Life Wisdom From Julien Baker
20-year-old Tennessee native Julien Baker wrote and recorded her debut album Sprained Ankle in between taking college classes at MTSU. Weaving themes of loneliness, mortality, faith, and addiction together into one heart-achingly beautiful record, these songs reveal the deepest, darkest parts of the human soul. It's the kind of stuff that Julien originally felt comfortable sharing with her friends back home, but not necessarily the world. So when the album took off and gained both critical and popular acclaim, she decided to own the fact that her most intimate, raw feelings were suddenly lines that fans would sing back to her at shows. And judging from her success—and a new spring tour—she's doing a pretty great job at it. Just before she hit the road, Julien called to tell us about being "mistakenly brave" and her tried-and-true advice for conquering your demons.
I wrote these songs thinking that 10 friends in the living room who lived the experiences with me would hear them. I recorded a demo of “Go Home” on this crappy equipment and sent it to the two people it was about. It was like, “Hey, thanks for being my friend even though I was crappy, and here’s this song.” It was a letter to them, sort of. And then it became this very public thing. I had this artistic liberty because I thought that nobody was listening, and then everyone started listening, and it was like, “Oh, God…”
But I think that it’s taught me a lot of lessons in being open and being honest. I’m not calling myself brave, because I did it by mistake. And honestly, I wouldn’t have done it if I thought that thousands of people were going to listen. But by baring that part of yourself, it’s an invitation to other people to not be so guarded about things they might be embarrassed about. The first tour that I did on this record, I couldn't decide if I should perform “Rejoice.” Then afterward, this kid sent me a DM on Instagram and said “I’m really glad you performed that song and it meant a lot to me.”
So I decided that from that point on, no matter how embarrassed I feel or how much my selfish pride wants me to stay safe, I’m not going to pay attention. That’s just a lesson in getting over Julien Baker’s pride, and recognizing what it could mean for someone else. I’m not setting myself up as some crazy evangelist for emotional health, but I think it’s worth it—being honest—even if it is a little scary. It’s perfectly OK to acknowledge feelings that you have that might not necessarily reflect what you think all the time.
Often when I’m talking to my friends, I’ll say my “emotion brain” or my “logic brain.” I think that sometimes we say to ourselves, like, “God, why did I ruin everything?!” But I don't want to feel like that all the time, and I don't want to seem like a self-indulgent person for saying that. When you admit that these feelings are real, it’s not about being an exhibitionist—in saying it out loud, they lose some of their power.
Admitting that you have negative thoughts about yourself needs to be coupled with the desire to improve. I think there is a really keen difference between self-analysis and self-deprecation. You can be self-aware enough to say, “This is a real emotion, and this is how I feel, but everyday is a new day and a chance to be better.” That’s how you have to look at life.