Genevieve Lauren @genevievelaurenphoto

The Los Angeles-based attorney, law professor, and musician, Justin Hoyt, has an undoubtedly busy and interesting life. He’s the talent behind the musical project, Seven Layer Piano Cakes. He has just dropped his latest single, “Endgame”, which is the third of his “Chess Trilogy” of songs. The prior two in the trilogy were “Novel Opening” and “Middlegame”. To learn about him, we’ve asked him a few questions:

 “Seven Layer Piano Cakes” is a catchy, intriguing name! You mentioned how you came up with it in your EPK, but can you elaborate more on it for the readers?

I wanted a name that both reflected the music I make and my love for baked goods. I use all kinds of chords and voicings in my songs, but I do love the vibes and dissonance of seventh chords. Most of my songs are heavily layered (I have always been a fan of the wall of sound approach popularized by Phil Spector and later Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys), and all of them are driven by a piano or synth. And I enjoy baking cakes in my spare time. So it just made sense, I suppose.

I can’t think of anything in common between being a musician and being a law professor except being good with words and the fact that both an attorney and a musician get to be a voice for the voiceless. What is it like to have two professions? Does it feel like your personality is shifting accordingly?

That is such an interesting way to put it. I like having both professions because the day to day of each one is so different. I love the stability and predictability of practicing law, and how if you do good work, you usually get good results. Conversely, I love the instability and uncertainty of music, and how it seems to come from another place, with no idea how a song will turn out or be received. Each job satisfies me in different ways and gives an escape from the drawbacks of the other.

You mentioned in another interview that one of the most beautiful things you’ve ever seen is the reef/sea life while scuba diving at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. As an Egyptian magazine, we’d like to know more about your visit to Egypt.

I spent almost a month in Egypt in 2010. It was wonderful. The trip started with a week in Alexandria during the end of Ramadan, and that was such a great experience. Without a doubt, the highlight of that week was breaking the fast with the local residents, and seeing how nice and welcoming everyone was to someone who was obviously not Egyptian. I also spent time up and down the Nile, and in Cairo. And then a week in Sharm el-Sheikh more to just relax and scuba dive. I will never forget how great the diving was there, I still, to this day, have not seen such beautiful colors and aquatic life. But overall, the trip made me appreciate the country and culture, especially how great the people are.

As a pianist, who’s your favorite pianists and composers?
Maurice Ravel is definitely my favorite classical composer of all time. I think he did things never heard before and that will never be replicated again. He was a meticulous composer of some of the most complex music ever made, and it just works. Ravel was able to create sounds that were almost visual in nature, for example, how Jeux d’Eau literally sounds like various types of falling water. Just unbelievable. I try and do that in my own music, of course, to a far less complex degree. As for other composers, my favorite composers include Mozart, Chopin, and Schumann. My favorite pianists include Martha Argerich, Mitsuko Uchida, and Vladimir Horowitz.

You don’t hesitate when it comes to blending genres, and that’s obvious in your latest track, “Endgame.” What kind of music do you usually listen to? And who would you say influenced you?

I pretty much listen to everything except country. My influences are all over the place and I always enjoy sharing them because of that; it makes little sense probably. My biggest influences are probably The Beach Boys, Beach House, Lady Gaga, Depeche Mode, M83, The Weeknd, Daft Punk, Thrice, Cocteau Twins, and Radiohead.

What inspires you to create a new piece?
Usually, something that has moved me in recent months or weeks, whether it be something broader in the real world like the pandemic, or something more personal. I always focus on the soundscape and overall sound first to fit my feelings. The lyrics are tailored to the sound that comes out and theme that I was pondering.

How did you come up with the idea of making the “Chess Trilogy”?
I have always loved playing chess and thought it would be interesting to make three songs over a year that captured what I was feeling during the writing and production process of each. I liked the idea of not planning it out too much and seeing where life and the world took the themes. Sure enough, the latter two songs in the trilogy were about subjects I could not have foreseen at the time I made the first song. The first one (“Novel Opening”) ended up being about the pandemic, the second (“Middlegame”) was about some of the strangeness of being in one’s mid to late 30s, and the third (“Endgame”) was about the complexities surrounding long term relationships.

Can you give us some details about what the writing process was for “Endgame”?
I was moved to make a song that was kind of, but not overly dark, but with an agile hook in the chorus and latter half of the song that was quite different from the first half. My goal for it was to make a song that was accessible but, upon some close listens, shows off a lot of musical integrity and atypical ideas.

You and VRL create such a charismatic duo! What made you decide to make “Endgame” with a duet vocal?
Because the song is about romantic relationships and their complexities, I thought a duet was a cool way to present each side’s perspectives on the lyrical content. The thing I am most proud of with the production is that in the first half of the song, our vocals are an octave apart and essentially in unison. In the latter half of the song, they veer off and often conflict. Much like how a relationship has many highs and lows.

Looking at your social media platforms, the rehearsal and recording processes appear to be a lot of fun. Would you mind giving us a behind-the-scenes tour? Did anything unexpected or amusing happen to you while you were on it?
I think the most interesting part of the process involved the fact that I had never actually met VRL before the recording session. I was interesting to explain lyrics and intentions to someone who was then a stranger. Luckily, Valerie is a genius and a wonderful person, so it was quite fun.

Thank you for giving us the time to get to know you and your music! What plans do you have for the future?
I have a new song “Gumdrops” scheduled for release in June. I also have been rehearsing with what will be my live band and we are getting ready to start playing live in the U.S. this summer. Hopefully I can return to Egypt soon, this time as a performer and not as a tourist. Thanks for your time.