A few months ago Baltimore noise pop band Teen Suicide broke up, and I’m pretty sure you could hear the cries from the Absolute Punk forums in space. They didn’t really say why they decided to call it quits, but as it turned out the sting would be fleeting, for a new band would rise from the ashes, a band called Julia Brown. With friends Alec Simke (also of Teen Suicide) and John Toohey on board, Sam set out to wipe the slate clean and put a different kind of energy out into the world. And yet for all of the rejoicing, questions remained—questions that needed answering. So I sat down with Sam (on Facebook) to get the inside scoop.
Ladies and gentlemen, introducing: Julia Brown.
I think at this point most everyone knows who you are, but do you want to introduce yourself anyway?
Sure sure. I’m Sam Ray. I record on and off as Ricky Eat Acid along with a few other projects. I played in Teen Suicide for a while before we broke up. I enjoy reading and basketball.
Teen Suicide ended kind of unceremoniously. I know that personally I had a lot of questions about it and I know that a lot of others did too. Mind clearing things up a bit?
Yeah as best as I can haha. I think the actual reasons for it ending will probably remain more or less secret, but there’s no bad blood between any of us and no real musical differences or anything like that. You could say it was just kind of time to move on and it happened to coincide with a point in my life when fronting a band called Teen Suicide was a bit less appealing than it used to be maybe. I guess in some ways we were just starting to get more “known,” and I never intended for that to happen as much as it did, and I wasn’t sure how to feel about a lot of people hearing our music, especially without the context it gets if you’re friends with us. Moving on to a band with a much better/more serious/more mature image, sound, and name was pretty appealing for a while and things happened to work out that we could do pretty much that.
OK so that’s what you meant on the Teen Suicide page when you said “if you liked teen suicide cause of pop songwriting and melody you’ll probably like the new band but if you just liked the really over-dramatic drug addict depression catharsis stuff you’ll be disappointed and I’m glad.”
Haha yeah. Maybe we’ll shake some people off with that, who knows. I think a lot of people who might not have picked up on the themes or subtext of our music might have used it to glorify things we were condemning through our songs, and I don’t want that at all.
So where did the name Julia Brown come from? Apparently you share the Last.fm page with a classically trained organist.
Haha and a singer songwriter who has a song called “Ayn Rand”. Julia Brown is a friend of ours/someone we know and she has a great name. I’ve wanted to name a band Julia Brown for a long time and a lot of people I’ve pitched the idea to wanted to as well.
If there’s one thing I’ve noticed about you since we’ve known each other is that you really value your friendships. You even had a few of these friends make guest appearances on the album?
Yeah I think we sort of accidentally made a big anti-internet album somehow. A ton of our friends appear on it but everything was recorded together in person. Mat Cothran (Coma Cinema, Elvis Depressedly), Delaney Mills (Young Mumbles), Justin Blackburn from South Carolina were all visiting when we had the last Teen Suicide show so we had them all appear on songs. Abby and Ryan from Pill Friends in Philly did the same when I was either in Philly or they were in Maryland. My friend Aaron Castro who I’ve known for a long, long time sings some harmonies with me—we’ve been singing together since we met. Caroline, of course, plays viola and sings on songs, etc.
It’s interesting that you say “anti-internet” because I get that feeling a lot from your projects. The production quality is super lo-fi, the artwork routinely looks handmade, and you always release the music for free.
Haha I appreciate that and I’m glad you notice. Lo-fi has always been a weird and fitting choice, but I think we have plans to move out of that in the (near) future. This first release was originally supposed to be a 4-song EP that was lo-fi but it snowballed into 8. I think that’s about the limit for the recording method on it. Not that it’s hard to listen to I think, nothing grating, but definitely more distinctive for it. The artwork is pretty much always handmade for all of the releases I’ve done, at least after a certain point. A lot more work goes into that aspect than I think people realize.
There’s already been a huge reaction to the news of the new band. Your album was even included on a most anticipated albums list alongside artists like Justin Timberlake, The Knife, and My Bloody Valentine. And yet all of this is basically just banking on your name. Did you expect that at all?
Not really but this is the first time I’m trying to take things seriously with music instead of doing it solely for fun and not really promoting anything outside of friends. I was pretty shocked at the responses to it (mostly just private emails and stuff so far I guess but also that list), but it’s kind of validating in a non-arrogant (hopefully) way. Just like doing all your own press is a ton of work and is really discouraging, so finding out people have been paying attention and know who you are prior to talking to them and like your album is really cool and makes me feel like I should keep trying instead of sinking back into like internet oblivion. But I guess responses aren’t as weird from people who’ve gotten to hear it—banking on name alone is odd but I think it’s what we’ve got to count on until we have a lot of music online, so I’m not upset about it.
Well you had a track sort of “leak” on Mat Cothran’s blog today and the reaction has been pretty positive. I don’t think you have anything to worry about.
Haha oh yeah I actually had Mat post that. Faux-leak. I figured since it was a ‘friends record’ in recording I’d let it be a ‘friends record’ in the way it first appeared online. Something dirty about hosting your own music, ya know?
Not personally, no, but I think I know what you mean.
Haha yeah I’m being kind of facetious but I do dislike the idea of hosting only one song on Bandcamp at a time.
Oh, I hate that.
Yeah there’s something dirty about it. So I figured we’d just Mediafire host it and direct people to Mat’s blog. A little counterproductive to host on Tumblr in an effort to break away from being a ‘Tumblr-core’ kind of band, but I’m taking risks here, Ian.
So the album is finished and waiting in the wings, yeah? I’m sure that people want to know when it’s going to drop.
The goal is by the end of February. I think it’s a pretty spring-y album. Like early, early March kinda vibes, so that’d be perfect. It would also be the right amount of time to get a physical release in order and hopefully have more people aware of it.
How are you guys releasing it?
Physically? The plan is for a tape (with cool cover ideas) and then possibly a 7″ with a couple songs from it on it. I can talk more about both in the future I think. Don’t wanna jinx it.
OK, so what are you guys going to be doing in the meantime?
Well, practicing a ton and getting ready to book some shows soon hopefully. Writing new stuff (got a few demos going on) and we have some big plans that are kind of secret too.
Cool. Well, do you have anything else you wanna add?
Yeah I think it’s just cool to note how this album existed kind of a while before the band did. I think you of all people know how I kind of get fixated on a project—work on it very intensely for a very short time, get it done, am charmed by the outcome, and release it, flaws and all. But this one was the result of a long, deliberate process of planning, demo-ing, trying things out live, playing around with different people, etc etc.
“tv show” for example, I wrote in March, started playing live in April, the ending of the song (like the very last bit with just keyboard and viola) was recorded in April at a practice session. The bulk of the real recording was done over the summer, with my vocals and Aaron’s harmony being added in December. The big, lush part of the ending was recorded live in October. That song existed as a finished product at any given time in many forms since April, some of them very hi-fi, and some way more lo-fi than this. But I never showed anyone it or released it beyond the initial demo, because I thought it deserved better than just going straight to Tumblr or Facebook or whatever.
Other songs had a similar, though shorter, process with rough versions being recorded over the summer, or played as Teen Suicide songs before we broke up, or sketched out with different people live at different times. Things were thought about for a long time. Some songs existed as nearly finished final products but had to wait month to have a bass line or vocal part added by different people. A couple songs we had to wait like a month before we could even have drums recorded (and considering we were doing drums first, that meant doing nothing to them in that time). This allowed for a ton of downtime where I played around with the demos or arrangements of things or just the mix and got things pretty exact.
Yeah, that certainly is a change of pace for you. Not to mention the proper capitalization on the band name. Maybe some day you’ll work that same respect for grammar into the track names.
Yeah one day. Maybe after that aforementioned secret project is completed we’ll start capitalizing things more “I want to be a witch” doesn’t have the same ring to it though. Maybe ‘I wanna be a witch.’
True. OK, well I think that about covers it. What do you say?
Sounds great to me. I think this actually went super well. We have a great awkward chemistry thing. We’d be a cool TV show probably.
I’d watch it.
I wouldn’t give you the satisfaction.
Curated by Cactus-Mouth.