Schenectady resident Justin Friello is a bit of a Renaissance man. He started songwriting at a young age, became a musician not long after that and has maintained a career as a professional musician and actor for more than a decade.
In an upcoming show at The Linda: WAMC’s Performing Arts Studio on Sep. 9, the spotlight will be on Friello’s songwriting, and the artist will perform select songs from his entire discography. While the show will mostly be solo, local artist Angelina Valente will be joining him on harmonies and ukulele for a trio of songs mid-set.
“This feels like a good opportunity to play newer material for fans but also [I’m] hoping that people I don’t know will come to the show because it’s The Linda and it has its own audience that comes to things, I thought this would be a good opportunity to introduce people to all the material that I’ve been playing for the last 16 years since I started playing in 2005,” Friello said.
After graduating from Schenectady High School in 2007, he studied classical composition at SUNY Purchase and then transferred to SUNY Albany, receiving degrees in both music theory and psychology.
Earlier in his career, Friello played in bands like Filming Ohio and then Stockade Kids, mixing rock, pop, hip-hop and jazz. Around 2018, he became a solo artist, which was an adjustment.
“It was a relearning experience because I had been playing with bands for the last 11 years,” Friello said. “It felt like I had to figure out how to perform again in that context and figure out who I was as a performer and what kind of performer I wanted to be as a solo artist.”
It took a few years of performing around Schenectady, as well as Plattsburgh and Boston to adjust and, oddly enough, it was during the pandemic that he felt like he really hit his stride.
Like many musicians, at the start of the pandemic, Friello invested in better at-home sound equipment and began live-streaming.
“I learned a lot more about live-streaming technology than I ever wanted to learn because I had to,” Friello said.
For several months he hosted All Request Live show, where fans would send him a Venmo payment along with a song request, some of which he knew already and some he had to learn.
“It was really awesome because you had a built-in audience because everybody was waiting to hear their song. Then I got a whole bunch of new songs that I would’ve never learned out of it and it was just a really cool event that brought together all my friends and fans,” Friello said.
As live-streaming fatigue set in after several months, Friello put a pause on those shows. However, in April he was finally able to start playing out again, starting at Jay St. Pub. While he was anxious about the virus, the pub’s patio was set up so that there was plenty of space between the audience and the performers, putting him at ease.
“I just remember playing that show and you could tell everybody was so grateful to hear music, to be in front of a live musician again. That was such an awesome show,” Friello said.
In planning Thursday’s show at The Linda, Friello has gone back through his music catalog, combing through songs he wrote in high school, college and more recently.
“There’s been a single thread throughout most of my songs which is [that I use] songwriting as a way to process everyday life. I’m not somebody who makes up stories, I’m not a storyteller in that sense. I very much write about my own life,” Friello said. “So whether that’s relationships, whether it’s family, depression, whatever it is, that’s going to end up in a song. In building this setlist you can really see that thread work itself through all of my songs.”
That can be heard on his 2016 EP “Jack & Jill,” in which he reflects on a relationship gone wrong. On the track “Confused,” Friello sings:
“Where’d you go?
Because I want to be your friend
but I think that it’s the end.”
Then, at the end of the title track, he writes:
“But I hold on to the fantasy
That you feel the same.
Memory will be the death of me
But I can’t seem to get my fill.”
At the show, he’ll release a book of his original song lyrics, dating back to 2002. While his sound has changed over the years, his songwriting has remained contemplative, reflecting on his experiences and memories.
Local author and photographer Richard Lovrich will open the show with readings from “Have a Very Bad Day.” He will be accompanied by musician Ryder Cooley.
The show, which is part of The Linda’s “Open For Business” concert series, starts at 8 p.m. Thu., Sep. 9. Tickets are $15. For more information visit thelinda.org.