Julie NeffGuelph-born songstress Julie Neff is putting her University of Guelph Hispanic studies to work on her new EP Over It. The emotionally passionate collection showcases her Latin flair like never before, including killer tracks like Swagger, Siren Call and the lead and title track, Over It.

The EP was released on her January 27th birthday and we connected with Julie as she was preparing for the big day.

 

Happy Upcoming Birthday.
Thank you. I’m excited.

It must be exciting that your new EP’s coming out on your birthday this year. Although it’s called Over It, it really doesn’t sound like you’re over it at all. It sounds like a call to arms.
Yeah, for sure. I think it’s the moment when you decide that you want to move on from something even though you haven’t necessarily gotten there yet, but the line from the title track is I’ve been over it a while, but it’s still not over. It’s kind of that mental shift of knowing that you need to move on from something and trying to articulate why and maybe look at a way forward.

The new EP sounds like a huge expansion on your sound. The production is bigger. Is this the sound that you’ve been searching for?
Definitely. I’ve been experimenting with a lot of different things in recent years. I think that this sound really represents the moment in time that we’re capturing with the music. I think that the theme of it is a little bit heavier hitting and it’s a little bit angrier and more about who I am and what I want. I think that that comes through in the music. I really like being able to showcase the full breadth of my voice and also of my song writing abilities as they continue to progress. Really enjoying the sound. We’ll see where it goes in the future, but I think that this is a great place to be in.

You rerecorded Siren Call, which was on your Catharsis EP. Was there something missing from that first recording?
You know the first recording of that, it was a song that came really swiftly. I wrote it after the other EP was fully produced, but I knew I wanted to include it in that EP and get a taste of it out there. I always imagined a really big version of it. It was nice to record that acoustic version on the first EP and then be able to re-imagine it this way with a lot heavier of a sound. I feel like it’s one that might continue to have different versions, maybe an orchestra someday. I think I always envisioned it having this big ebb and flow of the emotions that you’re feeling that song. A little bit of excitement, a little bit of sadness, a little bit of anger, kind of all mixed together.

The song, Over It, is the second time the Latino vibe really pops up. The first one is in Pick Up the Pieces. I’m guessing this is from your passion for Latin and Spanish cultures.
Definitely. In a past life, I have a full degree in Hispanic studies and spent a lot of time in Spain and Mexico. In recent years, I have been traveling a little bit more in South America, Argentina, Chile and spending a lot more time in Brazil. In recent years as well, I’ve been making a lot of musician friends in the Brazilian music scene. It was nice. I involved them in the pre-production of this song. It’s nice to incorporate a little bit of an element of something that I’m really passionate about without necessarily trying to create something that maybe at this time is not authentic, but there’s something so beautiful about the levity of that beat.

I think with Over It in particular, I really like how it represents. They have this thing in Brazil, it’s the Brazilian way, which is they’ll kind of figure it out and get it done without any resources. There’s a bit of a scrappiness about that and a problem-solving thing that they have. I think it’s a reminder that you can be in this state of being over something and be trying to move on from something and be angry, frustrated, but it doesn’t mean that there aren’t moments of joy and levity along with that. I think that’s just kind of how life goes.
The video itself definitely has a lot going on in it and showcasing a lot of different sides of someone, of myself, I guess. I haven’t heard the Latin comment before. I feel like sometimes these things come out and I don’t always know where they’re coming from. You’ve taken a lot of inspirations and experiences and sometimes they come out at different times.

When I first saw the video and the scenes on the couch, I thought right away, yeah, the Brazilians are going to love this. It seems like there’s a lot of legs in the video.
I think it’s really intriguing what is maybe the exterior perception of Brazil versus what is in reality happening. The stereotype is based in something of having a little bit more sensuality for sure. There’s definitely a lot more openness when it comes to sexuality as well. There wasn’t an intentional choice to promote to that market, I would say, but definitely within that video it is talking about people trying to put you in a box and trying to make you be a different kind of person in different scenarios. I think they liked it down there, for sure.

What are your favorite parts of the Latin and Spanish culture?
You know I think that as a Canadian, we tend to be a little bit more reserved. I think in the space of creativity that’s an area where we’re bringing out a lot of vulnerable sides of ourselves. My experience in Brazil has been so welcoming, especially as an artist. Just when you’re exposing something that’s very personal in the form of art and music, the way that they’ve responded has just been so incredible. They’re just so passionate about what you’re doing, so affirming and very specific, too. They’ll tell you exactly what moves them about the music. As an emerging artist, I think that’s really why I’ve gravitated towards playing there quite a bit. Not to say that Canadians don’t appreciate it, it’s just that perhaps that they don’t express it in the same way. Maybe we’ll go home and tell our friends that we loved the show, but we wouldn’t necessarily go up to the artists and tell them how great it was and how it impacted us.

I think that’s part of it. Then in general, culturally, I think what impressed me so much at a young age with entering into Spanish speaking culture was just the passion and the expressiveness. People are really affectionate. That was all kind of new to me. I think it opened up this side of my personality maybe that I didn’t know how to have in English. Obviously, we all set out and try to be more or less the same person in every language, but I think language changes things a little bit. It can bring out different parts of you always.

What drew you to immerse yourself into different cultures and to learn new languages?
When I was in high school, my older sister was learning Spanish and traveling to Guatemala and to Spain. I had the opportunity to travel to Nicaragua and to Spain as well. It was really the first day when I was in Nicaragua, I was kind of looking around and hearing all these people speak Spanish. I was just like, this is amazing. I just remember thinking, this is it. I don’t know what it was necessarily, but I was just really attracted to it and the ability to communicate with people that you would never have been able to communicate with otherwise. I think it was just a feeling really at the beginning. Then I kept traveling back to Spain and taking more Spanish courses and just continue to love it.

I think there was a bit of a freedom, too. You kind of get to, not reinvent yourself, but you do get to choose who you are when you put yourself in a totally new situation or at least see how you represent your own self outside of maybe growing up in an environment where you have all your friends and your family that you’ve had forever. I think that combined with obviously the huge cultural benefits of often taking a bit more time around eating food and really communing with other people and prioritizing sort of that leisure time over working yourself into the ground, I think is also a really lovely aspect of a lot of those cultures. I think that’s initially kind of what drew me.

Julie NeffGoing back to your music, it seems your music is a bit more personal and expressive than most. How do you or how much of you is in your songs?
I’d say a lot of me is in my songs. I think it’s personal and I use it as a way to work through things. Maybe the things that aren’t represented here are a lot of my life, which is like very joyful. I have a lot of lovely experiences. These songs tend to represent more of the things that I’m working through, that I’m struggling with. I think in the future, hopefully I’ll be that person who can sit down and write a happy song, but usually when I’m in those happy moments, I’m just living my life. I think it’s a lot of me to be honest.

I think this EP more than the last has some bits and pieces of my story, but it’s also collecting a little bit of what I’ve heard and what I continue to hear on repeat and not getting me to a place of being over it for myself, but also for other women, for instance, or female identifying people of just kind of having the same story happened over and over again. Just kind of being done with hearing about it.

You’re working things out with your music. How difficult is it to write out those feelings?
It’s difficult, but it’s also a really beautiful way for me to process. Look, I think often the music will come out as a melody while I’m in motion. I’ll be walking or maybe doing something else and a melody will come out. Then I’ll often give it a ton of time and space before I really sit down and try to sort out lyrics and the rest of the chord progressions and things like that depending on the song. Some of them will come quickly. I think what’s been interesting for me as well is sometimes I’ll write the full song and I’ll really try to be true to what comes out initially. If certain words come out, I’ll try to kind of stick with that theme or work things around something that felt really natural at the beginning.

Then often, sometimes it’s even after I’ve recorded it and it’s been released where I’m like, oh, maybe that’s what that meant, where it’s still in progress. It’s something that you’re still in the process of processing. I think it’s always challenging to articulate emotions. Not to say that they’re not logical, but they’re hard to pin down. I think that’s why music and art is so powerful for so many people because it helps us through these moments that are difficult to define.

When did this all start for you? When did you start writing and performing?
I started performing long before I started writing. I grew up in church. I often sang in that environment, leading the songs on Sundays and things like that. Then in university, I started doing more open mics with friends and ended up starting a band, a punk rock reggae band, which was a hilarious combination of eight people who brought together all of their various genre inspirations. We made no attempt to make them cohesive. We just kind of shoved them all together. That was a ton of fun. We had huge crowds in the university scene and played a lot. They always encouraged me to write, but I just wasn’t there yet. I was so daunted by the task and I didn’t know,  I don’t really maybe have the things that I wanted to say yet. I hadn’t sort of sorted that part out.

I kind of took a break from that after university. Moved to Spain. It was when I came back from Spain. There was just a lot going on in my life and trying to figure out what to do next. I kind of hit a low point emotionally. That’s when I started writing. I went away to my cottage, my parents’ cottage for a couple of weeks by myself and brought a keyboard and just started hacking out some songs. That was seven years ago or so, six or seven years ago. Then it took me a few years even after that to really figure out. Kind of testing the waters and continuing to write and also just figuring out what I wanted out of music.

It’s a big decision to put music out there in the world with any kind of intention of having it seen and heard. I wanted to be clear on why I was doing it. There’s a lot of people putting things out in the world. I struggled for a while with why me? Why do I deserve to do this? Obviously, you don’t need to have a reason. You can just make art. I kind of came to the conclusion that it was important for me to do that. Then one of the biggest parts that I loved about it was connecting and collaborating with other creatives like the person who makes your website and who designs your logo and takes your photos and makes your music video. Me stepping out and doing what I’m really good at makes their job possible and gives them this kind of conduit to do what they’re really good at. That’s been really fun for me.

Another vibe I get from you is that empowerment is important. Do you see yourself as a feminist or an advocate for women?
Absolutely. It is really important. That’s always been something that’s been important to me, but in recent years. I think this EP coming out on my birthday is, in part I chose that because when I turned 30 three years ago, I remember really thinking this is my time. This is a time where, I don’t know if I can swear on that, but this is a time where I don’t really give any fucks anymore. I’m just going to do what it is that I want to do and not let you know whatever it is that might’ve been holding me back, hold me back. I think it’s nice to have that come with age. I wish I had had that when I was younger as well. It’s really cool to see a lot of younger ones having that level of confidence and security in who they are from a young age.

I think even in general, we’re just not there yet. There are still huge dangers to women and female identifying people that are extremely violent or can be really subtle as well and can be part of your career navigation where you’re facing issues that are just not overt, but they’re still there. I think it’s really important as women to support each other. I think that’s number one. I think we’re kind of bred, for lack of a better term. We’re raised to believe as other women it’s better to sort of believe that other women are our enemies in a way or our competition. It’s been amazing to have such a really strong friendships where that’s not the case and where you’re just supporting each other and each other’s goals and really propelling people forward and creating environments for people that are safe and welcoming and productive.

That’s been really lovely. Absolutely, I think for me this EP is a starting off point. A lot of those songs are just the jumping off point to discuss some of these issues. I started this series called Neff Said where I’m actually digging into those topics on each song with different guests. That’s been really good as well. I think it’s important for all of us to be able to have the freedom to own what it is that we want to do and to not have to face objectification or all of the different things that we’ve had to deal with on a day-to-day basis.

You talked about your podcast, what was it that made you want to start the podcast?
I think was in part COVID, the pandemic. I really appreciated how it kind of shifted the perspective on social media. Between the pandemics and the Black Lives Matter protests and all of the really big important things that were happening in the world, for me made so much of the triviality of what we do on Instagram and social media so clear. I think it shows that people were just kind of fed up with that stuff. It was kind of a beautiful moment to me to be able to pause and say, what do I actually want to do with this platform? This is a really great opportunity to just pivot and reflect on what matters. It was through that.

I was about to release the single over in August. I just was like, you know what? This song, I don’t want it to just end up the song. Often you release a song and you’re like, it had some pretty songs. That’s great, but I was like, these are really deep things and they’re not totally encapsulated in these songs. There’s so much more to talk about. I have this amazing network of artists and creators and business owners. It would be so cool. I love their stories. I’m really passionate about learning about people’s stories. It’d be really cool to be able to explore those on these iGTB chats as well to just be able to learn from our collective experience as opposed to making the same mistake twice or having to go through so much pain ourselves. I think there’s so much collective wisdom that we have and that we can share in. That’s why I started doing that.

Julie NeffI want to ask about Guelph. How did growing up there shape you as the woman that you’ve become?
I not only grew up there, but I also went to University of Guelph. I got to experience the two sides, I guess. Growing up in Guelph for me, it was just really safe at least the area that we lived in. You could run around the neighborhood and go to the park by yourself, go to the store by yourself and do all of those things. We had a lot of green space and a lot of time spent outdoors. My parents didn’t let us watch TV from Monday to Friday. There was just a lot of playtime and a lot of imagination time. I think that we were just allowed to be kids, I guess, is the point, which was really lovely.

Then growing into high school, It’s a big enough place where I was at a pretty big high school. You get to experience a lot of different kinds of people. That was great. Then going to university, it’s like, then you’re in a totally different microcosm of the city. You’re meeting all these people coming from different places, but it’s still, Guelph is just so serene. It’s got these beautiful rivers flowing through it, the farmer’s market and just kind of wholesome. I think it was just a nice place to meet a lot of people and get to broaden my horizons without being totally overwhelmed maybe by a huge city. I think that what I’ve learned over the years is that I’m a pretty empathic person.

Sometimes even being in Toronto is a little bit overwhelming. It’s very stimulating. There’s a lot to look at and be paying attention to at all times, but I think there is a certain freedom in living in a place that is pretty low key and safe.  It was really nice for all of those formative year. I think Guelph University too had so many people from so many different places. That was really a huge growing point for me with music. It was just meeting all these different people and singing and playing and having this band and everything. It was a time where I remember choosing not to pursue sports so that I can have more time to investigate this whole music thing. It was a big time for me to really grow and flourish with music.

That was going to be my next question is that with Guelph being so artistic, did that play a part in you choosing music as a career?
Yeah. I think I played a part for sure. I think I hesitated for a long time, maybe a little bit more because of my upbringing. I hate the old parent trope here. I saw my older sister really wanted to do music. They just had so many difficult conversations about it not being a viable choice. I think that going to Guelph enabled me to explore this creative side while still being in school, which is something I maybe shied away from a little bit before because it didn’t seem practical. I think that has a lot to do with it. University of Guelph in particular just has so much going on. The bull ring, we played each other mics. You’ve just got different artists coming through all the time. It was just a whole new world for me. That played a big part.

I have other things that I do as well. I’m a video producer, but they all tie in together where I learned a lot in the video production world about the creative process and I was always so afraid of it and thinking that whatever I wrote immediately had to be amazing. Then kind of seeing that this process, you can go over and over things or you can come up with something and then throw it out and then come up with something else. I think that was really cool for me to see firsthand where I was helping facilitate it in my role as a project manager and having all these creative discussions, but I wasn’t necessarily the one on the hook to create the thing under pressure. I’m still really grateful that I’m mostly writing for myself. I’m in a position to kind of have the time and space to do that. I think all of those things tie in together. We are the summary of all of our life experiences. For sure that has an influence.

Now, lastly, your publicist mentioned that you design clothing. Why design clothes? Are you wearing any of your designs in any of your press photos or in any of the videos?
I do design a bit of clothing. I think the design thing is more of a fun creative outlet. I, in recent years just with time pressures, haven’t necessarily been making a lot of the things that maybe I designed. Sometimes I’ll experiment with something and then move on. I did design the dress in the Pick Up My Pieces music video. I didn’t make it, but I designed this dress that I’m wearing with the houndstooth pattern in front of the houndstooth wall.

I loved that.
That’s actually out of my grandmother’s fabric, too, which was really, really special to be able to include. Then I’m a big proponent of vintage shopping, too. It’s something that for me is a huge creative outlet. Just being able to go to a thrift shop or to a vintage store and just kind of dig through things and find things that you wouldn’t normally find on the shelf. Everything in all the videos I’ve sourced. I found and really been crafting my own kind of look for the past however long. That’s fun.

Then also I’ve used that kind of passion to partner with different designers as well or different makers. I think that’s really another way for me to be able to collaborate. I did this photo shoot last year with a Brazilian fashion designer when I was on tour there. Then we just recently shot a music video using her line as well. She sent a bunch of things up here. Then we also filmed with a couple of models down there as well. I think fashion is a really cool way to express yourself and play with different things. I love in particular, the ’80s and all the colors and the big shoulder pads and the shapes, and finding kind of what suits your body, but also having a bit of fun with it.

Check out Julie’s podcast “Neff Said”

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