Meet Anna Justen, a third-year Concordia student fresh off the release of her first EP, Saintclaire.
Anna Justen moved to Montreal two weeks before turning 19 to study journalism at Concordia. Having been born and raised in Seattle, Washington, it was quite the shock for her to leave the family’s nest. She’s since embraced this change and is making waves in the Indie/Folk genre with her new EP Saintclaire already released. Even while having lived her entire life at the same house, she was ready to face her new reality, living in Montreal.
“It’s awesome being in a big city with other people my age and Seattle is not a lot like that and I really loved it,” said Justen.
The musician’s parents aren’t musicians, but they did a great job of integrating her into the music world, by listening to a ton of music and forcing her to pick up an instrument at a young age. Even with a love for singing, she began her musical career by playing trombone for four years in elementary school, (which she admits she hated), then went on to learn instruments she found more interesting.
“I eventually decided that I didn’t want to play trombone anymore, so I taught myself piano, and then I was like, I can’t transport this anywhere, I can’t play it anywhere so I taught myself guitar instead like a couple months later,” she said.
Coming from the United States, Justen had always been busy with sports throughout her life — and since enrolling in university, she has not been a part of any sports teams. This afforded her more time to work on her craft, and she capitalized on this opportunity. “Since coming to university I have written so many, so many songs and I can’t stop. It’s like all my energy goes here,” she said.
When it comes to her sound, Justen blends elements of indie and folk, with a slight touch of pop music. Certain names in the music industry come to mind when listening to her work. She shares similar qualities with artists such as Phoebe Bridgers or even the band Big Thief. In recent years, her biggest musical influences have been largely from bands from the indie scene such as Slow Pulp and Soccer Mommy, who have really helped the young artist refine a sound and style that is true to her. Some of her other influences include the 2000s underground scene and the 90s Seattle grunge scene.
Justen had only released two songs when she decided to work on dropping an EP. She herself played most of the instruments on the project, and teamed up with producer Ash Always to work on it. After months of hard work, Saintclaire is finally out. It is an intimate experience that presents a subtle vibe instead of an in-your-face one, but is still hard-hitting and appealing like any high quality project. Justen’s vocal quality, where she will fade some words in order to prioritize how they sound, results in hauntingly beautiful vocals that deliver a profound sense of melancholy. From the pop-influenced and lighthearted “Centralia,” to the emotionally charged “Buckman,” the EP’s five tracks all bring something different to the table.
“Once I released my first single, I knew I wanted to do three songs and then release an EP and I knew generally what songs were gonna be on it. When I wrote each song, I knew immediately that it was meant to be on the EP like each song individually came together for me in that way. I have a lot of different versions like the order of the songs and I had different ideas for each of them,” she said.
The track “Buckman,” is a highlight in Justen’s catalogue (and also happens to be her favorite track off the EP) because of the message behind it. This song talks about childhood memories, and is dedicated to her late cousin, David, and her late aunt, Jane. In the middle of the track, we can hear a vocal message of Jane speaking at her son David’s funeral before passing away. This track is super meaningful and a strong feeling of nostalgia is present all over the song. The meaning behind it is embellished with gentle acoustic guitar, added rain sounds and gorgeous vocals which all build on the song’s beauty.
“My aunt Jane is a twin and her twin Julie is alive and listened to the song and cried and told me she loved it. My whole family is listening to that sobbing,” she said.
Anna has the talent to become a known name in the Montreal scene –– all she needs is more visibility. Her debut effort proves that she has the capacity to break out someday.
Photo by Gabe Sands