Juleah’s Shimmering Road is an album born from the influence of the shoegaze, psychedelia and Britpop artists we all adore. It’s the result of a year of perfectionistic crafting and its replay value ignites from the first track, rather than the last. Not only does it boast guitars swimming in reverb as well those ambling with bluesy swagger, it layers them with sweet and sultry female vocals.
But there’s something else that makes this album spectacular, and indeed unlike most others: it’s lone, tireless creator isn’t a musician by occupation and worked full-time for the entire duration of her debut album’s conception.
Juleah is a social worker from rural Austria and her self-released Shimmering Road is the product of a year of painstaking dedication which saw her write and record her debut album in her spare time, piecing it together take-by-take, track-by-track.
So how does one overcome a lack of practice and a fear of failure in order to write, record and release an album, relying almost entirely on only themselves – while working full-time? Juleah recently spoke to Britpop News to explain exactly how it all unfolded.
Describing Britpop as her “musical home”, Juleah admits that British music has had a tremendous influence on her from the beginning of her musical formation.
“In my youth, I identified very strongly with the Britpop movement, although no one in my environment could comprehend that. I felt a very strong connection to British music, starting with becoming an Oasis fan, also adoring The Verve, The Stone Roses, Blur, Kula Shaker, the La’s, Primal Scream, Radiohead, Travis, early Coldplay and Kasabian.
“Later I discovered psychedelic rock and was totally excited about it. That is where my heart is and what I want to do. Psychedelic rock is a very wide field, and not everyone has the same understanding of that genre. I am not very fond of this type of psychedelia or stoner rock where the songs are eight minutes or longer, where there‘s not much structure. Concerning that, my “roots” of Britpop and shoegaze are strongly noticeable.”
While Shimmering Road is a debut steeped in psychedelia, it does indeed lend itself heavily to the conventions of a Britpop or shoegaze album. With ten tracks averaging three or four minutes in length, Shimmering Road packs in its purpose tightly.
True to its namesake, Oceanride is the beautiful, shoegazing trip of Shimmering Road. Layers of sweet, exhaled vocals echo around steady rhythms and reverb-drenched guitars, giving way at times to let the soul-searching riffs rise above the contemplative fuzz.
From the bluesy swagger of Spirit Flowing On, to the subtle harmonica in Town of Abidance and the heavy percussion and driving, crunchy guitars of Learn to the Love the Sun, Shimmering Road also oozes the darker prowess of a grittier rock and roll played in the vein of another of Juleah’s influences, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
Beyond rhythm and power, it’s the pairing of gentle vocals and washed-out guitars that gives Shimmering Road consistency as it traverses through subtle stylistic differences. While both are led by sultry vocals, Imprisoned powers through verses with driving guitars while Anticipation’s slower tempo allows for slightly more meticulous, unassuming riffs to close the album with stamina that mirrors the sentiment the album.
Hearing an album so comprehensively formulated and cohesively executed, it’s easy to forget just how little professional experience Juleah has as a musician. Having learnt guitar in music school as an eight year old, Juleah eventually bought her first electric guitar and a cheap amplifier but ultimately gave up music by the time she was 19. Mindful of this, she originally thought her lack of experience would keep her from completing Shimmering Road to the standards she had set herself.
“In all the years I always admired songwriters but I never tried because I was sure I would collapse by means of my own high expectations as soon as I would try. But one day a song just evolved out of nothing, out of just jamming along, and that was the start of writing my own music.”
After the seeds of her musical awakening had sprouted, given the cultural context of rural Austria, it was only natural that Juleah would turn to the internet to pursue music.
“I don’t know if I would have even started if there would be no internet. Since I don’t play live, it’s the best way of finding an audience. And I believe it’s also the better way, because over the internet, you have excellent ways of finding exactly the audience who might like your music.”
Indeed, the internet is where it all began for Juleah. Seven years after having basically given up music as a 19 year old, Juleah turned to YouTube where she posted covers of songs by the likes of Oasis, Kasabian and the Brian Jonestown Massacre.
“When I was in a difficult time of my life, I started doing these cover ‘projects’. It was a little like therapy for me. It kept me busy and I just knew that I had it in myself.”
What makes these covers spectacular is the precision of the work that goes into them. Juleah records herself playing each required instrument and brings each recording together with the use of split-screen video editing to create the surprisingly cohesive and undoubtedly impressive covers. Soon, the covers became international efforts: correspondence over Last.fm and YouTube led to musicians from Germany, France and Italy to join Juleah in covering several songs by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
“When we did the covers, we started with the drum track and the others would record their parts while listening to it. We would exchange the files over the internet. The person who did the mix got all the recorded tracks in wav-format and mixed them together . . . It worked out really well and opened wonderful doors.”
Pleased with the success of the cover projects, and ever-inspired by the artists she loves and the more general experiences of life, Juleah began throwing around ideas for her own songs. More recently, she has a new inspiration.
“The wonderful sound that is coming out of my Fender Blues Junior inspires me a lot. It really lets me close my eyes and lets my mind wander. That special moment when you recognise one guitar part fitting to another so well, or when one melody goes along with a chords structure so wonderfully, that’s the moment when a song is born and it’s just magic. It’s a wonderful feeling that makes me very happy.”
This love of creation Juleah harbours is ultimately what led to her recording and releasing her self-titled EP in March of 2012 with the help of Emanuele Navigli of Punchcake Productions.
“I was very satisfied with it, but nevertheless, I didn’t want to stop, I wanted to write more songs and better songs. I don’t know why, maybe because there was not that much reaction to it. It was a spontaneous decision that my next release would consist of a whole bunch of songs and I also had the exact number of 10 in my mind.
“I started in April 2012 and I knew that it would take a long time until the album would be finished and it took a lot of patience from me. The aspect of self-releasing was also clear to me. Although it’s a lot of work, the technical possibilities are so good nowadays that someone who has patience in learning about all that technical stuff and is able to spend a little money can implement their ideas exactly as they want, getting astonishing results and creating exactly the sound they like.”
For Juleah, creating exactly the sound she likes begins with a guitar.
“When I start writing a song, I start jamming with my guitar. First I always need a guitar sound I like, that’s the essential origin for me concerning songwriting. When I don’t have that, I cannot even start.
“Then I start playing some chord structures, maybe already humming a melody or even some lyrics coming to my mind. I then define the chord structure of the song on paper before I record it. The next step is the drums, which I have to program. That can take 4, 5 hours or more.”
With the basis of the song completed, Juleah proceeds from here, adding guitar parts, solos, bass, organs and vocals. She notes that songwriting and recording happens at essentially the same time, and that in most cases, final lyrics come last.
“I always postpone that to the end because that’s the part I have most difficulty with.
“When you write and sing your own lyrics, you are exposing yourself a lot more than if you would ‘just’ play guitar in a band. I’m generally not the type who wants to stand in the spotlight, maybe that’s the reason I’m shy with the lyrics.
“I’m just not a person who makes music because she wants to bring a verbal message across. I want to transport the feeling mainly through the music, but I have realised that powerful lyrics with nice sounding syllables at the right place can raise the quality of a song immensely, so I always sit on the lyrics for quite a while because I want to do it well.”
Juleah compares her painstaking style of recording to building a house of cards (“where I add something here and another thing there, but always being careful that it’s not too much”), but even mixing took “quite a long time”, she explains.
Finding that she lacked a certain distance from her songs and constantly found things she wanted to improve about them, Juleah realised her friend Rene (who played electric guitar and programmed drums and organs on several tracks and mixed and mastered much of the album) had a more objective ear.
“When I gave my friend Rene the songs for mixing, he did it like he thought it was right, and you wouldn’t believe how much opinions can differ when it comes to the question of how a song should sound.
“The most simple example is (and that occurred quite often), that I always wanted more reverb on just about anything and he had to slow me down a little bit. And in most cases, I am very glad now that I listened to him. So it was very, very valuable having someone experienced helping me.”
Juleah jokes that Rene had to “endure a lot” and that she “really got on his nerves” but the sheer time-frame of the album’s recording makes it clear that the endurance was not one-sided. Tackling a 40-hour work week, the process of creating Shimmering Road was slow for Juleah and took place mainly on Sundays after a day of rest that allowed her creative energy to begin to flow after a full working week.
Since February, Juleah works 35-hour weeks which has made her situation “a little better”, though she can still reflect on the difficulty of crafting her debut.
“A daily full-time job is a rigid structure, where creativity doesn’t fit in well. It doesn’t start to flow, just because now it’s 5 o’clock. … On Sunday in the evening, I would be completely engaged in the recording processes, with so much joy and fun that I didn’t notice how the time went by, and suddenly it was late evening and I had to force myself to stop and go to bed because of work the next day. The feeling of not having enough time for music was very frustrating.”
A lack of time led to a painstakingly slow pace of recording. Each song took about one month to complete, and faltering motivation hampered the process further. Juleah admits the creation of music led to an almost crippling investment of thought and energy, and that motivation “was a constant struggle within [herself]”. However, it was her “indelible will to finish” as well as her perfectionism that drove her and constantly moved the project forward.
“My perfectionism moves me towards recording everything as often until it is – in my opinion – perfect or at least as good as I possibly can. Even if it takes 50 takes or more. Especially the vocal parts. It’s not just the perfect recording of the parts, I also am striving, to achieve exactly the sound that I have in mind.”
And as for the future?
“I don’t have very big ambitions at the moment. I admire every artist who aspires make a living with his art, but in the music business, that seems to be a very tough road. So although that would be cool, for the moment I choose to keep it as my favourite hobby and secret destiny.
“Of course it would be wonderful finding people near me who like the same kind of music, who I could play with, but if not, I’ll continue like I did until now. The main goal is keeping the enjoyment of making music and sharing it with others. Music has given me so much in my life, and it’s a wonderful feeling to participate and giving something back .”
You can download – for free or any price you name – Shimmering Road and Juleah EP from Juleah’s BandCamp page: http://juleah.bandcamp.com/