“I’ve always been super into DIY stuff,” Julien Baker says. The topic wasn’t knitting or crafty glue-gunning projects for her Etsy account but rather something altogether different: music. The 19-year-old Memphis-based singer-songwriter is a self-starter, having made her own album set to release Oct. 23. It’s already gotten buzz and Baker is now touring the East Coast. WWD caught up with her a few days before she hits New York, where she’ll play Cake Shop on Wednesday.
WWD: What are you studying in college?
Julien Baker: I was a recording industry major, I did audio stuff, related to my music. But I switched my major to secondary education and literature so I can teach high school kids. I’m really into European lit. I had a double minor in Spanish and I just love 20th-century Latin American literature. Even with modernists like Amy Lowell I feel like every time I read one of her poems, I get something new — I’m nerdy, I guess.
WWD: When did you become interested music?
JB: When I was younger, like, a lot younger — like, 12 — I was into Green Day and Fall Out Boy, because I was weird and edgy. My dad got a guitar, because he wanted to learn, and I would play it when he wasn’t, and I would sit in my room and play Fall Out Boy covers all the time. And then I made a punk band with the kids in my neighborhood.
WWD: That’s not really your sound now.
JB: I was kind of a hooligan for a little while and didn’t do anything productive except for cover metalcore bands. There’s this nonprofit organization in Memphis called Smith7 Records, and they put on punk shows in a substance-free environment, so kids can go and experience music and be safe and not out drunk or smoking weed. So I got involved with that and then I started doing coffee shop shows, so for a little while in middle school I was that girl doing Landon Pigg covers at my local coffee shop.
WWD: Are you influenced by traditional Memphis music?
JB: I used to go to a church in Memphis where we did bluegrass Sundays, and I used to play mandolin and banjo and slap steel, which is bizarre because my music doesn’t sound like country stuff, but I love all that.
WWD: What are you listening to these days?
JB: I know it’s such a cop out to say everything, but there’s not a lot of music that I don’t find inherently worth listening to. I took a class on the history of R&B and culture, and so for a while I was just really into Eighties and Nineties rap. And then I’ll go through phases where I’m like, ‘Man, I just want to listen to Merle Haggard’s greatest hits.’ But the stuff that I really identify with is alternative, heavier music. My favorite band of all time, Me Without You. They’re this weird alternative rock band that writes a lot of spiritual and philosophical lyrics that I’m just really into. I also really love Daughter, and The National.