By Deb Draisin
Queens native Julia Wolf (also known by her stage name, Wolf) is a relative newcomer on the scene with her self-proclaimed ďgothic babe/shy girlĒ approach to songwriting. Her sophomore album Good Thing We Stayed (which dropped on January 13) is already receiving a positive buzz from reviewers, and the previously released track, ďGothic Babe TendenciesĒ, earned kudos as well. A decade ago, Julia's family almost moved to Italy to open a pizzeria, but her father insisted that the family stay behind and instead have Julia focus on her talents. That investment paid off when Julia was chosen by Spotify's Fresh Finds program and found herself plastered on a billboard in Times Square.We sat down with Julia to discuss her new EP and mini-tour.
Q: First question, right off the bat - as I was reviewing some of the other interviews that youíve done - what was it about whatever you were radiating at the time made your father realize that pizzamaking wasnít going to be for you?
J: (laughing) Oh, manÖI mean, heís just played such a supportive role in my life: driving me to all of my open mic nights Ė I used to do those five times a week.
J: Yeah, like after work. He used to pick me up from the studio at 1 a.m., weíd go home, and then we always had to leave again at 4 a.m. to go to work. He worked in Brooklyn, but he would have to drive me to the train. It was a crazy moment in time, when he was kind of in it with me, and he saw how much I was trying to put into this. And so, because of that, he just knew that, if we ended up going to Italy to make pizza, that there wasnít going to be too much outside of that, that it was going to be way more consuming, running a business, than we had both realized. He just believed that the music was going to amount to something for me. At the time, I was livid Ė I was so angry with him for taking that away Ė but he did the right thing. I met Jackson two months later.
Q: I read about that. Itís like your dad put his own dreams on hold because he believed in what you were doing that much. He bought you your first baby grand when you were seven?
J: Oh my gosh, yeah (giggles)! I forget what I say sometimes. Yes, I was seven years old, I came downstairs, and there it was. There it was.
Q: How did he know? Does musical inclination just run in your family? Or do you think he sensed something off of you? Because thatís really early.
J: Well, that was me, just begging to start piano lessons. I didnít know to what extent heíd go for it. It was this weird timing thing where a friend of friend was moving out of their apartment, and didnít have a place for it, so he gave it to us.
Q: That was destiny. This was going to have to happen, the stars were aligning.
J: Yeah, I know. And to answer your other question: music, on my fatherís side, nothing Ė he knows nothing about music. But my mother used to be in a band when she was seventeen or eighteen.
Q: Oh okay, it comes from momís side of the family then.
J: Definitely Mama, yeah.
Q: Interesting, so you got the bug from Mom, in a way, and Dad just really believed in you, so he pushed you that way. And so, which of your experiences at SUNY (or during your gap year) helped you decide not to pursue classical piano, but rather just getting into the world of writing pop songs instead?
J: I was studying classical piano, like super intensely, for that year, on and off. It was amidst my auditions to different schools that I found SUNY Purchase with a songwriting program. I truly didnít know that was a thing.
Q: I didnít, either, I was actually surprised to find that out. I thought they were just an art school.
J: Right, like it was just a completely new, modern approach toward studying music. And the excitement that I felt Ė things just clicked immediately, and I switched gears completely. Whatís so crazy about that is that I went to Ė I guess heís the head of that department Ė to speak with him about what writing songs professionally would be like, and I left that meeting in tears.
J: He shot me down so hard. This was before any audition, or anything. He was like ďI just need you to know that entering into this program means that thereís like a two percent chance that youíll end up actually doing music.Ē
Q: Why are these department heads this way? I had the same thing happen to me with the head of psychology at my school. They were so discouraging.
J: Yeah, itís horrible. I left that meeting just so lost and confused, I didnít know what to do. Thankfully, I just ignored him.
Q: Maybe thatís the answer.
J: Itís crazy, yeah, I have heard that similar story from many people.
Q: I donít know if itís because theyíre jaded
Q: Maybe thatís what it is: it didnít work out for them, so they assume that itís not going to work out for you, either. So, you have a shyness problem (I totally relate to that). Does that manifest itself at shows also, like, is it hard for you to talk to fans?
J: Actually, I think that seeing the fansí reactions, and hearing them sing along, having so much to say to me, has really brought me out of my shell.
Q: Oh yeah? Okay!
J: I think, if we were talking, you and I, like three years ago, I was a completely different person. Itís because of them, just hearing them, and reading all their messages about how the songs, and hearing me talk, is helping them, I just made a choice. I was like ďAlright, Iím going to force myself to keep putting myself out thereĒ, and itís gotten so much easier. Itís just so much fun meeting everyone.
Q: How does that translate to stage as well? As a solo artist, youíve got to carry that set, you have to talk to the crowd in between songs.
Q: How does that work for you, is it hard, or is it surprisingly easy?
J: Thatís definitely the most nerve-wracking part for me, like post-rehearsals, actually. As long as I get my dialogue out, and know what I want to say, then, when Iím onstage, I feel comfortable. But, to the artists out there who wing it, I hope that one day I can do that, too. Itís definitely what I aspire toward, but that makes me insanely nervous. If you just threw me out there, and I had no idea what I was going to say, Iíd black out completely.
Q: Have you ever had that happen to you? Have you ever gotten through an entire set having no idea what you said onstage?
J: (laughing) YeahÖout of pure nerves, the first couple of shows I did. Itís like you leave the stage. I had no idea how I did, or what I said. They went well, because youíre feeding off of the energy of the crowd. You just have to remind yourself that everyone in that room is rooting for you Ė no one wants to see you fail. So you just have to try and have fun with it. Iíve been fortunate enough not to have any crazy, just blank moments.
Q: Itís important to remember that itís supposed to be fun, right? Thatís the key component, I would imagine.
J: Yes, absolutely. During tour, I imagine that it will be so much fun.
Q: Are you looking forward to the tour? How do you feel?
J: (beaming) I feel like Iíve been waiting for this my whole life, pretty much. Just, like, getting messages about it daily, I donít know, I feel like the bands just really have my back with this, and itís very much a two-way street with them. I do want to meet the reason why we get to be here now; the reason why I get to put an album out. Itís literally because of them (editorís note: I believe she must be referring to Bronze Avery, her tourmates next month.)
Q: There are no doubt going to be people there who have been supporting you the entire time whom youíre going to get to meet for the first time, thatís going to be really cool.
J: Itís so cool! Weíre all flying in from different states just for these tiny venues.
D: Yeah, youíre in the honeymoon stage of this, youíre not jaded yet, like ďOh God, I donít want to travel anymore, I hate this!Ē Itís exciting in the beginning, because itís fresh, itís a brand new experience. And youíre going to learn so much about, like, your crew, all the people you work with. You see people in a very different light once you basically live together.
J: Yep, yep. Iím fortunate enough to be friends with these people, so at least theyíre not total strangers. But I have been in that predicament. When I opened up for Fletcher last year, those were some new people, and it definitely got...
D: Oh, was it awkward?
J: UmÖnot awkward, but some people have definitely got more negative approaches to problem-solving, like a pessimistic versus optimistic outlook. We try and keep it optimistic.
D: Which helps. Is it hard to play for someone elseís crowd? Is that nerve-wracking?
J: So, I thought it would be. When you get out there, initially, in every city, youíre going to see a lot of blank faces. Iím trying to focus, but Iím also wondering ďDoes everyone hate me right now? Everyoneís just waiting for the main act, no one caresĒ. But, actually, while I was at the merch booth (I had told everyone Iíd be there, if anyone wanted to hang out, or whatever), people would leave the spot that they had been waiting hours at to just come over and say hi.
D: Whoa, look at that! You picked up a couple of fans.
J: Yes, oh my gosh, yes! We picked up a ton of new supporters from that tour, it was very surprising to me.
Q: Thatís crucial information: if you know that you can crush it as an opener, then you know that you can carry a tour on your own. Is it difficult to transition from shrinking violet to strong advocate for yourself, especially when it comes to the quality of your music?
J: Yeah, there were so many years of sending my music out, and people taking it, then just switching it up, not listening to anything that I had to say. It was like that for a really long time Ė I just let people walk all over me, just do whatever. It was so frustrating, because internally, I knew that, first of all, this music is not going to go anywhere. Itís the worst feeling, when youíre sitting in a studio, and everyone around you is so excited, and thinks this is it, and Iím just like ďNo, this is never seeing the light of day.Ē So, I think I just got really fed up with that. Once I met Jackson, and he respected and listened to me, and was adding to the music, instead of changing it, it just opened my eyes up so much, like ďOh, this is how itís supposed to be.Ē I started standing up for myself a bit more Ė and when I was in those types of situations again, he and my manager, JP, really helped me with that. Itís been the three of us for so long now - but those boys remind me how important it is to know that it all starts with me.
Q: What is it about Jackson and JP that makes you all click so well?
J: Theyíre just such humble and kind people at their core. They will just knock down any door Ė theyíre always fighting for the project, they care so much about the music, and giving it a chance. Itís just something youíre born with, that type of compassion and sympathy. Like, some people would get it, when we say that weíre shy, but they donít really, and some people know how to actually help someone when theyíre shy, and get them out of that comfort zone in a non-intimidating way Ė and they get it. So, itís just worked so well.
Q: Iím glad you found a winning formula, because itís not easy out there.
J: Oh, it took years, but yeah.
Q: You know, people can be particularly hard on us, on female artists. We already come in with a disadvantage, like, itís doubly hard to be taken seriously. So, having somebody on your side is invaluable.
J: Yeah. There have been meetings when Iíve been stood up Ė is that because Iím the quiet wallflower type? I donít know.
Q: (nodding) Or is it because youíre a woman, or because youíre young?
J: Right, and Iíve also been in rooms with people who wanted to change up my look or the way that I act, have my music videos take on a more sexual narrativeÖlike, why, what are you doing?
Q: Trying to find a commercial way to market you, basically.
J: (laughing) Oh my God, you donít want to even see me try that! You will immediately take back what you said then.
Q: Yeah, the temptation to sexualize us in any type of PR way is overwhelming. We have to battle back against that constantly.
J: Yes, one hundred percent!
Q: Itís really irritating. And then, of course, the men who come to your shows will expect that. Have you ever had that experience, when maybe the audience was a bit hostile?
J: Actually, no, knock on wood. Fletcherís fanbase is mostly LGBTQ, mostly female, which was fantastic. They welcomed me with open arms, I was signing everyoneís boobs Ė it was such a great, safe space. My own shows have had a good mix of both guys and girls, but everyoneís been kind Ė so far, no bad eggs.
Q: At least until you start doing festivals Ė those are challenging. Youíve done one, havenít you?
J: I did Governorís Ball.
Q: What was that experience like?
J: We played earlier in the day. I think, when youíre an artist of my size, most of the people in my crowd either knew me, or had looked me up, so they wanted to be there. Instead of when, like Jack Harlowís crowd, later that night, like Oh my God! Heís one of my favorite artists, so I was excited to be there, and watch him, but Iím hearing the people around me critiquing him while heís onstage. Some people were yelling ďGet off!Ē Like, this is my favorite artist, Iíve known him for years, and Iíve got these teenyboppers next to me screaming because theyíre waiting for their artist to come on, and itís infuriating. Festivals are tough, yeah.
Q: They are. Iíve heard of bands getting bottled, having peopleís urine land on them.
J: People throwing stuff, yeah, horrible! And who knows what people are on?
Q: Everything. Youíre up to over 500,000 listeners, and counting, on Spotify, currently Ė what do you think it is about your music thatís resonating with people Ė and with women, in particular? I know that youíve talked about actively cultivating that relationship.
J: Totally, yeah. I really made it a point, in my discography Ė at least up until this point Ė to use those words like ďshyĒ, ďquietĒ. I want to let listeners know that I am trying to go after the things I want most in life, like this career, but itís all written through the lens of someone with anxiety. I try to really put that message out there, on socials too. Just talking about it, I feel like people can really identify with it. To see that if Iím breaking out of my shell, and Iím standing up, writing these tracks, then they feel that much more encouraged to do the same.
Q: Youíre creating a safe space for people.
Q: Thatís important. Youíve stated that you want audiences who are watching your videos to understand what itís like to live in your world. If you could describe what that world was like to people, what would you say?
J: Ooh! Iíd say that a large part of my world is imaginative. Iím a big horror genre gal, so anything scary, gothic, not of this world, is kind of my vibe - I like really diving into that, in my visuals. I want people to kind of escape this reality for a second, and just have fun remembering to believe in what else is out there Ė and yourself. Itís three parts that, one part ďGilmoure GirlsĒ wholesome and family-oriented, but just kind of working on ourselves.
Q: Where did all of that come from? Because you mostly listen to rap.
J: (laughing) Yeah, I know. I think the goth aspect happened when I was in middle school Ė I took on that sort of look, because, when my words failed me, I could let my clothing tell people that Iím much more hardcore than this.
Q: So, for you, it was like a disguise?
J: Yes, totally, it was a way to present myself without having to speak it out loud.
Q: Can I meet the dog thatís on that couch behind you?
J: This is Malfoy! Letís see the baby before we go.
Q: Hi Buddy! Aw, heís so cute.
J: Mal! Heís resting.
Q: Is he a bulldog?
J: English bulldog, yeah.
J: We just drove down to Florida, we came back last night because of him.
Q: Do you think youíre going to take him on the road with you?
J: Oh no, no. Heís attached to my sister anyway.
Q: Well, for the last question that I have today, what would you like readers to take away from this interview? What do you want people to know about you, your songs?
J: The main point of my upcoming album is: itís all about the journey of how we got here, going after what you want most deeply, and understanding that you wouldnít go after these things if you didnít believe in yourself first. As that shy person, like, if I can do it, I just need them to know that, literally, anyone else can, but you have to keep going, and just betting on yourself. Iím excited to get the music out there, because I also made it a point not to use the word ďshyĒ on this album. Like, all those buzzwords, weíre not doing that, but instead, explaining what that really means, to go after those things as that kind of person. I just hope they feel seen.
Q: I do, too, have a wonderful tour, it was nice to meet you, Julia!
J: You too, thank you so much for this!