Julia Lucille takes time to chat with Lauren before her Galveston show on July 22nd at Old Quarter. She goes in-depth about her new album, Chthonic (Keeled Scales), her guitar tone, her creative process, and what keeps her grounded personally. Photo: Bryan Parker.
Lauren: Julia, I am so excited that you are coming back to Galveston! I loved your set at Galveston Artist Residency back in February, and I was blown away by Chthonic when it came out in April. Has 2017 been a long journey so far? What’s changed for you with the album coming out?
Julia: I am really excited to come back to Galveston. 2017 so far has been pretty relaxed. I’ve been reading and writing and doing a lot of resting. It feels really good having the album out—releasing it and finding a label for it had been a long, drawn out process, so it’s nice to finally tie a bow on that whole arc. It feels like a relief! And the reception has been really wonderful. But it’s exciting to get to move on to the next project and have a pretty clean slate at this point.
Can you share some background on the album title, Chthonic? Were there any other names you considered for the album?
Chthonic means of or relating to the underworld. I first came across that word in writings on mythology and I really love it. Right after college I was reading a lot about mythology, ancient cultures and archeology. Books by people like Joseph Campbell, Marija Gimbutas and Riane Eisler. The album was originally supposed to be called Monster God Baby, but...my friends thought that was too intense, haha.
I had the pleasure of meeting Tony from your label, Keeled Scales, in Austin. When did you start working together, and how has that changed your path as an artist?
We started working together last fall when he offered to put the album out. He’s really taken a lot off my plate on the business side of things, and that has given more room to breathe and just be an artist. He does my booking, most of the promotion for the album, he even intercepts interview requests and that kind of thing. It was really well timed for me when I started working with Keeled Scales, because I was reaching a point of workload overwhelm, and they’ve really helped me get things back into balance. Tony also helps me to dream a little bigger and reach a little higher. He’s an inspiring person to work with.
You recorded in Dripping Springs at Dandy Sounds. What was the pace and environment like?
We took the recording process really slow, doing a couple hours at a time over months! We didn’t have a set budget or due date or anything, so we were able to give things the time they needed and more. Dandy Sounds is located on a 17-acre ranch in the hill country. It’s so peaceful out there! The house is made out of rammed earth. They have a porch swing looking over a meadow. At night there are so many stars.
Did you have any hesitation broadening your sound to include drums, bass, and other instrumentation? Did the additional elements all come together seamlessly, or was there any point where you said, “No, this isn’t what I want on this song... can we leave that off or try it this way instead?”
There was a lot of communication and back and forth. I came in with only the guitar, vocals and harmonies written, and at the time my live set was just me on guitar and my friend playing a bass drum and tambourine. I went into the studio thinking the recording might be like that, but I was also really open to whatever. Most of the takes were totally free-form. Dan played drums and bass on the record and we pretty much just explored and went off instinct. It was really exciting. Minimalism and space are really important to me, and a natural, personal feel, so along the way I was definitely guiding things in that direction. Sometimes sections got too busy or too punchy or masculine for me, and we’d guide it back to a softer, minimal, feminine direction.
I am so in love with the harmonies on Chthonic! Did you explore harmonies on your original demos, or did you have the space to explore and experiment at Dandy Sounds?
Thank you! I wrote all the harmonies ahead of time, and really painstakingly. I love how they can bring complexity to a song, and I love how it feels to improvise and refine harmonies.
Your melodies and harmonies and chord arrangements never feel “tired” to me. They have an elegance and an understated quality, but you make some unexpected choices musically. Do you come by these choices in a mathematical / brainy kind of way or are they more intuitive and felt out?
I used to write music from a more brainy place when I was younger, maybe in an attempt to show what I could do, but now it’s all just based on what I like. I don’t analyze the songs as I’m writing them. I have been told my music is dissonant and strange, but to me it’s just what I think sounds nice. I’ve come to really prioritize listening during the writing process, so I like to make recordings and then listen to them in the car. If it’s fun to listen to, I keep it. I try to only use technical knowledge when I really have to. I prefer to keep things intuitive. I think it makes for better music.
I also was really impressed with the video for “Darkening,” one of my favorite tracks. There is this earthy, serene stillness, but also some danger under the surface. Where did the writing for “Darkening” come from, and where did the ideas for the setting and scenes of the music video come from?
The lyrics are really simple.
As I walk / As it’s darkening / I must go alone / As I walk / As I’m darkening / I must go alone.
I wrote that after a breakup, and it was too hot to walk during the day, but I really needed to walk some of my pain away, so I was taking these really long walks at night. The video was filmed and directed by my friend Jordan Moser, and the concepts and locations were all his idea. I love how the video came to focus on the elements—fire, wood, water, earth, and how it ended up kind of mirroring the album cover.
Photo: Eric Morales
What is your guitar setup like? What is it about your guitar sound that really speaks to you?
Right now I’m playing a baritone Eastwood Sidejack. I’ve been tuning standard guitars down to a baritone tuning for a couple years because I love the darker and earthier tone that creates, but it was getting too hard to keep them in tune. Now that I’m playing a real baritone things can also get pretty bassy, so I’ve been trying to balance that out with more treble and lots of chorus, which is probably my favorite effect right now. I like to put some drive on there to give it more sustain and just a tiny bit of grit but I’ve also been into keeping things a bit more clean lately. I have a Fender Deluxe Reverb amp.
I feel like you radiate a steady confidence, like you are comfortable sounding a little different or bringing a different energy to your work. How do you ground yourself in the crazy world of the music industry?
That’s a really good question. For me, getting to a more grounded place has been a long journey. I feel an inner urge to create a musical world and share it with people. I want to create a body of work over my lifetime and to tour a lot, and have those experiences. I have a lot of curiosity about what might happen next—on the next album, on the next tour, in the next year.
I think it’s really important to stay grounded when art and commerce start to comingle. I think the danger is in evaluating your worth or your art in financial terms, and I think that’s a recipe for heartbreak. In my experience it’s a bit of a balancing act. You have one foot in the business world, but you’re keeping your heart and soul firmly in the art world. When I start to feel out of balance about those two things, I try and remember why I’m doing this, and bring my focus back to the experience and the emotional worth. I’m so happy that I had the guts when I was younger to go after this path. It has been so rewarding. I wouldn’t want any other life. I think defining my own values for myself and deciding what matters the most for me in my life has been the most helpful in terms of grounding. For me those values are beauty, excitement, relaxation, connection and feeling powerful. Not power over anyone else, but powerful within myself.
Are there any current peers that you really connect with in the Austin music scene?
Yes! I have the pleasure of knowing and growing with the most amazing musicians in Austin. I learn so much from them. Jordan Moser, Adam Torres, Tapajenga, Molly Burch, Cowboy Crisis, Jana Horn, Ruby Fray, Krista Van Liew, Cross Record are all great ones to check out.
What are your plans for the rest of the year? Will you be touring or writing?
I’m going to be touring for the new album in October and November throughout the states. I’m teaching myself about mixing right now and slowly building a little home studio. My next dream is to record my next album at home. That makes me so excited. I feel like this is the next step for me. It feels really scary but also really right.
7/22 at Old Quarter with Adam Bricks and Catherine Stroud