Julia Nunes, a young lady who has become an internet sensation through the use of technology and YouTube has become a great musical fixture not only in that world, but in the indie music one, and after having passed through a few cool portals in the media (including NPR, Conan, SXSW and Bonaroo) now gets to do an interview with The Glass! How incredible that is for her (I would hope, perhaps someday! Actually, it is for me)!
As a person, Nunes is somebody that reminds me of a big sister, or that tomboyish friend we had in school that looked out for us and stood up to the bullies, and in essence, sometimes we still need a big sister or a tomboyish friend to look out for us in our lives. Even if she really isn’t that person, she completely assumes that role very fittingly for her own profile in the otherwise harsh music climate.
As an artist, her videos are some of the most fabulously handmade music clips this side of Pomplamoose. There are about a hundred of these videos, and she has done, along with her originals, some quite humbly-rendered cover songs (Sadly, I could not use all of them for the interview, but please check out her YouTube page to see them all). As far as her music-only output goes, it is all really good, quirky acoustic music on 4 CDs, and her latest titled Settle Down has 18 tunes, including 6 she recut from earlier records.
Julia stopped her routine for a bit to chat with me via Skype.
CM: Can I just ask you first off how you are making the videos (with the editing, tracking, etc)?
JN: Well, it’s all kind of the same idea behind recording a song under any program. The audio builds up below it, and normally you would have one piece of video per piece of audio, but I don’t want 30 videos, I just want one, so, I interchange what you can see, even though the sound all stays below it. So, you kind of take away what you don’t want to see, and I make sure that correlates with whatever instrument or part has just come in.
CM: The videos are really cool! They have such a great charm and character all their own. During the course of the history of these clips, how did you come upon the rise to your level of stardom?
JN: Well, the start of it was completely accidental, I had no intention of gaining any sort of following. It was more of a way to reach out to my friends back home, because I was a college freshman, and all of my friends were musicians back in Rochester (NY), and we would play music all the time and share what we were working on. So, when I lost that at school, I wanted to find some other way, and I did it through YouTube.
Along the way, there have definitely been people that said “Capitalize on this while you can!” and stuff like that. But all the stuff I’ve done like making CDs and going on tours, it’s just cause I want to! [laughs] And because I want to meet the people that have supported my music. Things like t-shirts, I was kind of skeptical about, but they just wanted it! And I was like “okay! sure, whatever you guys want!”. It’s kind of a balance between what I want to do for myself and what I want to do in gratitude for the people that have supported me.
I Think You Know [EDITOR’S NOTE: This has officially become my favorite song of Julia’s]
CM: Do people ever come to you and tell you that when they see you live, there’s elements of the videos that are missing, or do you bring some of the charm of the videos to the stage anyway?
JN: I get a lot of “I can’t believe there’s not a box around your face”!
JN: Maybe it’s because no one has the courage to say so, but so far, no one’s ever complained about the lack of box around my face! I think a lot of times when people talk about how they experience the videos, they watch it once, maybe the first time I put it out, and then, for the most part after that they click it, and listen to it while they do something else while they’re on their computer. I think hopefully they’re in it for music and the videos are a fun part of it.
CM: The albums are really good too! I enjoy the Settle Down CD, it’s very well done! I love the little songs between the songs (vignettes). I feel like there should have been more of those, but it probably would have been a really long CD!
JN: Yeah, I actually wrote a couple more songs towards the end of production on the album, and I was like “Guys, new song! What do you think?”, and the guys that played on it were like “Save it! Just save it! You don’t need a 20-song album, just save it!” [laughs]
CM: I could see people being overwhelmed by so many songs, it would be like the White Album!
JN: I think it’s a little easier to stomach because the 6 songs that I re-recorded, I did because they were fan favorites, and because I didn’t think their first production was as stellar as it could have been, so I think people that were already fans of mine knew those songs so instead of a barrage of new stuff, about 1/3 of it was familiar to them.
CM: Yes, and I went back and saw some of those older clips, too, because I hadn’t known the songs in their earlier versions–Forgive me, I’m still catching up with the catalog!
JN: No, that’s really kind of what I want, because those guys already love those songs, I don’t think they needed them to be really produced, but I felt like for a new fan, they might miss out on some of my favorite songs, the ones I love to play live, because they wouldn’t necessarily be into the really lo-fi production that I did when I first made them. Being totally honest, I don’t really listen to a lot of lo-fi music, and I think even if the song was great, it would take a lot for me to listen to something so cruddy. I already love The Beatles, so I will listen to a cruddy version of The Beatles, but if I don’t know the artist at all, I want to hear something nice. So, it’s for the new people and the old people, and mostly for myself!
CM: The lo-fi thing is cool, though–Even though I’m a fan of bigger productions, it’s mostly the older big productions I like, because in those days they knew how to do it, and it seems like now there’s this tendency to want to turn everything up and make it a loud volume production. I’m glad your record isn’t like that at all!
JN: Thank you!
Maybe I Will (original version)
CM: It’s very refreshing, it kind of reminds me of stuff like Pomplamoose and The Moldy Peaches, very indie sounding, right up my alley! I love that!
You got to play with Ben Folds and several other notable acts–What were those experiences like?
JN: It’s always shocking!
CM: It probably takes you a while to come back around and go “I can’t believe I just did that!”.
JN: I basically go a little wonky until the experience is over, and kind of the same thing happened on Conan. Ben Folds was the first one, and notably I was the biggest Ben Folds fan before that happened! I still am a Ben Folds fan, but you know how you go through phases with musicians, and maybe come in and out of, “you’re listening to them a lot, maybe you’re not listening to them so much anymore”? I was in full-blown Ben Folds all-day everyday, like 45 tracks on my iTunes, let-it-play-all-the-way-through…
CM: With Ben Folds Five, when he went solo, any side projects he had…[laughs]
JN: Any incarnation of Ben Folds music, I was listening to it every day, so, when the offer to play with him came around, it was like too surreal! I found out at around 3 in the morning in my dorm room with my roommate, who was just kind of weirded out by the whole YouTube thing. She appeared in one video because her side of the room was my background, and a lot of comments about the side of the room came up…
CM: Yeah, “Clean your room”! [laughing] She came on and had to explain to the viewers that it was her side of the room! [at 0:41]
JN: I was fine with people thinking it was me, but she was tired of being talked about with no platform to defend herself. When that Ben Folds thing came up, she was like “Oh, this isn’t just weird internet stuff! This is real things happening to you”, and I was kind of realizing it myself, that it wasn’t just going to be what it was, it was going to be bigger and more awesome, and involve Ben Folds! [laughs]
Gone (Live with Ben Folds; sometime in 2009)
CM: Wow, that’s just the way it is now! The internet creates bigger platforms for people, whatever they’re doing. It’s kind of happening to me a little with The Glass because a lot of people are reading the blog, and I’m getting to talk to people like yourself and put it out there, and people are like “How the hell did you get that?!”. [laughs]
But this is great for you–It seems like finally somebody who has talent can get their music out there and they don’t have to be told by record-label people that ‘audiences are not ready for them’, and that ‘they know what audiences like’ while they smoke cigars.
JN: I met with a record label about the album I made, and they told me that 18 songs was too much, and they said people wouldn’t understand it. So I was like “Well, see you later”!
CM: My guess is they’ve never seen any Beatle records where the songs exceed 20 or 25 in some cases! By the way, I like your Beatle covers–Have you ever thought about doing something like “Helter Skelter”?
JN: I love the weirder stuff! The later singles or albums, but I think I write songs more like the earlier stuff, so I don’t know that I’ll ever cover or write something like a “Helter Skelter” or a “Revolution 9”! (EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s been done)
CM: The thing is your interpretations really work, you don’t really necessarily make the arrangements like the original, but you keep it in a very simplified way, and you can still sort of keep the heart of the song there. I even like the Justin Bieber one, and I hate Justin Bieber!
JN: I’m with you on that one! [both laugh]
CM: Were people hard on you for doing a Justin Bieber song?
JN: I expected them to be. Any time I do anything outside of the singer-songwriter realm, like when I did “Jesus Walks”, I think people have a loyalty to a certain image, maybe, and even though Justin Bieber is just a musician, he’s just a guy, they get upset that he doesn’t do what they want, based on their image! [laughs] And it’s interesting to see how upset people get about that kind of deviation. I can’t really relate to it, to be honest, because, I would like to able to do whatever I want, as a musician–If you don’t like it, whatever!
But yeah, they totally did get upset, I expected it, and I kind of relish in it! Because if you’re not complaining–If I’m not doing something that jars you a little bit, if I was just always doing some expected cover of something that always falls into the category of music you like, I’m not exposing you to anything new, I’m not reinterpreting anything, and I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to limit myself to those kinds of things. If exploring new stuff includes Justin Bieber, then I think I’m going to keep on exploring new stuff!
CM: There you go! Why not?
JN: It’s a way of saying a cover is a cover, it doesn’t matter who the original song was by, as long as I find something cool to do with it…for me! Maybe not for anybody else, but certainly for me!
CM: Well, you know what your connection is to the song, and if you’re comfortable with it, and you’re ready to put it out there, sure, why not? It’s your interpretation–It’s a good interpretation because you mashed it with The Supremes’ “Baby Where Did Our Love Go?”, and it’s like “Yeah, those two songs”! I would have assumed it was a complete and original stand-alone song if you’d never told a soul that this was The Supremes and Justin Bieber mashed together and I had never heard either song before.
JN: There was one specific comment that I found hilarious! It was like “Julia, please do not give credit to some boy-band replica teeny-bopper because he covered a classic Motown song! Why did you even include him in the title?”. And then, of course, I didn’t even have to respond, a zillion people were just like “It’s a mashup. She’s not just covering The Supremes and putting Justin Bieber’s name on it, it is also a Justin Bieber song”.
CM: I knew that! I knew you weren’t doing a cover of a cover, or anything like that.
JN: No, they’re so similar though, it’s kind of eerie, they could be one song!
Baby, Justin Bieber + The Supremes (mashup)
CM: I also think it’s so great that you have such a good sense of humor about yourself, because I’ve noticed in some clips you’re reading some really negative comments, and you’re like “Oh, well!”–You’re kind of saying to the world “Yeah, this is what I deal with, but I don’t care!”, and you just sort of let it roll off your back. Was it always like that, or did it hurt you at first when you saw the comments?
JN: I know that there have been times when I’ve been upset, but not for a few years, and I honestly don’t remember what made me so upset, so it’s not like those comments have stuck in my mind forever, but I think especially attacks on more serious stuff, like my character. Incidentally, my nostrils, these targets, their huge! [EDITOR’S NOTE: She flares her nostrils, sadly you can’t see] That’s different, but I got some stuff about my personality, and I was kind of shocked at first, and then what I’ve realized is everyone gets insulted, everybody. Beyonce gets insulted. And so, if I’m on a level where people’s opinions are accessible to me, because I’m in a position where there are a lot of comments, and so there’s a lot of opinions, and because I’ve chosen to do this in such a close way with those people, where I read them and I respond, and there’s a million ways to contact me–I like that, but it means those insults, and I think the rewards are so much greater than the poopie, icky things, and I think if Beyonce can handle it, I can handle it!
Build Me Up, Buttercup (Foundations cover)
Julia’s YouTube Channel (The “jaaaaaaa” is named because she had some keyboard issues opening the YT account)
Julia Nunes (junumusic.com)