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Music

Interview: Julia Michaels

The Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter sat down to talk with The Galleon ahead of her tours with Niall Horan and Maroon 5

Check the liner notes, the acknowledgements, and most crucially, the songwriting credits on some of the biggest records and singles of the past five years, and you’ll find Julia Michaels popping up with great regularity. Michaels has worked with some of the music industry’s biggest artists, contributing to Justin Bieber’s ‘Sorry’ and ‘Friends’, Selena Gomez’s ‘Hands to Myself’ and ‘Good for You’ and Ed Sheeran’s ‘Dive’. Such is Michaels’ agile touch around pen and paper, she has also stretched her collaborators list far beyond conventional pop, working with the likes of Linkin Park, John Legend and Janelle Monae.

But with her breakthrough hit, the lingering ‘Issues’, Michaels has overcome the difficult transition from songwriter to singer-songwriter. With her debut EP Nervous System out now and a full-length album set to follow, Michaels looks set to prove that she’s more than just pop royalty’s go-to hired gun.

If you had to live in an apartment with three other musicians, who would they be and why?
It would have to be… Judy Garland. Just because she’s so pure and so wonderful. Janis Joplin, because I love the way that she writes. Aaaaaaaaand Fiona Apple.

Do you prefer to stream your music or are you an old-school iPod/CD type?
I’m kinda both. If I find an artist that I like or if someone turns me on to something, I’ll stream it to see if I like it and then I’ll buy it. But yeah, kinda both.

Anyone you’ve been really getting into recently?
I really love LP, she’s super talented. I love Keaton Henson, also really talented. Kind of more like singer-songwriter vibes, I think.

What’s your favourite song you’ve written for someone else and why?
I get this question quite a lot and I know that it sounds like a cop out, but honestly I’m just so grateful that I can do what I love everyday. Every song that I get to be a part of is special to me. They’re all important to me.

You’ve obviously got a bit of a knack for songwriting, but do you have a routine, a place or a process that helps you get in the zone?
Not really, it depends on the day. Some days I’ll have appointments where I’ll bring a song to someone or I’ll write something really simple on a piano and then I’ll bring it to somebody. Sometimes I’ll get the chords down and go on the mic and record something down. So it really just depends on my mood and how I feel that day.

Have you found that you consciously take a different approach to writing for yourself and writing for other people?
I try to just bring out the best in everybody as much as I can. My job as a songwriter is to help someone who can’t articulate how they feel and put their puzzle pieces together with them. And when it’s just me writing for myself, it’s just me solely looking at my own psyche and figuring out what I wanna write about. When I’m with another artists we don’t just sit down and start writing. We talk for a little while and just get to know each other a little bit. I think a lot of the songs just come more naturally when you’re just talking to somebody and listening.

A lot of the tracks you’ve worked on are straight-up pop but your track ‘Issues’ is quite unique in the way it addresses your personal issues so candidly. It’s such a great, open track but it’s also unusual for something like that be a big hit. Why do you think it’s made such a lasting connection with so many people?
I think it’s had such a lasting connection because I don’t think a lot of songs talk about being openly flawed and admitting that they have these issues – no pun intended. Being a jealous person or a possessive person or being a certain way in a relationship, people don’t wanna admit they are like that even though a lot of the time we are. And I think that’s why it’s resonated so much with so many people. It’s just the truth.

The last year has really seen you propelled into the spotlight as not only a songwriter but a singer as well. I’ve read that you’ve been apprehensive about stepping into the spotlight but is it something you’re getting used to and enjoying more as time passes?
Definitely. I think being around fans and performing in front of them and seeing them sing with me makes me feel so much more calm and content on stage. I think I’ve always had a lot of problems with stage fright because I’m always so nervous that people are gonna judge me. And when you write these songs that are super personal to you it’s like people are judging you on your emotions and your own personal experiences and that can be really overwhelming and really scary. So when I see people singing them back to me I think “okay, you must be experiencing the same things that I am”. If you feel the need to learn them or memorise them and come to the show and sing it with me then I don’t feel so alone up there.

If you could write a song with one musician you haven’t worked with yet, who would it be?There’s this artist that I really love called Fink, so probably them.

You were recently nominated for two Grammys including the coveted ‘Song of the Year’. Was it surreal waking up to that news?
Oh yeah, it was super surreal. It was even more surreal the way that it happened because my manager had woken me up in a dead sleep while we were in Australia. So it took me a little bit to come to and realise why she was jumping and crying on me haha. Once I realised, I just couldn’t believe it. She couldn’t believe it. We were just so over the moon that we couldn’t believe it. It took a few days to really set in.

What was it like at the actual Grammys? Was it an experience you enjoyed or was it really nerve-wracking? Or both?
I really love this kind of stuff and being there but this was the first time I was actually on the floor. I’m usually somewhere else so that was really cool getting be with a bunch of people I really look up to and admire. It was definitely a different experience because I normally just get to sit there and just watch and commentate. This year I had some wardrobe malfunctions that we had to fix and then some more wardrobe malfunctions and a bunch of things that could go wrong went wrong but it was really awesome to even be there and know that I’m there as an artist and being respected by my peers. It was a really incredible feeling.

I read that your older sister is also a songwriter. Has she played a part in inspiring you to become a songwriter as well?
I don’t think she inspired me to become a songwriter but I think she maybe inspired me to become an artist. She always wanted to be the artist and I wanted to be the songwriter. I think just watching her love her music over the years as a kid inspired me to push through it.

You’ve released a few EPs now, is a full-length album in the works at the moment?
Oh definitely. We have some new music coming very soon and an album to follow very closely after. I have been working with the usual suspects – my co-writer Justin Tranter and doing a lot of work with producers from my previous record.

Photo Credits: Refinery29 and GQ

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