If you were attending shows in a pre-pandemic Los Angeles, it’s likely that at some point you ended up at Topspace, the underground arts and living quarters helmed by Justus Proffit. The cavernous Inglewood location follows a move from the fashion district, where the venue was housed in the nondescript market towers. Attendees ascended a service elevator and navigated stark concrete halls, following the obscure din of echoing drums and muffled vocals before entering what doubled as a stage and occasionally, a bedroom – mattresses flipped against the wall to make room for the tightly packed audience.
It’s a lifestyle embedded in Proffit’s DNA, growing up in a family of musicians where amplifiers and equipment dotted the living room like spare furniture. House shows were a regular occurrence, filling their backyard with mohawks and leather jackets who made good use of the halfpipe on hand. His dad’s record collection included bands like Devo, TSOL, and The Dead Milkmen, while his mom, an artist in her own right, turned him on to songwriters like Robert Smith and Black Francis. Several times a week he’d end up at the iconic Showcase Theatre, where the tail end of the gutter punk scene was unraveling. “I like the story, the raw details”, he explains, remembering nights that sound like a scene from The Decline of Western Civilization.
By 13 he was drumming in a band with his brother and sister, and at 16, touring the States in a slew of hardcore and punk groups. A solo career was never his intention, but when his own band abruptly broke up, Proffit figured he’d make good use of the studio time they had booked, performing every instrument on a brief but impressive collection of songs. The happy accident proved fruitful, leading to a collaborative EP with breakout bedroom-pop artist Melina Duterte (Jay Som), a friendship with lo-fi pioneer R. Stevie Moore, and a record deal with the venerable indie label Bar/None (Yo La Tengo, Of Montreal, Alex Chilton).
His rapidly expanding universe fed right back into the venue, packing every month with a breakneck schedule of shows at Topspace, and before long Proffit ended up in the hospital with a torn esophagus. Setback aside, he still managed to release one of 2019’s most underrated albums, LA’s Got Me Down, a deceptively bright record that chronicled years of struggle in an unforgiving city. With his health in mind, things started to shift down at home, but it was the slow crawl of an unprecedented virus that brought things to a grinding halt.
“When the pandemic started I quit music, but I realized I needed to deconstruct my beliefs about music to get back into it, that’s what this record did for me” explains Proffit, reflecting on the new collection of songs that comprise his sophomore album, SpeedStar. Culled from numerous studio sessions across the West Coast, it’s his most intimate work to date, stripping back the veneer of noise to reveal the meticulous songwriting that’s made him a magnetic force.
A trip to Washington led to recording in Phil Elverum’s iconic Anacortes studio, a converted Church whose towering walls imbue songs with an almost sacred reverb. “River of All My Feelings”, the album’s opening track, took shape in those final sessions, and is the most down to earth Proffit has ever sounded. A song about being “vulnerable to the point of selflessness”, it serves as a sort of mission statement for the record, a time capsule to his former self, opting to live in the present and accept the past for what it is – the past. “This is the first record I’ve written for myself”, he admits, “Fuck the future, I’m living right now.”
“Burning The Ground” sparkles above it’s propulsive rhythm section, acoustic guitar and touches of piano backlighting Proffit as he reflects on the harsh qualities of time passing, resolving to live for the present, whatever that may be. His take on Martin Newell’s “Jangling Man” feels religious, it’s chanty, murky verses building to the euphoric question, “we never had any money, is it really so wrong?”, before ending in a cloud of sputtering cymbals.
There’s always been a classic quality to Justus Proffit songs, built around chords and shapes we’ve all absorbed ambiently from popular music, but on Speedstar he infuses the familiar with his own spark, pulling equally from punk and carefully arranged pop for a timeless take all his own. It’s an album about the painful struggle for inner peace, and all the internal walls that have to be torn down to get there.
Responsible Agent: MATT SANDRIN
Territory: Worldwide excl. Europe