How Musician Julien Baker Gets Unstuck

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S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership.

S2: You can imbue basically anything with symbolism if you just open yourself up to thinking about it that way, if you are paying attention, like you can recognize how significant or poetic you know, somebody offhand comment can be, you just have to, like, not dismiss it as boring.

S3: Welcome back to Working, I’m your host, Ramona Lum, and I’m your other host, Isaac Butler.

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S4: Isaac, our listeners might recognize the voice that we just heard had she been singing and not speaking. Who was your guest this week?

S5: My guest this week is the great singer, performer, songwriter, rock musician, multi instrumentalist, Julian Baker.

S4: So you may remember that one of my creative New Year’s resolutions was to expand my musical frame of reference. But even an old fuddy duddy like me knows the name Julian Baker.

S5: Yes, but just in case you listening at home are either funnier or dirtier than Ruman or perhaps both. Julian Baker is a beloved, highly regarded, and if I may say, very talented, you know, musician, performer, etc.. Her songs are very emotionally involving. She writes a lot about her history with addiction and her work is very intense, but it’s also quite beautiful. Her new album, Little Oblivion, was recently released by Matador Records, and she’s also one third of the supergroup Boy Genius with Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dakis.

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S4: You know, I find musical talent to be almost mystical. I can’t imagine fooling around with an instrument and playing Bach, you know, never mind picking up a guitar and writing a song that never existed before. Isaac, I know that many theater people, even those who don’t perform as singers, have to learn a bit of musical technique. Are you one of those theater people? Are you a closet musician?

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S5: I am indeed a closet musician. I grew up playing piano and drums and singing. That actually predates being an actor, you know, which I started doing when I was a little around 12. And, you know, I’ve written a song or two in my day. I mostly play the ukulele these days because over a decade ago I had to teach an actor how to play one in the show and I taught myself how to do it. I just got really hooked. It’s like a really fun instrument, even though if it’s it’s a total cliché of being a 41 year old Brooklyn dad with the podcast that said, I find real musical ability, which is to say musical ability. That’s beyond my own. Like the real stuff, totally mysterious to my best friend from childhood, is an opera composer and conductor. And even when we were little kids, like we met in third grade, he had this whole other level of talent where he was like writing, you know, pop songs and playing them on the piano. And he could learn something by ear and then just plunk it down. And I still to this day, I’m in awe of it, to be completely honest. And I think this is one reason why I love interviewing musicians and composers, actually, is because I feel like I know just enough of what it’s like to be able to ask an interesting question, but not so much that I feel like I know the answer.

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S4: Hmm. That’s interesting. I know that you took the opportunity to ask Julian some questions just for our Slate plus listeners. Do you think you could give us a sneak preview indeed on Slate?

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S5: Plus, this week, Julian and I are talking about influence. Specifically, what was she listening to while she was trying to kind of change her sound on this new album? And how did that listening experience affect little oblivion in the path it took?

S4: Well, that’s really the perfect enticement. So I’ll take this opportunity to remind you that this sort of exclusive members only content is one of the many benefits of Slate plus membership. Other benefits include zero ads on any Slate podcast bonus episodes of shows like Slow Burn and Dear Prudence. And of course, most importantly, you’ll be supporting the work that we do here on working. It’s one dollar for the first month to sign up. Go to Slate dotcom slash working plus. Now let’s get to Isaac’s conversation with Julian Baker.

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S5: Julian Baker, thank you so much for joining us today on working.

S6: Yeah. My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

S5: So let’s just start in the present. What does your creative process look like right now? You’ve got the album out. We’re a year into the pandemic. What’s your kind of day to day creative life like?

S6: My. Day to day life, as I sit here in this very room, in this chair and I have a little keyboard over here and then I have a couple of guitars and I sit here and I practice or I write, and often those end up kind of blurring together, you know, when I don’t have, like, an immediate inspiration for a song that I’ve been working on or something, I’ll just try to teach myself somebody else’s song. And invariably that ends up, you know, making my mind. Think about. Chord shapes and melodies in different ways, and so, yeah, I just try to, whatever the outcome, interact with my instrument every day, just, you know, not not expecting to be productive, but just, I guess, cultivating a relationship with music and knowing it better.

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S5: You know, some people have, like, little rituals they need to do to get in the headspace of being creative or whatever. Do you have some something like that, or do you just it’s a certain time of day. I’m going to pick up the guitar and get going or.

S6: It’s not so deliberate, you know, like I’ll come in here and whenever I have, you know, I have some meetings all morning, and then as soon as I’m done, inevitably, I’ll just, like, scoot my chair back and pick up a guitar and start absentmindedly playing something. But it’s not something that I sit down and, like, make a specific time for. I just tried to make it or try to put myself in the way of instruments or surround myself with instruments or with music so that it is second nature to me. You know, I think that’s just how it’s been since I was a kid is like, you know, just the stuff is around. You’re constantly engaging with it consciously or subconsciously.

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S5: Yeah, totally. Totally. So I thought maybe we could talk a little bit about favor. One of the songs off your new album, Little Oblivion, just the way of thinking about your your songwriting process. Do you remember how that song began? Was it one of those ones that grew out of learning someone else’s song, or was it with a scrap of lyrics or an image or it was with the first little like the burner na na na na na na.

S6: Like, it’s not really a riff, it’s just the chords.

S7: I have been toying around with that riff for quite a while. I just love the like over compressed acoustic guitar sound.

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S6: I love that it is something that maybe soloed out in a mix. It would be like an uglier, undesirable acoustic guitar tone. But within the context of like a lo fi kind of weird indie rock song, it becomes suited to the to the larger work anyway. So I was sitting there with that and I just couldn’t make anything that felt good happen with it. And I had a different song that I had been toying with. It was like. It’s like when I slide up to that one, I don’t even know what chord it is, might be a C, but like whatever what I when I like a slide up to the verse chords. We took the 40.

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S7: To me, that was just a completely different song that happened to be in a compatible key, and I didn’t realize it was just something that after sitting around and playing, you know, a million different combinations of parts to try to get myself out of the intro riff, I finally did that and thought, well, that works.

S6: And then I just started writing, you know, like, I feel so inarticulate about it. And I wish that I could break it down into, like, well, it’s in a minor. And I wanted to return it to, like, the dominant time. But like, I don’t. And it’s like I understand those words. And what they mean in the context of music theory, but really what happens with a lot of my songs is that I create one piece that I like and then I just. Play random notes until I like how they sound together and it involves a lot, it’s just like throwing darts at a wall and after I’ve hit a whole bunch of notes that sound bad and started over the progression, eventually I’ll find something that I like or I won’t. And then I’d like shelve that song and scribble it down in my spiral and come back to it later.

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S5: Right. So you’re just you’d like figure out each part and then you have to experiment to find the next component in the chain. Yeah.

S6: And then, you know, it’s funny because there are songs that I have put entirely together and then that I’ll have to cannibalize or that I’ll have to, you know, and that’s its own practice is learning like when something actually serves the song or not, like, should I even put this part in here, you know, because originally favorite, like it was just that one progression over and over again. And then I had a couple more of like like dark, minor worky parts. But that didn’t feel right to me. Like, I can’t, you know, like. And I’m kind of at a loss to explain it, but it just didn’t. Right it right in my ears, was it?

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S5: Hard for you earlier in your career to be like, actually, this song isn’t working, I need to move on to another one or do you and then maybe come back or maybe never pick it up again or whatever?

S6: Well, jeez, it’s like when I was first, it’s just something that I think that you learn. With practice, you know, there’s maybe this idea that people are born. Innately good at songwriting or innately not good at songwriting, like either their songs are corny and they don’t have a poetic impulse or they’re good and they do. But I think it’s a lot more it’s just like panning for gold and trying to. Distilled the. The salient pieces from a whole lot of material that you’ve gathered, like when I was a kid playing in. My band, The Star Killers, we would write a song and then that was just the song, it was the way it was after we had put it all together in like one practice. And then that song was part of our set. Now, whether it was like good or not or whether it was stylistically or like thematically consistent with the rest of the music that we made, just make it anything, just making music that sounded good to us. And I think it takes a lot of. I think it’s because when you’re first learning to create and you realize that you’re able to construct something. I don’t like the word original because it’s like loaded and not quite accurate, but like something original of yourself. Yeah, I think it’s it feels very for a long time, it feels very precious to you. And you don’t want to, like, abandon it or you don’t want to like for me, I had difficulty letting myself take songs apart and put them back together because I felt like that was somehow. Compromising the integrity of the song as it was written, you know, because it was just this. Hodgepodge of ideas, but that’s where the craft comes in, right? It’s like, yeah, how do you relate disparate parts of songs and lyrics to each other? How do you make them? Interact in a way that feels natural and still feels like storytelling and still is like animating the listener towards the next, I mean, but, you know, I would be lying if I said I thought about it in that. Critical of a way like in the moment, right?

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S5: Yeah, there’s a difference between when you’re reflecting on it and when you’re out. Yeah, making those decisions.

S6: Totally, totally, totally. It’s just like me, like this entire record was just myself and Calvin Lorber, who produced the record with me and engineered it. It was just me and him sometimes staring at a Pro Tools session and just being like, it’s not right. I don’t know. I don’t know what it needs. And then at that point, it’s like, well, you just start doing things that seem counterintuitive or just having any idea because. Yeah, I don’t know, it’s like. Just the process of making mistakes and finding out things that sound bad is. Part of, you know, exploring. Songwriting.

S4: We’ll be back with more of Isaac’s conversation with Julian Baker after this. Hey, listeners, we hope you’re enjoying this podcast. Please take a moment to subscribe to our feed wherever it is you get your podcasts and you’ll never miss a second of working later in this episode. We’re taking a listener question. We love answering questions from our listeners. If you have one for us, whether it’s big or small, whether it’s about creativity or how to make money, whatever it is, drop us a line at working at Slate. Com or give us an old fashioned phone call at three zero four nine three three work.

S8: That’s three zero four nine three three nine six seven five. OK, let’s rejoin Isaac’s conversation with musician Julian Baker.

S5: Do you remember sort of at what point with Favre, the lyrics became known to you or you started working on them like did that come early in the process? Are you figuring out a melody and then figuring out the words that might fit it or.

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S6: Yeah, this was one where I just had a very vivid experience about. Writing with one of my friends in their truck down to visit. Our family is in Jackson, Tennessee, and. When I got back home, I just had a lot to say and to process about it and I. SAT down and tried to just like let all of my thoughts tumble out of my mouth and of course, it’s like, you know, there was more there than ended up being in the song.

S5: Right. Lyric writing is so much about compression. Right. It’s like you have all the things that you have to, like, compress it so that every word is doing so much work.

S6: Mm hmm. Yeah, completely. I mean. It’s difficult to like to me, it feels a lot like I’m always rearranging like fridge magnet words in my brain, like I have, I’ll have this mental image of us pulling over at a gas station and my friend, just like so tenderly being like, oh, no, this moth got caught in the grill of my truck and that’s so sad.

S7: And then me just thinking like, wow, that’s super tender. And I wish that humans were more able to treat each other in themselves in that way. Trying to scrape together James. CNN. Now that I’m describing it, I guess our lives and the interactions that we have with other human beings can be you can imbue basically anything with symbolism if you just open yourself up to thinking about it. That way, you can open yourself up to the world, making you feel things and your experiences being vivid and important if you only take the time to take it seriously, to pay attention to the world around you. And so I feel like most of what I do as an artist is observe.

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S6: You know, I’m not sitting here like in my room having epiphanies about the world. I’m just like most of my songs are about interpersonal relationships and they often have little. Excerpts from real conversations that I’ve had, because in the middle of a conversation, if you are paying attention, like you can recognize how significant. Or poetic, you know, somebody offhand comment can be you just have to, like, not dismiss it as. Boring. I mean, like everything, like when you consider everything meaningful, the opportunities to create become endless. And I know that’s, you know, a big part of my. Artistic process is just like trying to take things seriously and investigate them.

S5: Yeah, totally. I mean, as a nonfiction writer who used to be an actor, I completely sympathize with the screen. Oh, yes. Yeah. Do you carry a notebook to help you capture those things? Were you know, when something sort of happens, you’re like, oh, I got to write that down for material for later. Are you someone who just has like a kind of fishnet memory that that carries all the stuff with you?

S6: Not at all. I have a goldfish brain memory. Like, my favorite thing is just like I’ll open my notes up, like in the morning and see, like what I’ve scrolled down there during the evening. And I just opened a note the other day that just said pain was like just pain. It just said pain. And I was like, wow, you really thought that you were having like an epiphany about or like this revelation about the human experience of pain. This is like the most common topic of all art. But yeah, no, like and sometimes they’ll just be like. Boxcar paintings or it’ll be like just like not combinations of words that I find aesthetically pleasing, but like little ideas, like pieces of imagery that I want to delve more into that I feel like I could use. To communicate, you know, it’s just like assimilating new pieces of your vocabulary, and I do that a lot with like I don’t know when I’m just driving around or when I’m just standing with people and. I don’t know, maybe it makes me look creepy, but then later I’ll be alone, I’ll be reflecting on things and I’ll pull up my notes up and just look at all the. Myriad of crazy experiences I had that day, like, you know what I mean, just like my friends talking to me about a therapy bot, I’m like that. Let’s investigate therapy. But let’s talk about the feelings there. Um, yeah, who knows? Maybe I’ll make a therapy, but song and you’ll be like, I knew where I come from.

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S5: You know what? I am really fascinated with your lyrics and your lyrical process, in part because for example, unfavorite favorit like there’s very few perfect rhymes and there’s like a obviously chord structures and melodies repeat but words. So there isn’t like a traditional what we think of as a quote unquote chorus. Exactly like there’s a lot of core and I was just interested in that, about the song and about, you know, kind of doing away with some of the stuff that we sort of traditionally expect a rock song to do.

S6: You know, I find I do that quite a bit, like that is a common structure of my songs, especially on this record. Like when we were rehearsing it, I started to notice it’s like part A, part B, repeat part A with different lyrics. Repeat Part B with different lyrics. And I think maybe some of my reticence to. Repetition, so much comes from partially I’m just trying to keep myself interested in this in the song, you know what I mean? Like I and also, you know. And maybe this is something I should challenge myself about, but I. I feel like I need to give a song some level of. Complication, and I know that comes from being a person who, like you, had a hard time feeling validated is like a female player. I feel like for a long time, like the spaces I was in, the expectation was that I would be not good, whether that was real or projected or maybe a combination of the two. But yeah, I am extremely self-conscious, too, because when I think about. My writing. It’s like I take it so seriously and then inevitably, like a year later, I think it’s really corny.

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S5: Do you have trouble playing your old song sometimes because of that or.

S6: Yeah, I mean, and it’s not that I don’t like the songs, but. When I’m performing these songs over and over and over again to people. I have this like projected fear that they are bored because I can’t accept that, like I’ll go to a show and see a song I’ve listened to a million zillion times on my phone and be stoked about it. But I don’t know. There’s something about. The performance aspect that, like I said, I need to find ways to keep. Myself, entertained and confident about like a song, and so I think I don’t know, that’s why a lot of the live arrangements of my songs. They’re not fluid and that I’ll change the entire structure of them, but I find myself very infrequently singing exactly the melody on the record or playing exactly the notes on the record or doing even exactly the same like chord voicings. I just like I’m like I’m going to go to different a like see, I don’t even know what to call it like second and version. Third and version. I’m like this is a this is other a this is different a this is weird. A this is jazzy a I feel like Phoebe and friends where she’s like trying to teach Joey how to play guitar and she’s like this is an old woman bending over chord.

S9: Now I don’t know the actual names of the chords, but I made up names for the way my hand looks while I’m doing them.

S5: Obviously, this new album has a very different sound from the earlier work, it’s much more expansive, even though you’re playing, I think, almost every instrument. I think Calvin hops on a a couple of them. Right.

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S6: But yeah, some drums and some guitar.

S5: Yeah, but and I was very interested in how you arrived at the decision of, like, I’m going big on the new one. Well it’s like wide open vistas. I know chords.

S6: I had always played in a band throughout my childhood, and then it just happened, you know, because of the way that this chaotic universe works, that the body of work that I became most recognized for was a collection of songs I had written without my band that I had maybe brought to practice. And that didn’t fit the mood of the project. And. It was an interesting space for me to live in and challenge myself with, you know. Writing and a style that was so opposite to what I had been doing and so minimal, but I think that I. Being recognized for making that kind of music or having that be like a stylistic. Cornerstone of the music that I make in the songs I write. Ended up. Becoming like this thing that was constantly reflected back at me about like how my music sounds and I think. As much as anyone wants to pretend that they’re completely singular in their vision and self directed, it’s it’s not that easy. And I think I put these limitations around myself and on this record. I just wanted to deny myself no opportunity for sound and noisemaking. I just wanted to and I also want to, you know, a lot of the music that I like that I enjoy is not just purely beautiful and immaculately arranged. It has these little. Tasteful. Ugly parts, I don’t know how else to say it, because obviously I don’t mean ugly.

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S5: There’s a difference between, like Exile in Guyville and sounding like you have no idea what you’re doing with your recording. Yes.

S6: OK, well, great reference and exactly. But. I wanted to. Access a part of myself where I allowed sounds in my music to be abrasive, where I wasn’t going to the where I wasn’t making these like gorgeous, lush ballads where I’m hitting being really acrobatic with my voice. I mean, I guess. I don’t know, that’s just the way that I sing or the way I create melodies and it’s not so different on this record, but there is a lot more. Dissonance and discomfort to.

S5: Did you have a kind of mission is over dramatizing it, but had you made that decision prior to going into the studio or did it grow out of the studio process?

S6: No, I think it grew out of the studio process because I write on an acoustic guitar and electric guitar, a piano, and my voice and the songs were all constructed in the same way that I had the previous two records. But when we went into the studio and we started experimenting a little bit more and seeing, you know, like. What all we could do with the song like that, and I have to credit Calvin a lot with that, too, because his impulse for production, I think, helped me think of arrangement in. A different way, like it helped me think of. Sounds less as like purely musical, if that makes sense.

S5: Yeah, and maybe golf becomes like an instrument, right? It’s like what you’re sure in the past? Pro Tools.

S6: Yeah. Were you put like, I don’t know how to say this, but like some bleeps and bloops or you put like a static noise or like a bit crushed overdriven thing or like, you know what I mean. Like I didn’t have such a. Formal qualification of like what belonged in songwriting and yeah, I think it was kind of born out of the studio also because instead of just me showing up and making a record in a week, I would take a handful of songs and we would record like a scratch track and maybe put a little drum take over it. And then I would sit on the song for like months and we would bounce ideas back and forth. And Calvin would be like, how do you feel about this filter sweep thing? And you know what I mean? Like, I think it gave me the space. To just be a little bit more critical of the production side and really start investigating that as its own art form, like additional to and interacting with just.

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S5: Performing notes on an instrument, it’s fascinating that it, you know, grew out of this kind of lengthy process because it feels of a cohesive world and peace to me. Was that something that you had to sort of consciously track as it went along, that it feel like it was kind of, you know, all orbiting the same sun?

S6: To me, I mean, this record feels like at times it’s not, you know what I mean? And I wonder if it’s just because subconsciously I have certain musical impulses and Calvin has a particular tone print as an engineer. But, yeah, I don’t know. I think what was most fun about this record is the. I felt that I could trust myself. That it would be cohesive because and I wonder if, too, that is because I made the decision to play most of the instruments on the record. And so not only does that kind of. Inform the style of playing with all these instruments, because I have especially on drums, like very limited capability, but it also. All of these instruments are being. Played by the same me, so it’s like they’re coming from the same consciousness and there’s a little bit it’s a little bit easier to, like, intuitively find the place where a lead part fits, a place where a drum part needs to go away because it’s all born of like one. Brain.

S5: You know, it’s interesting because thinking about that, you know. When I first put the album on hard line, just seems like such a statement, right? It’s like we’re not starting with acoustic guitar, we’re not starting with acoustic piano. We’re starting with this, you know, processed organ. And this song is going to be just sonically huge.

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S6: I liked and inevitably, you know, we did put that song first because I think it kind of establishes the limits of where you’re going to go. It’s I don’t know, I would call it like one of the heavier songs. I don’t know if you have such a meaningless word, but like it is one of the heavier songs to me on the record. And I wanted to maybe start at the most different and then establish that it’s like this is what I’ve been doing for the last couple of years. And now, like, right as the record progresses, it like sort of weaves in and out of genres or styles I felt more comfortable writing in.

S5: Obviously, you know, one thing that that you’re known for that’s is present in this album is your earlier work is the emotional intensity of your songs, right, that the both melodically and lyrically, they’re just they have a real compressed intensity to them. They’re dealing with very, very dark stuff a lot of the times. The reason I ask is that, you know, obviously as a writer, there’s sort of three versions of that emotionality, right? There’s you experiencing it, you writing the song, and then actually probably for recording it and then years later playing at a concert. And I was wondering, does your emotionality in response to the the song change as it goes through sort of each of those iterations? Are you thinking about how do I bring the emotionality to it? I’ve been playing the song for five years or.

S6: Yeah, I mean, and again, I think that’s a task of every performer’s like how do I make a feeling or an experience? I feel distant from relevant and I find the. When I write a song, I don’t want to sit down and just write. Here’s what happened to me and me alone, right? Like the whole point of songwriting and of nonfiction writing, fiction, writing, making art, I feel is about self-expression. Yes. But also for anybody with the awareness that you don’t make art in a vacuum, for anybody that displays their art to the public, it’s also about being understood. It’s about establishing a conversation. It’s about providing somebody with information about yourself so that you can be better known. By who, you know what I mean, like it by merely by making art, it’s like you are establishing the grounds for a conversation. And so that’s like what I have to do to return to these places in my life where maybe I’m writing about a breakup from seven years ago. But like, the emotional dynamic is similar to my current relationship or non relationship, you know, um, finding those the way that you can kind of. Transplant those feelings to different situations is valuable to me, you know, totally well, Julianne, thank you so much for joining us.

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S5: I’m working and telling us about your creative process.

S6: Thank you so much for having me. It was a pleasure.

S4: OK, Isaac, I loved this conversation, thank you, as I said earlier to you, music, just to mix metaphors here, is really Greek to me. But there’s so much that Julianne said about music that felt relevant to my own work as a writer. For example, the notion that practice and actual songwriting are basically the same thing. But I love how she spoke about simply surrounding herself with music to the point that it becomes second nature to her.

S5: Yeah, absolutely. You know, I think that in every field I know of, there’s just a thing where you have to reach an immersion point in your project or in your art and then good things start happening. You know, whether that’s because you’re writing every day or whatever, or you’ve gotten your research to the point where you’re deep in and and for her, it’s to surround herself with instruments and ideas. I mean, I think one of the challenges for prose writers like you and me is that the implements we surround ourselves with also have the Internet on them, which is the thing that keeps us from. Right. Right. So so it’s sort of like, you know, I kind of have this dream that you could go into an attic and it would just have lots of different kinds of pads of paper and pens, I guess would be the version of it. And you can books and you could just kind of see what happened. Maybe maybe I should try to make that happen in the real world.

S4: Yeah. I mean, I think I’ve had enough, you know, being housebound for a little while. But I could try I could try that like at the Four Seasons Hotel maybe. Yeah, exactly. Exactly. I was also really struck by how Julianne described an evolving relationship to her work, you know, with the caveat, of course, that she is still quite young, but just the idea that her early songs might have felt whole or inviolable, but that now from the perspective of where she is now, that she understands that revision and rejiggering are important, that she’s not compromising the song’s integrity, but she’s actually dealing with craft.

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S5: Yeah, I think that when you’re in the early days of practicing your art, I think people and by people I mean me can get really protective and precious about the work that like, oh, if I fiddle with it too much, it’s internal truth. The impulse that made me want to do it in the first place will be lost. And I think one of the lessons you learn when you do this over and over and over again is like actually it’s not going to go away. And you know what? If you fuck that piece up, there’s always another one to be written. I mean, I imagine you must have had writing projects that you felt weren’t working and you cannibalise them for parts or, you know, there was one image you liked and you used it in something else or you repeat yourself like I think that you’re right.

S4: It has to do with the perspective of not youth or age, but simple progress inside of your own career that you learn that you don’t have to worry so much about these little details. It was interesting to hear you argue that the new album is a bit of a departure for Julian, that it’s bigger, that maybe it’s what people like critics like to call ambitious. But I really enjoyed hearing Julian speak of the imperative to keep herself entertained, that it wasn’t that she was just challenging herself to do something bigger, but that she wanted to do something new.

S5: Oh, yeah, totally. I loved that, that, you know, one of the things that musicians have to do is play their old songs all the time. Right. Like you don’t. We don’t if we’re seeing you at a reading, you’re not reading from your first novel, you know what I mean? But but a musician, there’s like a whole retrospective aspect to it. And so that idea of like, I want to keep this interesting. I love it when musicians do that, you know, Bob Dylan rearranging his stuff on the road. Yo La Tengo rearranges their stuff all the time, you know. But I will also say I don’t think that I’m arguing that the new album has a different sound. So much is objectively observing. It has a different sound. If you listen to her earlier work, it’s almost all arranged very precisely for piano and guitar. Sometimes they’re multitracked, sometimes there’s a clarinet or something. But on this new one, there’s like effects. There’s drums, which is really different. There’s synthetic sounds. You know, there’s a lot of stuff going on like. So, for example, compare what we heard in that interview to a track like Shadowboxing off her previous album, Turn Off the Lights, Carson.

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S10: You’re singing too loud and. Screening of to speed. Girls like you, I’m sure, engaged whichever comes first. I know you’re sure.

S5: I think you can hear right there how different it is, even though it’s clearly made by the same artist with the same sensibility. And I just think that’s wonderful.

S4: Julian used the word abrasive, talking about the sound of a specific song on this new album. You know, she’s talking about moving past an interest in beauty.

S5: To something that’s a little challenging, it’s a little uncomfortable, totally, and to me, it’s in her earlier work that is there, but it’s mostly there in the lyrics. The lyrics, again, are often uncomfortably personal and deep and powerful. It’s not music that I feel like I can listen to in every setting, you know. But I also think we can get hung up on the sort of surface loveliness at the expense of all the other things that art can do. Like like to build off your last episode. It’s like cooking, right? Like you wouldn’t want to drink a shot of lime juice. That probably would be an unpleasant experience. But you have to sprits that acid on the thing that you’re cooking to bring the flavor out. Right. And so sometimes we can I mean, I feel like this happens a lot where, you know, we get sort of obsessed with like, is this sentence beautiful at the cost of what is this paragraph doing? You know? And I feel like being mindful of that is really important.

S4: So, Isaac, this week we have a listener call, it’s one of our favorite, favorite things, we really do love hearing from our listeners. So let’s hear let’s hear this question and then you and I can dig into it.

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S11: Hey, working team. I’m a teacher and I know a lot of you who host the podcast are also teachers. And I was wondering how you implement these creative rituals or creative strategies or techniques and how to bring more creativity into what you teach into and good for students and.

S4: OK, Isaac, this is the perfect question for you and I to deal with, because you and I have both talked and you and I have swapped notes about teaching in the past. So I’m really curious to hear your answer to this question, how you incorporate creative ritual into your teaching. It’s probably not hard for you because I sense that you’re probably teaching creatively anyway.

S5: Well, I am teaching in a BFA theater program, so creativity is very front of mind in the program and with the students about what you’re doing in the classroom. But I do want to underline a sort of premise of this call, which is that regardless of the discipline, teaching is a creative endeavor and it has a creative process and and that it should be approached creatively in the current class. I teach it’s actually a team taught class. And the other teacher, this wonderful director of Willia Tempo, brought in this thing, which is like, look, this year has been such a shit show in general. Right. And so you were teaching at night. The kids are over. Zoome They’ve been over. Zoome for who knows how many hours they all have at least part time jobs. They’re tired. We begin each class with a couple of people just sharing something that brought them joy since the last time we saw them. That’s it. Just hey I watched this movie was hilarious. I loved it. Here’s why. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Or I’m listening to this album right now and it’s really got me through it just to set a tone of like it is possible to find joy and to be refreshed. But we try all sorts of different things, the one that we’re going to be doing this week. And if any of my students happen to be listening, you’re getting a preview of Tuesday night’s class is we’re doing an exercise that’s taken from the playwright Paula Vogel, which is usually called a bake off, which is where the small groups within the class have a sort of ludicrous series of prompts and they have an hour to make something that fits all of those prompts. And that’s it. Right. So in this case, it’s a Lydia Davis short story, boring friends. For those of you who are Samuel Johnson is indignant fans. It’s boring friends. And then it’ll just have like one of you must interview someone over the course, you know, whatever, like the color blue must be in there and there must be a weasel. I mean, it could just be whatever. But the point is, the ludicrousness of it helps to spur creativity. So that’s that’s an example of one thing we’re doing. What about you, Remon?

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S4: I was thinking about a class that I taught last semester, which was a class on cultural criticism, that’s a creative endeavor, but it’s a different kind of creative endeavor than making theatre or learning how to perform. And I like to think that this exercise I’m going to describe is actually applicable if you were teaching even, let’s say, biology. So it’s not about the creativity of the subject at hand, but the approach to it. So one specific set of exercises that I had a lot of fun with these undergraduates was to think about the text that they encounter every day. So in the class we were talking about books and essays, but I also wanted to spend time on things like Instagram captions and fanfiction. So it’s just about being creative with the syllabus, right? It almost felt like I was teaching a lesson in a backhanded or sneaky way that I was letting them look at something that they care about and reminding them that they can treat it with the same seriousness they treat a book. The other thing that I swear by, and I really do think, again, this is applicable no matter what your teaching is simple free writing. Start the class with 10 minutes of just writing. And again, I think that would really work even if you were teaching a class in criminal justice. It loosens this connection between your brain and your hand. And it’s sort of like what you were saying, Isaac, about simply talking about what brought you joy. It sort of gets you in the space of like, oh, I’m thinking. I’m thinking. And as you are saying, in a moment where a lot of students are meeting with one another and their teachers over Zoom, it can be useful to say I’m not just sitting at my dining table. I’m not just sitting in the bedroom closet, which is the only place I have a stable Internet connection. But I’m in the class and my mind is working and my hand is working, you know, but I agree with you. Teaching is a creative process. And I am in awe of so many of the teachers in my life who remind me of that.

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S5: I completely agree with that woman. And I and I share your sense of awe and listener. I hope this has been helpful. Please drop us a line and let us know or yell at us if it hasn’t been. And for those of you out there, we would love to hear from you. If you have something you want to talk about with us and you want us to discuss here on the show, please, please, please just give us a call at three oh four nine three three w o r k that’s three or four nine three three nine six seven five.

S12: We hope you’ve enjoyed this show. I’m going to give you one final sleepless pitch before I go Slate. Plus, members get benefits like zero ads on any Slate podcast and bonus episodes of shows like Slow Burn and Dear Prudence. But most importantly, you’ll be supporting the work of Slate journalists. It’s one dollar for the first month. You can learn more at Slate. Com Slash working.

S13: Plus, thank you to Julian Baker for being our guest this week. Thanks to Steve for the help and to the team at what next hour. Amazing producer continues to be the irrepressible, irreplaceable Cameron Dreams. We’ll be back next week with a special episode. You’re not going to want to miss this one. It features me, Ruman and our colleague June Thomas. It’s about being one year into the quarantine life. And we’re checking in with some of the most creative people we know to see how they’ve fared over the last few months. Until then, get back to work.

S5: Hazlet plus listeners, thank you so much once again for your support of everything we do here at Slate and everything we do here at working. Here’s a little bonus from my interview with Julian Baker. You’ve mentioned a few times in this interview, you know, working with Influence were a big fan of welcoming influence and rethinking originality here at working. So I was wondering, as you were figuring out the sound of the album, the arrangements of the various songs wanting to go big or wanting to use compression and play around with Pro Tools and things, were their artists you were listening to who you thought were like very successful at doing that, that you wanted to kind of learn from what they were doing and bring it into your own sound.

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S6: Yeah, I mean, I was listening to a lot of. I guess like outsider pomper, like bedroom pop, but I was just listening to people like how? People were choosing to make very digital what I would have considered more like sterile noises, interact with like an acoustic guitar, you know, so like Japanese house, Aleksi, people of this ilk. And also, you know, I’ve been revisiting her most recent live record so much. And so I’m just thinking about it. But Tora’s is an artist that I’ve loved for a really long time and who I think. I don’t know, it’s like it just sounds like nothing else, the especially the percussion arrangements in her work and on Sprinter in Three Futures is just never expected. I can never feel where the song is about to go, and I like that, and I like challenging myself to, I don’t know, switch like switch meters in the middle of a song or I like the idea of making these I don’t want to say unnatural, but like interesting and aggressive sounds. That’s just something that I hadn’t incorporated into my music. I think the artist had an extreme amount of influence on me because I was like going to talk shows when I had just put out my first record and seeing her perform and being like, what is this? You know, someone who’s really just pushing the boundaries of what a singer songwriter can be and pushing back against. Also, like now I’m just now coming to this realization, but, you know. Really establishing herself in the lineage of. Women who are maybe interviewed and represented in the media at first as like an indie darling or like a singer songwriter, who then. Assert themselves as a band leader who’s making me a not aggressive but who’s making like loud music, you know, when you’re talking about Exile in Guyville, I would hardly call that a singer songwriter record because that kind of summons this idea of like delicate folk music. And I had felt beholden to that kind of music for so long just because of the nature of, like, how I was perceived by music media. And it was just really neat to see somebody intentionally, like, controverted. The assumption of what? The boundaries of a singer songwriter. Yeah, totally.

S13: All right, that’s it for this week, look forward to bringing you some more bonus content in the weeks to come. Thanks again, Slate plus.

S14: So.