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Julie Christensen


Julie Christensen has honed her chameleon craft. In hundreds of shows, she has sung Joan of Arc to Leonard Cohen's flame. She's also sung with Steve Wynn, John Doe, Exene Cervenka, Lou Reed and Van Dyke Parks. With Chris D., she headed up the post-punk rock band Divine Horsemen. Others utilizing Julie's kaleidoscope talents have been as far-flung as Iggy Pop, PiL, Robben Ford, and k.d. lang. Her two acclaimed independent Stone Cupid albums are a soulful hybrid of jazz and folk.

Among Christensen’s present musical activities, her connection to Leonard Cohen’s world continues, as a featured member of the Cohen song projects produced by Hal Willner. The tribute’s Sydney Opera House concerts became the core of the acclaimed documentary, Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man, featuring Christensen and her long-time ally Perla Batalla on the classic Cohen song ‘Anthem’.

The Came So Far for Beauty concert series in fact held two performances in Dublin, Ireland in October 2006, and Julie again participated, performing a fiery Joan of Arc with Lou Reed, which was reprised at his show in Santa Barbara in November.

Julie is making a re-entry into her solo career. She's recorded two new albums at once: One is Something Familiar, a collection of standards, ballads, and blues. The other, produced with members of Santa Barbara's Headless Household, is Where the Fireworks Are, a rock album of the poetry of emotion and politics stirred up together. Contributors include drummer Kenny Wollesen and bassist Don Falzone, also part of Came So Far for Beauty, and pianist Karen Hammack, a mainstay of all Julie's music.



Q: Do you think of your lyrics as poetry?


A: Poetry is very different from song. In a song, the lyrics are married to a melody. They don't always look poetic when written down. I've taken some of my poems and made them into songs, but they take wrangling to work as a song, and they change.


Q: Do you think it is important that songs rhyme and if so why?


A: Oh, I read a Jimmy Webb book about songwriting and he said things should rhyme exactly, not "almost", and yet his own best songs contradict that. Rhymes that aren't exact—like ones that carry the same vowel sounds with different consonants—are all over pop music, and some of those ideas are more astonishing than those which are cleverly exact.


Q: Do you think song lyrics must conform to recognised song structures such as clear rhyming schemes, choruses, refrains, hooks and bridges or that songs can also be like free verse?


A: As a singer, I like some structure. It actually frees the song to be singable and memorable. Even Jeff Tweedy with Wilco and other modernist bards know how to be catchy, and we all benefit from that. Leonard Cohen's songs are very solid in their architecture. Joni Mitchell will ramble, but she adheres to the form for which the song calls.


Q: When you read poetry in school or elsewhere did you recognize any connection to the music you enjoyed?


A: My favorite poetry has not usually been the rhyming kind; I've seen French and Spanish verse that I loved being translated into English, and in order to make that happen, there has to be an openness to magical accidents of interpretation. Good poetry feels intimate and personal, and probably has many layers of meaning that strikes each individual in a different way. Those magical accidents and layers of meaning are what I like about music, too.


Q: Was there anything about poetry in books that influenced your song writing?


A: I think that the rhythm of words themselves—not just a groove with words laid on top—is  fascinating. I like things like inside rhymes and alliteration and the pulse of consciousness streams.


Q: Why do you think songs are more popular with people than poetry is?


A: There is nothing like the human voice when it's aimed in song. "Spoken Word" is popular, and Rap, but you may notice that the most successful of those poets and performers practically "sing" their words into our ears. I think that, classically, poetry was popular because it was carried on the page, to be read or recited aloud. But once you had mass audio communication, the song eclipsed that. There have always been songs.