RFB: Q&A and Inspiration with Julien Baker
18 Nov 2015
Exciting new Memphis based singer-songwriter lets us into her world
Memphis based singer and multi instrumentalist Julien Baker has quietly created one of 2015 most unassuming but mesmerizing albums of 2015, released through 6131 Records. After listening to it relentlessly RFB wanted to find out more about this new artist before she takes the trip over the pond to play her first shows in the UK. Baker, who started out in the well respected Memphis band Forrister had to originally slow down the band once her solo project started to gain great accolades on her album 'Sprained Ankle' from publications such as Pitchfork, Stereogum and even the New York Times. Whilst balancing her studies with launching a professional music career Julien had the below to say about how it all came about and lets us in on some of her aspirations for recording album number two.
RFB: How did Julien Baker as a solo project come about, your band Forrister has had to slow down it seems to coincide with your growth as an artist?
Julien: I started writing songs as a solo artist just to keep creating music when I started college and was away from my band. Although I am still in that band, I've been having to get used to re-allocating focus since the solo record. What has been surprisingly good is that all of the guys in my band have been incredibly supportive and understanding, I thought they would feel slighted that I had to slow down with Forrister, but they have told me that they want to see me do well and fully support me pursuing the opportunities that have arisen with "Sprained Ankle". Their blessing means a lot and makes me excited to see what the future will look like for both my solo stuff and the band.
RFB: Where in the world do you feel most comfortable or most like to write & create your music?
Julien: Geographically, there's no particular place or region I like most, I have written while home and on the road, I think inspiration comes in a variety of settings. I get inspired when I am traveling a lot; I like to go on walks and absorb the scenery of different towns, and when I do that I am usually listening to music and just thinking about new ideas. Likewise when I am home, I go on walks and listen back through voice memos of songs to refine the lyrics as I'm writing. So I guess I end up doing a lot outdoors in general, but other than that, nowhere specific.
RFB: What places/events in the world have had a specific impact on your songwriting and tell us a little why?
Julien: I think that growing up in Memphis had a really big impact on my music. It's a place that's really rich in musical and artistic culture, not only in the obvious ways, such as having Sun and Ardent Studios and a wealth of musical history, but also in the underground DIY art and music scene. Growing up and being a part of the local punk scene, going to shows in basements and houses, I saw people share their art, poetry and music in an environment where it's purpose was to express yourself and share something with the people around you. I think those experiences shaped my perspective on all art and informed how I create my own music.
RFB: What was it like recording at Matthew E. White's Spacebomb studio in Virginia?
Julien: It was crazy. I was used to recording demos in houses and attics and things like that, then Michael Hegner, a friend from school who was interning there at the time, asked if I wanted to go on a roadtrip and lay down some tracks. It was very spontaneous, but I said yes because I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity and be a little adventurous. I had never been to Richmond and it was really neat to have this couple of days in an incredibly nice, professional studio to devote entirely to tracking a bunch of songs. We kept the recording process as simple as possible--little instrumentation, no overly complex mic patterns, and not too many plug-ins-- and did as much work as we could, and I was astonished at the results.
RFB: Now you have experienced recording at somewhere like Spacebomb, are there any other studios you would like the opportunity to work in?
Julien: Ever since I was a kid I have wanted to record something at Glow In The Dark studios with Matt Goldman, me and the Forrister guys talk about that a lot because he produced some of our favorite records and bands of all time. I think it would also be cool to record somewhere like Earthanalog. And of course, it is a personal dream to go to Pax Am, just because I feel like that's the pinnacle of folk/americana/singer-songwriter studios.
RFB: Please could you introduce us in the UK, to three or four artists that you are really liking at the moment that we should be listening to?
Julien: Right now I am spinning The Winter Passing pretty heavily. They are my labelmates on 6131 records, and actually from Ireland. I just got their LP for Different Space of Mind and I love it so much. It's got an awesome classic punk feel, but they integrate really original ideas in their songwriting and instrumentation to make it dynamic, which gives their music some almost indie-rock elements. The songs can go back and forth between everything from driving, gritty distortion to quirky quiet keyboard parts, and it all mixes really well. They also have this cool dueling male/female vocal set up which I think adds a lot to the lyrical delivery. It’s unlike anything else I've heard recently, so it’s hard to describe (a good thing!) but I can't say enough good things about it.
There's also a few bands from here in Tennessee that I am really into; one is a local from here in Nashville, called Bandit. They are a female fronted alternative-indie rock band...and I only call them that because they sort of define categorization. They have a heavy, almost circa-survive feel, with these big, open drum sounds and reverb-y sweeping guitars. The first time I saw them live they literally took my breath away, and their record "Of Life" is impeccable.
Check out "Something" by Julien on Soundcloud here: