By now everyone knows about the bleakness lurking next to the glamour of Los Angeles, where the space between abject poverty and untold wealth can be inches.
Justus Proffit knows that world better than most, having grown up in the city’s underground punk scene. A lifer at 25, Proffit started playing in bands at 13, touring at 16, and running his own DIY space by 22. Living and creating on the fringe has deeply informed his work as an artist—the 2016 EP Magic, the 2017 EP UPS/DOWNS, his recent collaboration with Soundcloud breakout Jay Som, Nothing’s Changed—but never more powerfully than on his debut full-length, the tellingly titled L.A.’s Got Me Down (Bar/None Records, March 2019).
A mixture of new material and songs he’s written over the past few years, L.A.’s Got Me Down explores a tumultuous time in Proffit’s life, one punctuated by the loss of close friends to drug overdoses, a war with personal demons, and the more mundane aspects of being an artist in a city as notoriously standoffish as Los Angeles. “It’s a very, very tricky city,” Proffit. says. “You’re trying your hardest and not getting back as much as you thought. I’m not saying I deserve this or that. At the end of the day, it’s just music. I do it for fun.”
Given the darkness that permeates much of L.A.’s Got Me Down, “fun” seems an odd descriptor, but the album doesn’t wallow. Anything that can be described as “my ‘Back in Black’”—as Proffit calls “Shadow of the Cross”—won’t be a slog. After his more subdued EPs, he had no intention of keeping the intensity down. “I wanted to come out with a rock record this time,” Proffit says. “I’m happy to start playing loud music again.”
Even as Proffit navigates a minefield of loss and regret, L.A.’s Got Me Down never loses its propulsive, toe-tapping edge. “Shadow of the Cross” boasts the biggest, catchiest chorus of Proffit’s career, and the sunny guitars of “Painted in the Sound” reflect the lovelorn lyrics at its center. Listeners will undoubtedly hear echoes of Heatmiser-era Elliott Smith, and “Hole” recalls Nirvana’s “Dumb” in sound and theme. But the vision is singularly Proffit’s; he played every instrument as he and producer/engineer Alex Resoagli recorded during off-hours at various LA studios over the course of six months.
“The whole record, the dynamic was just me and him—no one else came in,” Proffit says. “We would record it at like 12 at night because it was free for us to do that, so it was a really long process because it would be like four hours at a time,” Profit says. “I’m so stoked that it’s finished, but yeah, I wouldn’t do that again. It was definitely stressful at the end.”
Also stressful: two different calamities that followed the album’s completion. First, Proffit nearly died last spring when he tore his esophagus, a dire but ultimately treatable result of his excessive drinking and partying. The second speaks more to the themes of L.A.’s Got Me Down—it’s right on the cover. The two neighborhood kids silhouetted on it robbed Proffit’s home/DIY performance space just weeks after taking the photo. Worse, after he confronted them, they smashed his car so bad it was totaled.
“Those photos, I just liked that it was us as homies kicking it,” Proffit says. “It ended up working out in a way because I ended up cutting them out of the picture and giving the album more of a theme. There’s a theme around it where you get in that negative circle and it spirals.”
Proffit credits cutting other toxic people out of his life for keeping him happy and healthy these days. Maybe L.A. won’t get him down next time around.
“I’ve gone through a lot of things in my life, more than some. I don’t dwell on it. But that’s what happened. It is what it is,” he says. “L.A.’s Got Me Down focuses on that so much. Maybe the next one won’t—maybe the next one will be chill!”