The video is available on YouTube, and is directed and produced by Breezy Lucia, a Memphis-based filmmaker whose portfolio includes work with local organizations like Choose 901. “[Lucia] approached me wanting to film a live performance of a song making use of a cool acoustic environment,” says Baker. “I thought it was such a cool idea, and so we just scoped out a few places, found that parking garage and it just happened to be perfect.”
After hearing a few lines and the raw intensity of Baker’s voice on the guerrilla-inspired video set, it’s easy to see what prompted NPR correspondent Katie Presley to describe the Memphis native’s music as “wound and salve alike.” And it’s not the only collaboration between the young musician and Memphis-area filmmakers. She was also chosen to play for the soundtrack of writer-director Morgan Jon Fox’s upcoming series “Feral,” an 8-episode serial film foray into Memphis talent, local color, and LGBT themes.
As an English Literature major and student at MTSU, Baker is still finding her footing in the varying sounds coming from her live performances and artistic collaborations. She’s turning 20 this month and burning up the road between Memphis and Nashville, finding inspiration and influence through her experiences and tours in between.
“I guess my music and my live set is all over the place,” says Baker. “A lot of the ‘punk’ aspects, like the shouting/aggressive vocals come from being a part of the DIY punk and alternative scene from very early in my youth and also being in a heavier band, that definitely carries over to my solo music, but it definitely has a somber, ambient feel, too.”
Sprained Ankle, the title track from her upcoming debut album feels anything but punk, although her local band, Forrister, formerly known as The Star Killers, has a decidedly punk feel. “I think it’s a really interesting intersection of the calmer, spacy guitar style I have and the harsher sounds of the aggressive music I also dig. I have difficulty pinning down a sound. I think I just want to make pretty guitar riffs and really personal lyrics…something that’s accessible and able to be shared, but still emotional.”
With themes of unrequited love and the desire to write of something other than death, Baker’s emo style has traceable roots. She draws inspiration from her friends and from her literary tastes. “Whatever I am reading usually plays a big part, when I was reading Milton and Dante, my music reflected those concepts. A lot of my favorite authors like Woolf, Marquez, and Wilde have contributed to my material as much as my personal experiences.”
Those personal experiences include becoming a self-taught guitarist in 6th grade, and going over her favorite songs on a guitar her father bought her. “I would basically just sit around in my room and teach myself how to play Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance songs. Maybe that’s cliché, but those bands were so important to me when I was learning to play.”
Following Sprained Ankle’s official LP release date on October 23 on 6131 Records, Baker will announce upcoming shows in the area. In the meantime, she hopes to continue writing music and performing around Memphis and Nashville, since it’s the live performances that stick with her the most. “There is a certain level of vulnerability that I allow with those lyrics, but I also very much see those songs as a chance to exorcise strong emotion and thus cope with it. Whenever someone tells me after a show or in an email that they related to a feeling described in the song, I think that makes it worth it.”
From Punk to Pathos
MidSouth songwriter Julien Baker talks unrequited
love and the perfect acoustics of parking garages
Story by Tonya Thompson
The sound of passing traffic echoing across the 4th floor of a Memphis parking garage fades to a white noise background when the crystalline vocals of 19-year-old songwriter Julien Baker begin. “I knew I was wasting my time,” she sings, eyes closed, fingers walking progressions between major and minor chords. The opening lines are from her self-penned track, “Something” and it’s her first produced video, as strong, pitch-perfect vocals fill the emptiness of the garage space like a performance hall. “Whenever I close my eyes, I’m chasing your taillights.”