The same message can be found on all of Julien Baker’s social media – “thank you”. Hearing her in interviews and enjoying her music tells me she is talented, humble, and willing to open herself up to her audience. She’s listed as an indie, folk-rock singer and her lilting voice that can become stronger and more powerful as her songs move along makes me realize just how honest this is, coming from her.
“Honesty transcends genre,” is a quote from a person at one of her first concerts. And that has been something she had lived by. As is quoted from her YouTube page, “Baker casts an unflinching and accepting eye on the duality of –and contradictions in –the human experience, at times even finding humor and joy in the midst of suffering.” Her songwriting and lyricism are the key to her art. I find myself reading the lyrics as the music plays and they touch the soul.
PERSONAL/ PROFESSIONAL HISTORY
Julien Rose Baker was born in 1995 in Tennessee. She grew up in a very Christian family and learned some of her music in church. Julien began learning guitar because her father was teaching himself and when he wasn’t using the instrument, she snatched it. Since then, she has become a multi-instrumentalist, a singer, a lyricist, and a songwriter.
After seeing Green Day on television, she was inspired to explore more alternative music and started listening to bands like My Chemical Romance and Death Cab for Cutie.
She struggled with substance abuse as a young teen, but found support in the community surrounding house shows in Memphis, and became inspired by the straight edge punk subculture. While in high school in 2010, Baker co-founded the band the Star Killers, who renamed themselves Forrister in 2015.
She came out as gay to her parents at age 17, after years of being closeted and watching friends sent to conversion therapy or kicked out of their homes. Her heart was warmed when she found nothing but acceptance in her own family.
She attended Middle Tennessee State University, where she had a campus job in the A/V department and initially studied audio engineering, before switching majors. She eventually left school to tour full-time after the release of Sprained Ankle, but returned to campus in the fall of 2019 to complete her degree program in literature and secondary education. She’s kept busy, but has been constantly working on her music in the background.
Her 2015 debut, Sprained Ankle, featured only her voice and guitar, and her stage performances often consist of her alone, utilizing a loop pedal.
In 2017 she signed to Matador Records, and released a 7-inch single consisting of the songs “Funeral Pyre” and “Distant Solar Systems.”
Turn Out the Lights in 2017 added occasional violin as well as organs and unique production quality. Her lyrical style remained honest and almost confessional. After all, her writing is filled with religious implications to themes like hope, redemption, love, addiction, shame, and self-loathing.
In 2018, Baker formed the rock supergroup Boygenius with fellow indie singer-songwriters Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus, both with whom she had toured previously. The group released three songs in August of that year and subsequently released an album in October of the same year to widespread critical acclaim.
In 2019, Baker put out two 7-inch singles. The first, released in June, featured songs “Red Door” and “Conversation Piece,” and the second in October featured “Tokyo” and “Sucker Punch” as part of the Sub Pop singles series.
For her 2021 release Little Oblivions, Baker wanted to experiment with a more full-band sound, and has commented on feeling limited by her own expectations to adhere to her established style. The album features drums, bass, keyboards, mandolin, and banjo, all played by Baker. It was written mostly over the course of 2019, a difficult and formative year for Baker as she had to cancel various tour dates, struggled with her sobriety and mental health, and eventually returned to school to finish her degree at MTSU.
I think the video for “Hardline” and the lyrics and music are my favorites from this album.
STYLE AND INFLUENCE
She would listen to VH1 and challenge herself to learn the music. Her favorites growing up were Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, and Green Day. She felt like though they were funk and aggressive in style, they were also pop. She loved the dichotomy and enjoyed that they were on the fringe and not always writing things that people would always agree with. What is odd? Even though they influenced her, her own music is seemingly the opposite of punk or hardcore rock – more indie folk-rock to emo.
Some of her fans say that whenever she releases a song, be ready to cry. Her music comes from either personal places or the experiences of her family and friends.
Baker is a lesbian, and her experiences with organized Christianity inform much of her work. She has discussed the ever-changing nature of her relationship to faith, saying she is no longer interested in labeling her beliefs so rigidly and that she is trying to adopt a less dichotomous worldview than the one she was raised with, calling the realization “freeing.” And it has obviously influenced her music.
Her music often features frank explorations of addiction and sobriety, and she has been open in discussing her experiences with substance abuse and mental illness.
Baker has a deep appreciation for literature. She has contributed essays to literary magazines and been known to enjoy discussing philosophy, history, theology, and her hopes of possibly continuing her academic pursuits or becoming a teacher.
COLLABORATIONS & CONNECTIONS
Julien has been the sole writer and producer for most of her albums. Turn Out The Lights was mixed by Craig Silvey (The National, Florence + The Machine, Arcade Fire).
She’s part of a band called Boygenius alongside Phoebe Bredgers and Lucy Dacus.
Baker has opened for or collaborated with a wide range of artists, including Death Cab for Cutie, Conor Oberst, Paramore and Hayley Williams, The National, The Decemberists, Belle & Sebastian, Frightened Rabbit, The Front Bottoms, Touche Amore, and Manchester Orchestra. She has also released covers of various songs including those by Elliott Smith, Radiohead, and Soundgarden.
ORIGINAL SONGS or DISCOGRAPHY
- Sprained Ankle 2015
- Turn Out the Lights 2017
- Little Oblivions 2021
- Sprained Ankle 2014
- Spotify Sessions 2016
- Audiotree Live 2016
- “Funeral Pyre” 2017
- “Distant Solar Systems”
- “Bad Things to Such Good People” (with Manchester Orchestra) 2018
- “Red Door” 2019
- “Conversation Piece”
- “The Modern Leper”
- “A Dreamer’s Holiday” (Spotify Singles) 2020
As part of Boygenius
- Boygenius 2018
- Boygenius Demos 2020
As part of Forrister
- American Blues 2013 (as The Star Killers)
- Little Moses/The Star Killers Split 2014 (with Little Moses)
- Choked Up 2015
Julien released her latest album – Little Oblivions.
She was recently put on the cover of Spotify’s Indie Playlist!
I just finished reading her interview with Flood Magazine and I have to admit I am blown away by her depth and insight as a person her age.
She’s still holding Streaming Concerts and you can get tickets through her website below.
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If you are looking for more great artists to learn about and support then be sure to check out my other articles here.