Julia Johnson Makes Music
Words Fay Edwards
Images Julia Johnson
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Julia Johnson lands on 107’s stage this Friday, with an evening that promises synth-folk tunes, poetry, soul pop artists, and raconteurs. Not sure what that involves? Don’t worry – it will be an experience you didn’t bargain on, and a perspective you didn’t think you’d get.
Immersed in the eclectic music of her parents (“Dad was a total audiophile”), Julia was quietly plucking at strings and writing songs as a little girl, “playing music as soon as I could wrap my arms around a guitar”. An introverted nature (or stubborn streak..?) saw Julia side-step formal training to walk her own way into music. “I had this feeling that study would wreck music for me”. And as for making her way into the music world? The Canberra folk scene was where she and her friends hung out.
Julia’s inclination to learn and play music her own way seems like precocious self-awareness. “As a young girl I was really impressionable and eager to please”. It was maybe in response to this that Julia resisted encouragement to pursue music, and found rebellion studying industrial design. Inspired by a Grandfather who was always tinkering, Julia dreamed of becoming an inventor.
Music refused to let Julia go. Landing a record deal straight out of uni, Julia went on to spend a decade touring with her folk band ‘Julia and the Deep Sea Sirens’. But Julia’s inner inventor/maker/teacher started to crave something new. A stint in Berlin was enough to help Julia shrug off her comfortable folk jacket, where her exposure to Berlin’s music scene – from free jazz to classical orchestra – was unfamiliar and liberating.
By the time she’d made her way back to Sydney, Julia found herself caught between folk and future, “teasing out the relationship between music and me”. Amongst the routine of a day job in product design, Julia found space to make mistakes, celebrate the mundane, and play with music.
Emerging stronger and more assured, Julia has hit her stride. “I’m clear about what I want, and comfortable being imperfect… my lyrics celebrate being normal and flawed”. Playing with new instruments and arrangements – “at the moment I’m blissing out on the autoharp” – has helped take Julia’s music from folk to utterly, goddam fabulous.
Julia’s new single ‘Collarbone’ shows the breadth of her talents – tightly woven folk melodies cut with grungy synth and vocals that are as steely as they are sweet. The video – produced in collaboration with Rohan Thompson – is a beautiful creation (just like her handmade outfit), with Lake George an ancient backdrop to its sharp modern composition.
On either side of her day job, Julia makes music on the commute. “My most inspired time is when I’m on the train to and from work”. Her approach to song-writing can be formulaic, but if sometimes learning rules means that “some of the magic is lost”, to Julia song writing is “a cathartic experience….unravelling your fears and anxieties”.
Julia is balancing the ebb and flow of life, work and music – magnifying the everyday moments with music that is very much her own. A product designer by day, and a rock(folk) star by night, it feels like Julia and her music have found the sweet spot between freedom and control.
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