Julie Clark: Music Review and Interview by Jed Ryan.
     Virginia native Julie Clark and I met while the charismatic songstress was in New York City in March.  When Julie gave me a copy of her new CD “Change Your Mind”, her friend/traveling companion told me, “This will soon become your favorite album!” She said it with such casual confidence that I knew it would be true– even though as a music writer, I’m listening to dozens of albums at any given time.  I couldn’t wait to find out.  Let’s just say that the promise was fulfilled.  From the first few notes of “Change Your Mind“, the title track, the listener is hooked– in a big way.  The opening song’s blend of guitar, keys, and banjo create a symphony of perfection.  Yes, you read right: There IS a banjo (courtesy of Bill Gurley)! Setting the stage for most of the rest of the album, the kickoff of Clark’s new CD is zesty, invigorating, and very catchy.  Then, there’s Ms. Clark’s voice: breathy, unblemished, and delicately beautiful. (If you must have a comparison, think of Jewel– without the quirk factor.) Her delivery is always smooth and flawless, as evidenced when she sings lyrics of the title track: “We change our hair, we change our clothes; and things so deep down they don’t show.  Old days we leave behind, lead to new ways that we find… If you wanna change your life, you change your mind“. 
     Clark’s voice is complemented perfectly by her expert choice of musicians (including great synergy with her harmony vocalist Jess Willoughby)  and equally expert production, but there’s more than that on “Change Your Mind”.  What makes this album stand out is Julie’s ability to translate the personal into universal and make it sound so fine.  A few of the songs on “Change Your Mind” are overtly biographical, many are deeply candid, and all of them are unyieldingly earnest… but none of the music is overly precious to the point of being pretentious, or sounding like she’s writing songs solely for her own catharsis– a trap that too many indie artists fall into.  This is music for everyone, baby… Most of Julie’s own personal reflections set to music are likely to speak to each and every one of us.  It’s radio-ready pop that can rival any of Julie’s peers on the charts today.  In fact, I’m going to be so bold as to say that Julie Clark’s “Change Your Mind” is the best pop album of 2009– male or female, straight or gay, indie or major label.  Yes, my readers, I know that we’re only one third of the way into the year… but any music that gets delivered to me from this point on will have some pretty big pumps (or boots, or cha cha heels…) to fill.
     Clark gets to sing some some commentary about our American icon for the next track, “Superman”.  Is she singing about the death of the Man of Steel as a metaphor for death of values in America, or maybe as a statement about  our country’s absence of a hero?  Maybe… But why ask why?  Just enjoy this lyrically indulgent and oh-so-smart gem of a song.  For the banjo-heavy “Growin’ Up”, she sings something of a shout-out to her older brother. It’s a dusty but treasured family photo album (NOT a digital picture frame!) come to life.  So many different feelings are intertwined, from the more pleasant aspects of nostalgia to tales of childhood angst (”You found yourself a potpourri, of charming ways to torture me, like selling copies of my diary…”).  ”Jacket” emerges as one of the sweetly sexiest songs you’re likely to hear in a while, but it’s very much an unblemished type of sexiness (Think Sixpence None the Richer’s 1999  ”Kiss Me”…).  ”If It Weren’t For That” is a song inspired by Julie’s own struggle with weight in the early part of her life.  Julie told me that she only performs this song on special occasions, because it is indeed so deeply personal.  She also revealed to me that for her, “coming out as a former fat person” was even more challenging than coming out as a lesbian. While the story behind the song will st rike some listeners as heartbreaking, Julie emerges no less the strong for it, clearly ready to share her story in hopes of maybe helping others dealing with the very “now” issues of childhood obesity and body image, especially for young girls. “If It Weren’t For That” is like the musical equivalent of a hand-painted ornament: every detail seems meticulously thought out, from the occasional electronic raindrops that fall like tears, to the haunting cello in the bac kground.   Next up is “Long Way Down”, an upbeat song which re-creates that giddy, priceless feeling of being with someone who you’re really into… but with just a touch of nervous apprehension! (”Flirting with you’s like walking on a ledge, perfectly safe until you reach the edge; Thirty flights above the ground, that’s how I feel when you’re around; But if I stumble, if I fall, it’s a long way down…”) Whether you’re 16 or 60, you’ll relate.  ”Courage of Our Convictions” is an unambiguous rally for equal rights for our community.  The song is not heavy handed, confrontational, or angry– but rather a call to arms for mutual respect, understanding, and love– even for our would-be adversaries .  One day, we will have an equivalent of a Great American Songbook of LGBT Equality, and this should-be-classic song deserves to be in it:
Oh my dear brothers, and sisters too,
Workin’ to make a change long overdue;
We’re gonna fight for freedom,
yeah, yeah we’re gonna fight for love.
We’re gonna fight ’cause
nothing less than equal’s good enough
This song also showcases the range of Julie’s voice to its best.  ”I’d Do ‘Em All (If I Could)” is a playful romp. For this one, Ms. Clark truly lets loose; we envision a rare unplugged moment in the studio with Julie and her bandmates as she sings, “I’d do ‘em all if I could, clap your hands if you think you would; every record– every song, every chorus–sing along; every rhythm– every key, every style– don’t limit me; I’d do ‘em all…”. This song is a true delight, keeping up with the zest that Julie promised us at the beginning of the album.
     A recurrent theme on Julie Clark’s “Change Your Mind” is beauty: the beauty that society imposes upon us and the so-called “beauty” for sale in magazines versus real beauty– the ultimate of which is the beauty in ourselves that we all hopefully discover on our journey through life.  How fitting it is, then, that “Change Your Mind” is– as you may have guessed I’m gonna say– a real beauty of an album.  And, it’s ready for your discovery.
(Trivia: The banjo is one of only two truly American instruments.  What is the other?  See at the end of this profile.)
Now, Meet the girl behind the best pop album of 2009 as Julie Clark speaks to Jed Ryan:
JR: Congratulations on the new album!  How long, in terms of months or years, did it take from “Change Your Mind” to become a reality?
JC: Because I was also playing shows at the time, it took about a year and a half to record, mix and master my new CD “Change Your Mind”. I’ve been known to be a perfectionist about certain things and I must admit that recording is one of them! I was fortunate to work with a phenomenal group of musicians as well as an amazing recording engineer and two co-producers. “Change Your Mind” was a very carefully planned and executed project. Our goal was to rival the quality of any major label recording and it took quite a bit of studio time to achieve that. Now that it’s all finished I’m really happy with the results. All that time and effort was well worth it! 
JR: According to your schedule, you’re on tour a lot.  What’s life on the road like, on a day-to-day basis?
JC: What a great question! Life on the road is all sorts o f things from day-to-day… it’s hectic, exciting, exhausting, inspiring, challenging, fun, fulfilling and educational. One thing’s for sure, it’s never mundane or boring. One minute you’re scrambling to find the local radio station for an on-air performance, the next you’re due at the venue for sound check and after that the rest of the evenings are filled with meeting great people from all over the place, and from all walks of life. We’re united by how much music moves us. That’s what I love most about being on the road — meeting other people with open hearts who have the capacity to be touched and moved by music. To me, that’s worth traveling long distances.
JR: There’s a lingering unofficial theory in the independent music world that female artists are motivated primarily by their love of making music, while their male peers are more motivated by financial or commercial success.  Do you have any thought on this?
JC: I think it’s true that men (in general) feel more pressure to be financially successful than w omen do, so perhaps they’re more driven. But I believe it must be mainly the love of making music that drives both male and female indy artists. I mean come on… if your main goal is making money there’s no way you’re gonna choose making music as the way to do it! You’ve gotta truly love making music to put up with the rigors and scant rewards of this profession. There’s no way you’d do it otherwise. But once you’ve been bitten by the music bug, watch out… Not even the harsh stark financial realities of this profession can scare us off.
JR: What do you like to do in your spare time, when you’re not performing or making music?
JC: In my spare time I love to cook and read and daydream and talk with friends. I also spend lots of time doting on my dog Lucy. She’ll be 3 years old soon – a black lab/border collie mix. Very happy, sweet and loving. I love riding roller coasters too and going to hear live music.
JR: Is there someone special in your life now?!
JC: I’ve been happily (although not yet legally) married for almost 9 years now. My wife Jennifer and I were together for 6 years before that as well. She’s the “rock” in my life. She puts up with my crazy show-biz life and supports and encourages me even through the tough times. I’m very very fortunate to have her. Her kindness inspires me every day.
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