NAPA — After Blondie frontwoman Debbie Harry provided guest vocals on Just Loud’s rocking funk track “Soul Train” late last year, the singer-songwriter paid her back almost immediately when the song reached No. 40 on Billboard‘s Alternative Songs airplay chart. It was Harry’s first time on the chart in nearly 30 years.
The partnership was one of several key moments in the rise of enigmatic artist Just Loud—whose mother calls him Josh, but only when he’s in trouble. “Soul Train” was Just Loud’s second song to make the alternative songs chart in 2018, following the fiery “Electrified.” The Harry collaboration came together after Allen Kovac, the president of his label, Eleven Seven—Harry’s manager—played her a demo that sparked her interest.
“I was grateful that she saw enough potential in me to do a record with me,” says Just Loud before a performance at BottleRock, running his hand over his head, which he just trimmed for the music video for “Blue on Blue.” “For her to come back on the Billboard chart, that’s amazing, and I’m happy to be a part of it.”
Just Loud is a private person, and the self-described “loner” would rather keep it that way. Still, there are some things “JL” talks about openly, starting with his upbringing in a devout Pentecostal church in Virginia. He’s been singing most of his life.
“My mom said that at 3 years old, while the pastor was talking, I just stood up on the pews and started singing, ‘I’m free/ Praise the Lord/ I’m free,’” he says.
The devoutness also proved to be a hindrance. For example, his mother wasn’t allowed to wear pants or makeup. She couldn’t get her hair done. Just Loud just wasn’t allowed to go to the movie theater, or skating, or play any sports. From the outset, he became a solitary person because of all the things he was prevented from doing with the rest of his classmates.
He also kept a tally of the number of non-Gospel songs he was allowed to hear as a child: 66. His mother was supportive of his creativity. His father was not, and still isn’t. To this day, there’s a rift in his relationship with his parents.
When he was 15 Just Loud left home, and his church.
“The short story is I became really close with one of the teachers at my school, so I would run away to her house, and then I started staying there,” he says.
Three years later, when he was 18, he started going to New York to pursue music. Eventually he moved there. Before he was known as Just Loud, he had a different but similar music project called Josh London. He said this was the first time he’s ever told anyone what he called himself.
Is his family name “London?”
“Yeah, I’ve been doing this a very long time,” Just Loud says, laughing.
He remains a private person at a time when many young artists decide to open up their lives to their fans. Instead he spends most of his time in his own world.
“It’s going to sound corny—I’m not used to having friends,” he says. “I’ve never had a best friend or anything like that. It’s a new process for me waking up every day and having to post a picture. I’m a Gemini. One side of me is really, really, really shy, and the other side of me is really loud.”
Even his mom, his biggest supporter, usually has to wait for updates about the music he’s making. She’s only seen him perform twice and listens to his songs only after they’re out in the world.
Just Loud writes songs that are deeply personal to his life in the moment, blending funk, pop and rock in equal measures. In 2018, he signed his record deal, released his first single and followed it with debut EP Episode I.
The EP included his breakout hit, “Electrified,” a glossy, synth-led banger written for nighttime. There was also a soulful take on Radiohead’s “Creep,” and the meaty “Ghost” and “Angels and Demons.” He followed the EP with the Debbie Harry collaboration, “Diamonds and Dope Boys,” and last spring he released another new single, the falsetto-sung “Blue on Blue.”
On his next releases, expect him to put himself out there even more.
“I’m single; I’ve been writing this music for bait, if that makes sense,” he says. “Like, ‘Hey, here I am. Come closer to me. I’m not going to bite.’ And I’m just having a good time keeping the feel-good still prominent in my records. Most importantly, I try to write some love records and some break-up records.”
Just Loud continues to live a bohemian life. Recently he moved to Atlanta after going to Georgia for his sister’s wedding and then just staying there after he broke up with an ex. He’s already planning an eventual move to L.A. He’ll be hitting the road to play more shows soon, too.
That’s pretty much what Just Loud has wanted for himself since he was 3.
“I think I’ve never had a choice. It’s always been in me, and this is the only thing I know,” he says. “I’m just like a walking music note, if that makes sense.”