2015 Artist Survey: Julien Baker

Baker on 2015's Best Albums, the Election, Justin Timberlake, Star Wars, and Sexism in the Music Industry

Mar 08, 2016 Photography by Jake Cunningham Issue # 56 - Best of 2015 - Father John Misty and Wolf Alice
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For Under the Radar's 13th annual Artist Survey we emailed some of our favorite artists a few questions relating to 2015. We asked them about their favorite albums of the year and their thoughts on various notable 2015 news stories involving either the music industry or world events, as well as some quirkier personal questions.

Check out our Best of 2015 print and digital issues for answers from Arcade Fire's Will Butler, Blanck Mass, CHVRCHES, Dan Deacon, The Dears, Dutch Uncles, EL VY, Everything Everything, Father John Misty, Field Music, The Flaming Lips, How to Dress Well, Sondre Lerche, Low, Luna, Mew, NZCA Lines, Cullen Omori, Natalie Prass, Small Black, Surfer Blood, Tamaryn, Telekinesis, Vampire Weekend's Chris Baio, The Walkmen, Youth Lagoon, and others.
 
Here are some answers from Julien Baker. Baker released her acclaimed debut album, Sprained Ankle, last fall via 6131 Records.

A shorter version of this interview ran in the Best of 2015 print issue, which is still on newsstands now. This is the full unedited version of the interview.
 
Don't forget that Baker is performing at Under the Radar's official nighttime showcase at SXSW next Wednesday night at Central Presbyterian Church (200 E. 8th Street, Austin, TX 78701, which is at the corner of 8th and Brazos). She goes on at midnight. The rest of the lineup features Still Corners, Eleanor Friedberger, Car Seat Headrest, TEEN, England's Younghusband, and Mass Gothic (former Hooray for Earth frontman Noel Heroux). SXSW badges and wristbands get priority admission to this event. Walk-ups on the night hoping to buy single tickets to the event might be let in, capacity permitting. The event is all-ages. You cannot RSVP for this event. All the info on our three SXSW 2016 events can be found here.
 
Top 10 Albums of 2015

1. Mewithoutyou: Pale Horses
2. Sufjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell
3. Pianos Become the Teeth: Keep You
4. Bandit: Of Life
5. Desaparecidos: Payola
6. The Winter Passing: A Different Space of Mind
7. Senses Fail: Pull the Thorns From Your Heart
8. The Wonder Years: No Closer to Heaven
9. Foxing: Dealer 
10. Noah Gundersen: Carry the Ghost

What was the highlight of 2015, for either you personally or for the band? What was the low point?

The low point was definitely during the period when I had some unexpected life/relationships changes which left me with a non-existent living situation. I was between a rock and a hard place, alternating from couch to floor at my friend's house in the interim while all this crazy personal stuff was going on, and I remember lying on my janky pallet set-up one night, having to pick ants off of everything and thinking, "there's no way things can get worse." But I use that now to contrast with the high point and prove life's possibility to improve: there have been several amazing things happen lately and I am pretty overwhelmed by these blessings. Getting the single on NPR, playing with Touché Amoré in L.A. and EL VY in NYCall of that has been surreal. But the best point was the release show back in Memphis. Everyone was there from my youth, my friends, fellow musicians, my band-mates, my family, and it felt good to be in a room full of people who have loved and supported me and made the person I am today.   

What are your hopes and plans for 2016?
 
I am taking some time off of school to tour more heavily. Traveling and interacting with new people in new places is the most fun part of being a musician to me, so I am excited to get out on the road again. I am also excited because with the free time from slowing down with my degree, I can allocate my energy fully towards music, and I think being able to pursue my passion with full motivation will really allow me to grow as a musician.  

With the launch of TIDAL and Apple Music in 2015, there are more streaming music options, but the same issues of adequate artist compensation persist. What are your current thoughts on streaming and which service would you most like to have your music on?

This may be a little of a loaded question, at least for me. Also, I feel compelled to say that I am a little ignorant to the complexities of how any new streaming laws may work. I have a cursory knowledge of the royalty system but don't know all the ins and outs. I guess on some level I am happy that there are more avenues for accessing music because it means listening is more available and convenient for fans. And isn't that the point? Ultimately, you're trying to share music, so however that's achieved most effectively, more power to them. I don't have a preference for streaming sites that relates to artist compensation because those figures are so nebulous that it becomes immaterial to me. It is necessary to have the standard royalty rate in place, sure, to ensure that artists are given fair compensation for their art, which has value. But also as someone who will (shamefully) admit to using Grooveshark, and wishing it still existed, I also feel like it's more important to circulate music than to regulate it, if that makes sense. 

What are your thoughts on Friday being the new global release day for albums? Is it helping or hurting album sales?

Honestly, I have not noticed a difference. I am a very small artist, so to people with larger operations it may make a huge difference. But for me, I am of the opinion that while arbitrary changing of the day may effect initial sales right at the beginning, it will depend on the actual artistic merit of the record, whether it is positively or negatively received, and how well it does long-term. So the diffusing of press interest between several albums that happen to all come out the same day will only have immediate impact on sales, listens, what have you. Once that buzz dissipates it is up to the quality of the music to determine its longevity and staying power, which contributes to how successful the record will be overall.

Mainstream pop music is increasingly embraced by indie rock musicians and listeners, as well as serious music critics. At this point, do you draw any distinctions between Top 40 pop and indie rock/pop? Are you comfortable with this shift?

I don't really keep up with any lists like Top 40 or Billboard or anything like thatfor a musician I am pretty out-of-the-loopbut in my limited following of press and publications I have seen a rejection of the "pop vs. rock" trope and a homogenization of music. Not to say everything sounds the same; quite the opposite. I feel like with the increased accessibility of music there's more fragmentation of taste, there is less of a predominant "pop" culture. Now listeners have a broader palate that crosses genres, and that variety is being supported by the inclusion of non-typical sounds in mainstream channels, as well as the appreciation of mainstream and pop music by smaller sub-cultures and more esoteric facets of the music world. I think the reciprocal appreciation is a good thing. 

What are your thoughts on how the 2016 U.S. Presidential election is shaping up?

Well, considering that the Presidential election system is part of a larger institution that is terminally flawed and requires a complete overhaul to make any meaningful progress, I have a lot of thoughts to do with bigger issues even than the candidates. Using our current political system to effect change in our country is trying to remove a screw with a hammer. Something that is broken cannot be fixed with a broken tool. But in the interest of not opening a can of worms: I have hope in Bernie Sanders. That's all I'll say, or risk typing a dissertation in this email about the state of politics in general. 

Ryan Adams covered Taylor Swift's 1989 (and then Father John Misty covered Adams covering Swift). If you were to cover another artist's album in its entirety, which would you pick and why?

I would cover the 20/20 Experience by Justin Timberlake, because I believe it is probably the most influential pop record of our generation. There are other records that come close in influence, but the sheer caliber of musicianship and songwriting quality is unparalleled. Also Timberlake is a Memphis native (like yours truly), so I'm a little biased. 

Have you ever been fired from a job (be it a day job or musical one)? Why were you fired?

I haven't been formally fired, but I did quit a job on bad terms once when I was in high school. It was my first job, a hostess at a steakhouse, one of those country-style novelty places where you crack the peanuts on the floor (which I had to sweep up every night). I quit because my band at the time got booked with Joyce Manor, and even though I asked off a month in advance, I was put on the schedule out of spite by the manager. So I walked out because there was no way I was going to miss playing that show for a minimum wage job. That sounds very cliché and anti-establishment, but it's true, haha.  

What's your earliest music-related childhood memory?

Sitting in the backseat of my mom's old Honda as a toddler, listening to The Beatles 1 album.

What outrageous request would you most like to put in your tour rider as a joke?

One of those giant beverage tumblers but full of iced cold-brew coffee, complete with scotch glasses and an ice bucket.

Which Star Wars character are you most like?

Anakin. He's just such a moody badass. Not saying I'm 100 percent a moody badass, but I guess in an alternate reality including lightsabers, I'd like to be. 

Where do you see yourself in five beers?

I no longer drink, so I can't say where "five beers" would place me now. The last time I had five beers I jumped a fence and broke my foot, so maybe best to steer clear for now, ha.

CHVRCHES' Lauren Mayberry, among others, has spoken out about misogyny in the music industry and the sexist, and sometimes sexually violent, Internet comments from male fans. What are your thoughts on the issue?

It's a hugely important topic. Since I am personally invested in the punk/hardcore/aggressive music scene I have been more engaged in the conversations in that sphere regarding other incidents this year, but the same theme is present. And it's not just the Internet comments or general inequality in music-industry professions, it's violence and physical predatory behavior at shows, it's minimization of female perspective in the media. Women are not only underrepresented in the industry, they are marginalized by the scene. My colleagues and I have talked about how much more difficult it is to achieve the respect that is implicitly given to males; I would take it one step further and say it is much more difficult to feel the safety afforded males. That's why it is important to have these conversations so that we are aware of ingrained issues we can correct, and so that we may consciously create a more positive culture surrounding music.

If your house were on fire, what would you grab as you were running out?

My telecaster, Lucy. No question. 

www.facebook.com/julienrbaker/

 

 



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