On the surface of Justus Proffit’s music, there’s a looseness that almost suggests apathy — a kinship to that ‘90s indie attitude whose goal was aloofness and whose enemy was the appearance of effort. “Oh, I made a song,” it sometimes seems to suggest. “I wonder how that happened.”
But dig a little deeper and it’s obvious that Proffit, at 26, is a seeker whose laconic style betrays his hustle: He’s been playing music half his life, culminating in a gorgeous collab with fellow singer-songwriter Jay Som in 2018 (the Nothing’s Changed EP) and last year’s fuzzy, fantastic full-length, L.A.’s Got Me Down. Their common thread: pretty pop songs hiding under sound and melancholy.
Like a lot of unrelenting talents before him, though, Proffit found himself frozen by world events in early 2020. He and his band were set to start a three-week tour at South By Southwest just before the pandemic hit; instead of spending the year next to and in front of the bandmates and fans that sustain him, he was in the warehouse/art space/erstwhile DIY club he’s called home for the last four years.
“It was a venue for years, called Top Space,” he tells me over the phone, “but we eventually stopped doing shows because it was just getting crazy. It’s hard to run a venue in the same place you live. Sometimes we’d get like 400 people up there. It’s a very warehouse-y kind of space.”
But after a brief COVID time in that big space, Proffit got antsy and inspired enough to reignite an old passion that scratched the dual itches of creativity and cashflow. In the past he had made some money and supported the scene by screenprinting flyers and shirts for other artists, so he had the equipment and the knowledge right in front of him to spawn a low-key fashion label he dubbed Magic Club House.
“The beginning of the pandemic was chaotic for me — I didn’t do much, and there wasn’t much to do. But through the months, just to keep my own sanity, I had to get back on to being creative. That’s literally exactly how it happened. I was frozen for a while and then it was like, I’m still alive and I’m gonna keep doing shit. We’re all still kicking, we may as well keep it going. It’s been a nice change of pace for the last few months, compared to the beginning of the quarantine.”
Proffit’s new venture exists on the same continuum as his past projects, with an unmistakably DIY vibe and low-fashion aesthetic: The first two T-shirts he printed — whose limited runs sold out immediately— look like flyers from a bygone era, specifically Britain in the mid-90s. They use imagery from bands he loves, specifically The Stone Roses and St. Etienne. But there’s a bootleg quality about them that screams Los Angeles of the past decade, a sort of warehouse-space chic.
“It’s just like what we used to do with the artwork on our flyers. We just replicated that on a T-shirt,” he tells me. “I grew up in punk rock, you know? So it’s replicating that, like an old ‘80s flyer. I also grew up listening to all Creation Records stuff, things like that. I don’t want to spoil the other bands that we’re going to drop soon, but we’re focusing on that era. That’s music that I’ve always wanted to wear a cool shirt for and I couldn’t find one. I had to start my own company to get the shirt I want. We made ‘em at first just so we could wear ‘em, so I figured we might as well sell them.”
The Magic Club House name wasn’t necessarily inspired by the workspace, but rather a musical endeavor that Proffit developed during this year’s forced downtime, also inspired by a ‘90s musical style: “Club House was this trip-hop project I was making but I just ended up using the page for the apparel, because I liked the name. I gave that side project up for the shirt company instead. We only had like two singles, so I wasn’t really worried about it. I can do something else with that music down the line.”
That’s not the only sonic output he’s been working on, either. Despite Magic Club House eating up a lot of his time — Proffit does almost everything, “except I don’t stitch the T-shirts” — he’s already got a second album pretty much ready to go, though it won’t see the light of day until next year.
“This new one’s different because I got a lot better at playing music,” he laughs. “The songs are better. I got to record some of them up in Washington at this place called The Unknown in Anacortes, where Mt. Eerie and the Microphones and all those people record, in this old church. It was a really magical vibe, so hopefully that vibe will be on the record and people can hear it. Doing this apparel stuff is definitely somewhat the same as doing music. I was just talking to my friend about how that creative force is always the same, it all comes from the same creative spot. It’s just that feeling of growth. And growth for me is a really great feeling. I have a shit-ton of material now.”
Proffit doesn’t have plans for Paris runways or Gucci collabs, though; in fact, he’s pretty content to keep Magic Club House as low-key as his music. Which isn’t to say he’s not excited about it, but rather that most of the validation he gets comes from the work itself. And while there’s no master plan for Club House, Proffit says, “I have a pretty clear vision of how it’s going to go. My goals have already been exceeded, so I’m not really worried about it. I just try to let it flow, and I think it’s going to be completely killer.”