In this technological age where fame is just a mouse click away, YouTube has been flooded with millions of videos of hopeful stars. Everyone from impersonators to fitness gurus, from cooks to comedians is searching for their fifteen minutes of fame. There are a few YouTube users, however, that have risen above the din and established their talent with a combination of dedication, creativity, and talent. When Julia Nunes uploaded her first video of herself performing a cover song (with her face out of frame, no less), there was no telling that four years later, her videos would accumulate over 51 million views and her channel would boast 200,000 subscribers. She was number two on our 2010 YouTube Scouting: The Wild Women of The Web list and has been on her way up since, producing multiple albums, opening for Ben Kweller and Ben Folds, playing at Bonnaroo, and making her television debut on Conan.
Nunes is touring the West Coast next month, with a stop at The Echo on June 7th, and LA Music Blog recently spoke with this New Yorker about her rise to internet fame and how, while her fingers are crossed for the future, there’s no telling where this jovial musician will end up (and yes, she really is that happy in real life).
You’ve had a busy year thus far with the release of your album, Stay Awake, and you’re getting ready for a West Coast tour next month – how are you doing?
I’m good. I actually finished a three week tour already of a small piece of the East Coast.
Do you have a favorite video that you’ve made thus far?
I think my most recent video is always my favorite, you know, ’cause it’s the one I’m the least sick of. [LAUGHS] I try to top myself. The songs that I choose to cover or the songs I choose to make videos for are usually the songs that I am most into at the moment. It’s usually a song I can’t get out of my head, so I learn it. I think that video remains my favorite until the next one.
You have covered a wide range of genres! Since you grabbed people’s attentions with your cover songs, were you nervous about posting originals?
Actually, the first video I ever made was an original and it was at my house. I think almost all of my videos were from my dorm room and then after I graduated college. There’s only one video that exists before I left for college. I was in my room, and you can only see the bottom half of my face but it’s an original song. And then, I don’t remember the timeline, but I think of the first ten videos, seven are originals. I didn’t start putting out originals after the covers; they were all mixed in from the start. [LAUGHS] Actually, the first song to get me any attention on YouTube was “Into The Sunshine.” There was a healthy mix. I don’t totally make a plan for how I release my videos.
Congrats on your recent album, Settle Down. How did the writing process differ for this one than from your previous releases?
I, only through talking to other musicians, have realized that my writing process is very different from other people’s. I don’t sit down and write. I don’t have a writing partner. I don’t do music and then lyrics. I don’t have a thing that I do that makes writing easier for me. I think a lot of people can say, “Yeah I’ll just go to that one place that inspires me.” But for me, anytime my mind wanders, it’s writing a song. It was when I was bored in class in college, I would be writing a song. If I was doing the dishes, or I’m on a walk and don’t need to think about where I’m going, or on the train, that’s when I write a song.
It’s definitely never an entire song in one sitting. The lyrics and melody come together in my head and as a result, I have a lot of videos on my phone of me singing parts I remember. If I just wrote it down, I wouldn’t remember the rhythm or how the words fit together. Then I go home and figure out what chords go with the melody. It’s always been that way, and it wasn’t that different for this album.
Some songs are really personal and heartfelt and then some are silly, fun ones. The inspiration seems to be all over the map and there doesn’t seem to be a specific theme.
Yeah, I think that’s because of the way I write songs. I don’t do it on purpose. I think it would be really hard for me to be like, “This is a concept album based on the book Gilgamesh.” [LAUGHS] So I think it will probably always be the overarching theme of where I’m at in my life right now.
Sometimes concept albums feel forced, and they don’t flow as naturally.
If there’s a concept for the album, I never notice it. [LAUGHS] I have friends who say, “We’re going into the studio to write our third album,” and I was like, “To write it?” and they’re like, “Yeah!” I was like, “You write it in a studio? You don’t have anything before you go in there?” and they’re like, “No, no. You just experiment with beats and chords and then write a song over what you’ve done,” and I was like, “What? No!” [LAUGHS] It’s so unnatural to me, but they make wonderful songs, and it works for some people.
What has been the response to the album?
It’s been my most well-received album. We topped in these first couple of months what I had sold for any record so far, records that have been out for years, and I have sold more of the new ones than the old ones. I guess most importantly for me is I have not heard very many complaints. [LAUGHS] I think with a lot of artists I know, when they take a huge step forward — like for me this was my first studio album, it was a zillion songs long, there were some weird choices in there like doing the mini-songs like “Pizza” — you expect there to be a whole lot of opinions. I came out of the internet and know that people do not mind voicing negative opinions. I think the only one that I even remember hearing, because it was weird, was someone said they didn’t like the pacing on the album, which is the space in between the songs. And that’s okay. I don’t call myself a professional pacer. [LAUGHS] It’s been really, really nicely received by, most important to me, the fans that I already had and who have been with me.
Since your success, have you noticed a change in the way you communicate with fans and how you make videos?
I think if you ask someone who was watching my videos four years ago, because my videos were like every two weeks, it was always rushed. I had to do it when my roommates were out. I think if you ask someone who was watching back then, they’d say, “Ugh, she doesn’t make videos anymore.” [LAUGHS] It’s kind of funny when I see that. I will have just released a video, and I’ll see a comment on my Facebook like, “Hey Julia, uh, you don’t make videos anymore. Don’t forget about us.” And I was like, “Hey Buster, you forgot to check my YouTube channel. If you’re so enamored with the videos, how come you don’t check them?”
I think I have moved away from being a YouTube artist, I guess. I embrace all of that internet stuff and Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook and YouTube. I do all of it and enjoy it because it’s a way to connect with people that I won’t probably see on the road, like people in Germany. It’ll be a while ’til I see them in person. But tour is where my heart lies. I like playing live shows so much. [LAUGHS] That is what I intend to spend a lot of my time on. I can write a little thing on Twitter from the road and I can make a video in my hotel room, but if I’m going to spend hours and hours on something, I want it to be touring and planning shows and going out and being the kind of musician that I always was but nobody knew it cause they didn’t know who I was yet. They had to find me on YouTube.
You have had a lot awesome performances: Ben Folds, Bonnaroo, Conan. Do you have a favorite performance so far or are you just enjoying the ride?
I mean, I think I blew a gasket every single time. Like doing a show with Weezer or Ben Folds or Ben Kweller. Ben Kweller, I feel like not as many people know who he is, but he has been one of my favorite artists, like on par with Ben Folds, since high school. I did an entire two-and-a-half month tour with Ben Kweller, and that was amazing.
I think my favorite performance though was with Amanda Palmer. Out of the blue, she sent me an email that was like, “Hey chick. I dig you. I like your music. Just wanted to say hi.” [LAUGHS] And I was like, “Woah, thanks Amanda Palmer.” I checked her website, and she had a show in New York City the next day, so I said, “Do you know you are coming to my city tomorrow?” and she said, “No! You should totally play with me!” [LAUGHS] I was like, “Oh geeze louise. Okay. Are we playing together?” and she was like, “Yeah. What do you want to play?”
We ended up doing, completely off the cuff, a Radiohead cover of “No Surprises.” You have to understand, the venue was the Brooklyn Bowl, so people are bowling and it’s sort of a club atmosphere and people are yelling and screaming when they make a strike. Here comes me and Amanda Palmer with one ukulele, mine, singing this slow, lamenting song, and Amanda prefaced it with, “Just pretend the sound of the pins going down is your soul crushing in on itself.” [LAUGHS] It was kind of a magic moment for me. We rehearsed it once beforehand. I’m not very good at finger picking, so I was so scared it was going to fall apart, but it was beautiful. Amanda has an amazing voice, and she can go from rocking out to playing that kind of song. It blew my mind. It was so awesome.
I know music wasn’t always your Plan A, but since you’re focusing on it now so much, has it become your Plan A?
I’m always willing to accept that music might not be my job. For a while, I was like, “There’s no way music can be my job,” and I didn’t take it seriously at all. Since then, I’ve started to try and believe that it is possible. I think, no matter what happens, I’ll be okay if I end up having a different job. I’ll always play music for fun. I guess my point is that every day I’m still doing this as my job, I’m super pumped about it, cause I know it’s not the likeliest of career paths. [LAUGHS] I’m lucky to be doing it right now, and if it goes away, that’ll suck, but I’m gonna try really hard to keep it around.
What plans do you have for this year? What are you looking forward to?
Well, I am planning to tour for almost the entire year with short breaks mostly due to my sister’s wedding. My oldest sibling is getting married twice because she’s marrying a Brit so she’s getting married in the UK and America. I’m maid of honor, so I’m taking some breaks from touring for that, and then, for the most part, I’m going to be releasing more little pockets of shows and more little videos. I’d like to do another full blown storyline music video like the one I did for “Stay Awake” because that was super fun. More shows, more videos, and probably pictures from my sister’s wedding. I think people will be most surprised by the gold heels I have to wear. You can thank my sister for that one.
Julia Nunes Tour Dates:
06/06 – Constellation Room, Santa Ana, CA
06/07 – The Echo – Los Angeles, CA
06/08 – Crepe Place- Santa Cruz, CA
06/09 – Swedish American Hall, San Francisco, CA
You can purchase tickets for Julia Nunes’s show at The Echo here and for more information: