eliza berkon is a journalist and musician based in washington d.c. 

Justin Trawick is invested in the Common Good

Tell me your name, talk to me slow. I’ve got all the time in the world. 

A lyric from “Brightside” by Justin Trawick and the Common Good is right on. Trawick, a 30-something Arlington resident sporting a hoodie and baseball cap at a Ballston coffee shop earlier this month, seems willing to chat all day.

The Leesburg-area native just released his Americana band’s debut EP (Riverwash) and is set to play a release concert at D.C.’s new Pearl Street Warehouse Friday, Jan. 26, with two more shows in Winchester on Jan. 27 and Purcellville on Feb. 2. He’s enthusiastic about the new project, but he’s also eager to discuss how he got there.

Trawick grew up as an only child on five acres of land with a 19th-century cemetery across the street and an abandoned town in the forest nearby. In high school, he was already playing saxophone in the school jazz band but picked up the guitar after finding one that had long since been abandoned by his father in a “creepy closet.” As years passed, he played guitar with a group of bluegrass veterans, started a band with his college girlfriend and launched a solo career at area open mics, often driving from Leesburg to Arlington to perform at the now shuttered Iota nightclub.

Today, he runs a singer-songwriter collective known as The 9, with performances throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, co-hosts a podcast and fronts his band. His music seems honest and vulnerable. And so does he.

How did you feel about Iota closing?

That’s basically how I got started. I have friends now who are married with kids who I met playing the open mic there when they were on their second date. I started driving to Iota to play their open mic when I still lived with my parents. We played one of the last shows there, and Iota’s open mic was always the best open mic in all of D.C. until it closed. There is still not something that can beat it.

Tell us about The Circus Life podcast.

A friend of mine [and I] partnered up together and we did that show for four years. He actually has just now moved on, and I’m continuing. There’s a new organization in D.C. called Podcast Village, which is a partnership between Charlie Birney and Oscar Santana, a relatively well-known broadcaster in D.C. The whole point when I started this podcast was that I wanted to finally do something that wasn’t just me by myself, because it’s lonely to work by yourself all the time. It’s interviews with musicians as well as other people that might be of interest. We get chefs from restaurants, or brewers will come in with their latest beer. I just like meeting these people and talking to them.

You’ve said the band performs in lots of styles, including reggae, hip-hop and rock and roll. So do you not define yourselves as an Americana/bluegrass band?

When we started playing, I was loosely calling the band, for live performances, the Justin Trawick Group, largely due to the fact that I had a very large group of people that came in and out all the time. So we were kind of genre-less. We would do everything from bluegrass to rock and roll to hip-hop and stuff like that. But as we got older, I really just started to be attracted more to an Americana sound. We still do the same type of music, but we do it now with instrumentation that more lends it to a more specific genre. It’s hard to market a band that plays everything.

What are you anticipating for the band’s near future?

We’ve been playing together for a long time but I would almost say that my previous 10 years of playing music has led up to figuring out what I really want to be presenting. And what I’m really excited to be presenting is the debut record, the debut iteration of Justin Trawick and the Common Good.

As a Virginian, when I was trying to come up with a band name that would be representative of this Americana sound that we do, I was like, “I kind of want to somehow have Virginia in the title.” Virginia’s one of four commonwealths, so I was like: Justin Trawick and the Commonwealth. But there’s already a [band named] Commonwealth. So I looked up on Wikipedia “commonwealth,” and part of the definition was “to do something for the common good.”

Interview has been edited and condensed.


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