Julie Doiron :: The Aquarium Drunkard Interview

I Thought Of You marks Julie Doiron’s first official solo release in nine years. The singer-songwriter from Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada’s most cherished indie-rock band, Eric’s Trip, has released a steady-stream of albums since So Many Days in 2012, including Julie & The Wrong Guys (a collaboration with members of the hardcore group Cancer Bats), and a follow up to her Lost Wisdom project with Phil Elverum of The Microphones and Mount Eerie. But while she may have been continuously releasing music, none of it seemed worthy of naming it a Julie Doiron project. Throughout our conversation, Doiron explains why she may not have been as ready to open up during that period. But first, gardening … | p king

Aquarium Drunkard: Do you have a big garden?

Julie Doiron: Last year, I did. It was amazing. I was really happy with it this year. I do raised-garden beds. All of the raised beds are four by eight. So I have [does a quick count] six raised beds in what I call the “B gardens.” And then the C section, there’s also five four by eight [beds].. So now in the E section, we planted asparagus. 

AD: I feel like I’m so ignorant when it comes to gardening. I have no idea what asparagus looks like coming out of the ground!

Julie Doiron: It looks like it almost can be mistaken for dill when dill grows. It also looks like little ferns. it’s really kind of sprightly and really pretty. You can’t harvest it for the first three years. And you have to wait for it to be established. Every house I ever lived in I was like, “Oh, it’s gonna take so long for it to be [right]”  that I never planted it. Now, finally, I hope to be in this house for a long time. So it’s worth the effort if you know you’re going to be in the same place. Right? Because it’s a perennial. It grows by 20-25 years in the same spot and it always adds more and more every year. My dad has some and you can just eat it out of the garden. You just snap it. 

AD: Do you feel like if you fail at tending to your garden that there is a pressure to get it back next year?

Julie Doiron: I used to put an extreme amount of pressure on myself in the garden. And last year, the first year I had one in this house, I was losing sleep and having dreams and like planning where I was gonna plant what. Researching companion gardening. I started my semis in the spring like in March. And this year, I started some of them too early, which was a problem too, because my cucumbers were ready too early. I was so out of sync this year because I have this puppy who’s like a year and a half now. So yeah, there’s a lot of pressure and I have other friends who, who have been known to put pressure on themselves as well. Finally, when I realized that it was so late and everything I just had to lay off. I put so much pressure on myself for other things anyways. It’s not like I need that garden to survive.  I finally allowed myself to let go of the expectations I had for the garden. And then once I let go, I was like, Okay, I don’t need that to survive. I always plant more than I need. So that’s a problem too, because, but then you don’t know what’s gonna grow and what’s not gonna grow and what’s gonna what’s gonna die. I never actually get around to harvesting it sometimes. I had so many celery plants. My celery did amazing and I harvested a bunch of them. But I think we just had frost the other day and I hesitate to go out. 

AD: With all of that pressure that you put on yourself with gardening, do you see the similarities to how you approach your musical career? Is there a parallel you can draw?

Julie Doiron: You know, what’s interesting is I have been surprisingly not [as obsessive]. I don’t put a lot of pressure on myself with music. Wow. Which is interesting. Because I think music is the thing that I’m the most relaxed at. I put a lot of pressure on myself to make sure I take Elsie to the pool a lot. To make sure I exercise. I used to be really hard on myself with exercise. So I’ve learned in this last little bit, because I’m almost 50 now, that I have to realize that if there’s a day or two that I don’t feel physically able to exercise or that I didn’t sleep well or that, you know that it’s okay. That it’s important to take those days off and that it’s important to take rest days. But when I was younger, I don’t think I knew what a rest day was! I didn’t bother with that idea. I would swim every day. I would do yoga every day, or whatever. I would exercise every day. And then now I’m realizing that it’s a necessity for me because it feels good to do it. But it’s not going to be so detrimental if I skip a couple of days. 

So I’ve relaxed on that. Also, learning to listen to my body like, “Okay, I’m exhausted, don’t exercise today and maybe go for a walk.” I’m learning how to like to make that shift. But I used to put a lot of pressure on myself with things like exercise. I would put pressure myself back and forth between eating well, and then just like, eating like crap. I always go back to saying “That’s it! I’m just gonna eat chips for a week,” and then be like, “Okay, well, I feel terrible.” But now I’m just giving myself permission to have chips when I want to have chips. Chips are like a big vice for me! So sometimes I would go months without them and it was a big deal. It was a conscious decision.

AD: What’s your chip of choice? 

Julie Doiron:I think salt vinegar. But you know what, I’m also a huge fan of plains! I love salty, plain chips.

AD: I love salt and black pepper, personally. 

Julie Doiron: Yeah, I feel like I wouldn’t really eat those ones every day. But then again, those would be nice. That might be a nice way for me to just curb my chip [cravings]. Yeah, I have a special kind of chip every once in a while. Yeah, I like all of them. 

I don’t put a lot of pressure on myself. In fact, to the point where, obviously, because I haven’t put out a solo record in so long. I don’t know if you read the bio for the record, but it says, this is my first solo album and nine years. But I’ve been super busy in the last nine years so It feels weird to have spun it that way. Because it’s true. It is the first solo album under my name Julie Doiron. But there have been other projects. There were even other collaborations, like the Julie & The Wrong Guys, which I co-wrote. So, there has been a lot that’s going on. But it is true, it is the first solo album. That being said, I don’t think I pressure myself with music. And I feel like I wouldn’t do it any other way. I could probably think maybe I should have put pressure on myself and then I would have been more successful, or whatever. But I don’t think I would have wanted to have been anywhere other than where I’m at right now, right? If anything, I want to start putting more pressure on myself. I want practicing guitar to be a priority. I want that to be something I do every day. And it’s always the last thing I sneak in if I have time. For like a week, I was playing it first thing in the morning. Then for 10 minutes, and then I forget again because then I have to run. I often have to just leave the house first thing in the morning. I have very bad time management skills, actually. I’m trying not to put any pressure on myself anymore for anything.

AD: It’s funny, I was going to bring up how this album is being described as your great return, but you have been consistently releasing music since your last solo album So Many Days in 2012. I guess when you look at this record as opposed to the Julie & The Wrong guys project, what separates them in your mind? 

Julie Doiron: Well, so basically the reason Julie & The Wrong Guys is a little bit out of the realm of the “Julie” solo projects is because when I started playing with those guys, It was supposed to be for a Julie Doiron show at a festival in Toronto. One of the organizers of the festival—who also owned one of the cafes where I used to go and then I started working there briefly— they suggested, “oh, you should play with these guys. They’re really cool.” It was Mike [Peters] and Jaye [Schwarzer]  from the Cancer Bats. I didn’t know them. And I thought, “yeah, sure.” And then Eamon [McGrath] who played guitar on that project, he worked at the same cafe. So then the band came together for this festival date. I really loved playing with them. It was super fun. So then we did a 45. And then we talked off and on about doing an album and then we just like, you know, the drummer moved back to his hometown of Winnipeg. Then I had to move back to New Brunswick and the other two members were still in Toronto and then I got a call like in 2016, or something, from the drummer saying that we got funding to do the record. So basically, we wrote it together in a cabin in Manitoba. So other than like two songs that I had pre-that, I had written previously. So that one feels like more of a different project because we were in the cabin for a week and we co-wrote. They wrote most of the music. I wrote some music. I wrote Most of the lyrics. We actually worked together in the same space. So that for me is separate from all the Julie Doiron records. Because if you look at the new one, or if you listen to it, you will hear that there is a band. It’s not me being solo in my bedroom, like, the way I write the songs usually. But I guess the difference is that this one is a Julie Doiron record and the other one was with The Wrong Guys, which is a collaboration. And I think that’s why the bio got written as such. Like, “the first in all of nine years.” But I hope that the guys don’t, I wouldn’t want them to be [upset]. I’m sure they were very cool and chill [Laughs]. I think that’s just technical talk, “solo album.” It’s with a band… 

AD: And the band is so great on this album.

Julie Doiron: I’m so happy. I feel so lucky!

AD: There is a consistent lyrical theme on the record where you talk about how, for a while, you were not ready to share some of the feelings of heartbreak you had over the years until now. How did these songs eventually present themselves to you? 

Julie Doiron: I think it all came together pretty naturally. I wrote all the songs between 2016 and 2019. The first two songs I wrote 2016 and I had written just out of the blue for a collaboration that I was doing. It was called the Greenville tapes. It was at a friend’s house in Port Greville, which is not far from here, like an hour and a half away. The person who came up with the series would put two artists together, two bands together, and each came with two songs, and then we would back each other up. I hadn’t written anything since 2012 and I had agreed to do that session. My last record came out in 2012 and I took it on tour. Then, I got pregnant in November 2012, like a month after the record came out. So I toured until I was 32 weeks pregnant, which I did for all my pregnancies, actually, so it wasn’t unusual.

After I had Elsie, my youngest, I decided I didn’t want to go on tour again for quite a while. And so therefore I chose not to write anymore. I wanted to just be home with Elsie. Because once you start writing and you record, the next thing you know the records coming out and then you’re back on tour. I just wanted to make sure that I didn’t have another reason to go away on tour right away. So then I wrote these two songs for this collaboration 2016. I was supposed to be leaving [to go to the sessions] and I didn’t have any songs. So I wrote them the day I was leaving to go to the project. Then I didn’t write anything for like another year and a half and then I decided that I was ready to start writing in 2017. It was in the Fall and I decided I was going to start writing and I asked some friends of mine who had a bar. It was a venue in Sackville, where I was living. They had this bar called Thunder and Lightning and I asked them if I could do a residency there on Sunday nights and the concept for the residency would be that I would try to only play songs that I wrote that week. I was trying to force myself to write.I find I perform well with a deadline for songwriting. [For the show] you would play a supper time show from five to seven. People were bringing their kids and stuff and I would play from like, six to seven. It was pay what you can. So it was really nice because a bunch of friends would be there with their kids and other people would be there who didn’t have kids and, and it was a suggested donation. It was very low pressure. I didn’t have to play like a $15 worth show. I could test out songs on people. “This is what I worked on this week.” And sometimes it would be half finished. I did it for five weeks and it really forced me to like work on stuff. I wanted to always have one or two new songs each Sunday. That was really motivating.

AD: I read Fugazi actually kept their ticket prices at $5 so that they could feel free to experiment on stage without feeling like they were ripping off their fans . 

Julie Doiron: That works! I didn’t know that was why they were doing that. I thought it was because it was “punk.” So, that went really well. And then I wrote a bunch in 2018. Now it was turning, you know? I was in writing mode, finally. I was ready to just start singing about things maybe that I had not wanted to sing about yet or that I wasn’t ready to. I think I was ready to kind of open up more. It sounds weird to say that because people would maybe say that “Julie Doiron has a very confessional songwriting style,” or whatever. I know that I’ve been very open about a lot of things. But then at the same time, there was a period where I was not open about a lot of things. I think now I’m pretty mindful about what I’m willing to sing about what I’m not willing to sing about. And I think when I was really young I just sang about whatever I needed to sing about it. I didn’t think twice. Now, I did find myself censoring myself quite a bit. 

AD: Right away, the opening song “You Gave Me The Key” kind of clues you into where you are in life at this moment. “There was never any plan. No Reason to explain. But here I am starting over again.” How important is an opening line like that to a song? Does a great opening line create a snowball effect for you? 

Julie Doiron: Yeah. For example, with “You Gave Me the Key,” it just poured out. I didn’t really labor over that song. It did snowball. I was staying at my friend’s apartment in Montreal and she wasn’t home. I got out of her guitar in the case that she said I could play and I just started playing an E major. I guess. It just came out of nowhere. I don’t even know how it came out. I mean, there’s not that many lyrics in it anyway. So, obviously, I probably didn’t spend that much time, but it was pretty much done. I did a voice memo and I think I sent it to her like the next day. It’s pretty rare that I take a long time to write a song. I think it set the tone, for sure, because at that point, I had already written quite a bit of the songs actually, because I wrote that one in like August 2018. So after that, I only wrote a couple more, and then we were just kind of sitting on them all. I hadn’t even planned on going to the studio. It was my boyfriend who was like, “You should probably go record these now.” I wasn’t super motivated to go to the studio, because I find it terrifying. One of the reasons why I wasn’t in a hurry to record was that I find it really intimidating to go into the studio. I think the main reason why I’m afraid in the studio—regardless of who I’m working with—is that idea of committing that particular version to tape. Committing that version for life. Why I love playing live is because you can change a song if you want or you can play it slower, faster, you can sing acapella, you can do whatever you want depending how you’re feeling every day. But when you go into the studio, you have to make decisions. 

AD: Right. That’s the way it is … forever! 

Julie Doiron: I find that really scary usually. I did three records in a row with Rick [White] from Eric’s Trip. Because after we did Woke Myself Up, I trusted him. I always trusted him. I just felt so comfortable. I let him mix. Like I would finish the record, and I’d be like “bye” (laughs). And he would add any overdubs and then mix it while I was gone, and then send me the mix. It was rare that we had to make any changes because I trusted him. I find that I have to work with somebody that I really trust to be able to get into a studio. So, sometimes it takes me a long time to decide that I’m going to go record. I think that’s the reason this one worked so great. It all came together really naturally. What happened was, there’s this festival in Northern Quebec, called the FME (Festival de Musique Emergente). It’s very far from Montreal. My boyfriend [Dany Placard] had mentioned to some of the people who book it, “What if  Julie and I play it together? And they’re like, “Oh, that would be great.” So they put me and him on as a duet. We just wanted to play an early set. But then they put us on the Sunday night closing. We were playing right before Daniel Romano, and then The Sadies. So, The Sadies were headlining, Dan was second, and we were first.

AD: What an amazing show!

Julie Doiron: Yeah, it was great, it was a really sweet night. But it was our first time playing as a duo. Like, ever. We had never played together. So, that was nerve wracking. And then basically before the show, we were standing outside and talking to Ian Romano, his brother who plays drums with him. And somehow, my Danny was talking about how we’re getting ready to maybe go in the studio. Then Ian had mentioned to me that he’d like to do something with me on drums. So, right then and there, I was like, “yeah, that’d be cool.” And then Daniel happened to be walking by and said “I’ll play guitar” and then he just kept walking. That was the band for the album (laughs). It was just like that! And so we were like, “Okay, I guess that’s the band!” I made sureI would check everybody’s availability. We secured February. We went in, and it was all done in two days. We did all the bed tracks in two days and then overdubs on day three. And then Dan and Ian left the morning of the day because they were going to be going on tour in the States. They did a couple weeks then the pandemic hit. It was that crazy, but it went super fast. And it was really easy to work with those guys. I had sent them demos. I’d done acoustic versions  and they didn’t listen to them because they didn’t want to know the songs beforehand. We opened with “You Gave Me the Key,” that was the first one we started with. It just seemed like the easiest one to start with, because it had the least chords and then Daniel just came up with that guitar line. I was so excited because the recorded version of the song really set the tone for the rest of the album. It felt so good. It really was so spontaneous and, and intuitive. 

AD: As someone who practically lives in the studio and is as prolific as Daniel, I’m sure he put you at ease in the studio? 

Julie Doiron: He’s so easy to work with. Like he was just like, I mean, I’ve known him for a while. So like, it’s the first time I worked with him on my music. This was the first time we were recording my songs. There was no producer for this album or anything. Everybody just brought their own ideas. We did all the bed tracks in two days, and then Daniel just kept getting idea after idea like, “Oh, can I go try like a Wurlitzer thing?” Every time we were working on a song, he would be like, “Okay, I have this idea for a guitar” or I would say, like, “I’d really like a guitar solo on this one,” and he would be like, “okay.” oh, but try like it was no. So he really kept getting ideas and ideas and not once would I say “No, I think there’s too many Wurlitzer parts,” or whatever. Why would I stop the creative flow? He was very easy to work with, he came up with a lot of ideas. I can’t imagine the songs without his sweet guitar parts. 

I think they have such a great work ethic. They’re like, “no time to waste!” There’s no time to just be like, “we’re in the studio.” That’s what we’re there for.  We had snacks out in the kitchen all the time. So like when everyone was hungry, they would go snack. Sometimes we made supper. I hate cooking. I’m pretty sure either my boyfriend cooked, or maybe Ian? I think they were all cooking all the time. But not me. There would be occasional breaks just to like reset, but it was very easy. It was like a dream. It was a dream record [Laughs].

AD: I am a really big fan of both of the Lost Wisdom records you made with Phil Elverum. He has such a distinct world he inhabits with his songwriting. Is that a difficult thing to step into when writing with him?   

Julie Doiron: I feel really lucky to have been a part of those records.I don’t have a hard time stepping into them. In fact, I really love singing with Phil because I find that his voice reminds me of like, like a tree. It’s like, It makes me think of wood or winter, nature. When I’m singing with him, the kind of harmonies I do with Phil are different than I would do with another project. So no, I don’t have a hard time stepping into that world. I really like it and I like singing on other people’s songs. Because then I just get to sing and I’m not responsible. It’s a fun way of getting this thing without having the pressure of being the one in charge.

AD: I’m a big Eric’s Trip fan. Do you keep in touch with the rest of the band anymore? 

Julie Doiron: I keep in touch with them. There’s nothing to discuss lately. It’s funny how fast time goes because we did shows in like 2010, I feel? But I’m not sure. Sappy Fest, maybe? So it would have been 10 years since we played together. That’s really weird. I’m in touch with everyone, but we don’t have anything planned anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean it’s not impossible. That being said, we’re all still friends. But yeah, nothing planned right now.

AD: One last question. So on the opening track,”You Gave Me the Key”  you say “there was never any plan.” Then on the final track of the album, “Back To The Water”, you end it by saying “there’s a lesson learned and I’m ready to learn.” I guess now that the album is finished, it’s about to be released. Was there a “plan” all along and was there a “lesson” that you learned?

Julie Doiron: Well, I feel like I’m constantly learning lessons every day, every moment. I’m constantly ready to learn. I am actually!  You know what, there really wasn’t [a plan]. I’m very bad at planning. I’m always last minute, I’m afraid to commit. I’m always afraid of commitment. So I leave everything to the last minute because I think some of the reasons why I am afraid to commit. I’m afraid of rejection. A lot of times I don’t ask someone to collaborate because I’m afraid that they won’t answer me or that they won’t want to. So then I just usually let people come to me and invite me. It’s rare that I would have reached out [to Daniel and Ian Romano] and be like, “Hey, do you guys want to do this record?” Even though I know that they would have wanted to. So the fact that it was so spontaneous on the street, and it all came together in a conversation before our show was really easy for me to accept working out that way. I think I really have been afraid of rejection a lot. I don’t know why, where that comes from. But I would say this, I’m really bad at planning. I’m afraid to make that definitive decision of like, that’s how it’s going to be. So I’m bad at planning because I don’t want to be locked into anything. Like, I want to be able to go like, Oh, with a lesson and be like, Oh, maybe we should play this way. Let’s play like, you know, mean, or so. Yeah, I don’t think there was a plan [Laughs].

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