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Q&A with Justin Utley: Singer-songwriter thrilled to be returning to San Diego Pride Festival

SAN DIEGO -- Openly gay singer-songwriter Justin Utley will be returning to perform this weekend at the San Diego Pride Festival at Balboa Park, and he couldn't be happier for the invite.

Utley is still riding high from the release of his third album, "Nothing This Real," and he has been touring the Pride circuit this year where he is finding new audiences.

During an exclusive interview with San Diego Gay & Lesbian News in January, Utley talked about how he survived his Mormon past and endured "ex-gay therapy" that been proven to be junk science that is psychologically dangerous to its victims. Utley, though, had emerged as a stronger person, a popular entertainer and a driven activist for LGBT equality.

In his second interview with SDGLN, Utley catches his fans up on what has been going on in his life and career since January.

SDGLN: Good to hear that you are returning to San Diego LGBT Pride to perform at the festival. What do you like about San Diego audiences?

JUSTIN: I’m pretty excited too. Last year I really enjoyed meeting the audience after the show. Some other Prides the artists are cut off from the crowd after the show, so it’s nice to have that opportunity in San Diego.

SDGLN: What’s new in your busy life since we spoke in January, following the release of your third album, “Nothing This Real”?

JUSTIN: Lots (and lots) of shows, a couple of music video shoots, and busy writing for my next project (a single) due out this fall. I now have a full band as well, which adds a great dynamic to those shows. They’re called “the Saturday Saints” ... as opposed to Latter-Day ... get it? (sips Diet Coke)

SDGLN: You seem to be a favorite performer on the LGBT Pride circuit. How do you feel about that, and where have you been this year?

JUSTIN: This year I kicked things off in Phoenix, which was hot (in April ... and it was still over 100 degrees) and somewhat of a pilgrimage since that is where I spent two years as a Mormon missionary. I got to see some familiar faces at Pride ... some of whom I baptized into the Mormon church ... and who are clearly no longer Mormon. Then I returned to Utah Pride as a special guest in the Parade for Bud Light. Then back to NYC to play at the Pride rally concert. Next up is Provincetown, Nashville, San Diego, Charlotte, Roanoke, and a few others in the works later into the summer.

SDGLN: Are you working on a new album yet? If so, what is the theme?

JUSTIN: The single I’m working on is for the It Gets Better Project. It’s an “it gets better” and “anti-bully” song, without being too cliché or cheesy. It’s a theme that really hits home for me, and it’s important to me to get the message out. I also have another album’s worth of songs that we (the band) will start recording as soon as the single is out.

SDGLN: On your website, you mention the importance of Social Media to young musicians who don’t land mega record deals. Explain that further, please.

JUSTIN: Basically, if you can harness the power of Social Media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) and engage your fans, potential fans, advertise, etc., there is little a start-up musician would need a record label for. It’s a lot (a LOT) of busy work, but it pays off. The music industry is still re-inventing itself due to the digital age, which has leveled the distribution playing field, which is a huge plus for indie artists.

SDGLN: What is your secret of connecting with an audience?

JUSTIN: Writing and singing songs about something people can relate to, and keeping things real, as a person and as an artist. I do my best to keep the emotion and the story in my music universal.

SDGLN: If you could give advice to up-and-coming musicians, based on your own learning curve, what would that be?

JUSTIN: Don’t measure your success by comparing where you are in your career to someone else. Things can change for you overnight, in a week, in a year, or 10. So find your own success in it, and keep plugging away at making it a reality.

SDGLN: Do you think you have become a role model? And who is your role model?

JUSTIN: I hope something I’ve done or said has rubbed off in a good way ... whether it makes me a role model or not, I’m not really concerned about as much as I am connecting with people, making the most out of what life gives, and leaving the world a better place.

As for my own role model, I have a few. One of which is John Lennon. His thoughts and his writing are brilliant and self-empowering. He was such an incredible advocate for change, it is a shame his life ended so quickly. He left a lot of his work behind for us to digest and I’ve really loved getting to know it.

SDGLN: What is something that your fans don’t know about you?

JUSTIN: I have a cameo in an upcoming film called “Saltwater” that stars Ronnie Kerr and “out” rugby icon Ian Roberts. They’re using a few of my songs in the movie as well. It comes out this month, so watch for it at the film festivals!

Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at ken@sdgln.com, @KenSanDiego on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to (877) 727-5446, ext. 713.