1. Where do you find inspiration?
Justin Paul (JP)—As a person? From my wife -- I don't think I could do what I do without her. And from my amazingly supportive family -- my dad, mom, brother, but also my grandparents, aunts and uncles, the whole lot of them -- they are all my heroes. Truly. And creatively, I suppose I find it in other artists who are passionately driven and insanely talented. I've been lucky enough to work with some people who are true geniuses at what they do, and it is humbling and inspiring in so many ways. And while I'm on the subject of inspiration, I gain so much of it from my faith, my spiritual beliefs. Whenever I'm feeling empty, I know I can always fill up on God.
Benj Pasek (BP) —Sitting in coffee shops and observing people. I love wondering why they do what they do, think what they think and say what they say.
2. Which artist’s work do you most admire and why?
JP—One single artist? I could never pin down one! In terms of musical theatre writing, I'd say the old cliché of worshipping Stephen Sondheim. That's definitely true for me. But there's actually a few other songwriters/arrangers that I would say have been so influential on my feelings towards music, and on writing music, that I truly admire them the most. Stevie Wonder -- possibly the greatest songwriter in the past 50 years or more. And there's a lesser-known guy, a guy by the name of Rob Mathes, who is a music director/arranger/pianist/songwriter/vocalist. He's insane. I want to grow up to be him. I sit and listen to his music and one half of me wants to go out and write a symphony. The other half wants to go into dentistry.
BP—Those who expose the ugly, beautiful and fascinating parts of themselves and their larger world through their work.
3. As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
JP—Well, I didn't know Rob Mathes at the time, so it wasn't him. I always thought I'd end up as a lawyer or politician. All the way up to my senior year of high school, I was looking at colleges to go to where I could do some kind of pre-law work. I was always fascinated by the legal system, by our government, and I was one of the thousands of kids who thought he could be president one day. Or at least vice president.
BP—I'm still trying figure that out… but maybe I'll be a fireman one day, or a figure skater.
4. Who is your real life hero and why?
JP—I said it earlier -- but I'll say it again: my family. My wife, who is the most solid, dependable, creative, brilliant person I've ever met. I'm astonished by her every day. And my parents—they were strong but not demanding, unconditionally supportive of what I wanted to pursue, and they modeled a way of living that I'm still striving to achieve. They passed down traditions of faith and morality that I'm so thankful for. They are my heroes... because at the end of the day all that life stuff is a heck of a lot more important than writing show tunes, right?
BP—My mom and dad. They taught me to see what could be rather than what is.
5. What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
JP—Well, I'm hoping that I haven't achieved it yet! But thus far, I'm really proud of the scores we've written, and of the collaboration and friendship Benj and I have formed as writing partners. But as far as accomplishment goes -- it's up to my wife. If she says I have been a good husband, then that would really be the greatest accomplishment I could claim so far in my life. Being a good husband, being a good father. Those are my goals in terms of accomplishments. Only time will tell.
BP—Surviving middle school
6. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
JP—Perfect happiness is living where I can see the water, being in a funk band that plays at local clubs just for fun, having a happy home and happy family, and writing musicals that mean something to people. Aaahhh…
BP—Eating Thai food and playing running charades with the people I love.
7. What do you most fear?
JP—Drowning. Not pursuing opportunities aggressively enough. Running out of ideas.
BP—Crocodiles, serial killers, and falling short of personal goals.
8. What is the trait you love most about yourself?
JP—While it makes me a somewhat intolerable person, I really enjoy the organization and structure of my life. I like that I make to-do lists practically every day, and I have my entire life scheduled in my iPhone, which immediately and remotely syncs to both of my computers. I'm happy to be a hyper-structured person. It just makes living with me a very difficult task.
9. What is the trait you hate most about yourself?
JP—I hate that I cannot stop eating cookies and pies and cupcakes. I really, really hate it. I have the most horrible sweet tooth, the most awful gluttonous spirit when it comes to food and dessert. And I know I'm doing something wrong, there is just this place deep within me that demands more and more. It's absolutely an addiction.
BP—Being disorganized. I'm working on that though...
10. What is your most treasured possession?
JP—Three things: 1) This one isn't actually mine... it's my parents' baby grand piano. I like to think we share it; it just permanently lives at their house. But it was at this piano where I spent a large portion of my childhood. 2) I have a collection of notes, cards, and sweet messages my wife has left me since the time we first started dating. I cherish these. 3) My Bible. While it's certainly true that I don't read it enough, I could never live without it.
BP—Old photo albums.
11. What do you love most about musical theater?
JP—I love the storytelling and I love the invitation to suspend the rules we've lived by for just a few hours and transport to a different world. The coolest thing about musical theater is that every story we see up on the stage is ours -- it resonates, it relates, it reminds of something or someone from our own life. And yet we don't realize because we're watching something magical and out of this world. Characters sing big productions, giant sets move on and offstage, animals come to life, magic is real -- and we buy it all. Because we know that underneath it all is a story that feels as natural and familiar to us as the conversation we had yesterday with a friend or the journal entry we wrote last night. I love being deceived into thinking I'm watching something other-worldly, but then reminding myself that it couldn't be more like my life.
BP—That you get to capture memories and stories in songs.
Watch the video below to hear a portion of the song "Somewhere Hovering Over Indiana", written by Pasek and Paul.