Long accustomed to repeating herself, Julia Easterlin is finally done explaining. For nearly the past 10 years, the 2011 Berklee College of Music grad and Georgia native has given a brief on-stage introduction to what she does — and how she does it — to varying audiences, from her college's commencement ceremony to last year's Lollapalooza in Chicago. She'll inform the crowd that she uses a loop pedal to make a "one-person choir" by recording and replaying a vocal drone and drumbeat, then gradually builds on that to create her song. Last year, she stopped spelling it out for everyone.
"I started explaining what I do nearly a decade ago," Easterlin says from New York City, where she moved just two weeks ago. "At the time, there weren't many people doing it in any popular sphere." On one hand, musical audiences have grown more technologically sophisticated — and more willing to embrace a solo artist hovering over a BOSS RC-50 loop station and using nothing but a Shure SM58 vocal mic and the occasional floor tom to create a layered and textured whirlwind of sound that's as majestic as it is experimental. On the other, artists like tUnE-yArDs, Andrew Bird, and Imogen Heap have all brought vocal looping to the mainstream.
"At this point, it's more popularized," Easterlin says. "Anytime you've been working on something for a while, and someone new, or someone you perceive as being new, comes along on the scene with institutional backing, well, anyone in that situation would say, 'Shit, I've been doing this!' After that initial reaction, you know at least there's an audience for this and opportunity for a place for it to exist, as opposed to this nebulous thing that's hard for people to categorize."
Despite the growing familiarity of her production style, Easterlin's sound is still hard to pin down. "I grew up with Southern music and gospel and Southern folk, and all that finds its way into the music I'm making," she says. There's a soulful aspect to her music that's enhanced by her background as a jazz vocalist and student of opera while in high school.
Her stable of "reimagined" covers — from Mavis Staples's "Eyes on the Prize" to Radiohead's "There There" and "Break My Body" by the Pixies, off Berklee's Heavy Rotation Records sampler — exhibits a continuous web-like flow of distinct atmospherics that also spotlight the strongest instrument in her minimal musical arsenal: her voice.
So, naturally, Easterlin's latest songwriting has centered around her words. This has flipped around the creative process. "When I started, I was working with a loop pedal and working from the ground up," Easterlin says. "Of late, I've been working backwards, building around lyrics."
JULIA EASTERLIN + DAD | Middle East, 472 Mass Ave, Cambridge :: September 22 @ 7 pm :: 18+ :: $10 :: 617.864.3278