Artist TalkSongwriting

Artist Talk with Julie Mintz

Julie Mintz

Hollywood belle Julie Mintz shares insights into inspirations and stories behind her songwriting 

When asked about what inspires her music, singer/songwriter Julie Mintz will refer to the dynamics of human love relationships and feelings of loneliness within them in particular. A brilliant observer of these dynamics, her music hits you right in the heart!

Julie´s bright angelic voice mixes perfectly with her often melancholic song themes, creating an interesting twist that makes up her unique sound, which she describes as “Gothic Americana“, alluding to the dark, almost grungy elements that mingle with classic country elements.

Listening to her most recent album “Abandon all hope of fruition” is like a journey inward, to places within the soul that hurt just a little too good.

My personal favorite song on the album is “Bow and Arrow“, which is a dramarturgical masterpiece imo! Definitely worth a listen or if you are like me, one too many! 😉

The album was produced by no other than Moby, who has been a mentor to Julie from the start of her solo career. We spoke with Julie, who is a Texas native, now residing in LA, about her major inspirations and her upcoming musical projects. Read the interview below:

Julie, I introduced you as founder of a “new” genre, namely Gothic Americana. You have used this term a lot in interviews, and I would love for you to explain it a little more in detail. How did you come up with the definition?

Moby actually came up with the description when he realized there was this dark sound that pervades all of the music I write, and particularly the way it was produced. I loved the description and discovered later that it is already an established (though niche) genre of music, unbeknowst to us! I would describe it as a style of music that combines elements of classic country—which I grew up on—along with folk, blues, and gospel with the addition of darker lyrical content.

Love that! Tell us, Julie, what brought you to songwriting? How did it all start?

I never imagined I’d be a songwriter when I grew up. I took piano lessons throughout my adolescence, mostly focused on classical and blues, but it wasn’t until I learned a few chords on guitar in my twenties that songwriting all of a sudden made sense to me. I realized I could use just a few simple chords as a vehicle to express my inner turmoil through song. From there, I got pretty interested in music theory, as I’ve always loved math. I know, weird! But I find a sense of order when working on chord progressions from a theoretical point of view. It gives me a solid structure from where I can then be poetic and more free thinking about melody and lyrics.

That´s very interesting! So you start from the logical, analytical mind first! And then welcoming the emotional elements into that frame sort of? I love that! I guess we are all very dual anyways! The universe is probably both! Intelligence and love! Listening to your album and EP, it is obvious, that you do not shy away from adressing painful experiences in your songs. How do you navigate through stages of heartbreak and how important is songwriting for you with regard to it?

I’m pretty terrible at navigating heartbreak! You know that saying that it takes half the time of a relationship to get over it? I take twice the time! But I’m hugely into self-improvement and psychology literature, so I’m always reading a book or looking for insight into how to manage my feelings in a positive way. As far as songwriting, it is definitley one of the tools that has helped me work through heartbreak. It can be very uplifting to complete a creative project, like writing a song, and I feel like I do it best when I am struggling with heavy emotions like heartbreak.

Julie, of all the songs you have released so far, what is your favorite one to sing? Is there any particular one that is extra special to you?

It’s hard to choose a favorite, but I think Wildflowers is up there with one that I like to sing the best. First of all, I definitely prefer singing songs that I have written completely on my own. I  just started co-writing in the last couple of years, and while it has really helped me expand especially with hookier melodies, I find those songs are harder for me to perform. I feel like I’m never as good at singing them because I’m often trying to copy some of the vocal style of the person I co-wrote with, who is always a way better singer than I am! I love Wildflowers because, to me, it really tells a story in 3 parts that I can immerse myself in when I’m singing, like I’m experiencing it firsthand. And I like how the chorus soars. It stretches my voice but isn’t so high that it scares me every time I go for the notes.

Totally get that! You are a fantastic singer though and it is great to see you make songs that were created in a group of two or more totally your own!  Let´s look into that video:

I could not help but notice that your music videos are exquisite works of art in themselves. Do you come up with the storylines and visual concepts yourself or do you work with someone specific on these productions?

Most of my music videos, especially the earlier ones, have been my little stories and visuals I had in my head. Wildflowers was shot completely on my iPhone on a sort of spiritual roadtrip through Utah and Arizona with my boyfriend at the time, Michael Cade.

Til She Disappears was another video idea that I had very specific visions of a woman getting married, and then drowning herself in a river by putting rocks in her dress pockets (very Virginia Woolf), and finally being baptized in a river by a priest. I styled the shoot and enlisted a former-filmmaker ex-boyfriend and friend, Erik Anders Lang, to shoot it. We had to hike up a mountain (lugging all of my dresses and camera equipment), and I sort of got hypothermia from floating  in the freezing river at the bottom of a waterfall, but it turned out beautifully.

The video for Want to Feel Wanted was not my concept but was conceived and directed by Se Oh, a talented director that I sought out after seeing his other work. He came up with the amazingly gothic Romeo and Juliet theme. I did choose to do the styling on that shoot and rented some really stunning Victorian costumes.

A director friend of mine, Oden Roberts, also conceptualized the videos for both The Reason and Take Me Home, Country Roads. I love The Reason music video because it is so country in its use of a horse and a cowboy. And The Take Me Home, Country Roads video, which I just released, was shot by Oden in VR360. That is something I never would have known about without him, and I love that the viewers can use technology to immerse themselves 360 degrees out on a beautiful country road.

Finally, Moby has directed several music videos for our collaborations. He always has a really strong visual idea of what he wants, and it is fun to make things with him because it’s alwasy just the two of us wandering on desserted streets or into the woods and seeing what we can create.

Wow! I love how you work with various people for your shoots! They all seem very consistent anyways! So, you clearly find a way to implement your own style in those! You just mentioned the VR music video for your rendition of the classic song “Country Roads”, that you re-interpreted in a very melancholic, beautiful way. What does the song mean to you?

Maybe I have a bit of a melancholic persepctive on life, but I love the classic John Denver song and always felt the lyrics would really lend themselves to a somber almost post-apocalyptic take. The song feels very wistful to me in the longing to return home.

Generally, what makes Americana  music your genre of choice? Did you grow up listening to specific artist from this genre? If so, which ones?

Yes, Americana music is just what is in my blood and in my musical vocabulary. I grew up listening to classic country artists like Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and June Carter Cash as well as worshipping Joni Mitchell. Patty Griffin is also a huge songwriting influence for me. I think when you combine all of those elements, something Americana is bound to arise.

Are there any artists you listen to a lot right now?

I have been listening to a lot of Brandi Carlile and Lana del Rey. And Otis Redding, Fleetwood Mac, and Van Morrison are my go-to for when I’m in the kitchen cooking.

Haha, that´s awesome! Hope they´ll read that! How do all these artists influence you in your music-making process today?

Joni Mitchell and Emmylou Harris most influenced my singing style. I have a pronounced vibrato as they both do, and I also hear that in Brandi Carlile which reassures me that it’s ok that I sound like that. Patty Griffin has really influenced my lyrical style and how I try to write about things. And I like Lana del Rey because her lyrical choices remind me that it’s ok to talk about modern, concrete ideas in songwriting.

Let´s dive a little deeper into the “song brewing” process. What inspires you to write songs and how do you usually get started?

I am almost always inspired because of a situation I am working through emotionally. I like to start writing the chord progression, lyrics, and melody simultaneously. I feel like that is the best way for me to achieve prosody. The lyrical content really helps guide the melody and the chords, so it doesn’t work as well for me if I separate it. But I also give myself permission to use sort of dummy lyrics and then go back and improve once the song has taken more shape.

Interesting! You already mentioned that playing the guitar got you started as a songwriter. What about today? Do you usually compose on a guitar or a piano or neither one?

I would say I compose on guitar more often. But I’m better at playing complicated chords on piano, so if the song ends up in a key that’s hard for me to play in on guitar, I will switch to piano. I get discouraged easily if it is a hard bar chord or something, so I either use a capo or move to my piano so that I can keep going without losing motivation.

How do you know a song is finished?

I guess there is just a feeling when I’m satisifed with the melody and lyrics. It is pretty obvious to me when there is a line I’m singing or a melody that still needs work. It’s kind of like, would this be embarrassing to sing to someone? If so, it needs more work. Although, that’s probably why I often shelve new songs for like six months before I ever play them for anyone.

Do you ever encounter self-doubts?

Self-doubt is a huge part of my creative process! I never feel like what I’m working on is good enough or like I’m talented or capable enough. I have a very critical voice in my head, and it definitely gets in the way a lot of the time. I’ve also learned that I just have to say yes to most opportunities and to keep trying even if I’m afraid everytime that I might fail.

What is the best advice you have ever been given with regard to songwriting?

Moby has stressed to me that making music is about emotion and nothing more. That has really helped me to let go of some of my perfectionism about singing perfectly in tune and sometimes simplifying overly complicated chord progressions.

Bless Moby! He is right! And you somehow manage to sound authentic and pretty perfect at once;)  If you could change the world with one song, what would the title be?

Be Kind

Good one! One final question Julie! You recently released a intriguing mashup of Purple Rain and Million Reasons. What are your future plans within the industry? Will we hear more covers of that kind or will you keep focussing on original music?

Thanks for calling it intriguing! I have always been focused on making original music because I feel like my drive is more in expressing my (hopefully universal) struggles than in being a good karaoke singer. With that being said, Moby would often have me sing an acoustic cover of Dust in the Wind at his live shows, and so he produced a really cool cover of that song that is the next thing you’ll hear from me. And then once self-isolation ends for all of us, I’m excited to get back in the studio with friends and record new original music!

Love that! Can´t wait to listen to more of your original content! We need more Julie in the world! Thank you very much for the interview and best of success for all your future projects!

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