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Friday, September 24, 2021

Singer-songwriter Julien Baker won't shut her damn mouth — and we're so fucking glad

Posted By on Fri, Sep 24, 2021 at 1:06 PM

click to enlarge Julien Baker. - ALYSSE-GAFKJEN
  • Alysse-Gafkjen
  • Julien Baker.

Julien Baker would love it if she could just shut the fuck up.

But, as she points out, she can't. And likely won't. It's too late. Thank god.



The 25-year-old's self-constructed box as an outspoken Christian, queer, sober artist is much too small to contain the multitudes of anxiety, curiosity, misplaced empathy, self-flagellation, self-awareness, and whatever it is inside of her that moves her to craft lines like, "I’ll wrap Orion’s belt around my neck and kick the chair out," a lyric from her latest record, Little Oblivions, a lyric which now makes her cringe — yet another example of her beautiful word vomit.

"I think it's a character trait," she says of her inability to shut the fuck up. "Like even when I was in high school or in college, you know, just like moving through the world not on an elevated scale of notoriety, I always wished I could be a quiet, mysterious person who keeps their thoughts inside and I can't, I just fucking talk all the time. I run my mouth," she says. "We're on tour right now and it's straight-up like a meme. I'll look at my watch and be like, 'wow, it's 9 a.m. and I just bummed everybody out really hard.' I don't know. Maybe I feel like there's comfort in communication. Maybe that's why I like books and words, and poetry and music."

Like her songs, Baker unpacks as she speaks in conversation, sometimes unfolding concepts, observations, and perspectives out loud, only to refold, unfold, and, instead of hanging her thoughts up or placing them gently in a drawer, tosses them onto a chair already covered in wrinkled ideas. But this does not keep her from unpacking; looking inward, searching outward, bumming people out before breakfast.

Drifting slightly away from her first two records, 2015's Sprained Ankle, 2017's Turn Out The Lights, as well as her EP with Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus as their supergroup boygenius in 2018, Little Oblivions could be categorized as uneasy listening.

The record, which was written following a relapse in 2018 and prompted Baker to discontinue a grueling two-year tour to, instead, finish her degree at Middle Tennessee State University, something that had been put on hold in 2016 to tour her debut record. During that 12 months of pre-2020 isolation, emotional reeducation, and commitment, once again, to her recovery, she wrote her way through her transitions as an artist, a human, and a Christian Socialist. Thus, not so little Little Oblivions, a record about escapism, fractured identity, sculpting our own mythologies, self-punishment, rumination on touring, panic attacks in taxi cabs, Jesus refusing to die after watching American news in 2020, day one AA chips, and what happens when a car explodes. (Spoiler alert: another vehicular-based panic attack happens.)

On "Relative Fiction" she wrestles with herself as "a character of somebody's invention/ a martyr in another passion play," insisting "I don’t need a savior/ I need you to take me home."

"I wish you’d hurt me," she sings "Song in E." "It’s the mercy I can’t take."

It's on "Favor" that she challenges the idea of fate and intervention: "What right had you not to let me die?" Woof.

And yet, despite this all too relatable "content" Baker had second thoughts about the record. Not because it was too revealing, but because it was too revealing at the wrong time, taking up space when there was already so little space to take up.

"I didn't write the album from the perspective of like, I am writing this while I am detached from other human beings," she says of Little Oblivons. "It was like actually a really chaotic year of my life that involved quite a bit of traveling and interacting. And then I put it out into the world and almost felt like I don't know, like, it was not appropriate to be talking about my measly individual problems of the time when like, I'm sure everyone was preoccupied with global crises."

She continues, "But I don't know if I've ever not felt like that since being a musician of my profession, like I think that's something so interesting is that when I put out Turn Out The Lights like, we had the date planned and then Trump got elected and it felt like the world was gonna end. And I was like, 'am I just gonna put out this record about my life?' It ended up being meaningful to folks but I never felt that way when I was in a band that had 30 likes on Facebook."

Baker's Facebook now has more than 100,000 followers and, to her delight and horror, people give a shit. Though it was an amalgamation of things, like the weight of her influence, life on the road, and unresolved trauma that ultimately escalated into a chasm of distress and the reason she stepped away from touring three years ago, she's come to terms with not only her power and what it means to wield it, but the unshakable truth that the power is inside of her and never left; not when she relapsed, nor when she questions god's goddamn plans or navigates panic attacks while stuck in cars.

"Something that makes me feel less afraid of being scrutinized is accepting that rejecting or failing to acknowledge a platform, or the modicum of power I have doesn't make it go away," she says. "It just means I'm not doing anything with it. It's not inherently creating space for others when I ignore the fact that I have a platform. I think that in a very competitive, like, hierarchical capitalist society, people would like for us to think that space is finite, and your value is attached to attention, productivity and recognition. And I think I just have to remind myself that that's not true if I want to stay healthy with this as my profession," she says before apologizing for going on what she thinks is a tangent.

"Anyway, I was walking down the shoulder of a state highway with Whole Foods back the other day, filled with, like oat milk and coffee," she says. "And I was just like, 'Oh, wow. It's just like the good old days.'"


Julien Baker will perform at 7 p.m. on Monday, Sep. 27 at the Majestic Theatre; 4140 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-9700; majesticdetroit.com. Tickets are $22+. *Artist requires proof of full vaccination or negative COVID-19 test 72-hours prior to entry.

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