Yogi-turned-pop artist Justin Michael Williams talks to YJ about the making of his new album Metamorphosis, his support for the LGBTQ community, and meditation as the “express elevator” to his dreams. Plus, he curated a practice playlist to speak to your soul and kick-start your dreams.
Growing up in the small town of Pittsburg, California, Justin Michael Williams dreamed of being a singer. And in the last year, he’s realized his dream and transitioned from the yoga mat to the stage. He’s now traveling the nation with his band, as a Pop artist. We chatted with Justin about making iTunes Top 20 Pop Album Debut, spreading awareness of the LGBTQ community, and the meditation practice he does before going on stage. Not only did he create a 90-minute yoga playlist for us on Spotify (download the software to listen to all our playlists), he is also offering YogaJournal.com readers a free download of his meditation class (get it here).
Q & A with Justin Michael Williams
Yoga Journal: How did you get into music?
Justin Michael Williams: Four years ago my grandmother, who I was super close to got diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. The doctors had told her she only had a couple months to live. When I flew home to be with her, she stopped me and asked if you were in my shoes and you knew you were going to die in 2 months, what would you do? Right away I said I would stop everything and record an album. That’s what really kick-started me into really going for it and pursuing music in a real way.
YJ: How do you get inspired to write music?
JMW: I write best when things are really going on in my life. Writing is very therapeutic for me and I tend to write when things are pulling on my emotions. My outlet for letting go of and releasing the negative things, the sacrifices and the hardships we go through in life tends to be through my music.
YJ: How did you feel when your album made the iTunes Top 20 Pop Album Debut?
JMW: I was in my hotel room at Yoga Journal LIVE Estes Park when I found out. I was doing a show with Sadi Nardini and I couldn’t sleep all night because it was my album release. I woke up at 4 am and saw that my name was sandwiched between Britney Spears and Meghan Trainer. I took a moment and cried a little bit to my grandma and realized I did it! When I made that promise to her I didn’t know how I was going to do that. I just said I was going to make an album and not only did I make an album but I did it successfully and independently.
YJ: Tell us about the process of making your album. What was your favorite part about making Metamorphosis and did you go through any challenges making the album?
JMW: I wrote every song on the album with some amazing co-writers that really helped me learn what it really took to write an album that comes from an authentic place. Each song on the album is me letting go of the things that held me back and the stories that I told myself about why I wasn’t good enough to be a singer. This album is so personal and if you listen to it you will know me.
YJ: Do you have any rituals you do before going on stage?
JMW: I have a pretty strong meditation and yoga practice I do before I go on stage. I always light palo santo to bring in creative energy for me. I also do a meditation and breath practice that helps me to align my energies and give everything to the audience.
YJ: What’s your favorite song to perform?
JMW: My favorite song to perform is my hit single Here with Me. That’s the song that I wrote about my grandmother and turned out to be the first single from the album. I pretend I’m singing to her and there’s an emotional connection to it every time I sing it.
YJ: Are there any specific places or events that you want to perform at?
JMW: Yes! I want to perform on the Grammy Awards, that’s my dream! If I could perform at the Staples Center in Los Angeles and the Grammy Awards, I will know that everything is exactly where it’s supposed to be.
YJ: Are you working on anything special right now?
JMW: I just finished a new music video for pride month. It’s all dedicated to the LGBTQ movement, and it’s a special song called The Divas’ Medley.
YJ: How do you spread awareness about the LGBTQ community and what does it mean to you?
JMW: For me pride month is really about acceptance and about celebrating the diversity that we have in our world and the strong history that the LGBTQ community has. I hope that when people look back at me in 20 or 30 years, they’ll see the legacy that I’ve left and that I’ve actually left a mark for this community as well. It’s really about making sure that we’re standing up for who we are and for what we believe in, sharing our voices loud and proud and being our authentic selves.
YJ: How long have you been practicing yoga?
JMW: Last month was actually my 10-year anniversary of when I first started practicing yoga. My most important practice of all is my meditation practice. My meditation practice is really what keeps me on the express elevator towards my dreams.
YJ: How did you get into yoga?
JMW: I started when I was in college because I had some severe body image issues and yoga really helped me to be strong and proud of who I was. At first it was a physical practice but then it transformed into a spiritual, emotional and mental practice.
YJ: Who are the yoga teachers who inspire you?
JMW: My three favorite teachers are Sianna Sherman, Cristi Christensen, and Sadie Nardini. Sianna helps me ground into the deep spirit of the practice of yoga. Cristi helps me to be confident, free and accept all of myself. Sadie is a constant reminder for me to be authentic and rock who I am. My meditation teacher, Lorin Roche, is also one of my favorites.