Musician career and history
Meldal-Johnsen grew up in Los Angeles, obsessively listening to his parents' records and received his first bass guitar at the age of fourteen. Like most budding musicians, he spent his time playing along to his favorite bands' records and jamming in garages. His interests were wide, but centered on American post-punk (Hüsker Dü, Fugazi, The Minutemen, Sonic Youth) and UK post-punk, goth, and dream pop (Wire, Cocteau Twins, Gang of Four, Love and Rockets, Bauhaus, New Order, Joy Division). After high school at the age of seventeen, he worked the night shift as a janitor at Cherokee Recording Studios in Hollywood, looking in on late-night sessions, and occasionally invited to witness the proceedings.
In 1987 he met Beck, and the two would form a lasting friendship and shared musical interests that would eventually culminate in Justin joining Beck's touring band many years later. From 1988 to 1993, Meldal-Johnsen was in LA alternative rock bands Last Carousel and This Great Religion, with Tony Hoffer. In 1994, he joined the band Pet, which featured singer Lisa Papineau and guitarist Tyler Bates. Also in 1994, Meldal-Johnsen joined LA alt-noise band Medicine with Brad Laner, and recorded and toured with them until their eventual break-up in 1996. Laner and Meldal-Johnsen would continue to record and work together on projects such as Electric Company as well as Laner's various solo albums in years to come.
In early 1996, Beck asked Meldal-Johnsen to join his touring and recording band, which he was a member of from 1996 until leaving in May 2016, an announcement which was made during Beck's set at the Beale Street Music Festival during band introductions in an emotional yet thankful manner. He recorded with Beck on albums such as Odelay, Mutations, Midnite Vultures, Sea Change, Guero, and The Information, as well as hitherto unreleased material. He had toured with Beck during all years since 1996 with the exception of 2005 and 2008.
In 1998, he joined up with French band Air for their Moon Safari tour, followed by the recording of their 2001 album 10 000 Hz Legend. In 2002, he helped to form the band Ima Robot, and On September 6, 2003, Ima Robot released their first full-length album, the self-titled Ima Robot. The album featured the singles "Dynomite" and "Song #1" (released in the UK only), and the band supported their album by touring worldwide with artists such as Hot Hot Heat, The Von Bondies, Jane's Addiction, The Sounds, and others. In 2006, he briefly joined Gnarls Barkley, acting as the musical director and assembling the touring band. He was involved in just two performances before re-joining with Beck: The Coachella Festival and a secret show at The Roxy in Hollywood.
In 2008, Meldal-Johnsen met with Trent Reznor and was invited to join the Nine Inch Nails touring band as bassist, guitarist, and keyboard player. JMJ spent the majority of 2008 to 2009 in Nine Inch Nails on their Lights in the Sky (2008), and NIN|JA / Wave Goodbye (2009) tours. In 2010, Beck asked Meldal-Johnsen back into the studio to contribute to a large body of work to be divided amongst multiple eventual releases, a process that continues to this day. During 2010, he resumed performing live with Beck.