At just 20 years old singer/songwriter Julien Baker is a talent on the rise. Queer, Christian and native to Memphis, this is a girl with a voice who is prepared to use it. She is one of the featured performers at Mullum Music Festival this year.
What are the five albums that changed your life?
Catch for Us The Foxes by mewithoutYou, Transatlanticism by Death Cab for Cutie, Mean Everything to Nothing by Manchester Orchestra, Define the Great Line by Underoath, and Control by Pedro the Lion.
What is the song that you have written that most surprised you? Were you surprised by the reaction Sprained Ankle got?
Yes, I think I was most surprised because the songs weren’t written with a large commercial audience in mind so the reaction has been pretty unexpected. I think the most surprising song to me was Vessels. That was a little more delicate and the lyrics are not in any particular order, and it’s in a weird time signature/chord phrasing, so I imagined it would be hard for people to respond to but it ended up being one of my favourites to do live.
Is it hard to be brave songwriting? How do you push yourself past your comfort zones?
I think it’s difficult but necessary to push past ‘comfort zones’. I guess here meaning the desire to discuss only what is comfortable, non-threatening, that doesn’t require an admission of something overtly personal. When I write, though, it never occurs to me as a choice to be brave necessarily, more as a choice to be honest. It’s not truly cowardly to hide parts of oneself, though it does require courage to be vulnerable. I think it’s a matter of cost-reward, so it is painful to be open about the deepest parts of oneself, but the reward is healing and establishing meaningful connections, which is well worth the discomfort or fear.
How good are you at critiquing your own work? Is it hard to decide what should go or stay on an album or in a live set? How do you decide?
Often I find myself overly critical of my work. I have a tendency to be really analytical of the art I produce and second-guess myself. When writing songs I have to restrain myself a little bit from overcomplicating or getting frustrated, and learn when to just leave something, or else I’ll end up endlessly tweaking and refining and developing. It’s the same with sets; I try to make songs fit together in an order that seems logical or sequential, but that’s subjective, so I end up shifting parts around. Like at the last show I played in New York City, I made probably four different written sets because I kept scratching songs out and re-ordering them.
Here in Australia the queer community have been fighting for the right to marry. Why do you think the broader community feel they have the right to make decisions about other people’s lives? As a young woman, and someone who is proudly out, do you think this will ever change?
When approaching topics such as this one, where a (theoretically) representative government attempts to legislate behaviour in regard to specific, subjective moral issues, I think we have to keep in mind the sort of values that are ingrained in the social consciousness. Obviously I do not think a government should have the right to tell an individual whom they may or may not marry, and reject any legislation which is discriminatory against the queer community. However, I think the way to change this is to understand that the antiquated, judgmental ideologies and social biases of generations past were legitimised by being woven into the fabric of culture as legislation, and now we have to address the deeply ingrained traditionalist mentality as much as the literal, tangible legislative representations of that mentality. I think that every generation has the tendency to feel that it is being ‘held back’ by the previous one because younger generations are nearly always more progressive, but I would maintain that the way to work toward a more inclusive social climate is by working to undo prejudices through understanding and communication, attacking the motivation for division and oppression as well as the systems of that oppression.
Mullum Music Festival, 17–20 November. For program and ticket information go to mullummusicfestival.com.