Julien Baker will turn 21 soon. That means the singer-songwriter won’t have to get creative anymore when she plays gigs at bars, like her recent stop in Odgen, Utah.
"I had to play on a roof because I could not set foot in the bar being underage," Baker says. "To get to the stage, I had to climb up through a fire escape."
Baker is a veteran performer despite her age. Since she was 16, she’s played in bands and now as a solo artist with the debut album “Sprained Ankle.”
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There’s been some growing pains along the way, apart from just getting into bars. She’s tried to balance playing music with pursuing a college degree.
But since she released “Sprained Ankle,” she’s had more offers to play shows. That’s made it harder to keep up with her schoolwork.
A recent gig in California was a breaking point.
"I typed my paper on the flight, the red eye from L.A., landed, drove to class and turned in the paper, and I had not slept from getting off stage. It was insanity."
So, she decided this summer to put her English literature studies at Middle Tennessee State University on hold.
But words are still very important to her -- especially her song lyrics. Her album depicts her struggles with depression and substance abuse.
The Tennessee native is careful to not sugarcoat any of these painful themes.
"I don’t want to glamorize the romanticized bearing of scars that I think contributes to this cyclical cultural obsession with darkness in a way that isn't healthy."
And she doesn’t divulge the specific meaning behind her lyrics. Because the English major in her knows that words -- whether on a page or sung from a rooftop -- are always open to interpretation.
"The listener has the final word, and the song is about whatever it’s about to you. I hope people will take something of understanding, validation and comfort in it. Not just abysmal nihilism."
Baker hopes to finish her degree one day. But for now, she’s playing shows full time --whether they're inside the club or up on the roof.
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