Julie Roberts Finds Her Way Back With New Music
In an exclusive series of interviews with The Boot, Julie Roberts has opened up about her struggle to stay healthy in spite of being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and shared candid details about the difficulties of growing up with an abusive, alcoholic father. She also updated us on the made-for-TV movie that will chronicle her upbringing, her rise to stardom and the 2010 Nashville flood which Julie escaped — with a sprained foot — losing her home and many of her possessions in the process. In the third and final installment of our exclusive interview with the indomitable singer-songwriter, she tells us about the new music she’s working on, how the recording is bringing her full circle, and why her biggest fan — her mama — sometimes has trouble getting her attention.
How far along are you with the new album?
Half of my new record is done. All of it is written. I love steel guitar, so we’ve got some steel guitar to add to it. I’m just doing music that I love. We’re doing two Buddy Miller songs. I’m a huge fan of his. I’m trying to get him to sing on my record, too. We’ve reached out to his management. I’m excited about my new music. It feels like it would fall into the Buddy Miller genre.
One song I had held for my first record and we decided to do “I Can’t Get Over You” instead. That one is called “I’m Not Getting Any Better at Goodbyes.” The other one is called “Gasoline and Matches.” It’s a great uptempo song, that’ll be a good balance with all of my sad songs! [laughs] We’re gonna do a video on it for the fall.
Have you been taking longer to do this particular record?
I did two projects last year. [Alive and the Christmas EP, Who Needs Mistletoe]. What’s making it so slow for me is just the finances because I’ll be paying for it myself. So it’s slower than I would like it to be. I have all of the material ready.
Are you going to do something like a Kickstarter campaign to help finance it?
I’m looking into a funding project that would give something back to charity at the same time. I didn’t take my record, Alive, to a lot of labels but I’m thinking of doing that with this record because I want that promotion and marketing. But I want it to be the right one. One that gets my style. Luke [Lewis, then-head of Mercury Records] really got it. It was kind of a little left … it just sounded like me and it wasn’t very pop. I love some of the Blue Note artists like Amos Lee and sometimes I feel like my music has a little bit of soul and the laid-backness of Norah Jones, so is that where I want to go? I don’t know. I do know that I want to do this the rest of my life and I do know that I’d like some help, some people behind it to help me. Because I think I did a good job with reintroducing myself to my fans after two years or however long, of saying, “Hey I’ve got new music,” but there was a lot missing. And it was a learning process of trying to do it myself. I still take things to the post office myself. I love to do that and will continue to do that, but a team behind me to help me is my goal.
Do you still have the same approach in the studio making a record as you always have?
My approach now is back to when I made my first record. When I made that first record, I went in the studio with [producer] Brent Rowan, never thinking, “Is radio going to play this song?” It didn’t occur to me that you might put out a record and it might not get played. I just thought, it’s on Mercury Records, it’s going to get played. [laughs] It got played a little bit and then I put out the next record [Men and Mascara in 2006] and had changed my style a little bit because Mercury wanted more airplay. So I kind of went with it. In the studio, I was thinking, “Will they play this one, will they play this one?” I feel like I lost a lot of who I was from the first record. It was less emotion and more that. People told me that they liked my record, but I can tell you I was worried.
Is that why you did a cover of “Girl Next Door,” which was a Top 40 pop hit for the band Saving Jane?
I did it because I wanted to be on top of the charts and I thought, “Is this song going to get me there?” I think it was kind of confusing not only to me but to radio and my fans, and it didn’t work.
Does your mom hear the songs in their early stages?
No, she doesn’t like that. She has to hear the finished product. So I’ll invite her to the studio when it gets to a certain point. I have a song called “Old Habit.” Mama’s been dating a guy … but they only go out on Saturday nights. He only calls on Saturdays. One day she said, “I just feel like I’m an old habit.” Mama speaks in songs, I think a lot of people do if you listen. So I thought [whispers] that’s a good song. [laughs] So she influences some of what I write about. I sang that song at my fan club party this year just because my fans wanted to know what I was up to. She likes it. She might not like it if that guy is that my show on a Saturday night. [laughs]
You mentioned listening to people. Is that where a lot of your ideas come from?
I love going to coffee shops and just sitting and listening. Mama will say this to me if she ever goes with me, she’ll say, “I don’t know why I come with you and sit with you because you’re not listening.” I’ll say, “Mama, did you hear that?” She’ll say, “No, I didn’t hear that!” [laughs] But I can’t help it. And if I can’t hear it, if I can watch somebody’s body language what the other person, I make up stories in my head about what’s going on.
What are your goals with the new album?
I just want to have fun again and not worry so much about, “Is this the right song?” I need to worry, “Does the song hit me emotionally?” Because if it does then it probably will my fans because they feel that when I feel it. I’m in the same headspace where I was with the first [album] where you don’t think anything but “this is fun and this is what I want to do, the songs are me.” I’d love some radio station to say “we love this song” but to love it because it’s me, not because it sounds a certain way. But it’s kind of coming full circle for me. Getting back to who I am, who I was.