A conversation with Julien Baker

Julien Baker
Julien Baker

Her debut album Sprained Ankle has been one of our prettiest discoveries these last months. We were desperate to see Julien Baker on stage as her live sessions are so breathtaking. Thankfully, we could count on our friends at Supersonic to book her! Just before her show in Paris last May, we met this young lady who has such an amazing energy on stage and equally good vibes off stage. Our interview thus quickly became a conversation in a café, not far from Bastille.

 

If you had to introduce yourself and your music to people who have never heard of you using just a sentence or two,
what would you say?

 

This is sort of a joke but sort of not. My friends that I tour with say that my music is really sad but my outlook on life is really, almost irritatingly positive so they are like it is aggressively positive sadness. I wear this shirt all the time that says “sad songs make me feel better” because I’m like “yeah, pretty much”. I almost exclusively listen to sad music and I think that allows me to be a happy person.

 

It’s the first time you’ve come to Europe, how is the tour going?

 

The tour is going really well, not sleeping a lot because there are stuff we want to do and so we stay out late at the shows and then explore but I want to make the most of it. I never got to study abroad because I was always too poor.

And what are your favourite memories so far?

 

When we landed in Copenhagen, obviously we don’t speak the language, and we had been travelling for 30 hours. We took a plane to Richmond and then a train to another plane to Iceland connected to another plane. And we landed and then took the train but the tracks were under construction and we didn’t know how to get to where we were going. And this really nice Danish girl helped us read the map. I think she realized we were really bad off and so she helped us and by the end of it, she became our friend and carry our suitcases. We gave her free tickets to the show and she came out.

And then in Luxembourg, I was like “is anybody even going to come to the show? It is really small”. And it was awesome, it was a very small room and people were sitting cross-legged on the ground and the promoter of the show made us a home-cooked meal. It was really sweet, very human. Sometimes in the US, you play big venues and they just have “food there”.

We’re pleased to hear that European people have been so nice to you!

 

The hospitality is unlike anything ever. People are so welcoming but I’m so nervous about being the ignorant American. There are Americans who come over here with the bucket hat and the Hawaiian shirt and they are taking picture of everything, which I am because it’s beautiful.

There are people like that in France as well. In Paris, it really depends on the places you go and the people you meet.

 

That’s how it is, I guess, in New York and in the North. I’m from the South, which is the friendliest part of the United States, so I call everyone “ma’am” and when I go in the North, people are like “what’s wrong with you?

It is often said that European audiences (and particularly the French) are very attentive, even distracting.
Do you feel any difference with American audiences?

 

The first show we played in Aarhus (in Denmark), people were so quiet that I was like “Are you ok?” but that’s characteristic of my shows. When I play with Forrister, my punk band, people were yelling, talking and screaming. At my shows, I haven’t been speaking much on stage because I don’t want to assume that people speak English. I usually make jokes though to lighten the atmosphere. I played a show for 500 people in New York and it felt like they were dead. It was just like utter silence, I could hear the glasses on the bar. And I was like “you guys, talk or something! You are making me nervous”. I almost prefer when people talk and goof off because I know that people are not so attentive. Everybody says that it is a good thing that people are paying attention to you but I’m shy, you know.

Your song writing and live performances deliver something very intense, intimate and personal,
how do you feel the audience responds to this?

 

This is weird. It is odd to talk about other people reacting to my songs because I worry that is like “I have such an affect on people”. People would come up to me all the time after the show and say “I cried” and I’m like “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you cry” and they are like “no, no, it’s a good cry”. I don’t mean for the songs to be so dark but that’s the reality of life and I think people take whatever they want to from the song. I think it is beautiful when people tell me what the song mean to them and I never correct them. It is what the song is about to them and that’s what is awesome about music. It can mean whatever it needs to mean for you to feel better. People get emotional at the shows but I think it will be different for this one (at Supersonic in Paris), people will be more kind of hanging out, it will be more laid back.

It’s a really nice venue and it’s free all the time, which is rare in Paris. And yes, it is for all ages as well.

 

Oh, I forgot, alcohol is not a thing for you all! It is important to me to have all-ages show because especially in the punk community that’s where smaller bands play free shows but it is difficult as the money comes from the bar and you can be in the bar if you’re not legal to drink. I forgot that over here (in France) it is a non-issue. People ask me all the time “You don’t drink? What’s wrong with you?”. It is not as stigmatized here, it’s not taboo, it’s like regulated misbehaviour whereas in the US it is a deviant thing that everybody does. So it has a negative fibre. But here Sean (her manager) saw a ten year old drinking a beer at the Quick!

I’ve read that you have studied literature, does it influence the way you write songs?

 

Absolutely! It is not like I would write a song about Candide — I kinda want to get a Candide tattoo but that is an other story — Those ideologies and those questions posed over and over again and how each author deals with them, for instance Rilke. His ideas have informed a lot of the newer songs I’m writing like the idea that there is not good and bad but it is all the same thing. Bad things are actually good things in disguise. It is a great concept, you can be happy and sad and it’s all the same. I studied Hispanic literature so I love Gabriel Garcia Marquez ­— I have Marquez tattoos. He is South American and I love American authors like Walt Whitman who is one of my favourites ever, and Ginsberg. I just consume as much as I can !

Music wise, what have you been listening to and what have you discovered recently?

 

I’ve discovered this awesome Danish band called Tears. They are a post-punk band, they sound like The Cure with Fugazi vocals. They are so good. We were recently listening to the Mary Onettes. My manager loves post-punk so we’ve been listening to Ceremony, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Stars, stuff like that. Recently, I can’t stop listening to the new Daughter record. And I shouldn’t fangirl about Daughter because we recently got added to some shows with her. It is going to take everything in me not to be like “You’re amazing!”. I also revisited Sigur Ròs. And have you heard the new Tiny Moving Parts? They have just pulled out a new record. They are friends of ours and so I love them.

What are your future projects? Is there a new album planned?

 

Oh yes! I’m working on that but I don’t know when it will be because I’m touring to the end of the year. But hopefully soon. I write songs consistently and because I feel that is what any musician does but it’s just the act of get it recorded. But yes, there is more.

So a new solo album, or something with Forrister perhaps?

 

Forrister has these tracks, we are trying to figure out when and how we are going to release them. Whether I’ going to pull out the solo stuff first and then we’ll do a full release or whether we’ll pull out an EP, we don’t know yet, we’ll figure it out. But definitely yes.

You’re playing some festivals this summer, which one do you look forward to the most?

 

Probably Primavera because it is by Barcelona which is the city in Spain I most want to visit since I became hispanophile. Also the line-up is the best of all the festival I’m playing.

Finally, Limonadier’s signature question: if you were anything to drink, what would you be?

 

Coffee without question! It’s my one vice, I stop smoking, I stop drinking. I just got to have coffee!

 


 

We would like to thank Julien and Sean for this Parisian encounter and for their unfailing kindness. We had the chance to cross their paths again at Primavera and we couldn’t more highly of them! We rejoice that a little bird has told us that Julien Baker will probably be back in Paris this autumn…

Interview — Julien Baker