If you were to explain what you do for a living to a small a child, what would you tell him or her?
I make art for a living. I get paid to do what I want, for the most part.
What’s your story? You’ve been modeling now for about a year, but you started out as a musician, right?
Yes. I’ve been playing music since I was six. I started playing the piano, then I picked up the guitar and then I moved to the harmonicas. About eighteen months ago, maybe two years ago, I started singing. I’m really giving it a shot. I’ve been writing poetry since I was in sixth grade. A teacher tried to punish me a lot, she was my neighbor. As a kid I used to egg her house and that shit…
Here in LA? Are you from LA?
No. My dad’s from West Hollywood. So I kinda know the area: we used to come here and stuff, he’d show me what he used to do around here, but I’m from San Diego. Born in La Jolla. Raised in Del Mar. Anyway, this teacher, my neighbor, would get me to school early and she would try to help me because I was always falling behind. My mom was cool with that “Oh wow, I don’t have to drive Justin to school today.”. So, in the end, she used to make me do a lot of poetry thinking it was a punishment, but I started to really enjoy it to the point that even when I wasn’t in school I would just write my own poetry. It became the main tool to express myself. It has helped me going through so many times when I felt alone.
What current project are you excited about?
I got a music project with Troy Braunstein from the Hollow Suns. We’re going by the name The Toy Guns. He plays the lead guitar for us in the band. When we record he plays base, drums, lead guitar, he plays my rhythm session and he sings chorus with me. And then I have another group with Levi Dylan, but it’s a much slower project because of the separation in our modeling. He models as well and jobs are always taking us to different places. He signed with Wilhelmina New York around the same time I did. We were hanging out a lot before show season and we became friends. Friendship is really important to me. No matter what music Troy and I are doing, or Levi and I are doing: in the end it’s an expression of how we vibe together. It’s not about what the viewer is gonna like or what is cool in today’s terms. It’s literally kind of a selfish thing. It’s all about what do we like in music. If there’s something we don’t like in music, we won’t play it, even if it’s gonna get us a million dollars. What’s the point? A lot of people do that these days. They get paid to do things they are not fans of. They become big doing music they don’t believe in and then when they get criticize they get angry. If you believe in what you do you don’t get bummed out about criticism. There are so many artists that perform on stage and fuck things up and when fans get angry at them they take it so personally. You don’t care about that shit when you believe in what you do. To me, when you’re playing a concert, it’s not about playing the music perfectly fine. People can listen to your album and do that. When you’re seeing a show, you wanna see something real.
It’s funny. I interviewed Flo Morrissey recently, and she was sort of saying that same thing to some degree.
You can be on stage and your best song in the studio can be the most awkward on stage and vice-versa. It’s an experience.
Now you’ve been dividing yourself between music and modeling.
Yeah. And I’ve been getting into acting as well a little bit. I’ve done two music videos now. With Grizfolk and I got to kill Josh McDermitt in it. He plays a character named Eugene in The Walking Dead. It was really fun.
We have a friend in common, Brad Elterman.
Brad Elterman is a great man.
Isn’t he? Didn’t he discover you, sort of? Or at least he had a major role in you starting out as a model?
He had a major role I believe. He discovered me when I was just a skateboarder from San Diego. I had been skating for ten years, but out of the ten years I was in hospitals for about two of those years. I had a lot of broken knees: knee cap, broken leg, torn meniscus, torn ACL, torn MCL, broken tail bone, broken ribs broken fingers two herniated disks in my back. I have had concussions, I fucked myself up…
What’s your take on social media? I know you use it, right?
Oh man, it’s so weird. With all this social media you look at some people’s profiles, even with a ton of followers, but they are all the same, they feel like robots.
You do the Instagram and stuff.
Yeah I do, I do. I mainly do Instagram. I don’t like that there are so many platforms of social media, because then you have to pick one or do all of them, it’s so time consuming.
Yeah! Instagram is dope because you can just click on the button and post to everything without going through all the different platforms.
Tell more about Brad.
The turning point for me was meeting both Brad Elterman and Richie Green. I did this shoot with them, one of my first ones. There were no photos of me out, since I was a skateboarder. You know, now I am a model, you stop skating. There was this article along with the images of that first shoot and they basically compared me to Matt Dillon and other major guys Brad got to photograph when they were young, around my age before they got big.
How old are you?
Im twenty-two now. They found me when I was twenty-one. I had just signed with Next Models, my old agency here in LA. They had seen me on the board, I guess. They picked me for this story we did that ended up making it to the Vice cover story. Brad compared me to all these people that were young when he had shot them and nobody really. Up and coming at the time, but huge now. It was such a boost for me to be compared to those guys. He never told me that in person, he was just normal. But then to read about me in those terms when the article came out I was like “Wow, this is insane!”. For them to be viewing me like that? When I was on set… They are so much bigger than me, they are people I am supposed to look up to and they are writing about me “One day I am gonna be something huge?”. It’s weird to me, because I couldn’t spot that. I couldn’t spot I was gonna be here today. I couldn’t spot I was gonna be an actual model, you know?
And successful at it. Didn’t you just shoot the Lanvin campaign?
This year, yeah, I did the Lanvin campaign, the Costume National campaign and the Bowen London campaign. I even did a Best Buy campaign when I first started with Next (he laughs self-mockingly).
Was it a new thing to travel to NYC and Europe for you? Had you been those places before?
I didn’t even have a passport. Now I do. Next at the time was like “You’re gonna be great in London, you’re gonna be great here and there: you need a passport immediately.” So I got home and I told my parents “This is some serious shit now, I need a passport.” I used to tell them even before then that I needed a passport in case something happened, but they never thought anything was gonna happen in my life.
Just ’cause. You know. Your parents are more realists than optimists, I guess.
So you got the passport.
After three months of signing with Next I had already traveled to London. Since then I’ve gotten twenty-six stamps on my passport. I’ve been to Paris, London, Milan, Florence, New York: all for the first time and now for many many times to the point I got used to it. I had never done public transportation before and now I have, I’m a regular to it (he giggles).
Do you remember your first trip to Europe?
Yes. It was when I first flew to London to shoot V Magazine with Stella Tennant. I thought “This is great!”- I hadn’t been on a plane in seven years at the time “I’m gonna get drunk on air.” which turned out not being the best idea (he laughs). You get more buzzed in the air, which I didn’t know. I already get motion sickness, add that to alcohol. When I landed I felt horrible. I was carrying 70 pounds worth of stuff. I don’t do that anymore, I bring one small bag and that’s it… Anyway, I was throwing up everywhere, loud and terrible. People came up to me “Hey are you all right? You wanna see the paramedics?”. I was like “Fuck, no! I don’t have the money for that shit.” They told me it was for free. “Holy shit, free health care? This country is rad.” In the end they walked me through customs while I was on the wheelchair and wheeled me out to the front door. That was my first time going to Europe.
Do you enjoy the whole fashion speed, you know, not being in control of what is gonna happen next or agents telling you last minute “Hey, you gotta leave tomorrow for Europe!” or whatever?
At the beginning it sounded really cool to me, I thought that was super dope “I’m down.” but then I started doing it and I realized this is really tough. I didn’t realize how tough this could be.
You have a new friend that you’re great with, but then you two get a job, maybe to Amsterdam or Russia or some far ass place without knowing when you’ll be back home. You don’t get to be with your mates. Or you got the buddies at home that you’re super tight with, maybe it’s snow season and they go snowboarding having a great time, or surfing during the summer. You know, you miss it, you miss all of it. You miss your Christmases. You miss your birthdays. I missed my birthday. I was flying alone on Thanksgiving from New York. You miss everything that is special in a sense. But it’s cool at the same time because when you come back you get to have those times with your buddies when you’re home. In the end it makes it a lot more special. Any specific day becomes as special as Christmas. You have more special days in the year than a normal person would.
What’s the quality you like the most in people?
I don’t wanna sound like a gangster, but I’d say respect and loyalty. And at the same time compassion and understanding. You can’t be someone that talks and talks and talks and never hear what anyone has to say. It’s important to listen. My friends and I don’t like when people change. When they are no longer who they are because of something that has happened to them. Some changed because they get a girlfriend or because they get famous, some stayed exactly the same. I think it truly matters who you are on the inside.
How do you balance those thoughts in a career where the outside it’s so important? Do you feel you’re judged on the “outside” or it’s more than that?
I’m judged because of how I look on the outside, of course (he laughs). For work. But then that happens in life as well, initially and that makes it really hard to find specific people that truly vibe. People judge from the outside, but then they wanna learn the inside, yeah. Alright, quick judgement on the outside, but if you can get passed that… It’s hard for some people, it’s hard for me sometimes, but if you really talked to people and you find the time to get to know them, well, I think that that’s the important part. You know, there’s people that are good-looking, and they are not exactly cool or nice, or the kind of people I’d wanna share my time with. There’s people that are really unfortunate looking that are total sweethearts. You gotta get to know people. You know, growing up people made fun of me for being skinny, for being super pale, tall and lengthy. People come up with reasons to make fun of everyone.
Did you feel there was bullying in high school growing up?
Oh yeah, all the time. In high-school I was friends with the older guys because of my brother. They were seniors. I was a freshman. I was really tall and skinny. I still am (he laughs). Some kids in school would try to make fun of me and mess with me, but they would find themselves in a trashcan because of my brother and his friends. I never lifted a finger against anyone.
What do you like the most about living in Hollywood?
Honestly, if all of this was going on somewhere else in the world, I’d probably be there, it doesn’t matter to me. But what I love about Hollywood is that it’s in California. I love the temperature. I love going surfing and camping. California is my home. I always miss it when I am traveling (he pauses). And then I come back and I can’t wait to get on the road again and the fuck out of here (he’s driving). Like this traffic right now? It fucking sucks (we both laugh).
What’s the sexiest quality in a woman?
What’s the sexiest quality in a man?
It’s mix of things, I guess. A good heart. Intelligence. Wit. Sweetness. A touch of melancholy. Fire. Someone that makes me laugh and really turns me on.
How do they turn you on?
I don’t know, (I pause for a bit). It’s a vibe, a sexiness, I can’t describe it, it’s a chemical…
So you’re asking me something that is indescribable (he has a mocking grin on his face) and you want me to answer it (I laugh really hard).
Some people have the answer!
Darling, I don’t think either of us has the answer.
This interview has been edited and condensed.