Justin Boreta is a deep dude. Throughout our enlightening phone conversation, we traverse the many spheres that comprise one of music’s deeper thinkers, touching on everything from the inherent connectivity of music, to the creatively unleashing power of cannabis and the interwoven practice of mindfulness and meditation. “When I’m practicing meditation, I’m practicing letting go and not forcing the narrative that I think should be happening. This applies to relationships, it applies to music, creativity—everything. The best music and creativity comes from letting go of what we think something needs to be, and just letting it be what it wants to be. The same thing applies to life in general.”
If you think this all sounds deeply spiritual, it is, which is partly why Justin’s latest project—Superposition—has a collaboration with Eckhart Tolle due out March 26th. So buckle up, take a puff, and ride through Justin’s musical timeline and mind as we journey through The Glitch Mob early days to the Superposition present.
You’ve talked previously about the formation of Glitch Mob happening very organically. For you, was music always a hobby that subsequently became a career?
Justin Boreta: It was pretty much an accident I would say. I always loved music, but I had never really calculated I was going to do it professionally, whatever that means. Everything from The Glitch Mob project to my own ambient meditation stuff, it all really stems from a deep love and reverence for music and the role it plays in my life, and with the events of this past year, I’ve thought so much about what exactly that role is.
When you’re playing shows all the time, you don’t really consider the role of being a performer and being a provider of this container for people to dance and let loose. And then at the same time, you’re also a music fan and going to shows and being inspired through other people’s stories and imaginations. There’s this whole crazy feedback loop that happens, this deeply embedded process between being a music listener, being a music creator, and being a music fan. Making music is really a way for me to add my bit back to that feedback loop.
So by expressing yourself through music, you’re contributing to the greater collective, which in a lot of ways is a metaphor for how one interacts with life itself.
Justin Boreta: On both a micro and macro level. On a micro level, there’s a song’s start, there’s a story, and then the song comes to an end. You’re creating these little micro bits of experience through song. The arc can also be throughout the course of a live set—which can be 60 to 90 minutes—where you’re creating a journey in the moment while grappling with impermancy the whole time. There’s also the arch of an entire career—beginning, middle, end—where you’re really coming to terms with the fact that life is short, so there’s no reason not to fill it up with as much good music as possible. Because I never really intended to get into music and I don’t really have any formal training, I feel very grateful to add back to that cycle.
Were there moments along the way that reaffirmed for you music was your path?
Justin Boreta: When I first got into the idea of performing music, I was in high school in Santa Barbara, and it was really a long process for me around experimentation. I couldn’t play guitar or piano or anything, but I got really into DJ-ing vinyl. They had a talent show at school every Friday where we’d eat lunch outdoors and people could juggle, dance or do whatever you wanted for 30 minutes. I decided to bring my speakers and turntables to school and played a DJ set that—looking back—was probably awful. But I was sixteen at the time and got “the bug,” so I didn’t need a music education to have the excitement and thrill of being on stage and playing music. I was completely addicted to that whole process.
I’m really someone who was completely born out of music technology in the sense that I learned first through music software. There wasn’t any one particular moment, but my whole story is definitely a string of events that are linked to tinkering around on my computer, finding a way to play that music in front of people and seeing how it felt, and then going back into the studio and continuing that whole process.
So really the building blocks of creating, performing, getting the audience feedback, and doing it all over again are the DNA of what works for you musically.
Justin Boreta: It works for me and I think that music has a way of bringing people together. To quote from one of my favorite authors and musical thinkers—Dr. Oliver Sacks—“Music is primal, social cement,” in that it links people together in a very literal way. Throughout time, people have come together through the power of music and have even made pre-linguistic forms of communication. Music is like veins between us, and I think right now, we’re seeing what it’s like to not have it.
I’m always someone who’s been equally involved creating and playing, and for me, it’s always been about the way music can affect us, connect us and carry emotional information in ways language really cannot.
Think about going into a music festival. When else are you in a room with a thousand other people from so many different walks of life and you’re all connecting over this one thing we can all agree on for that one hour? Or at least we’re all there for something that speaks to us on a deeper level, and for me, music is all about the mystery of that whole process.
It becomes more and more apparent to me the more music I make that the analytical mind wants to take over and calculate music and say, “This is how the marketplace is doing, and my last album performed at these numbers, and this guy is doing this, and that person is doing that.” Making music from that analytical place—that structural, strategic mind—is never as good as something that’s just honest.
The irony is the marketplace is most “attracted” to music that comes from an honest place, but then wants to manufacture honesty into future success.
Justin Boreta: This is something I think about a lot in terms of my own process. I think It’s gotten harder if you pay too much attention to the metrics and to what performs well because we live in a world with immediate feedback. I could create a song now, post it, and watch how many likes and streams it gets on Spotify, but I’d be trading popularity for timelessness. There’s some art that will stand the test of time, but might not have been popular in the moment. As an artist, since you have to survive and make a living, there are some thoughts in the back of your mind around the numbers. But really, the best stuff isn’t made for Spotify algorithms, it’s made based on the true expression of your story and of the human spirit. There’s a dichotomy—an inherent conflict—between those two things.
You recently celebrated the tenth anniversary of “Drink The Sea.” What went into that album that helped make it timeless?
Justin Boreta: We really closed off the rest of the world as much as we could have [when we made that record]. There was social media in 2010, but it certainly wasn’t pervasive on our phones all the time like it is now.
The album was also really exploratory. It was a combination of us exploring new techniques and styles and really pushing ourselves, while also being very honest. We’d all had rough years that year—2009 and 2010 when we were writing the album—and were all going through a bunch of personal stuff. There were breakups, our friend and mentor passed away – it was just this tumultuous time, so we decided to use the musical process individually and collectively as a way to grapple with life, and the record is the result of a really authentic and honest process. Making an honest album doesn’t mean it will transcend the test of time, but I do believe most things that become perennial are authentic to their vision and come from a place of pure imagination.
They’re not trying to be anything except for what they are.
Justin Boreta: That’s what “Drink The Sea” was. It was also an album that was so different from what we’d done before. The prior Glitch Mob catalogue was a bunch of remixes, mixtapes and was very heavy attitude dance music with hip-hop swagger. For “Drink The Sea,” we bled off into a totally different place because that’s where we were at the time, and I’m glad we followed our internal compasses.
What do you do to block out distractions in today’s world that helps you see your internal compass more clearly?
Justin Boreta: I have a lot of pretty elaborate schemes and practices in order to do this. The most magical thing for me is creating first thing in the morning, before I do anything else. So each morning, I’ll have a Transcendental Meditation® practice, I’ll move around a little bit, and then start creating [music] before I dig into the Internet or the news of the day. That’s been the main thing that’s helped me to stay disciplined because it’s really easy to spin off into a rabbit hole of information.
In terms of your Transcendental Meditation®, how does it compare to a spiritual psychedelic trip?
Justin Boreta: The most magical inflection point in my whole spiritual journey was the combination of both of those things. It was understanding the container of therapeutic use of psychedelics—and mushrooms in particular—which was totally different from recreation. My initial psychedelic experiences were one-hundred percent recreational, as I think most people’s experiences are. That was until I found ceremonial structure though Ayahuasca. Through that, I realized, “Wait a second. I can turn this spotlight back in on myself,” and I started doing psychedelics much more rarely—but with much more intention—and Transcendental Meditation® became one of the most important tools to me in that whole process.
So after having a very transformative psychedelic experience, I discovered meditating could take me back to that same place, and that I didn’t have to have psychedelic experiences to get there. Though Transcendental Meditation®, I could stay connected to those same states I experienced with psychedelics simply by dropping all of the ego stories that life hands us.
So in a way, psychedelics showed you the doorway, and then Transcendental Meditation® helped you to keep returning to that spot.
Justin Boreta: The metaphor I like to think about when talking about spiritual practice is being on a point on a hill with many different ways to get there. You can meditate, engage with yoga, there’s breathwork—all sorts of different ways—and for me, I initially felt I needed psychedelics to get there. It’s definitely the elevator and the fastest way, though there are many different ways to arrive at that same point on the hill. Mediation just became a way for me to stay connected to those states without being high on mushrooms all the time.
Does cannabis play a role in helping you stay connected to those states?
Justin Boreta: I used to be a heavy smoker, around the same time I was also using psychedelics recreationally. My relationship to cannabis has changed in the same way that everything else has with meditation. I don’t really use THC much anymore, but I’ve really come to appreciate the power of CBD. After traveling around, being on tour and having jet lag, I now use CBD for sleep.
There was a time where THC was the only thing I’d use to get creative, especially earlier in my career. My routine when Glitch Mob first started was to enter the studio, smoke a joint, and make music. Cannabis helped me unlock a place of reckless experimentation, and I think that THC greases the wheels in a way that perhaps my sober mind was not used to. But after I’d had that lateral motion of being able to go to stranger places without it, weed no longer became part of my creative process. Nothing against it, it’s just not my medicine anymore.
I’m still very passionate about the healthing power of psychedelics and plant medicine. The fact that I can legally order high powered, high quality CBD sleep medication online, have the best night’s sleep of my life, then wake up, go back and perform is amazing.
What inspired your Grammy-nominated ambient music project, Superposition?
Justin Boreta: It’s really derived from my love of ambient music and my whole psychedelic, spiritual life. It’s about the removal of structures around music that I’ve always had, since I always thought every track had to have an intro, chorus, bridge, drop, drums, and whatever else. When making ambient music, we strip all of that back, removing most rhythm, and it becomes more about the form and shape of music.
It just so happens that this type of music overlaps with psychedelic and non-psychedelic music therapy because there’s something about states of ambient music that allows people to have deep, meditative experiences. We were ultimately making the album for ourselves and I think that’s why—again—it’s very honest music.
I like having new monikers and new artistic personas as a way to explore new creative territory for myself, and in starting a new project with Matt Davis—an old friend and brilliant musician—we’re able to do just that without the structured bounds of having a pre-existing catalogue and expectations around it.
Follow @boreta and check out Superposition’s collaboration with Eckhart Tolle, available everywhere March, 26th