One of my favorite RVA musicians is coming back after a few years in Gainesville, FL.
One of my favorite RVA musicians is coming back after a few years in Gainesville, FL. Julie Karr and her heavy, often morose vocals, were interchangeable with the likes of Cat Power (at her prime) and Aimee Man, and now I’m pumped to be able to to share her new album and video with you.
Check out “Sleep Tight” below:
Karr, 33, has been in FL for grad school for the last few years, but this new record, Let’s Exchange the Experience, shows off Karr’s vocal talents with a new shine.
“It’s a little different than what I was doing before… I think i got more of a footing on [music] since then,” said Karr in a phone interview last week.
She started playing music at 26 when she was still in RVA. A friend of hers from Crossroad’s Coffee, Marshe Wyche (one of the owners at Rumor’s Boutique) essentially forced her to play a show at Rumor’s back when it was still next to the Village on Harrison St.
Karr had, at the time, only recently bought a shitty guitar and written a few songs; in her mind, she wasn’t sure she could pull it off.
“I was totally not ready for that, but I am really glad I just did it… it was a good push,” she said. She started playing more shows and writing music at the same time, all a new venture then, and now she said listening back to her old tracks makes her cringe. “I wasn’t a very good guitar player, I didn’t take my time to do recordings like I wanted to, but this time I feel a lot stronger.”
Her early work, though maybe a bit amateur, always stood out to me. Her haunting vocals and simple guitar strumming was endearing and powerful. Her genuine sound is hard to come by and went perfectly with a down mood and a tall glass of whiskey.
I recored her live back in 2011 at a protest to keep Monroe Park open, and it’s a video I still revisit from time to time.
Believe it or not, Karr said she has zero-musical training. In fact, when she was much younger, she remembered being picked last in elementary school music class to sit with the other kids who couldn’t sing well. “In high school, I was always in plays in roles back stage,” she said with a laugh. But she was always surrounded by music. Her mom and her step dad ran a real religious house with their own in-house Southern Gospel band.
Maybe that didn’t rub off then, but it shows now.
She left Richmond a few years ago to attend grad school in Gainesville, FL. There, she felt she was wasting away musically and was looking to get back into a project. She met up a local guy, Ian Bernacett, who had some recording equipment set up in his practice space. Before long the two were in the amateur-studio recording Lets Exchange.
“I liked his ear, and the music he plays,” she said. “So we chatted about it and got together [to record].”
They recoded the new album in about a day-and-a-half. “We just went for it,” she said. “I’m glad how it all turned out.”
All this happened back in October 2014, so things sat on the shelf for a bit. Then RVA’s Tim Falen (Lady God, Diamond Center, etc.) got up with her and offered to put out a tape for her.
“It’s like carrying a child almost,” she said. “It’s been 8 or 9 months, so it’s just relieving to get it out, and I’m not all nervous about the tracks, which is great.”
A music video was also shot – Lauren Deflipo, a friend of hers since High School, reached out to her to try and meet up for a video shoot. Before long, both were in the area and after a few conversations, it happened.
The video for “Sleep Tight” (Top video) was shot in her grandparent’s old, dilapidated land behind her step dad’s house. “He use to run an appliance repair shop so the yard is littered with old washers and dryers, and its got the old ghost-trailer I used to live in that’s since been demolished,” she said about producing the video. “We went in peoples yards and gathered flowers and stuff – we made this pretty crown and I felt like a swamp goddess.”
Karr is optimistic on the phone, laughing and talking about the new album with fresh-excitement. This is funny because her music is quite the opposite, covering dark topics like love lost and death and everything in between.
“Maybe I just do that to mask deep social anxiety,” she half-jokes. “I’ve been recently revisiting my big music crush, Tori Amos, and I realized all her music is sad as shit. And I think that’s what I always thought songs were supposed to be – ’this is what music is!’ When I think about songs, all my favorite songs are at least a little melancholy.”
There are some older songs on the new album, but the over-all feel is much more space-y and etherial. Karr’s vocals are brought out and sound haunting with the help of plenty of delay effects. She feels really good about the new album and for good reason – it’s great.
“Every time I record I feel more confident what I’ll be doing next time, to have a bit more imagination with it.” she said, admitting there are a few other songs she’s got written she hasn’t recorded yet, and there are a few songs on the new album that she wasn’t as keen on. One song in particular, “Trial by Combat,” would have ended up on the cutting room floor if it was up to Karr.
“I just kind of wanted to hear it it, and play it out loud. When we recored it I was like “meh,” but Ian heard it and told me all the vocal and guitar parts came together and we kept it. I like it a lot more now.”
I look forward to new tracks from Karr, but until then, you can see her live back in RVA this Friday when she plays at Hardywood with Manzara, Father Sunflower, and the Golden rays.
You’ll be able to pick up the tape here, released on Tim Falen’s Bad Grrrl Records.