Julia Anrather is not a morning person. It’s 10 am on a Monday and I am holding a bag of pastries, a peace offering for scheduling our interview so early. She arrives at the door in a t-shirt, underwear, and socks pulled up her ankles. Here is my friend, managing to imbue a pantless outfit with sophistication.
Over the past year I’ve been singing with Julia’s band at small venues around the city. Since the summer we met seven years ago, I’ve admired her music and songwriting from afar, and to be a small part of it gives me a thrill. But Julia doesn’t approach her work solely as a musician; she’s also an actor, a photographer and a director, a multi-hyphenate in the spirit of millennial makers navigating a content-driven market.
Pastries toasted and tea poured, we sat down on her couch to talk about perfectionism, songwriting, and how trying to be a “professional” artist affects creativity.
What are you thinking about as you begin to work on your next music video?
You know, I think that the main point of a music video is to have fun and look really good! [But] with “Closer” getting into all these film festivals I feel pressure to do something that’s as good as that.
Julia’s first music video, “Closer”, was released in January 2017. It won Best Music Video and Best Music Video Writing at NYC Indie Film Festival, Best Music Video at Coney Island Film Festival and it was an Official Selection at Syndicated Shorts in Brooklyn and the Berlin Sci Fi Festival.
How did you come up with the idea for that video?
I was talking to Luke Slattery (the director) about what the song was about: frustrated self-actualization. [We wanted to] interpret the process of transformation that happens if you’re trying to become an “art monster”. To become this professional art person, you’ve got to do violence to this older, softer, less created version of you.
If you like someone then you find them pretty. You naturally cherish the prettiest pieces of their physical package and then you’re like, of course, I love that person. I want cameras to always be doing that too, to be looking at this human with the eyes of someone who loves them. It’s not helpful to be a perfectionist in the age of “content creators”. I’ve written so many songs in the past two years but who cares if you’ve written 35 songs if you only actually want to perform nine of them and anyway, you don’t have those recorded?
“If you like someone then you find them pretty. You naturally cherish the prettiest pieces of their physical package and then you’re like, of course, I love that person. I want cameras to always be doing that too, to be looking at this human with the eyes of someone who loves them.”
So what is your process right now with trying to get less perfectionistic in order to generate more content?
I’ve got this new idea about life: there’s no such thing as discipline, there’s just people who figure out a way to do stuff that makes them happy. If you don’t actually like it you’re not gonna do it, so stop trying to push the water uphill motherfucker, you’ll be happier. Just eat the bread. Live your life!
So then, how do you get yourself into a mindset so you can get the thing done even when your inspiration leaves you? For me, it’s about what kinds of stories, what kinds of images do I want to put into the world?
I have watched Julia curate her reality for years, from the way she arranges her living space to her choice of words when she’s articulating an idea. There has always been a creative intentionality to her identity, the way she is seen by her community and the way she moves in the world. It’s part of who she is and what makes spending time with her so special. But seeing her loosen the grip on that curation, both in her work and in her personal life, to take what she needs and leave the rest, has been a beautiful process to witness.
Mostly I just want the next music video to be more fun. More playful. You don’t have to be so fuckin’ serious all the time, because no one cares. I remember meeting with an agent when I first got out of college, and I [said to him, “well I do music but I also act ], and I just wondered which one I should be focusing on because I don’t want to confuse people”. And he was like, “um, I don’t think anyone’s…”
…paying attention to you.
We laugh, recognizing the self-importance that artists must repeatedly cultivate and shed in order to stay afloat emotionally.
And you’re like OH FUCK!
But it was right. It’s so silly to think “oh i shouldn’t do that.” No one cares at all. They’re just thinking about themselves, so just have fun.
Do you know that quote “be careful what you get good at because you might end up doing it for the rest of your life?” I’ve been taking more pictures recently, and I really love it. You’re hanging out with someone who’s chill and you’re looking at them be gorgeous and then you get to boss them around a little bit? Oh my god, it’s the best thing in the world.
And then you get to capture it.
And if you’re kind and open, the subject of the photography often ends up being more at ease so you have more control over the situation, [and] you can get the picture where they look like they’re gonna eat the world.
For me, a woman who [was] socialized to be as charming as possible to the people in the room, I’m using social skills that I have developed over the years and taken for granted. [With photography] I get to be like…this is useful. I’m gonna speak to you [so you] understand that I respect you and I’m not gonna try to take advantage of you. [Then] hopefully you will let your guard down so we can get a picture of you–actually YOU–which is so hard to do, but so exciting when it happens.
I used to lie on the floor of the kitchen and write songs when I was like four. One of my earliest memories is, I was singing a song that I had written for my mom and my sister and I used the word “jail” to rhyme with something but I didn’t know what it meant. Something about it was funny and made them laugh, and I have never felt so betrayed in my life. I was like, “oh my god my feelings are more hurt than I could possibly articulate to you because I’m four and I don’t even know what the word jail means.”
That was a big moment.
I’ve been trying to come back from that moment ever since.
I like to write songs from midnight to three in the morning. Often lyrics and melodies will appear to me at the same time in my head-body because I think certain phrases want to be sung in a certain way, like onomatopoeia but for lyrics. It’s kind of like catching butterflies. Something I want to build toward is setting up a more intentional space and time to do that.
I’m realizing I can write different kinds of songs. I’ve been writing commercials with a producer friend for two years or so. What’s been cool about that is he does not write the way that I write. There are people who treat songwriting like other types of writing where you just show up to work. You don’t like the first fifteen pages and then you get three that are excellent, and half of one of those pages makes it into the final book. And I think that’s a totally legit way to do it.
Ok I’m just gonna ask a kind of limiting question: I think of you first and foremost as a musician/singer/songwriter at this point, but you do all these different things. Is there a way you identify yourself as a creator?
You know I have been thinking about that, and I’m really interested in telling stories about women. I’m feeling very free right now to make things. Engaging with these art forms and trying to figure out how to be a professional in this really high stakes way, like “what are the rules that I should be following?”… that has not gotten me very far. Identifying as a certain kind of artist brings with it labels and expectations that have been limiting for me. If you imagine that you’re an amateur then you can follow the thing that you love a little more. I sometimes write songs on the piano because I don’t play the piano, so every chord progression feels like this miracle. And that is sort of like a curated ignorance; [it] certainly takes the pressure off.
And it also promotes curiosity…
…has anyone ever played this chord?!…. It’s like, yes bitch! Every single song is a chord progression that has been playing on the radio for literally as long as there’s been radio, there is nothing new in the world! But convincing yourself that there is is such a fun trick. I’m happy. I’m feeling much more excited about making work right now than I was when I was younger. We always forget how long life is you know?
Yeah I feel like in my brain I kind of cut off my timeline at 45. Which is not….
Well yeah because women become invisible when they turn 46 right?
Right. Exactly. We disappear.
But of course, we do not (if we’re lucky), and actually, it’s exhilarating to imagine all the work we’ll have made after another twenty-odd years of life and continued friendship.
Is there anything else you wanna tell me?
Ugh god, I’m like, please delete all of this. I just think that interviews with artists are fundamentally misleading. I do not believe there is any extractable pattern to how shit happens. In the business of performing, the first indicator of whether or not you’re gonna have a career is who you know and then beyond that I think it’s pretty complicated.
Right. There’s no magic trick or formula. The reason I wanted to interview you is because I’m interested in people who are dealing with a creative life and what that’s like for them. Because that’s what I’m grappling with. It’s like, why would anyone be less interested in interviewing you or me, than some famous person? I think it’s good to hear from someone who is committed to having art be part of their life and career, to be curious about what that looks like for them, and what they care about. One last question, on a topic we both care about; What would your final meal be?
Um, pasta with tomato sauce and parmesan cheese.
And then like a really fresh salad with mustard and lemon and olive oil dressing on it.
I would do Italian food too. Because it’s simple and the quality is the thing that makes it amazing.
You want to get just those ingredients. If the point of a cuisine is that the ingredients are these things that you can taste individually…. I’m in.
Take what you need and leave the rest. Saluti!