Julia Deans returns with her first album in seven years We Light Fire.
With the release of bold first single Walking In The Sun in September 2017, Julia Deans whet the appetite of fans and critics alike for her new album. It had been seven years since we were last seduced by her songwriting, when her acclaimed first solo album Modern Fables was released.
Having captivated everyone with her transition from iconic rock chick (as the front woman for Fur Patrol), to glorious songbird, she earned herself a Taite Prize nomination for Modern Fables, and an APRA Silver Scroll finalist spot for A New Dialogue, alongside glowing reviews.
Now she’s releasing her new ten track LP We Light Fire, an album inspired by world events, as well as friends and family, examining what it means to be human and our spectrum of strength and vulnerability.
“I really wanted to write from a slightly less introspective point of view, and instead turn outward and write about the things that were going on around me in the world and how I felt about it. I think a lot of the stories on Modern Fables, they came out of me going through depression and finding my way out of that. So a lot of that record is me telling myself these fables to convince myself it’s going to be ok.
“And I think now, I’ve given myself a good talking to, and I feel like maybe I can turn to giving everyone else a bit of a talking to! Or perhaps more like a bit of encouragement. Because even with the more angry or sad songs on We Light Fire, I’m not pointing the finger at anyone, I want to lift people up. Where Modern Fables was about lifting myself up, this is about lifting other people up too. I’ve had a lot of reflections on how lucky I am while writing We Light Fire, a lot of feelings of gratitude.”
The album has been recorded in a home studio in Northcote, Auckland, which Julia’s partner David Wernham built over the course of six months 2011, and she began writing the songs not long after. Many of them began with Deans mucking around with a variety of keyboard and synth sounds, in part because she was drawn to them, but also because, despite being known for her excellent guitar skills, wanted to try something new.
“It wasn’t so much that I wanted to get away from the guitar, but more I wanted to come at songwriting from a new springboard.”
While writing the songs was a very solo pursuit, the recording of them was less so, with Deans working closely with Wernham on “pulling the musical story together”. And though Deans also plays many of the instruments on the record herself, she also roped in an impressive list of friends to sprinkle their abilities across the tracks too, including Nick Gaffaney, Steve Bremner, Richie Pickard, Mareea Patterson, Anna Coddington, Annie Crummer, Tama Waipara, and Anika Moa.
“A lot of the songs were built on my initial demos, and then we’ve slowly added things as we’ve gone along. Which has been a bit of a nightmare, because every time I think it’s nearly done, I realise I don’t actually know what I want. But David has been very patient” she laughs.
Sitting with these songs for seven years has also given her the opportunity to look at them with objectivity and perspective, and to hear what she loved and what was lacking.
“It was pretty thrilling to be able to give the songs some space, and then come back to them and realise I still thought they were good!”
It also gave her the time to be involved with a long list of other musical projects and take a little encouragement from other songwriters.
She’s been working with acts like The Adults and SJD, performing in an impressive array of art festival shows paying tribute to the likes Jacques Brel, Joni Mitchell, and Billie Holiday, stretching her dramatic chops in the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, and working with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra twice – first on a show of her own songs with Anika Moa, and then in a tribute to David Bowie.
“They were all these wonderful opportunities to climb inside the minds of other songwriters that I think are phenomenal, and you learn so much every time, and then you just become really enthusiastic about having a go yourself. And they’ve all really effected my performance.
“The Brel show in particular, that had a real effect on these songs. He had such a bold world view, and he wasn’t afraid to talk about things in song, which really inspired me.”
Of course, simply being seven years older has also changed Deans views, given her greater self-assurance, and confidence in her perspective.
“When I first started out as a teenager, I was singing about these feelings and ideas that I was really only just starting to experience, and it’s interesting how the shape of them becomes more defined, or they become more 3D or something as you get older, in the context of all your other experiences.
“We’ve recently uploaded all the Fur Patrol back catalogue to digital platforms, and it’s so funny going back and listening to it all! We sound so young! I listen to it and go, ‘Who is that squeaky little girl?’ But also, ‘Wow, I actually wrote some quite good songs’. They weren’t bad for a 23-year-old.”
There is a true sense of confidence to We Light Fire, an album that grapples with a variety of sociological ideas, illustrated with strong poetic imagery, and bound by a rich sound palette which still lets her distinctive voice come to the fore.
“We Light Fire is about being human, and the things that we have in common – the things that make us the same even when we think we’re divided or different or alone. And I like to think there’s a sense of hope and optimism in there too, the idea that there’s a better world, a better way out there for us if we could stop being so blind.”