Interview with Julie Christmas

Photo Credit: Brendan Tobin

Hi Julie!  Thanks so much for doing this interview with me.  I don’t know that much about your musical background, but I do know that your album The Bad Wife, which was released in November, blew me away!  I just love your highly expressive voice, especially when you convey fragility and menace at the same time. I also dig the overall intensity and tension of your songs.  I have a soft spot for emotional catharsis in song and you deliver that in spades, along with intriguing and varied compositions that expand upon your past musical range.

Was it your intention, when creating The Bad Wife, to venture into other musical territories?

Julie Christmas:  Thanks for the kind words! Very, very nice to hear. We started working on The Bad Wife about two years ago. When we started working on the album, I was involved in a few different projects that were rough, angry, and that involved a lot of screaming. I won’t ever be able to separate myself from this kind of performance and I don’t want to. I do know that, in day to day life, I get overwhelmed with emotion about things that have nothing to do with anger – just like everyone else.  The project started as a way to show the importance of other feelings, like love. Once the heavier projects ended, though, I noticed that the songs on The Bad Wife started to get heavier. One of the last songs we did is a screamer – and one of my favorite songs on the album… We also made a video for “Bow” with James O’Brien…there’s a Yeti in it. You can view it here: http://vimeo.com/15950053

Did you write all the lyrics (well, except for your exceptional cover of Jacque Brel’s “If You Go Away”) and compose all the songs yourself for The Bad Wife?  Who collaborated with you on the album?  I think you enlisted certain members of Made Out of Babies (or did they volunteer?) to flesh out the sound.

There is a Willie Nelson cover on the album as well – he wrote “I Just Destroyed the World.”   Other than that, most of the lyrics were scribbled on a piece of paper right before I sang them. The only song on the album that I sat down and wrote was “Secrets All Men Keep.” As for people, well, there is a different set of people working on almost every song, which was a huge pain in the ass to pull off. Andrew Schneider – the most talented engineer working in underground music today – produced the album and wrote the bass tracks for a few songs. John LaMacchia was in the band Candiria and plays the guitar like it is a natural extension of himself. He also collaborated with me on the writing for every track on the album. Made Out of Babies plays on “Headless Hawks.” Drummer Troy Young plays on the album. Tragically, he was found shot in his apartment before the album was released. Mel Lederman of Victory at Sea, Joe Taormino of Dub Trio, Oddity (Dalek), Tony Maimone – and too many others to name- made the album worth making. I think it is an important album that everyone should hear – even if they hate it.  Because ALL of it is real. That’s a hard thing to find right now.

Photo Credit: Brendan Tobin

Can you go into your musical background a bit for those not familiar with your work?  From what I understand, you are concurrently in the Brooklyn-based band Made Out of Babies and formerly (or still?) in Battle of Mice and the super-group Spylacopa, which included members of The Dillinger Escape Plan, Candiria, and Isis.

I am still working with Made Out of Babies, we are starting to record the 4th album very soon. Those guys are like my brothers. We fight, but they are irreplaceable to me. I work on different projects because I need people with different perspectives around. The Bad Wife is the closest thing to being my own, though. And I’m gonna do more of it.

What was your impetus for “going solo”?  Were you writing material that you didn’t think would fit Made Out of Babies, but that you still wanted to have see the light of day?  Or did you actively have a plan of doing an album on your own at some point?

Exactly…Both.

You possess a formidable, changeable voice and wide range of delivery where you morph from light, curling, girlish entreaties to heavyweight screaming and wailing.  When did you realize you had such intensity and that you could harness it and parlay it into your livelihood?

Thank you – that is a huge compliment…Well, I can’t get into bands that stare at their shoes and expect the world to love them. The job of the singer in a band is to take everything in the music and give it a voice – to translate music to the audience.  I want to do this well VERY badly. I use sounds to say things to people that I am too clumsy with words to be able to. I need a big range of sound to have a big vocabulary to speak to the audience with – even if it is all grunts and groans…I want people who pay hard earned money to come see this show to know that I mean every second of it and feel them there. It means everything to me.

Photo Credit: Francoise Massacre

I’ve often wondered how singers (and sometimes drummers) get through a show without keeling over before the end due to sheer physical exhaustion/strain.  What is the feeling like when you’re up on that stage in front of the crowd?  Do you do anything special to prepare for a gig?

I always warm up and I always do shots. I used to take a quick walk to keep from getting too scared, but I guess I look a little crazy, because sometimes strange perverts try to get me into their vans. Now I carry a knife when I do that. Sometimes you DO feel like you’re going to fail and fall over. In Made Out of Babies, there have been times when I’m in pretty bad shape when I leave the stage. I’ve had bruises bigger than your head. I will have to be more disciplined with The Bad Wife shows. I won’t make it if I run around like a maniac – the vocal performance itself is much too difficult. I am sure I will shake from trying to stay in one place with all that emotion, but I feel like I want to do the best I can for people who come to see this performance. It is going to be gigantic.

Going along with the previous question, because of how you sing and how much you have to exert yourself, I was wondering if you consciously pace yourself.  I know this sounds silly, but how do you know when to breathe?  Do you ever get too caught up in your delivery and forget to breathe?

I know when to breathe in a song, for the most part. In live performance, if the breath gets in the way of the feeling of the song, I skip it and hold out for the next chance.  Sometimes I think I’m tougher than I am, and my body puts me back in my place – or someone else’s body puts me back in my place sometimes.

Your lyrics are often stark statements of cold fury, regret, fear, desperation, and breakdown (of the self and of relationships), but also of restless exploration, hope, and, by the end of the album, renewal. For instance, “…streets that echo love’s lost faded screams.” from “The Wigmaker’s Widow” and the more hopeful album-ender “When Everything is Green” where you sing “…new air in your chest / breathes long winter’s death.” How autobiographical are your lyrics?  I’m not sure I’d want to meet the guy from “The Wigmaker’s Widow”…

If music is telling a story, then lyrics in these songs are usually the best way I know to put words to a picture in my head. Sometimes I’m singing from the perspective of a character in the story – even if it’s an inanimate object, like a door-hinge, or a pane of glass. “The Wigmaker’s Widow” is based on a play called Woyzech. In the play, a man marries a beautiful woman. He feels she is above him and begins selling his own body parts to get money to keep her happy. I won’t spoil the end.

Julie Christmas - The Bad Wife

You released The Bad Wife on CD and vinyl, each with its own cover art.  Who did the artwork and why did you choose two different images?

I came across the image by Scott Hove – the Cake Vault photo on the CD – and I could relate to it instantly. A room made of icing that has taxidermy teeth and eyes in it! I can’t quite explain, but to me it is the perfect pictorial representation of the overall sentiment of the album. A cake that eats YOU first. I begged him to use it and he was amazingly cool about it even though we didn’t know each other at all.

Nix Turner’s illustrations for the Vinyl worked in a different way. I love that her work exhibits menace and grace with equal force. She is very talented. For me, the girl on the cover of the Vinyl captures one of the faces of The Bad Wife. I am going to sound like a pompous ass if I keep explaining, so I’ll leave it at that.

How did you end up signing to Rising Pulse Records for this release?  Was there an option of staying in-house with Neurot Recordings, the label for Made Out of Babies?

Made Out of Babies hasn’t been with Neurot for a while. We released The Ruiner on The End Records. I did have other labels interested in The Bad Wife, but John LaMacchia played on the album and, though Rising Pulse is his fledgling label, I knew he would work ridiculously hard to do right by the record and treat it respectably. I also knew he would be honest with me, and give me a chance to see what it was like to release a record from the perspective of the label. I have learned a great deal from the whole process. I am happy to have done it. It was an invaluable experience.

Your song “July 31st” is featured on the soundtrack for the film Wrong Turn at Tahoe.  Were you involved in getting your music on the soundtrack or did someone contact you with that request?

I grew up with Talib Kweli in Brooklyn, New York.  He was cool enough to give some of the tracks a listen. He set it up.

You’ve also worked on the soundtrack for the French film Le Debut.  From what I gather, your process was to express sounds instead of words.  Is that an accurate description for what you created?

I think that I could have done better for them, but it was very difficult to be so far away and get that done. There was also a great deal to learn. I would not have made it if not for Andrew Schneider and John LaMacchia. The language barrier was a big obstacle as well, but I’m working on that whenever I get the chance. I love France and when I work there again, I’m going to just get on a plane and go.

You are involved in so many projects, not the least your artistic foray with Nix Turner.  From what I’ve read, you’re working on a book called The Scribbles of Amy Anyone: (A Multiple Personality Autobiography).  What’s the latest news about that?

We are working on it. We’ve been at a standstill for a bit – because of the album and her exhibitions – but we are going to pick it up very soon. I am excited about it. We have music, stills, and the storyboard. The only thing keeping us from it is making the time.

What will the touring schedule be like for The Bad Wife?

We are working on the stage show and will be touring in Europe in April and in the US and Canada during the summer. When you believe so strongly in a project, the next step is to see if you can accomplish what you set out to. I think that audiences will take something away from the show that will stay with them. It’s going to be different…like a cake that eats you first.

Where can people go online to find out more about you and your music?

You can go online to http://risingpulse.com/, Bandcamp, or iTunes to buy the album in vinyl, CD, or digital format. Also, http://juliechristmas.org/ is coming soon, but for now people can check the Web (Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/people/Julie-Christmas/687029798, etc…) for upcoming shows and updates.