Featuring Julien Baker | By Kelley O’Death
FQP shines a light on the joys and heartaches that lie at the intersection of the LGBTQIA+ community and the world of alternative music. While queer representation is often refracted through the prism of normative curiosities and concerns, FQP features queer voices saying whatever they want, however they want. Don’t fear the realness.
Though her quietly monumental debut for 6131 Records, Sprained Ankle, came out in 2015, 2016 felt like The Year of Julien Baker. In February, the Memphis singer-songwriter with punk rock roots recorded a haunting Audiotree Live session, then followed it up with widespread touring and a slew of powerful interviews illuminating the same earnestness, introspection, and charm that enraptured fans on her album, a collection of nine songs that feel dreamy while soberly confronting hard realities. Baker is now regarded by many as a de facto representative for several oft-invisibilized identities within the queer community—youth, Southerners, people of faith—but rather than reject what can sometimes become an unfair and dehumanizing burden, she has chosen to conscientiously accept this calling with wisdom, grace, and an omnipresent self-awareness.
On What Keeps Her Up At Night:
Honestly, this interview has been keeping me up as of late. Questions like these make me consider my own responsibility in the world as a person and an artist, which is something I think about and struggle with daily. I’m extremely aware of the blessings I’ve been afforded, and I want to make sure that I am intentional about having an attitude of humility and gratitude, in hopes that being constantly mindful of those things will enable me to return the good I have received to someone else.
There’s this fear that despite the gifts and privilege I’ve been given, I might squander it by acting selfishly. Most people are familiar with that existential concern that they’re insignificant or have no influence at all, sure, but I think what troubles me sometimes is thinking that, of whatever small power or influence I may have, I am using it incorrectly. When given the choice between an attitude of resignation or futility and the contrary optimism that inspires us to try, I would want to choose the latter, but sometimes, realizing the practical difficulty of that task can cripple a person if they don’t have perspective. That’s one reason why it’s crucial to me to have a support system of people who remind me that there’s more learning in our mistakes than in our successes and help me welcome obstacles as opportunities to improve.
On Support Systems:
Ryan Azada, who I have known and toured with since I was in high school, Cam [Boucher] from Sorority Noise, Brian Vernon of Smith7 [Records], the members of Forrister—each of them act as a tether to reality and offer insight that helps me step outside myself or feel less alone, because they all share in similar anxieties and worries. That support is vital for anyone. Just recently, in Austin, I went to see Lucy Dacus’ show and ended up in the back of their sprinter van saying, “I’m having an existential crisis,” which sounds insane, but knowing there are people who can empathize with those feelings comforts a person merely by being understood. Even the crew I tour with, James Goodson and Emma Cleek, are perpetually understanding in a way that personifies grace more than any theoretical principle could, and I am thankful for them every day.
On Radical Self-Love:
Mary Lambert, a musician and poet I admire for also being a vocally queer person of faith—and who is also one of my wisest friends—made the observation to me once that love for others has to include self-love, that compassion for the world must have compassion and forgiveness of the self as a prerequisite. That’s something that was so meaningful to me and that I’m still learning. Becoming preoccupied with our own failure or inadequacy prevents us from acknowledging our potential for good. We cannot display mercy or kindness to others that we do not believe we also deserve; we cannot tell others that they are worthy of love we do not allow ourselves. What is more encouraging than a person who appears to have it together and do everything 100 percent right always is a person who is vulnerable enough about challenges to admit them and recognize them as catalysts for growth.
I think that when we address these things to each other, we end up realizing our faults—or what we perceive as faults—are not faults at all, just elements of our humanity. That’s something especially relevant when discussing marginalized communities and destigmatizing the conversation around mental health, sexuality, gender, or abuse. When there is so much shame and guilt attached by society to those things, having the bravery to be candid about those parts of our identity is a revolutionary action. Existing as a person who is queer or trans or struggling with mental health or a survivor of abuse and having the courage to be vocal about it is itself an act of protest to what is standard, and it’s radically influential to greater social consciousness. Because of that, I believe that the most important way in which we demonstrate love to others has to begin with radical love of self, that empowers one to be fearlessly and unapologetically oneself.