a subconscious part of myself when I wrote the song, one I had been repressing because it was too painful.
Music Bugle – What made you want to release “I Can’t Say” as your debut single?
LJR – At first, I actually thought this would be the final closing song for the album, but as the concept for what the album was about started to come together – creating a new identity after your entire foundation falls apart, I realized that “I Can’t Say” was the perfect song for a sort of foreshadowing. I wrote it when I was 19, without any idea of what would happen in my own life and largely as an encouragement to my friends, but it ended up being more true in my own life than I could imagine, so I decided to move it to the front of the release schedule.
Music Bugle – How would you describe Maryland to someone who has never been there before?
LJR – Depends on the part of Maryland, honestly! There’s everything here, from a small town feel – Laurel, where I grew up, Brunswick, etc. – to fancy cities and suburbs. I think my favorite part about Maryland is that nature is so close at all times. I love to trail run, so I’ll go running in the woods a few times a week, but I can turn around and be in Baltimore or DC within a 30-minute drive, or camp in the mountains with a two-hour drive. It’s beautiful. The only thing I don’t like is the summer humidity. That gets a little old.
Music Bugle – What was your goal for your album ‘When The Sky Began To Fall’?
LJR – ‘When the Sky Began to Fall’ is my debut album, so the goal is to introduce my songs and style of music to the world, build a following and empower people with the music and lyrics. I want my listeners to feel like they’re not alone, that healing is possible and that even when your whole world falls apart, there is hope and a way forward to build a new one.
Music Bugle – What was it like making the video for “I Can’t Say”?
LJR – It was really fun. I had never done VFX and CGI before, so I was worried that it might be a bit cheesy in the end, but thankfully the YouTube tutorials I used to learn how to insert planets into the sky, do laser blasts, etc., were right on point and not too difficult to adapt to my specific shots. I had to do some tweaks, but I was really happy with the result! I learned a lot about planning for VFX too, as some poor planning on my part left me with about 50 hours of additional CGI work I could have avoided if I thought it out a bit more ahead of time, but that’s just part of the learning process. I was really happy with how the storyline turned out and while I was worried about my acting – I have never really acted outside of a few high school plays – I felt like it turned out okay! Getting the first video done gave me a lot of understanding about how to streamline the next 11, so I could still complete one per month with the same quality, but not have to spend all my time on it.
Music Bugle – How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
LJR – It was pretty bad, especially at the start. I lost all my income – even from my normal video production, but thankfully, a few COVID relief grants came through that helped me get through until video gigs started booking again. My music has mostly been online, so that wasn’t affected too much thankfully. I was about to start doing live shows when COVID started, so that part sucked.
Music Bugle – What’s a quote that motivates you to keep doing what you do?
LJR – A life-changing quote for me came from a podcast I loved in grad school called “The Strategic Entrepreneur.” “Don’t ask what the world needs, ask what makes you come alive, because what the world needs is more people who have come alive.”
Music Bugle – Where do you go when you need a break?
LJR – I run trails in the forest. It gets my body working, gets me in nature with all the smells and fresh air and triggers a lot of nostalgia – I used to play outside constantly as a kid. It’s healing and fulfilling for me and helps me get centered.