Life, longing, love, loss: the four L’s, if you will. Everyone goes through them, and, more or less, they are the focus of what musicians write, play and sing about. But it’s a special occasion when you listen to an album that leads you on a sonic path that so well addresses, portrays and makes the listener feel every bit of the emotion involved with the “L’s.” Julie Peel’s “Near the Sun” does just that. Julie is a special artist, musician, lyricist and singer, so much so that the album had to be turned off while writing this because Julie has an uncanny ability to lull the listener into such a sense of self-awareness.
It’s not a sappy journey, but all-too-real. She doesn’t pull punches, but wears her heart on her sleeve, crooning about quixotic happenings and heartbreaking event in a way that few artists have done. The album isn’t a concept album, but a series of wonderfully crafted novellas, each lifts, bends, carries, and yes, breaks, the listener. The album is whole: a sunny drive with the top down, a box of tissues, an insightful reflection, a pick-me-up, a smile and a tear. It’s life through song on a level that is seldom experienced.
It’s a joy for me to present to you Julie Peel, who will be gracing her “third home” of New York twice this week: June 3, 9:00PM at Pianos, and again June 5, 9:00P at Bar 4 Bar 4 with Dylan in the Movies.
OAN: Jules, as always, it’s a pleasure. I said third home, because you’ve had quite an international journey to end up in Montreal and, to an extent, in New York (I’d personally still like to see you make that move permanent, nothing against the good people of Montreal.) Talk about your journey to get here, what led you from France to Quebec, and how you ended up joining forces with American Laundromat Records for your first full-length release.
JP: Joe (from American Laundromat Records) found me on MySpace, in 2006 I think. He offered me to be part of the Neil Young tribute (Cinnamon girls) and that’s how it all started. We talked about releasing the album through the years, but, it didn’t happen until now for different reasons. Last year, I decided to move to Canada. I was sick of Paris and needed to get away from Europe for a while. So it all came together, me moving closer to the U.S, and Joe wanting to release the record. For some reasons I got lots of replies from NY/Brooklyn venues, and very good feedback on my music, which is great! I love the city, and I met some brilliant musicians there. Maybe I’ll move there someday [she adds with a smile.]
OAN: The album, “Near the Sun,” is something you should absolutely be proud of. Every song is a powerful movement, whether it’s a high or low moment. How much of the material is drawn on a personal experience, and how much is a story? I ask because you’ve covered so many emotional bases, it seems as though it’s written over the course of many years. It seems as though you give a lot of yourself up through song, so how did you finally decide on the final content? Did you try to tie the work together in any way, or was it a matter of “these songs say the most about me and are the strongest?"
JP: As much as I’d like to be able to write fiction lyrics, it hasn’t happened yet. Even if I’ve been writing songs for maybe 9 or 10 years, the songs ending up on the album are pretty recent. The oldest are “The greatest story” and “The piece of my heart”(2004-2005), and I guess you can see the difference, in the sound of course, but also in the songwriting. I didn’t want my first record to be obsolete in term of who and what I am, now. Most of the songs on the ablum were written between last year and the beginning of this year. I think I just chose my favorite songs at the time. If I was to re-record it today, I’m pretty sure it would be totally different! When you write songs, your last one is always the best song you’ve ever written, and then, a few week later, you think “whatever," but sometimes it stays one of your fave.
OAN: What is your process for writing the words and music? Do you start with a guitar, and pad and paper? And for that matter, I know you reach for you guitar first; what other instruments do you play and/or like to build your melodies around?
JP: For this record, the process has been pretty much the same. Strumming the guitar, finding a nice vocal melody, and then writing the lyrics for it. I did compose 2 songs with the Ukulele though. But I mean, it can happen with any instrument, like the bass guitar or a piano.
OAN: Something I like to ask of every artist: what do you do in your off-time, stepping away from the music to keep the creative juices flowing in another regard, or give yourself a break from hammering away at writing, playing, mixing, etc.
JP: I like to walk for hours, in any city, with my ipod on. Watching people is one of my favorite thing to do! Movies movies movies! I wanted to be a movie director when I was younger, and it’s still affecting my music a lot.
OAN: I want to ask you about the cover you did of one of the Cure’s better (old school) songs, “A Night Like This” which is featured on Just Like Heaven – A Tribute to The Cure. So many times, covers leave a lot to be desired, but you made it your own. Did you pick the song yourself? Are you a fan? Was it at all intimidating to do a classic song for a tribute album? And do you have any urge to play it live?
JP: I knew Joe was putting this project together, but I wasn’t sure I would be able to do it. So I didn’t ask him to be a part of it right away. I had a period of time when I was a teenager where I was a huge fan of the band (I still love them very much, but not in a “I’m wearing black clothes only and having Robert Smith’s same haircut” way) [again, flashing a smile.] I’m not a big fan of live recordings, but I love “The Cure: Show”, and the “A Night Like This” version on it is dreamy. (I’m not a big fan of the saxophone on the original version). That song has always been my favorite. I tried like 4 different ways to cover it. But I wasn’t happy with it. I think I wasn’t even happy with it when I sent it to Joe. But he said he loved it, and that was good enough for me. I actually listened to it when the cd came out, and thought it was good. But kind of an alien on the tribute! People have asked me to play it live, but I never did. Maybe I will someday.
OAN: Speaking of playing live, do you have a preference to playing with other musicians or doing solo acoustic sets? And which will you be doing next week? The studio tracks obviously have a lot of layers to them, but you doing a solo live set (and I’ll find this out for myself soon) must give an even greater personal feel to already intimate material.
JP: I prefer to play with musicians, ‘cause like you said, it’s already intimate material, and I don’t really like to be the center of the attention. But I have to admit that playing by myself is teaching me a lot. I never really did that, and I think that’s the best school to learn how to be more confident, and a better musician. You don’t rely on anyone else but yourself. It’s one thing to be able to play a lot of instruments and record by yourself, but it’s another thing to be standing up in front of people you don’t know, in a city you don’t know, just you, and your guitar. it’s a sick feeling (in a good and a bad way!)
OAN: You worked in a field that is seemingly about as far away from being a musician as one might think: a computer engineer. When and what happened that gave you the confidence in yourself to make the leap?
JP: I kinda had what people call a “nervous breakdown” last year. I’d say breakthrough! I’ve been recording my music for 4 years now, learning how to mix, how to record instruments and vocals properly (thing that I’m still learning!) and I knew at some point, I would have to make the jump and try things with my music. I’m not making a living out of it yet, and maybe I won’t. but I had to do it. So many people settle for a life that’s not what they want. Just because they think that’s the way it is ‘cause of society and that at some point you have to stop “dreaming”.. that’s precisely when they lose their “innocence”, when they become grown ups... I don’t know. But I want to believe that anything is possible if you give yourself the time and the energy, you’ll create opportunities. You can do anything and become whatever you wanna be. I have to believe in this. For me, life’s not worth living if you don’t give the best you’ve got to make great things happen.
OAN: Anything else you want to reveal about yourself? Maybe something they’d never imagine about Julie Peel?
JP: I’m kind of an open book. What you hear is what you get when you meet me I think. But, hey! You’ll tell me!
OAN: And I love that about you. Jules, you’re an absolute joy. Thank you for your time and apologize for being a professional throughout the course of this interview. Can’t wait to see you croon away.
Listen: Julie Peel - Unfold (Remastered Version,) from the forthcoming "Near the Sun"
Julie's Music Loves and Influences:
Listen: Coconut Records - West Coast
Listen: Joni Mitchell - River
Listen: Bruce Spingsteen - The Ghost of Tom Joad
Listen: Aphex Twins - Avril 14th
Listen: A Camp - Algebra
Listen: Aimee Mann - Wise Up
Listen: Broken Social - Lover's Spit (Redux)
Listen: Air - Alone in Kyoto
Listen: Bob Dylan - Positively 4th Street
Listen: Smashing Pumpkins - Ugly
Listen: Neil Young - I Believe In You
Listen: Elliott Smith - Angeles
Julie's Official Site
Julie Peel on MySpace
Purchase and Pre-Order Julie Peel from American Laundromat Records
American Laundromat Records Official Site