Updated: Jul 22, 2019
Justin Biltonen was just 14 years old when the Mississippi rock band 3 Doors Down skyrocketed to international fame with their first single Kryptonite. Nowadays, Justin tours all over the world with the legendary band as its bass player, and is also releasing his original music and performing at songwriter rounds in Nashville.
After playing thousands of shows for huge crowds, Justin says playing solo for a small audience at a writers round can be nerve-wracking. “Just being up there with your voice and an acoustic guitar, you can’t really hide behind anything. When you have 20-30 people in a room, everyone is staring at you, waiting to hear something genius, and you definitely get some butterflies.”
Justin started making trips from Asheville, NC to Nashville when he was 18, then relocated to Music City six years ago. When he wasn’t on the road with 3 Doors Down, he focused on songwriting. “About a year-and-a-half ago, my friends and family and co-writers said, ‘Why don’t you put some of this stuff out?’” She’s Got The Highway (Justin’s third single) got airplay on a handful of country stations after its release last October. Justin had heard other songs geared to the guy hitting the road, and explains how he wanted to put a different spin on that theme. “She’s got the highway, where she loves to travel, and while she’s traveling, she’s listening to The Highway (Sirius XM country radio channel). His next single, Runaway, will be released in April. It is a full band recording and was produced by Max Gabriel.
Click HERE to stream, buy, or watch She's Got The Highway.
When he was 12, Justin started playing his mom’s Ovation acoustic guitar that she bought in the 70’s. His next guitar was a Telecaster with pineapples on it that he found at a pawn shop down the street from where he lived. He still owns what he considers to be his first real guitar -- an ‘81 Gibson Les Paul that he bought from a friend.
As a teenager, Justin was into heavy metal music and rock. “High school days are angsty times anyway, so you’re looking for any kind of music that’s not your parents’.” His first band, Campaign 1984, had a heavy southern rock influence.
By the time he was 20, Justin’s musical tastes and style had gone full circle, and he gravitated back to country music. “That’s where my heart was because it’s what I grew up on. I was no longer that angsty punk rock kid.” Justin was now listening to country radio hitmakers Dierks Bentley, Jason Aldean, and Jake Owen, as well as alt country acts like Drive-By Truckers, Shooter Jennings, and Jason Isbell. He started writing his own songs, and was inspired by the music of Alabama, the Eagles, and Shenandoah. “I love the harmonies and story-telling that their songs had.”
Justin got his big break six years ago when 3 Doors Down asked him to join the band. He had recorded with some of the band members years before, and they remained friends. “When their old bass player got fired, they called me up and said they were considering me.” There was no official audition, but he got together with the band and played two of their songs, Kryptonite and Duck and Run. “I think they just wanted to make sure I wasn’t just total sh-- at bass!” Justin considers it a huge blessing to be playing with 3 Doors Down. “I can’t believe I’m in this legendary rock band that’s had a 20-year career and still going. I still have those ‘pinch me’ moments.”
One of those “pinch me” moments occurred two years ago when 3 Doors Down was invited to perform at the presidential inauguration, along with Toby Keith and Lee Greenwood. “I know a lot of people won’t agree with me, but it was pretty amazing getting to play the inauguration. I don’t really give a sh-- about anybody’s politics, but getting to play for the President was pretty incredible.” The band played four songs on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial for an audience that included President Trump and the First Family, the Cabinet, military, and hundreds of thousands of people (plus a TV audience in the millions). “That was one of, if not the coolest thing I’ve ever done.”
Watch Justin and 3 Doors Down play Kryptonite at the inauguration concert below.
In the coming months, Justin will be touring steadily with 3 Doors Down (mostly on weekends), and playing smaller singer/songwriter shows when he’s home in Nashville. “I get excited about doing both; they each have totally different vibes.”
On September 7, 3 Doors Down will host their 16th annual charity concert in Cherokee, NC (45 minutes from Justin’s hometown) to benefit The Better Life Foundation. To date, the band has raised more than $3 million and distributed it to nearly 50 groups -- including children’s charities, battered women’s shelters, disaster relief, veterans organizations, and faith-based groups -- to achieve its goals of helping communities and children in need. “Every year we’ve given $10,000 to the Cherokee Children’s Home. Just this last year, we went and bought all new beds for all the kids there. Seeing that directly is pretty cool.”
As he balances his various music pursuits, Justin is learning how to deal with the ups and downs of the music industry. “It’s definitely a roller coaster -- emotionally and financially and creatively. You have times when you feel like absolutely nothing is happening and you’re spinning your wheels. Then the very next day something happens that’s great. You learn how to deal with it -- how to ride that roller coaster.”
2020 will be a banner year for Justin, when 3 Doors Down celebrates its 20th anniversary with a re-release of their first record and a world tour. Beyond that, Justin’s five-year plan includes taking his solo music to the next level. “I’d love to have some of my original songs on the radio and be able to take a band on the road and open for folks and get my music out there. I’d love to still be playing with 3 Doors too.”
It looks like Justin’s future will include the best of both worlds -- country and rock.
Catch Justin’s next local show April 17 at Whiskey Row.
FUN FACTS AND TRIVIA
Justin learned woodworking from his grandfather. Check out his leather and woodworking business at www.anchorandfield.bigcartel.com
He has a dachshund named Sammy.
Justin's first tattoo was "Taking Care of Business" (the name of Elvis's production company) and a lightning bolt.
Restaurant: Martin’s Barbecue
Coffee shop: Red Bicycle
Concert: Garth Brooks at Bridgestone Arena
Movie: tie between Star Wars and Indiana Jones
Book: Shelter Island
Note: Photo credit Teresa Ginn Photography (2nd photo down) for Justin at Live Laugh Love Nashville's songwriter showcase at Redneck Riviera March 2019
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