Justin Nozuka

Justin Nozuka is a little scary – but in a good way. Not only has the 19-year-old singer/songwriter been composing since he was 12, he borrowed money from his mother to independently record and release his debut, Holly, hired producer Bill Bell to helm it and secured the services of a lawyer to help find a manager and agent – all before graduating from high school.

“It was basically all about finding that group structure and team before even getting a label,” Nozuka told Pollstar. “From there it was my whole idea of trying to create this as naturally as possible – not forcing it down anyone’s throat. Letting people come to us.”

On second thought, scary isn’t quite the right word; intense is better. And there’s no question that intensity drove the New York-born, Toronto-raised songwriter to put together an impressive team that now includes Glassnote Records and founder Daniel Glass, who pursued the singer after hearing him perform at a BMI showcase.

“It was several months of courtship, but a very organic courtship,” Glass told Pollstar. “We both wanted the same thing – a long-term career. We believe in touring artists. We believe in artists that have a point of view and a lot of integrity that want a long-term career. Our job is to be there for them when they tour … and he was looking for a partner like that.”

Coalition Entertainment Management’s Eric Lawrence, who has worked with Nozuka for two years, said he knew he was onto something the moment he listened to songs on the singer’s MySpace page.

“I stopped my office in their tracks,” Lawrence told Pollstar. “Just based on his voice, before I found out he was 17, and I told them, ‘Let’s go find this guy!’

“Fortunately for us he’s from Toronto, so we brought him to the office and spent a bunch of time with him. After meeting him, we had to have him as a client.”

But landing Nozuka wasn’t exactly a cakewalk because he has very definite ideas. Before signing, the singer presented his future manager with a detailed outline of the path he wanted his career to take. That only solidified Lawrence’s opinion of him.

“I’ve been managing acts almost 20 years,” Lawrence said. “And this 17-year-old kid sits in front of me and shows me this incredible list and tells me this is how he wants to guide his career – after I was already in love with him. It was unbelievable.”

Although Lawrence was reluctant to go into specifics, he explained Nozuka’s list isn’t all about ego. It’s a clear vision of where he’s headed and an uncanny knowledge of how to get there.

The Agency Group’s Omar Al-Joulani, who along with TAG’s Bruce Solar has booked Nozuka in the States for the past year, discovered the singer while working in the company’s Canadian office after a client saw him at a workshop.

“She told Jack [Ross] about him and Jack went to see him and came back raving,” Al-Joulani told Pollstar. “So we went to see him together.

Justin Nozuka

“He was playing in front of 20 people, onstage by himself with just an acoustic guitar, and he just completely blew me away.”

Al-Joulani also found it necessary to pursue Nozuka for some time before he agreed to sign – again, because of that vision thing.

“The first meeting we ever had with him, he said he wanted to be as big as Michael Jackson,” Al-Joulani said. “But the funny part is that he said, ‘But I want to get there in time and I don’t want it all to happen right away. I want to earn it. I want it to happen over my long career.’ That was what he was adamant about – that it should take a long time.”

Al-Joulani and Ross assured the singer they had the same goal, telling him, “Even if he didn’t make any money or sell out any major shows for five years, we still wanted to be his agents.”

Fortunately for everyone involved, it didn’t take five years for audiences to discover Nozuka. The singer has been out for the past two years winning over legions of fans in Canada and Europe with his live shows. He then found himself headlining in front of sold-out crowds in the States just a few months after his debut was released here. Since one of his stated goals is to be a touring artist, that’s right where he wants to be.

“Being on the road is such an experience,” he said. “It’s incredible. It’s exciting because the band and I get tighter as the weeks go by.

“It’s the strongest connection that’s possible with your fans and people that support your music, to be face to face. There’s another element of connection that you don’t get from an album.”

Nozuka plans to spend the next couple of months in the studio recording the follow-up to Holly, then hit the road again as soon as possible.

As for the rest of that list he brought to Lawrence, the singer feels like he’s right on track with his hand firmly on the wheel.

“I’m pretty much in an ideal situation right now,” he explained. “I can make whatever type of record I want to make next. There are definitely certain moves that I want to make, but I’m in complete control of these decisions.

“When it comes to the music it’s all separate. No business people are involved in that and they shouldn’t be. I believe they should be completely separated from the art world, because they’re not artists.” –