gfp interview:

the life & times of…

JULIE DOIRON

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words by tom johnson

photograph by matt williams

The summer is drawing to a close and Julie Doiron is running late. Only by ten minutes or so, but enough to begin our conversation in a flourish of apologies. She had errands to run and dogs to walk and got caught by the time. Now, in her kitchen, she’s pestered by those same two dogs, one of her own and another she’s currently looking after, which belongs to her ex-husband. They’ve just had a long walk in the woods. She apologises too for her messy house, describing it as “currently terrifying”, and begins a long and hurried explanation about the current quarantine rules in the Canadian province of New Brunswick where she’s lived for most of her adult life. When she finally takes a breath, a few minutes later, she tells me I’m catching her on a good day. “I should probably do all my interviews right after a walk in the woods.” She says. “I’m good today. I feel good. It’s been a strange eighteen months. There’s been a lot of ups and downs…” 

We talk for around twenty minutes before I ask her anything about her new album – the refreshing and brilliant I Thought Of You LP, her first solo album since 2012. Seemingly exasperated by life away from music, Doiron details her current anxieties: from the pandemic, of course, and the gradual return to some kind of normality, through feeling useless in a world full of peril, to the curse of social media, and how our overwhelming news consumption breeds such a thing. She says she got hooked on the Democracy Now news channel during lockdown to the point where she had to detach herself almost completely from the global news. She also details a recent and upsetting racist encounter she witnessed at her local supermarket which she’s struggled to forget and move on from. It has been, as she pointed out, a strange eighteen months. 

Julie Doiron hit the relative big time all the way back in the early nineties, at just eighteen years of age. Her first band Eric’s Trip, which she started while still at university, became the first Canadian act to ever sign to Sub Pop Records, releasing their debut album Songs About Chris in 1993, alongside a roster that boasted the likes of Codeine, Sebadoh, Stereolab and more. They released two further albums for Sub Pop, in ’94 and ’96 before breaking up that same year. Their fourth and final record, Long Days Ride ‘Till Tomorrow, was released in 1997 via Sappy Records. Her own solo recordings began towards the end of Eric’s Trip ride, and she’s subsequently released ten albums under her own name in the time since, as well as a host of singles, EPs, and collaborations – alongside Okkervil River, The Tragically Hip, and most notably Mount Eerie, on the beautiful collections Lost Wisdom and Lost Wisdom Pt.2. 

She’s spent her most recent years embracing and revelling in domesticity. She had two children in the 1990s with her first husband, and Eric’s Trip bandmate Rick White, before giving birth to a third child in 2013. Together, they’re currently enjoying walking in the woods every day and watching the Dr Who reboot from the start.

She finished her new record, her first in some eight years, in early 2020 just before the pandemic hit, and it’s sat on the shelf collecting dust since then, as they waited for the best time to release it. During that time, of course, the world changed forever. “The weird thing is I love the record, and I’m really excited for it to come out, but I’m also so afraid to commit to anything,” she tells me when we move on to talking about her new music. “I’m afraid to be locked into having to do something that might not feel safe. I don’t have a booking agent right now. I’m not looking for a booking agent. I don’t have even have a show booked for the record’s release and I don’t even know if I’m going to tour anywhere and I don’t even think I want to,” she continues. “But I love touring. That was where I’ve always felt comfortable. I love not getting in bed until 8 am, and driving for eight hours a day. I love sound-checking. I love meeting people and seeing people’s houses. I love everything about it, but I’ve also had a lot of moments this year where I’ve felt really desperate.”

This mixture of excitement and apprehension is entirely understandable. The world is a difficult one to navigate right now. Rules and guidelines change daily and there’s also been such little space to comprehend what we’ve collectively been through. “For a while, I went walking in the woods every day, and every time I got there I would start bawling. I would just start crying,” Julie says. “It was bringing up so much and I didn’t know how to feel. So I need some space to process everything and to figure out how to express myself again. I feel like I’ve forgotten how to have a conversation. I’ve spent so much time alone I’ve forgotten how to be aware and how to read a room. I still haven’t even asked you how you are!”

Recorded briskly and brightly in a four-day spurt back in 2019, I Thought Of You is almost unfathomably good. Consisting of thirteen new tracks, it shrinks all of that time since her last solo effort into a tight and tremendous flash of light and inspired playing. “I hadn’t made a solo album in so long that I wasn’t even thinking about it,” Julie admits. “And then my boyfriend said, ‘You have more than enough songs for an album, you need to record’. Without that, I probably would have gone another twenty years without making a solo record!”

The album was recorded in Quebec, in an old house which was built by the Bombardier family, one of Canada’s most prestigious families; inventor of the snowmobile and now a manufacturer of business jets, among many other ventures. “My headspace was great, life was super nice, it was the winter, and we rented this place in Quebec to record the album,” Julie explains. “It’s sort of a studio. I don’t know the whole story, but that particular house was a family house that was built by either the main Bombardier guy or his son. It was abandoned in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s and lay empty for ten years. I think the grandchild was a musician and decided to turn the space into the studio,” she continues. “The house was left untouched, it’s full of all the same furniture and the same decor from when the family lived there fifty years ago, it was amazing. There’s a big open room, almost like a sunroom, with a lot of windows. So we set up there to play.” 

Taking the demos she’d collected over the years, Julie recorded the album as a four-piece, with her partner Dany Placard playing bass and the one-two of esteemed musicians – and brothers – Daniel Romano and Ian Romano on guitar and drums respectively. “We were at a festival in northern Quebec, and we were outside talking to Ian about the record and he said he’d love to play drums on it. Just then his brother Daniel happened to be walking past and he was just like, ‘Oh, and I’ll play guitar’! The day before we started recording I asked them if they’d listened to the demos and they said ‘No, we don’t like to hear the songs beforehand’ so we just set up and started tracking that night. There was no rehearsing, for each track on the album we maybe only played the song through twice. In fact, for a couple of the songs, we ended up keeping what was supposed to be the guide vocal for the recording.” 

This loose, unplanned way of recording doesn’t always breed success but on I Thought Of You it floods the album with urgency and vitality. The result is a collection of songs that bristle with life. It’s living, breathing proof of what four creative people can do together in just four days under the same roof, with a sprinkling of inherent magic from somewhere deep within. 

Doiron has always been a shapeshifting songwriter, equally adept at short n’ sharp punk songs as delicate and weightless folk songs, such as those found on her incredible 2001, French-language album Désormais. That trend continues here, the album presenting a balanced mix of hearty guitar-pop songs with sprawling solos and lovable hooks, alongside touching ballads that splinter the atmosphere like warm autumnal light creeping in. “I think it’s a really good record,” Julie states plainly. “I was so excited for it to come out.”

That use of past tense here is a cautionary tip-toe towards the album’s release. Throughout our conversation, Doiron consistently flits between a palpable excitement for her craft and a wariness towards appearing to ignore the horrors that have taken place between its initial completion and now. “At one point I thought that I don’t even want to make music anymore,” she confides. “This year was really had me like ‘What’s the point of making music?’. I just felt like why would I ever put this record out? In my mind, it didn’t make any sense to be putting records out when so many people were dying, when children were being taken from their families at the US/Mexican border. Who am I to I think that anyone wants to listen to this album when there’s all this horror going on in the world? Thankfully some people took me aside to say ‘Well, here’s the thing: we still need music, people still need art, people still need to feel connected to things’.”

She admits that these extreme feelings were tied to a depression, something she’s finally become aware that she suffers from in cycles that last a couple of days, and that her goal now is to be a good mom and also to continue to make music, something she sees the value in again, both on a wider level and in the small focus of her day-to-day life. “I was talking to Brian Borcherdt from Holy Fuck, and we were talking about why we play shows; what we get from it and what our motivations are,” Julie explains. “I think I’m being honest when I say that I don’t think I do all of this for my ego; I don’t think I need to be applauded. I think what it is, is that when I get on stage for that hour, I have permission to close my eyes and play my songs uninterrupted and to enjoy it without anything being asked of me.”

So while she remains apprehensive about releasing a non-political album in wildly political times, Julie is also aware that she can’t be everything to everyone, that her work can’t tick every available box: “I’m never going to be a political songwriter. I can only sing about my own experiences – of love and loss and how that affects me,” she says. “Then I just hope other people can identify with that. I think that’s nice. That seems to have been the way for my whole career. I don’t know how to sing about anything else. It’s all love songs; love songs for nature or love songs for lovers. Sometimes the songs sound sad or depressing,” she adds, “but I’ve never thought of them as being without hope. I always feel like there’s another chance out there.”

Next summer Julie Doiron will turn fifty years old, a landmark moment in a quietly landmarked life. Today, as the warm, mid-September sunlight gently creeps through her kitchen, and one of the dogs begins to whine at her knees, she takes a moment to reflect on her time in the public eye, on her somewhat accidental career as a working musician. “It’s funny, I spent years seeing myself as a twenty-one-year-old,” she explains. “I’m forty-nine now and just recently I was thinking that I see myself more like a thirty-three-year-old! So I don’t see myself as being quite as young anymore – but I don’t feel old either. I’m pretty sure I’ll just do music forever now and I’m really grateful for that,” she continues. “When we started Eric’s Trip, none of us saw what was coming; that we could be a potentially important band of the ‘90s. We were very timid people, and very shy. I don’t think anyone saw us being musicians for a career. What’s nice about making music now that I’m older, is that there’s no urgency. I don’t feel like I have to have a big hit. I will admit that when I was a bit younger I had some hopes of ‘making it’ but now I just make music because I like making music. I just don’t care. I want people to come to my show, but I don’t need to play to five hundred people or a thousand people every night. That’s just not something I desire anymore.”

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I Thought Of You is released November 26th, via You’ve Changed Records

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