A RENAISSANCE MAN IN EVERY FASHION, Justin Hoard, AKA Deep Cut, has presented a sound and aesthetic so strong and in such a short span of time, you would imagine he has every move planned out to the most minute detail. He insists, however, he is a “day by day type” and doesn’t “put too much weight in plans.” If you’re any kind of socialite or show-goer in the East TN region, you’ve no doubt run into Hoard in one incarnation or another. In addition to playing drums for a rock&roll trio (Loose Leaves) and two soul-blues outfits (Jake Quillin, Magus & The Movers), he is an accomplished DJ and one half of the electric hip-hop duo The Force Field, in which he shares the stage with his brother Drew.
I was lucky to corner such a busy guy for an email exchange, in which I got to know a man I feel I’ve known for quite some time, as we reminisced about both growing up as skaters, playing talent shows, analog photography, & listening to all possible genres of music. Hoard was happy to get candid, describing his childhood and what lead him to music, why he uses a stage name (Deep Cut) but doesn’t shroud his identity, and the importance of putting in your time.
Floyd Strange: Justin, thanks for agreeing to do this. I’ve been wanting to talk to you for a bit. Firstly, you’re a man of many talents. DJ, producer, photographer, musician. There’s probably more I’m not even aware of... What would you say your primary medium or form of expression is?
Deep Cut: First of all, thank you! Music is definitely at the forefront, I’ve just played as long as I can remember. I was a “beat on pots and pans” kid and was always fascinated by instruments. Even just looking at them early on it was like “Oh, ok! Let’s see what that’s about!”… My mom’s side of the family was full of players and singers, herself included. She’s a pianist and directed the church choir growing up and still does to this day, so I got a real early look at how music could be arranged and how notes and tones can work together. So music definitely comes the most naturally.
FS: You’re playing with a lot of acts right now. Do you approach all your gigs differently? Or is it more or less the same?
DC: Each one has it’s own special approach I guess, but with that there’s a similar attack. Like with Loose Leaves and Force Field I get to pour in a bit more as far as writing and creative direction, so it’s a little more hands on. Whereas when going and playing with Jake or Magus it’s a much more “show up and play” while they take the reigns. But I go into all of them just thinking “What’s best for the music and how do we execute that?” You know? Still put the personal flair on it. The one that really feels the most different is the Deep Cut stuff, just cause it’s all on me.
FS: I totally understand that. Having been a sideman for awhile then also doing my own thing, there are different levels of time and practice put into it.
DC: Exactly and i like the sideman gig really. It gives a lot of room to gain perspective and learn in a different way.
FS: I know you listen to all kinds of things but do you come from primarily a hip-hop background?
DC: Yes and no. It’s definitely in there but it was a little later on before I was, like, super into it. The first music I remember that really had me shook was like oldies rock and roll and psychedelic music. There used to be an oldies station that would usually be on in the car when going to pre-school and kindergarten and some of the earliest tunes I remember were like “Wild Thing”, “Pretty Woman”, and that Youngbloods song “Come Together.” That one especially had me like, “Wow, this sound is just insane”… And Nick-At-Nite was on growing up and they played The Monkees show and Sonny & Cher, so I got a glimpse of the 60s stuff and just fell in love with that whole aesthetic and sound. Not long after, that got balanced out by hip-hop and that was mostly due to my older brother Marcus picking us up from school. Our parents aren’t hip-hop fans so it was like an underground treat for a while.
FS: That’s really interesting to hear because I can kind of pick up on that influence in some of The Force Field tunes. It seems like you all want to bring a lot of different styles to the table to make something that’s familiar, but completely new, too..
DC: Dude, yes, that exactly! That’s awesome to hear that it comes through a bit, thank you! That’s definitely a big, if not the main thing, with that whole sound: just something warm and kind of familiar but at the same time fresh and a bit innovative. I was working and came across one of the PHATTEST breaks in this Chet Atkins album and it was really inspiring. I was just like, “Yo! That’s hip-hop!” I don’t know how many of his fans are hip-hop fans but it’s in there. And a bit of it is an idea of preservation too. It’s important what came before doesn’t get lost, you know? Like you have to know your past to see the future type of thing. That’s why I dig sampling so much. Like, I’ve discovered some of the best music just trying to make things and it just reinforces that music really is timeless and that… rhythms and tones have dates on them, sure, but that shouldn’t necessarily be an expiration date either. That seems to be a wide mentality I’ve observed. Even this customer came to the Willow and was bumping like, I don’t know, Trey Songz or some shit, and she was like “Ahh yeah I know it’s old but I like it.” I was thinking like, “Man, fuck age, that doesn’t mean anything! It just shows he made a good song!”
FS: I totally agree: age doesn’t mean anything. Stuff that came out 40 or 50 years ago is incredible and so is something that came out yesterday. Also, that might be the first time I’ve ever heard Chet Atkins and hip-hop mentioned in the same sentence! Haha. I love the sentiment of “have to know your past to see your future” — I feel like I’m always subconsciously incorporating this into my art. So when did you and your brother start making music together?
DC: We’ve played together in some form or fashion since we were kids. He used to play bass a lot and we jammed in a band in middle school and high school, which also included Trace Hoover, who I play with in Loose Leaves. Our first time on stage was in elementary school: he was in 1st grade and I was in kindergarten. We “played” Ticket to Ride in the talent show. There was a backing track but I think we handled a lot of the actual playing and singing. But he started doing hip hop around 2007/2008 or so and I didn’t start taking beats seriously until a little later. The first time we took the stage as a hip-hop duo was around 2015.
FS: That’s impressive to be so young and doing that. Do you find there’s a lot of crossover with The Force Field and your solo work as Deep Cut?
DC: Nah not exactly. I mean, I’m making beats for both, but with Force Field I see it like giving Drew a canvas and he can go nuts with words and whatever he’s gotta say. At least so far, there will probably be more collaboration in the future. But with the Deep Cut thing, I’m a different kind of meticulous and have these certain ideas and themes I want to get across. Much more self expression of what I have going on and emotions I’m dealing with. It definitely sits on its own and I want it that way. It’s a little selfish, but that’s my baby and I want it completely different than everything else I’m involved in.
FS: Oh, I totally understand that. It's kind of necessary for artists to have an outlet like that, especially if you're involved in so many other groups and work in other creative endeavors. Tell me a bit about Loose Leaves. It's the one project of yours I'm unfamiliar with.
DC: As far as Loose Leaves goes, we’ve been together maybe a little longer than Force Field actually. It’s me and Trace and Jacob, we’ve all known each other a long time. Me and Jacob since Kindergarten and Trace since 6th grade. Trace and I were in two groups before in the past and they both played in a group, Backroof Country, for a few years together and we linked back up around 2014. It’s a really fun group to play with, it’s a three piece rock and roll band which is always a good time. We’re working on a record right now (titled VehicleLP) and are very close to having it wrapped.
FS: That’s rad. It must be interesting to play with guys you’ve known most of your life. I imagine there’s a kind of unspoken agreement when you work together?
DC: It helps with chemistry for sure. It reeeeeally helps when we don’t get to practice as much. Unspoken agreement, what do you mean by that?
FS: In a way of like, maybe one of you already knows what the other guy is thinking, or you can just kind of tap into what they’re trying to do? As far as writing or recording goes.
DC: Oh ok, I got you. Yeah that’s definitely there a bit. Sometimes some people go rogue and you gotta catch up, but it always, well usually, irons out. We’re definitely good at getting back on track if nothing else, haha.
FS: So when did you hook up with Jake [Quillin] and Magus [Vaughn]? How has that relationship bloomed?
DC: I can’t remember how Magus and I actually met. I remember seeing him play with the Comet Conductors, and we were starting to play shows, so naturally we ran into each other. The Loose Leaves gang alway hung out at Acoustic Coffeehouse too (RIP). We’d see him there a lot so we got to be buddies. Then when the Comet Conductors broke up, Magus was trying to start a group and reached out to me and initially I was like “I’ll play but I want to play guitar.” Just to switch things up and get away from drums a little, and we had a few practices where that was the format but that lineup just kind of collapsed and he sweet talked me into getting on the skins. Actually, there was a Willow Tree show for the staff or something and they were doing a set of Beatles tunes and asked me to play drums for the set (no brainer) and, simultaneously, got me a job, haha. I was kind of bummed not getting to play guitar because it was fun and really refreshing but then he acquired Daniel Byrd and.... damn, I hear that guy play and I’m like, “I can’t play guitar”, haha. So that’s how that worked out. And Jake and I used to skate together way back when and I knew he played and and vice versa and we were always like “Yo we should jam” and when we finally did, years later, as I recall from that practice the new lineup was born. I have to really say thank you to Trace and Jacob for being so patient with me in taking these other gigs. Thanks fellas.
FS: I wonder if that was when I was playing with them for a short bit. We probably ran into each other and didn’t even know! You seem to be the ideal collaborator for both those guys and have definitely elevated the great music they were already making.
DC: Oh damn, dude, we might have! Haha, life’s a funny thing. But thank you so much man! That’s pretty flattering, those dudes are really solid so it’s cool to hear my contribution is helping.
FS: How did you get into photography?
DC: Mostly through skateboarding. When the skate bug hit it took full control and when I started buying magazines there was always a good mix of action shots and lifestyle shots, and the world of skating is so raw: you just see it all. But the people shooting always seemed to capture the beauty that lies in the raw. So, no holds barred. That just intrigued me: how you could catch a whole story in a photo. I hope it’s still thriving. I know that skate photographers still exist but, not to sound like that dude and everyone has stated this: there’s a camera everywhere now. It was really special [back] then, just like truly waiting for next month’s issue. Hell, even just waiting for the website update! But yeah, before we go down that road, those photographers really brought it home. Atiba Jefferson, Ed Templeton, Joe Brook, Gabe Morford… the list just goes on.
FS: That’s so wild to hear because throughout this conversation I’m learning what all we have in common. I was a skater too, and grew up reading Transworld magazine and those photos were vital. It seemed like these guys were capturing this whole world I just wanted to be a part of...
DC: Ahhh, that’s what’s up! Man, I can really tell now especially in your style. Skateboarders quietly rule the fashion world. What brands were you into? I liked it all, but Baker really stung me good. And dude, yes! It looks the coolest when done right. In a way, it’s a whole other world of rock and roll!
FS: Yeah, that’s absolutely true. I gravitated to a lot of the kind of underground stuff, I really loved the art for Zero, Blind, & Toy Machine. I was always drawing in school, trying to design my own decks like those...
DC: Oh right on! I’m a huge toy machine fan too, their graphics were always on point and their sense of humor is really great.
FS: It’s interesting to see how these things all fold together to create this look/sound or kind of aesthetic you’re known for now. What’s your overall goal as an artist and what attracts you to try so many different things?
DC: That’s kind of wild to hear. Not that I don’t get comments like that; more people keep telling me my style is very, well, me. Which is amazing! Mainly because I don’t know why they know it’s so me, but apparently it is! Which, I guess, is the answer. I just want it to be as genuine as I can get and share that. And honestly to kind of not have a persona or like, you know, David Bowie, Bob Dylan or whoever, they’re one dude but at the same time, like, 15 different people. Which is really cool and that theatre and the possibility to do that in an art medium is so great and one of the things I love, but at the same time I like the idea of not doing that. Like, I still introduce myself as Justin. I’m Deep Cut when I’m on a stage or for whatever time span you’re hearing my stuff but besides that, I’m just Justin. I don’t care about ranks. I want my stuff to thrive, sure, but I know what i’m getting into with this and I’m aware that there might be an expiration date on it. And the goal is just to really get my ideas out and break down this thought that artists are these mythical “whoevers.” Some of them are or might like to present [themselves] as such, but really we’re just working like the next person over is… And I guess that folds to part B as far as tackling it all. For one, I know it’s possible. Even with playing with so many groups... Go check the personnels on records out there and the years [they were released] and such. Like, how many records has Herbie Hancock played on? Or Willie Weeks or Jim Keltner or Chuck Rainey or Bernard Purdie? How many albums has Ken Scott produced and [what is] the range of artists? All it is is doing it. In the George Harrison documentary he talks about Lennon calling him [saying], “I wrote ‘Instant Karma’ today, we’re going to record it tomorrow, and have it out the next day.” Three days work: what’s three days in the long run, you know? It’s just about putting your time where you want to put it and working with people you know you can work with. Take you’re camera out in the morning while you walk to wherever, shoot the roll out, and bam: that’s done. Oh, I’ve arrived at the studio, let’s do a song, even lay down a portion of it, it’s still bricks to the house, you know? Take your sketchpad with you, doodle in the bathroom, at the bar or in line at the grocery store: why not? Just keeping at it. That, and trying to cut out distractions… To tack onto that, Questlove said he holds like, 12 jobs. One [of those] being a college professor. I can surely muster five, hahaha. He’s a human too, so yeah, it’s possible.
FS: Man, I agree with all of that so much. It’s so hard to demystify your idols sometimes or to explain to people you just want to create for a living, but it’s like you said, we’re just working like the next guy. And I like the sentiment of the stage name being just that. I have the same thing going on, but I kind of try to inhabit a character, just as way of expressing myself, and I think that mixes people up. I get the Questlove thing, too. I’ve always admired that guy for his commitment, and I think you’re definitely on your way to being that kind of dude with the work you’re doing. What’s next for you, Justin? Where do you see it taking you, or are you cool just right where you are?
DC: Dude it totally works for you! At The Howling (Wolf Hills Brewing), when you hopped up with Indighost, it was in full effect and the Floyd Strange name totally clicked. It was really sick, that Iggy cover was such a good one and vibed it all out. I love the mysticism but I can’t pull it off, haha… Man, I don’t know. I’m definitely enjoying where I am right now. This was the first year my calendar basically filled up before February, which was a major accomplishment in itself in my book. I have certain ideas and plans but I’m a day by day type. I never know what’s going to happen and anything can happen at any time so I don’t like to put too much weight in plans. I just handle what I can and go from there. I always keep some acorns stored away for the winter though if you know what I mean. I feel really good about whatever is going to happen, though it’s way further than I thought, even right now. Like Curtis Mayfield said man... “Keep On Pushing!”
FS: Indeed! No better way to end it than that, man. Thanks so much for talking to me. Great getting to know you.
DC: Likewise, man. Thank you for thinking of me and all of the encouraging words! Very flattering. Let’s do it in person next time, we’ll go look at some records.
Justin Hoard is a musician, producer, & photographer working in Johnson City, TN. You can follow his multitude of projects @deepnthecut @thetrueforcefield @looseleaves.music & @eyessow (photography). He is currently hard at work on albums for Loose Leaves and The Force Field, both due out later this year. Check out Hoard at any of the selected upcoming dates listed below:
Loose Leaves @ High Voltage - Kingsport, TN - 7/5
Deep Cut @ The Hideaway - 7/5
Force Field/Jake Quillin @ The Hideaway - Johnson City, TN - 7/12
Jake Quillin @ Border Bash - Bristol, TN - 7/19
Loose Leaves @ O’Mainnans - Bristol, TN - 7/19
Loose Leaves @ Odditorium - Asheville, NC - 7/20
Loose Leaves @ The Willow Tree Summer Slam - 7/21
Jake Quillin @ Highland Brewing - Asheville, NC - 7/26
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