Hey, folks! Remember once upon a time when I posted that review of Julia Barry’s outstanding latest album? And I promised to post an interview with her that very week? Well, it turns out she’s a musician or something. And musicians are very cool…but also often VERY busy. Life happens. But now here it is! A shiny, delightful Q-and-A with Julia. Read on for some great thoughts about her album, the rise of digital music, the role of social networking, and more…and make sure to stay around for a few announcements at the bottom!
What kind of got you interested in music? Was there a particular point when you decided that making music was something you really wanted to do?
I think everyone is naturally drawn to expression through sound. As a kid, I was just one ongoing racket. Probably my sister’s piano lessons were the thing that gave me the idea to try music more formally, and I fell in love with the challenge of conscious practicing to enable a more subconscious creativity. After years of lessons and constant involvement in musical groups, I accidentally slipped into a total hiatus, hardly wrote any songs…I didn’t feel like myself and I saw that I needed to actively be involved with composing, playing, and performing.
Your first album, Arrivals, came out in 2002. Your latest album came after an 8-year gap. What was the journey between those albums like?
Oh my. It was educational in so many ways. I got my Masters, I lived in Europe, I started and stopped making the album a few times and figured out how and why I was compelled to make it. Finally, I decided to just scrap everything and start over with all those experiences in mind, get the right band together, and find a studio and producer that would help bring the songs to life as they sounded in my head.
What do you see your music as being influenced by, both in terms of genre and other artists?
Everything. I’m a total sponge. Even if I don’t listen to heavy metal, for example, perhaps someone important in that genre invented a type of distortion that I love on guitar, so the notion of influence is such a wide net. Bits of melodies from my childhood might surface as I’m writing years later, I could wake up from a dream with a song in my head, or I might purposely sit down with a Thelonius Monk chart to blow apart my perceptions of how chords speak and relate to each other.
Once, or Twice is a very close-up, introspective record. How much of it was driven by your own life and experiences?
Can I plead the fifth? Just kidding. I’d have to say the entire record is personal, because even if a song isn’t autobiographical, it still reflects my opinion or take on something that incites me. My life and experiences naturally tint how I make sense of everything from friends’ lives to politics. But, I don’t think you should have to have that in mind to listen to the album. Songs should speak for themselves. As much as people may crave knowing the ‘real story’ behind a track, I think each song is actually about something different and private to each listener.
How do you usually listen to music (what methods, etc.)? What’s your take on the rise of digital music, and what it means for both artists and listeners?
I would love to sit, totally still with my eyes closed, and listen to CDs on a totally tweaked-out sound system. Of course, I don’t have one, so my iPod dock has to do for now. I tend to look to headphones as a replacement way to get that meaningful experience of sound. And nothing beats live shows! I’m fortunate to be friends with lots of talented musicians, so I go to their live shows and shows they suggest all the time.
As for the rise of digital music, that’s an enormous question. I love the social sharing of music among listeners and the fact that artists can present their music directly to audiences. It’s amazing that indie music has become its own currency in a way, made valuable by fan tastes rather than profit-driven companies. On the flip side, the ubiquitous nature of music these days can contribute to a perception that music is background noise or that anyone can be a successful musician if they give away free mp3 downloads. DIY digital technologies may remove elitism from music creation and distribution (and wow, there’s simply *more* music to choose from than ever!), but there’s still something to be said for talent, hard work, and high-quality art. I respect and recognize well-crafted mash-ups as much as ingenious symphonies, and tend to take how music is produced and shared with a grain of salt. I think the digital format is only as meaningful or useful as we make it in human terms.
Tell us a little more about your “In Her Image” project. What got you started and interested in the field of social activism?
“In Her Image” is a multi-media program that explores commercial messages about womanhood in America, and it features my original songs as the soundtrack rather than narration or lecture. I started it while studying about Women & Health, and I wanted to utilize the power of the arts and interactive media to spread awareness–which to me is the seed of social change. I present “In Her Image” at schools, organizations, and centers across the country as a way to spark thought and discussion on issues of self-esteem, body image, and gender. (Check out http://inherimage.juliabarry.com to learn more about the “In Her Image” program.)
I’ve always been pretty progressive and care deeply about doing my part to leave the world in better shape than when I came into it. I hope that writing and performing authentic music can continue to be part of that goal.
What is one piece of advice you’d give to the musicians of the future…those who are struggling right now, or those who have yet to start their careers in music?
As cheesy as it sounds, stay true to yourself. This means recognizing what makes you authentic to your listeners, figuring out what makes your music unique (strengths and weaknesses can be one and the same!), and being confident enough to ask for feedback/help and to nourish community. (Beware…the idea of “being true to yourself” can get twisted into a super competitive or selfish brand of individualism that’s just isolating in the end. Don’t fall for that entertainment industry claptrap. )
What track on Once, or Twice are you most proud of, and why?
Maybe “Homeward” because it’s so raw. (Takes some steeling of nerves to air dirty laundry like that!)
If you could collaborate with any artist out there, who would it be and why?
Aw man, no time travel? I can’t say Ray Charles or Miles Davis?? Well alright. I’d love to do something with Thom Yorke (Radiohead) because he uses electronic sounds and technology so expressively, or Ben Folds ’cause he’s great at writing heartfelt lyrics that are also funny. And he can play some MEAN rock piano too.
I’ve noticed you utilize a lot of social networking (Facebook/Twitter/MySpace/blogs) to promote both your music and your other projects. What do you think these social networking sites bring to the table for both musicians and those working toward social change?
Real human connection and genuine excitement or movement can be possible in these spaces (if you use them that way ). I like that while money certainly plays a part on these sites, social capital is almost more important, giving people a place where authenticity and passion makes products and ideas gain traction. I also love that collaboration and strength in numbers is the name of the game in online communities — this sort of cooperation in real life is what led to massive improvements in people’s lives in the past. I think we’ve just barely begun to use the internet in the most positive, powerful ways we can.
Do you have a particular “song of the moment” right now? What is it?
“Come Pick Me Up” by Ryan Adams. I want to play it again every time it’s over.
And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for! It’s time to announce the winner of the goodie bag giveaway from Julia. Congratulations to @shofarblast! You’re our winner! I’ll be contacting you in some fashion to make sure you know you’ve won, and to make sure you contact Julia so she can send you your prize. As for everyone else who entered…and anyone else who wanted to enter, but didn’t get the chance…never fear! Just head on out to Julia’s website (http://juliabarry.com) to see how you can share her music with your friends, followers, and fellow humans, and get a nice thank-you in return. Many thanks to all who have visited in the past few weeks as a result of Julia Barry fever (the best kind ), and I hope you all stay around a while. I’ll be hopefully making a few new posts this weekend. Stay tuned for a new Artist Spotlight, a Song of the Day or two, and perhaps a new Song Shuffle game! And as always, make sure to subscribe and burn up the comment threads. Thanks for reading!