Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Julia Easterlin

On Julia Easterlin’s desk, there’s a plastic heart on a metal stand. Not one drawn by a 10-year-old, but one drawn by a medical professional, its ventricles and its tubelike venae cavae swooping in and out. It’s not unlike Julia, a musician who performs as her middle name Hite, to have a human heart on her desk, possibly a reminder that it’s really just an organ. Her newest album, a stunning electronic Southern-Gothic folk fantasy called Light of a Strange Day, is a sophisticated journey into heartache, after all.

But Julia is studying to be a phlebotomist and an EKG technician so she can do something with her brain when she’s not making music, she says. On the train to class, she knits yarn into nothing, making stitches wherever she wants and feeling very punk rock about it: this thing I’m making, it doesn’t have to be anything, she tells me. It’s something her life as a musician—one who has performed at Lollapalooza, the Stockholm Jazz Festival, and South by Southwest; who has been recognized by the the John Lennon Foundation, the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts, the Gibson/Baldwin Grammy Jazz Ensembles, and the New York Songwriters Circle, with a voice The Boston Globe has described as “captivating” and a “one-woman a cappella group”— doesn’t ask of her.

We sit on her couch and she sips elderflower lemonade from a wine glass while laughing and adjusting her glasses. Soon she’ll tune her ukulele, which will magically sound rich and full and not at all like Don Ho or hipster Brooklyn when she will play it later on the stage at C’Mon Everybody in Bed-Stuy where she has a musical residency. She’ll gather together her albums for sale, swing a floral baseball cap on her head, the instrument on her back, and we’ll head to the train.

We arrive at the venue, Julia soundchecks, then we go next door for some tacos. She sips on tequila and ponders the necessity of self-promotion while making art. But all I think of later while she’s on stage, when I’m so transfixed by her performance I have to stop taking pictures and just watch, is how important an artist like Julia is. How her hands become instruments, clapping and beating against her chest, how she leaves the stage and walks into the audience and falls to the floor, beating her hands against it as a new instrument, pounding out the song, the lyrics breathlessly falling from her mouth as the whole room goes quiet and stands around her in awe. It’s so good, so vital I cry, for how badly the world needs a musician like Julia, how she has more talent in her thumbnail than all the little pop nothings combined, how the prospect of a world without her music devastates me. She finishes her set and thanks everyone for coming. I remind her to say she has her album for sale. “Oh yeah,” she laughs. “I always forget about that.”

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Buy her new album Light of a Strange Day

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