Image Courtesy of Julia and the Deep Sea Sirens
We’ve been so excited for the succes that’s been coming the way of Canberra band Julia and the Deep Sea Sirens over the last year. From national airplay and winning a triple j Unearthed competition to supporting big name acts and touring around the country JDSS have shot into the spotlight, and they deserve every ounce of attention they’ve been getting.
With the successful release of their “new” album Family Pets last week Gareth Hugh Evans managed to snag ten minutes with JDSS front-woman and songwriter Julia Johnson to talk about the recording, the current tour and what it means to be a Canberra band.
Gareth Hugh Evans: Family Pets has just been released although I picked up a copy at one of your gigs two years ago so it’s been available for a while now. Obviously now that it’s been “officially” released there’s a lot more buzz around it – a lot more press, triple j airplay, I think your profile is a lot higher now. How are you feeling about the release?
Julia Johnson: It feels so good. It does feel different. I know I’ve been sitting on these songs for a while but they all feel fresh again now that I’m getting to play them to fresh ears. Getting such a good response is just revitalising my whole feeling towards those songs. I’m really looking forward to performing to people live who will be hearing them for the first time – it’s a really nice feeling.
GHE: You’ve already had these songs kicking around, both in the recorded sense and playing them live, for quite a few years now. Have they evolved since you first recorded them? Is Family Pets a fair representation of where the songs are now?
JJ: I think it does still feel like a representation of where the songs are now. I was so happy with the way that album turned out. We’ve had a few lineup changes so although little bits and pieces have fluctuated slightly we’ve all been listening to the album, listening to the harmonies and just working through them. There are a few bits where now it’s played on keyboards instead of guitars but really we play a fairly loyal version of the album versions. Not because we’re obsessed with sounding like a CD, but because we’re really happy with those arrangements, really like the way they feel to play.
GHE: I’ve seen you a few times live over the last couple of years and you do have a consistency of quality. It feels like you stick to making those songs the best they can be.
JJ: I know some people get sick of playing their songs over and over but I just really love living in those songs. That’s when I feel most myself, when I’m on stage performing. Which is really artificial – I should probably get counseling or something. I just really really revel in those moments when I’m on stage playing those songs to people – it makes them come alive again. I’m so into lyrics – when I’m saying them they just come true to me all over again. I just really love reliving those songs even though they’re not necessarily always about the nicest topics.
GHE: As a lot of the songs were written a while ago are they still about the person you are now? Does it feel like you’re singing about someone else?
JJ: It’s interesting. I do feel like I have grown up from those songs but in many ways I feel like this album is closing a chapter on a particular part of my life. A lot of the songs were written at times when different changes were happening, really significant changes in my life like falling in love or moving out of home. It feels really good to release them out into the world – it’s personally a but cathartic. I’m looking forward to seeing what I write next – I haven’t been able to write because I’ve been so excited about getting this album out. I’ve been creatively locked.
GHE: I remember when I first heard you on triple j – I didn’t know if was going to happen, I was just driving along and “Little Surprises” came on the radio. I got very very excited. How did it feel for you to get national airplay? Have you heard yourself on the radio without knowing it was coming?
JJ: I did get to hear “Little Surprises” and I had no idea it was coming up. I got to hear Zan [Rowe], who’s my favourite presenter on triple j, I got to hear her play it. At my work, it’s a really quiet office, the consensus vote winning radio station ended up being triple j so we listen to it all day at work – and my little guitar intro came in with the little finger-picking bit and I just lost my mind and cranked up the radio. The whole office was just out of control – you can’t really dance to that song but we were. In my office I was always the musical one where anytime there was any mention of music at all it was “what does Julia think?” or “Julia, look a guitar, play us a song”. I was always the jukebox of the office so when [“Little Surprises”] finally got played [on the radio] it was like “are you going to quit your job now? Are you going to go off and be famous now”. And I was like “I don’t know if you realise but most people on triple j probably have a day job”.
GHE: As soon as you get a little biut of exposure people suddenly think you’re made of money and living the high life.
JJ: I’m kind of glad it doesn’t work that way because if you’re rich and comfortable in life then how on earth are you going to write the next album? How are you going to make another good song? I disagree with the idea that you’ve got to be depressed or in a bad mood to write a beautiful song, I think you can write songs in any headspace, but personally I don’t think I’d put out a good album if Sony just called me tomorrow and picked me up in a helicopter and dropped me off in a studio. I don’t think that would be a good situation for creativity.
GHE: I also saw that “Adeleine” is going to be your next single.
JJ: “Little Surprises” sort of came out as a single last year because it won that Unearthed competition and it just got such a buzz around that we decided we’d make a clip and send it out. With “Adeleine” I guess that’s the main single because it came out the same day as the album [22nd February]. We’re looking forward to doing the film clip which involves me having a giant cake fight.
GHE: Awesome. I really like that song. It’s one of my favourites of yours live.
JJ: It’s so fun to perform live now that I’m feeling a little more confident on the banjo. I wrote it when I was just learning the banjo I was really kind of “I can’t believe I’m doing this, I’m in a recording studio next week, why am I doing this to myself?”. But I’m really glad I did because it’s always the song where people say “Are you going to play “Adeleine” today?”. It’s so fun to play. It’s such a deceiving song – I get quite a kick out of performing this really lovely song, if people were just passing by they’d think it was all sunshine and happiness, but if you actually listen to the lyrics it’s bitchy [laughs].
GHE: You’re still basing yourself in Canberra yeah?
JJ: Yeah, yeah still in Canberra
GHE: Do you have any plans to move to Sydney or Melbourne for your music? Or do you feel like Canberra’s been too good to you?
JJ: Well it’s been so good to us and at the moment it’s hard to imagine leaving. Because it’s Canberra’s centenary there’s just a billion parties and projects that we can be part of at the moment. Everyone’s just so engaged – the vibe of Canberra this year is just incredible. There’s something to do every night and every day and there’s all these great creative projects happening all the time. The music scene there is so supportive, it’s hard to imagine leaving because we’ve just got this great little family – we all share band members, we all work together to organise gigs in all sorts of weird places. Because, like everywhere, we’re having a lot of venues shutting down, we end playing crazy backyard gigs. We’re probably one of the few folk bands in Australia who’s been shut down twice by the police [laughs]. It’s kind of nice having such a DIY scene to play in. I think every band in Canberra feels the pull of Melbourne and Sydney. It’s kind of nice living right between Sydney and Melbourne because it means it’s pretty easy to play in both of those places. I really do love playing in both of those places because there’s just such great bands you get to play with.
GHE: And because you’ve got a bit of a profile – you’re known as the Canberra band – anytime an artist comes to Canberra you seem to score the support slot as well, something that might not happen in the bigger cities.
JJ: Yeah, that’s really nice. One of the advantages of being in Canberra is that the venues are kind of small so the main act doesn’t necessarily get their own dressing room. Often I use that to my advantage and I’ve been able to go in and harras Tim Rogers and have a whiskey with him and a chat. And I got to have dinner with Newton Faulkner when I supported him. It’s really nice because we get to meet those big name acts whereas if I was the support act in Sydney I might not even get to see them. It’s a nice town in that respect – and probably good for the ego to be a big fish in a small pond for a while.
JJ: And plus when you’ve got the National Folk Festival a block away from your house it makes it very difficult to want to leave.
GHE: I’m so chuffed you’re playing at The National again this year. They’ve changed it up a bit this year so it should be interesting.
JJ: Yeah. There’s some really good acts and they’re really shaking up the format this year. The Majestic’s going to be in the middle of the festival and the venues are all going to swap around. I think it’s going to be good and interesting.
GHE: And it feel like they’re embracing more of the “indie-folk” scene as well with bands like Husky.
JJ: I guess Husky is one of those bands that the rock and the pop world would call folk but the folk world would be like “no way, they’re not folk!”. It’s interesting that they’re willing to broaden their folk umbrella a bit to fit in some exciting new acts I think. I’m really excited to see Jordie Lane as well.
GHE: I love Jordie Lane.
GHE: And you’ve got some other dates coming up outside of The National Folk Festival including Timber and Steel’s matinee show at The Worker’s Club. I’m so excited that you’re playing there.
JJ: Yeah, they seem really nice. And the other acts that I’m playing with [Nigel Wearne and James Kenyon] I actually found out about them through reading Timber and Steel so it’ll be a nice Timber and Steel reunion! And via email we’re all getting on like a house on fire – I’m definitely going to try and get them up to Canberra. That’s one of the other cool things about our tour – we’re finding out about all these awesome bands and we’re planning on trying to drag most of them to Canberra to do a show some time later this year.
GHE: Well I might leave you there – good luck with the tour and launching the album!
Family Pets from Julia and the Deep Sea Sirens is available now. The remaining list of dates for the current tour are below:
Sunday 3rd March – The Workers Club, Melbourne, VIC
Thursday 28th March to Monday 1st April – The National Folk Festival, Canberra, ACT
Friday 5th April – Yours & Owls, Wollongong, NSW
Sunday 7th April – Lass O’ Gowrie, Newcastle, NSW
Sunday 21st April – Ric’s Bar, Brisbane, QLD