Julie Christmas, on performing: “Once it starts, I’m off, you know?”
By Andrew Parks
When Made Out of Babies‘ new label, The End, first sent a press release about the band’s third LP (The Ruiner, out today) singer Julie Christmas was positioned as a steel-throated bastard child of PJ Harvey, Karen O and David … Fucking … Yow. Each reference point was fair, but to simply draw a comparison between the Brooklyn native and, say, a former NYU student who became a rock star by showering herself in beer and howling “I’ve been screwing on the tracks of abandoned train stations” is to sell the singer a tad short.
You see, Christmas is the kind of split-personality force that makes you stop and stare as if a train wreck were happening onstage. As she recently explained to Decibel, “I don’t know if I get nervous before a show so much as find it hard to go out because I realize things are about to get rough. Once it starts, I’m off, you know? There’s never been a show where I didn’t feel fully in it, no matter how sick I feel.” (MOoB plays Union Pool tonight and a Myopenbar.com party tomorrow.)
The rest of the band is usually off to the races as well, from a bass-slinging Cooper–a recovering hardcore kid who once hit Christmas in the face by accident–to the pedal-stomping guitarobatics of Brendan Tobin (also an honorary member of Red Sparowes). It helps that Christmas can truly carry a tune, from the soaring melodic passages of “Invisible Ink” to the throat-shredding climax of “Cooker.” In fact, self-titled considers her one of the most versatile, underappreciated vocalists in today’s underground scene, whether we’re talking metal or straight-up indie rock.
“I’ve listened to the staples over and over until I could hear their every breath,” explains Christmas. “Some of the best singers don’t know anything about technique, though. They’re good because they’re doing it wrong.” Singers like Tom Waits, one of five key influences that Christmas shares after the jump in an exclusive self-titled essay.
There’s a sea of singers I would love to sound more like. True singers convey something with their voices that is beyond the words they sing or the music they surround their voices with. When a â€œgenuine articleâ€ vocalist is singing, you are not hearing their voice alone, but an accumulation of all of their experiences wrapped in tone.
To pick my five favorites is really tough, but here are a few that are definitely the real thing:
1. Louis Armstrong
Listen to â€œBlack & Blueâ€ or his version of â€œYou Go to My Headâ€ and you’ll understand why he came to mind immediately. Louis is unique because he says as much with his trumpet as he does with his voice, so he uses them interchangeably. Too bad he’s dead.
2. Tom Waits
When I first heard Tom Waits, I hated him with a passion. We’re talking violent hatred. I went on a road trip down south for three weeks with two other girls and we had a rule that everyone got to pick 30 minutes of music (one side of a tape) and no one could whine about anyone else’s choice. Driving into rainy New Orleans with all the brightly colored buildings and terraces everywhere listening to â€œJockey Full of Bourbonâ€ from Rain Dogs made a believer out of me. I know every breath he takes on that album.
3. Aretha Franklin
Whenever I’m out and someone is playing Aretha (and by someone, I mean the drunk chicks in the corner booth) it’s always the same five songs. Listen to â€œGood to Me As I Am to Youâ€ from the album Queen of Soul: The Atlantic Recordings.
I only get two more. Sigh.
4. Patsy Cline
Hers is the voice of housewife heartbreak. Pick a song, pick an album. One thing about her that I’ve noticed is that all the live footage of her sounds exactly the same as her recordings. So she’s either a lip-sync pioneer or really, really good.
5. Dave SardyDavid YowMike PattonCindi LauperPJHarveyBBKingBjorkEllaFitzgeraldKeelySmith
That still only counts as one. It’s kind of cheating to ask the question and only give me five answers anyway, so you should just give me a pass here.
FYI: I will be continuing the list in my head for the next three days.