Julien Baker is an American singer-songwriter who has become a critical darling for her bold, new take on folk music. Baker’s music is often described as spare, provoking deep emotions in her listeners, who find both vulnerability and a fragile strength in the lyrics and melodies. Baker has had an incredible impact on the music scene for someone still so young. Here are some facts about Baker’s journey so far.
She Started Recording as a Teen
Baker started her recording career as a teen. While attending school at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU), Baker recorded both a solo album and an album with her band Forrister. The Forrister album, American Blues, was recorded in 12-hour chunks in the middle of the night at the MTSU studios. She traveled between school in Murfreesboro and her hometown of Memphis, taking the Greyhound Bus while she was attending college. Her solo album, Sprained Ankle, was also written while she was a student at MTSU in 2014.
She Majored in English Literature
Baker toured in support of her debut solo effort while still in college, selling CDs she burned herself. Baker majored in English literature, and her literary background was evident on Sprained Ankle, which was more folksy than the rockabilly/punk vibe of Forrister. Baker is reverent about Spanish literature and had a Spanish minor. She described Gabriel García Márquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude” as a reminder of God’s existence. “It’s like that part of the novel where the people in the town forget everything and someone puts up a sign that says ‘God Exists,’ ” she told the New York Times during an interview that took place in her dorm room.
Her Success Was a Surprise
Baker recorded Sprained Ankle when she was an unsigned freshman at MTSU. The album was originally released on Bandcamp in 2014. In 2015, the music seemed to catch the ear of everyone from NPR to the New York Times. The album wound up as one of the year’s 10 best albums on Pitchfork, the NYT and Rolling Stone.
She Grew Up in a Christian Household
Baker was raised in the middle of the Bible Belt, in an extremely Christian home. Although she feared being turned out of the house when she came out to her parents at age 17, her father surprised her by pulling out the Bible verses which showed her she was not going to hell.
Her Friends Were Sent to Gay Conversion Camps
Baker’s friends were sent to anti-gay conversion camps. One friend was even sent to “Refuge,” a now-defunct conversion camp in Los Angeles that was supposed to teach people to “pray away the gay.”
Her Songs Start as Diary Entries
Baker said that her songwriting process often begins with diary entries. She starts with a guitar lick and then adds words in a stream of consciousness.
Her Second Album Explores Sobriety
Baker’s first album explored both mental illness and substance abuse. Her second album, 2017’s Turn Out the Lights (Matador) explores sobriety. The familiar questions about God and existence are filtered about the struggle and promise of recovery, and the emergence of romantic partners.