Cigarette lighters aloft for the East Coast balladeer who wants to save the world, one emotionally-charged song at a time
or a young female singer-songwriter, who’s only just released her debut album, you’d expect some immaturity and stereotypically girlie lyrics about boys, crushes and break-ups. But as we’ll discover, for Julie Mar, songwriting can also be worthy of weightier topics such as the passing of a loved one, or inspiring victims of a natural disaster. Genuine love and real loss that’s not easy to talk about, let alone write about.
Born and raised in New York, Julie started playing the piano at seven years old and didn’t really stop, until the summer of 2012 gave her the opportunity to step away from music and humanitarian in Kenya. No doubt visiting orphans and building homes in Africa, and other fundraising efforts in the US, have helped mature the young Julie Mar and inspired the genuinely heart-felt torch songs on her debut LP.
We speak to Julie between video shoots and album release shows and find out more about her approach to songwriting.
Where are you right now?
“New York. I’ve been here my whole life. Actually I’ve been to London recently and it was definitely one of the best cities I’ve ever been to and I’ve been telling my sister how I’ve been wanting to move there, so hopefully one day I’ll be able to go back. Everyone’s so artistic and cooperative of each other – I mean, at least that’s the impression I got.”
You got into music at the age of seven, having piano and guitar lessons. Was that your parents being enthusiastic and pushing you into music?
“Well my sister originally had piano lessons first, and I think it was just one of those things that parents try to make their children cultured, so I eventually fell into it after her. But I actually hated lessons! I dispised them and asked my parents to stop it. I remember at one point I told them ‘it’s not like I’m ever going to be a musician! Why do I have to do this!?’ But eventually it stuck with me and I learnt more after the lessons, rather than in the lessons. So it was something I picked up on my own from within my heart, as opposed to it being put on me.”
[cc_blockquote_right] I THINK MICHAEL JACKSON TAUGHT ME WHAT IT IS TO BE A PASSIONATE MUSICIAN [/cc_blockquote_right] So how did it turn from traditional lessons to writing lyrics and songs?
“I was writing poems from around the same age, but I didn’t really start fitting music to my words until I was about 13 years old. The older I got, the more I fell in love with music and discovered I had a voice and that maybe I could try to apply this to my words. But it took me a while to come out of my shell and start singing my own words – I felt it was like exposing a bit of my soul – but once I was able to break out, it was home free.”
What were you expressing in your poems and lyrics at that time?
“I think the things I was writing about when I was younger was much simpler, like ‘this boy didn’t look at me’ or something, as opposed to true loss, losing a loved-one and true hardship in life.”
Who really influenced you back then?
“I have this one specific memory from when I was seven years old – I was in the car with my father and Michael Jackson Billie Jean came on the radio, and I remember being completely in awe. I mean it’s clichéd, but I asked my dad ‘who is this?’ and he explained who he was and why Michael Jackson was so great. He brought home the record for me and I remember listening to Human Nature and I just mesmerised by it. I tried everything in my power to sound like he did and express emotion how he did. I think Michael Jackson taught me what it is to be a passionate musician.”
You also had voice training?
“Yes, I think my singing is still something that’s very new to me, even though I’ve been studying it in college, because you’re continuously learning about your voice and what you can do. The more I started creating songs on my own, the more I wanted to become better at the craft, so lessons really taught me how to come out of my shell and really not be so shy about a gift that you’ve been given by God. It’s something you want to share, and not keep it to yourself. Also training teaches you how to use your voice as an instrument rather than just sounds you make.”
Do you still play piano and guitar now?
“I play guitar but more just for writing purposes. I’m good enough to get by, but nothing to record. I’m much better at piano. When I want to be a bit more organic and simple I definitely lean towards the guitar, but when I want to be more extravagant or dramatic I’ll lean towards the piano.”
What inspires you to write a new song?
“Most of the time inspiration comes from the biggest and the smallest things. Someone could say one word and it could inspire an entire song, other times something just hits you and you come up with a concept, but other times it’s a struggle! You know, you go through dry spells of wanting to be creative, but it could be so hard to creative. But it’s different every time – there’s no one approach.”
When you write, does it tend to start with the lyrics and you put it to music, or the other way around?
“I almost always begin with the words and then I try to find some sort of music that can do the words justice. Because it’s really important for me that the music is as beautiful as the words. They need to be balanced and compliment each other. Most of the time I find the words generally have a natural meter – when you write you try to fit it into some sort of timing. So I feel the melody is kind of natural and then you need to just find chords to compliment that.”
What place do you find inspires you the most?
“I think my living room! It sounds really lame, but just sitting in the room surrounded by my instruments makes me try and be creative. I’ll close my eyes and think about what emotion is on my mind. I also think I have a lot of empathy toward people so if somebody around is in a situation, I find I can easily put myself in their shoes and create a song out of it. Although it has to be something I feel myself, because I can’t write a song I’m not emotionally attached to.”[cc_blockquote_right] I HAVE SONGS JUST PILING UP THAT I NEED PEOPLE TO HEAR BEFORE I GO CRAZY! [/cc_blockquote_right] Is there a song that was an example of that empathy?
“The song Eagle Eye was about Hurricane Irene on the East Coast here. I was just looking at people who had lost everything and feeling like I’m one of them, it almost felt like I’d lost everything too. That song was inspired by that and trying to turn it into a positive note – that even though I’ve lost everything, there are still other people who have problems as well, and together we can make it through.”
Your single Staircase kicks off the album with a particularly emotive lyric. What’s the story behind that song?
“That’s one of the most personal songs on the album. My uncle passed away last year and I had a continuous image of him at the top of the staircase at his house, because every time I went there he would always be waiting there to welcome me. So it almost became a modern day Stairway To Heaven – the analogy of it really works and it’s kind of ironic that it turned out that way.”
Is there a theme to the rest of the album?
“It’s just an album of self-discovery and trying to find peace among all the craziness in this world. I tried to write this album for the listeners and for them to feel like they’re not alone, that somebody else is going through these feelings. There’s no reason to be ashamed or shy of what you’re feeling, because every single person on this planet goes through these emotions. Some of the songs I wrote four or five years ago, so some of them have been travelling with me through the whole process and just stuck with me.”
What are have you got planned next?
“Well we’ve just recorded a music video for the song Daydream which is a song that was sung with Chris Ayer. That’s going to be released soon and there’ll be more videos. I’m trying to get a mini tour set up because I want to go around and see more people. Definitely more music is to come – I have songs just piling up that I need people to hear before I go crazy!”
Interview: Alex Miles
The debut album Theorem from Julie Mar is available to buy now on iTunes and Amazon. For more information, visit her website: www.juliemarmusic.com