Q&A with singer-songwriter Julien Baker

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Julien Baker, a singer-songwriter, will perform at the Haw River Ballroom Friday. Photo courtesy of Nolan Knight.

Julien Baker, a 21-year-old singer-songwriter, made her debut in 2015 with her album "Sprained Ankle," with plans to release her follow-up album, "Turn Out the Lights," later this month.Her lyrics and voice are passionate, honest and unrelenting. She performed at Haw River Ballroom in Saxapahaw on Friday. 

Staff writer Emma Strickland spoke with Julien Baker about her artistic process, her relationship with music and her album coming out on Oct. 27. 

The Daily Tar Heel: What should we expect from your upcoming album, "Turn Out the Lights"? How is it different from your previous album, “Sprained Ankle”?

Julien Baker: I think this record is a little bit more cohesive than "Sprained Ankle." I think that I tried to preserve the rawness that came as a byproduct of how the first record was recorded, but allow for exploration of new sounds an instrumentation that would add dynamic to the songs. I think I was also much more intentional about how the songs were structured — both lyrically and musically. I had more time to ruminate on them, and piece them together, and hopefully that comes across in the execution and gives a consistency to the album. 

DTH: Do you have a favorite song off of your album? Do you have a favorite song to perform?

JB: It's so hard to choose! As trite as it sounds, the songs really do feel as unique and individually precious as people, it's like picking a single best friend or a favorite child. I think that maybe the song I am most proud of, performance and lyrically speaking, is "Claws in Your Back;" that song was inspired by stories from many of my friends and has a lot of personal emotional significance to me. As far as performing live, I haven't toured the record long enough to gauge how the crowd interacts with the songs off the new record. "Rejoice" has always been maybe my favorite to play live, I think that song is the most honest and expressive I feel onstage singing anything sometimes. 

DTH: What is your songwriting process like?

JB: I think the songwriting process for me is something that's constantly occurring in some form. To me I think that every experience we have, the things we hear and see even on the day-to-day, are laden with poetic value and so a lot of how I write begins there. I try to view the world through a poetic lens.

DTH: Do you feel it’s easier to write songs when you’re in love? Heartbroken?

JB: I think that intense emotions of any kind — being passionately in love, being hurt, suffering loss — those are the things that demand the most from our emotional and mental faculties and that's when we most need to use something like art as a coping mechanism or a comfort. Whenever something happens to me that is difficult, or upsetting or confusing, I write about it, whether I intend to publish or ever share that work with anyone or not. I personally use music as a tool for discerning difficult thoughts and emotions, and maybe that's why it seems that the creative process happens mostly when intense emotions are present, like being heartbroken or in love. 

DTH: Your music is known to bring people to tears (including me). Are there any artists/songs in particular that have that effect on you?

JB: Yes! Keaton Henson is one that I think of immediately. I seriously have to be careful when I let myself listen to his music, it affects me so deeply. Also Phoebe Bridgers, the record she released this year makes me cry in public with near-embarrassing regularity — but in a good way. 

DTH: Who are some of your musical inspirations?

 JB: It's always so hard to answer questions like this, there are so many people who I look up to as musicians. mewithoutYou is my favorite band and Aaron Weiss, the vocalist, is my favorite lyricist of all time by far. When I was a younger artist, like them, Pedro The Lion and Manchester Orchestra were huge to me and really informed the craft my songwriting. But there are so many people I Iook up to not only as poets, but incredible vocalists — for instance, I am also a huge fan of Circa Survive and Paramore; I used to sing those artists' songs in my bedroom before I would ever sing in public to try to teach myself to sing. 

DTH: If you couldn’t be a singer what would you do?

JB: I would probably be a high school English teacher. That's what I was planning on doing before I started touring full time. Either that or repair guitars.

DTH: Your lyrics touch on themes of love, hate, destruction and identity. What advice can you give to listeners who might be struggling with similar experiences?

JB: The best advice that I can give to listeners would be to be vulnerable, especially about the things which are difficult or daunting to be vulnerable about, because that is when it's most important to be open. I think that choosing to be open and honest about ourselves and the things we go through enables us to heal by constructing a community of support, it gives us perspective to see our own struggles mirrored in other people's experience and starts to destigmatize those topics. 

@emmalstrickland

arts@dailytarheel.com

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