Back in March, I reviewed Chandler Juliet’s debut EP, Elements, here on Bitter Sweet Symphonies. It was a delightful EP about being a human being, a mix of quiet electronic production and spare organic instrumentation—everything is emotionally internal, and, correspondingly, aesthetically understated. While she lives in Los Angeles, California, she was in Nashville, Tennessee last month, and gratefully agreed to meet me for an interview one day at a local coffee shop. Upon seeing me, a stranger from the internet, she gave me a hug and offered me a sip of her iced dirty chai latte, which we agreed somehow tasted like a liquidized coffee cake.
At the risk of reducing a human being to their aesthetic, the juxtaposition of well-done eyeliner and glittery highlighter with her characteristic long lion’s mane of fluffy copper hair, seems a decent summing-up of her public persona. Polished, but neither uncomfortably serious nor inauthentic. Because she is an intense person, but without being remotely cold or intimidating. Her goal is to make music, and, having grown up in the music industry, is ruthlessly practical about what that entails. She’s a saleswoman for her own career, but one with the songwriting and musical abilities to make worthwhile art. But most importantly, she’s a human being beneath that.
Her newest single, ‘Take It or Leave It,’ is out today, September 27th. It’s a drum-and-bass heavy pop song, and very different from the spiritually chamber pop-esque Elements EP, and far less florid (and Elements was very plain), but her songwriting has obviously matured, showing, even more than Elements, that one doesn’t have to recreate Sergeant Pepper to create something both pretty and humane. Chandler Juliet has her own life to live, and it doesn’t matter what either the object of the lyrics or the listener does, because she’ll still be living it. Again, it’s apparent that her voice is most comfortable in its own lower register—outside the drums and the bassline, it, even dubbed and manipulated over itself, is the primary instrument.
Okay, so, is this your first time in Nashville?
Chandler Juliet: “Second time.”
Second time in Nashville.
CJ: “Yes, but definitely a completely different experience. I’m in a different place than I was– as an artist, as a person, and I’m really, really enjoying my time here.”
Good- when did you first come to Nashville?
CJ: “I think it was about three years ago. I was still in college. And I just wasn’t- I don’t think I’d arrived at me yet as a person or an artist, and I’ve been out of college for about a year and a half now. And I feel like I’ve sort of conquered my town a little bit- I grew up in LA, and spent some time in the music community out there, and the songwriting community. And got a handle on how to carry myself in that way, so I think that coming here now with that new experience has been helpful.”
Are you looking to move to Nashville? Or are you going to stay in LA you think?
CJ: “Well, I was not planning on it. But this trip has been really refreshing and really, really enjoy it out here. I could see myself living out here for sure, but no plans at the moment… I just came from visiting my cousin in Gainesville, Florida, so I’ve become a little bit acclimated to the South and I enjoy it a lot. It’s definitely a different world [than the West Coast].
“LA is very fun. It’s definitely…it’s different than it looks like in the movies… But living there and growing up there and never thinking I would ever leave, and then getting some space from it on this trip I’ve been on, these past few weeks, it’s been really eye-opening. Y’know, I could see myself enjoying living out here for sure. It could be a thing down the line, for sure.”
So for right now, you still have to finish taking over LA?
CJ: “Um, yeah. Yes, and no. I think that… my next step is, well I’ve been learning how to produce myself. And, my cousin in Florida knows how to produce and he’s been teaching me… I don’t know! I don’t know my plan just yet.”
So, your parents are both musicians, and you mentioned in your [website’s] bio that you grew up in the recording studios of LA.
CJ: “Yeah, well, my parents were busy. They were freelance musicians- they’re still doing it a little bit now, but they’re a little bit more… taking a step towards retirement and stuff. They would take me with them to sessions and their jobs sometimes, just to get a feel for the adventure.
“So it was nice to have that… experience growing up—I didn’t really think I would be in music.”
CJ: “Yeah, I didn’t at first. I always wrote songs and played instruments. My parents required my sister and I to both take up an instrument, and she took up flute, and I dabbled around a lot, and I landed on cello and I played cello for nine years. Yeah, and I was in, like, LA all-county honor orchestras, and playing weddings, and making money that way too, with my mom and sister- we were doing trio gigs. It was super fun.
“And then I had an experience at a summer camp when I was working as a camp counselor at Interlochen in Michigan… it’s incredible- it’s incredible! My first time away from LA, ever- really, spending more than a week, y’know, traveling. So I worked at the summer camp as a camp counselor, and halfway through the summer I was playing songs for the cabin I was in charge of- the girls I was staying with. And they asked me if I played any original songs. I said, “Yeah, y’know, I write them, I just don’t really perform them for people,” and that was true. So, I played them an original song and they loved it. They said- they were like, “play it again, play it again,” and they learned my lyrics, and were singing it around camp for the rest of the summer. They would teach the songs to other girls, and I went, “Wait a second, I think I have something here. A contagious songwriting ability.””
And how old were you?
CJ: “I was, I think, nineteen? Eighteen or nineteen. And I moved back home- well, y’know, came home after the summer. And realized, wait I have a recording studio in my house- my parents are musicians. I want to start being an artist, so I started recording my originals, and I really haven’t stopped since.”
Were you already in college when you were at the camp counselor position?
CJ: “Yes, actually. It was after my freshman year…”
What were you studying?
CJ: “I was actually a theatre major! I always wanted to be an actress and I still love acting and storytelling in a lot of different ways. But I think… the songwriting thing has really taken over [for now]. Singing, songwriting, and performing.”
Was there an era of theatre that you preferred to do?
CJ: “I was kind of just dabbling in the beginning. I was only a theatre major for a year, and I joined the improv team, and was really getting into improv comedy, and I still am obsessed with improv and comedy. And then I actually switched majors. I switched majors four times in college! I switched to- well, I auditioned for the music program, and then I got in, for music industries, for voice- vocal performance, and I got in, and then the program started over at that point, and I thought, “I don’t want to spend another four years,” so I switched to business and then I did business marketing and management and business law, for about three years, and, then, [sighs] it was kind of depressing after a while, and then I actually switched back to the art department and then graduated in film production and media management. So I have a very well-rounded education… for what I want to do.”
I think having one specific major your whole college experience can be overrated. Like it’s right for some people, but for others, it’s good to take some extra time and learn what you need and want to learn.
CJ: “Yeah, I enjoyed my experience too… my school was a commuter school. Not a lot of people lived on campus. It being in the valley, where I grew up, close to Hollywood and everything, I think that a lot of industry, entertainment industry, people who are trying to get into that field, like it, because they can be at school, and then go around and experience LA while they’re there.”
What college was it?
CJ: “Cal State Northridge- CSUN is the short version of it. A lot of entertainment industry people went there. A lot of celebrities went there… it’s a state college. It’s pretty affordable. They know what they’re doing—they have a lot of industry people teaching there. My dad actually taught there in the music department.”
So you worked at—Revolver Recordings, during college. What is Revolver Recordings?
CJ: “So, Revolver Recordings is a music studio that’s owned by Mikal Blue and he’s a big producer… yeah, he’s pretty big in the industry. I got introduced to Dean Dinning [of Toad the Wet Sprocket], and then Mikal and his camp of songwriters and producers through an entertainment lawyer I was working with at the time, and yeah, I just went in there, and played some songs for them, and they really liked what I was doing. So we started writing and producing together… they were planning on turning it into a sync house, and writing songs to pitch to other artists, and pitch for sync and publishing, and I really got… a hang of my songwriting ability with them. And then we finished a few songs to pitch around, and then, I graduated college and it was time to start performing them and working the songs…”
What is a sync house?
CJ: “A sync house is—what they were planning on doing was having a group of songwriters, like myself and a few other artist-songwriters, come in, write songs, and pitch them to Sony and pitch them to different artists and… commercials and television… so we could earn money. That was their plan, and I think they may still be doing that. They’re doing a lot of cool stuff there.”
So, how long were you in college?
CJ: “Four and a half years? Maybe five years?
“It must’ve been five years. I took a semester off, at one point, to focus on music and songwriting, and working—earning money to pay for it all… and then I switched my major so many times, and also the school is impacted, which means there’s too many students, but I was full-time every single semester. There was one semester where I was at two colleges—I was at the state college and then the community college. And I was driving back and forth in the middle of the day, just to, like, knock out a few extra units for my business degree, which I didn’t even end up graduating in.”
But you have that experience now!
CJ: “Yeah, I know I can take on more than I can chew, and handle it. I do take on more than I can handle, a lot, which I’m working on.”
Yeah, it’s a bad habit of mine, as well. It’s okay though.
CJ: “I think it’s a millennial trait, also.”
Were you getting paid for working at Revolver Recordings, or did you have, like, a side job?
CJ: “It was a backend thing. So, we were writing songs for pitch in the hopes of getting money. It was just like a rich experience I had, and absolutely worth it, I’d say, in hindsight. It was a really great experience.”
So how did you pay the bills?
CJ: “I did have a job. I worked at Trader Joe’s.”
So you worked at Trader Joe’s, while going to college, and while learning songwriting at Revolver Recordings?
CJ: “Yes, and working on performing and doing shows and doing co-writes, and all this stuff. Since, getting out of college, I think, I kind of had a, “Oh, I have a hundred percent of my time now to do this and try to figure out to maximize my time in LA,” and I started writing a different kind of song. I think I tapped into a different level of authenticity in my songwriting and my production, and my sound started to come together, and that was the Elements EP. And that was such a good foundation—because I’d done songs and I’d released them, but I took all of that stuff down… it wasn’t where it is now, and I think that I can proudly stand by everything that’s on Spotify and on Apple Music, and all the stores now, and… I think that I’m pretty proud of how that sound has come together, and I’m really excited for what’s coming out next. I have about eight songs that are ready for release. And now I’m learning to produce myself. So that’s another level of authenticity. I don’t have to work through another person to interpret my ideas. I can just learn the language and figure out what I’m hearing in my head and figure out how to make that come out on the screen.”
And your cousin is helping teach you that.
So your cousin also works in music production, obviously, but in Gainesville, Florida?
CJ: “Yeah, he’s an artist as well. He goes by Foti… and he’s amazing. He’s such a talented singer-songwriter. And he also has another alias that I don’t know if I should disclose because he probably doesn’t want people to know. But he’s going on tour, on a six week full US tour now. He’s doing wonderful… to hear how far he’s come, you have to be willing to fail forward, and, just like, write without judging, and write without editing. That’s how you get better.
“I grew up in LA, and it feels like, “Oh I’m in the place where everyone wants to come, so I don’t really need to move anywhere else,” that has been my mentality literally until this trip. Getting some space from the city, and realizing all the pressure it puts on you. Everyone out there is just working all the time because it’s so expensive. And you don’t really get to reap the benefits of being in the community out there and the social aspect out there, which is very addictive—it’s so addictive, and so fun, I have a list of a hundred people that I just love and adore, and want to get to know better, and sit down for coffee, but you just don’t have the time. So going to Gainesville and seeing my cousin’s model—y’know—writing music, releasing it, and just… dropping albums as often as you can. He’s making his living off Spotify streaming!
“Being away from the city, I can see myself able to focus a little bit more on the work and the craft. Which really is all it is. All that other stuff… that’s the smoke and mirrors… And the reality of it is just making music and releasing it, and the internet has allowed independent artists to thrive… when I perform live, solo with my guitar- there’s a timeless element to that, because guitar and singer is so, from the beginning. And the electronic productions, and adding to those elements, is the new age stuff. And I’m trying to find a healthy balance between organic instruments and some… y’know, electronic beats and sounds and synths and electronic instruments.
“But this isn’t a criticism of ‘Take It or Leave It,’ but it feels very much a song of the late 2010s.
“I can’t wait for you to hear the new stuff. ‘Cause this—I wanted to release this song next, after Elements, because it definitely is different from Elements, because it feels bigger, it feels more energetic.
“And ‘Take It or Leave It,’ feels like an introduction to the next stage of Chandler Juliet. It’s empowering. It’s female empowerment. It’s sassy… A little more upbeat I would say. A bit more indie pop. And the music that’s coming after it, seems to have more of a train of R&B, soul, indie pop. When people say what kind of music do you make, I say, indie pop R&B, so it’s a blend of the two, and it’s very interesting as a songwriter. Sometimes I write a song on the guitar, and it translates to this kind of sound. Like ‘Tidal Wave’ of the Elements EP, and, um, ‘Hide and Seek’ and ‘Gravitational’ and ‘Burning Sage.’ Like two of them I wrote completely alone in my room with my guitar and two of them I wrote in the studio with producers in the room, with a guitar. ‘Take It or Leave It’ was produced a different way.”
So how did you say ‘Take It or Leave It’ was written?
CJ: “I wrote it with a producer and another songwriter friend of mine. Um, and we came together, and there was already a rough idea written, and a track, and we were like, “What’s this song?” and we added to it.
“Songs really seem like theatrical productions—produced songs that is, than any other form of media—not everyone’s going to get everything.
“And later in the mixing process. Everyone’s like, this should be louder, this should be quieter. I kinda wanna hear this—most people don’t hear any of that in the final production. And it’s kind of funny. You gotta know when to stop as an artist.”
To stop editing it.
CJ: “Yeah. It’s as good as it’s going to get. Nobody’s hearing these changes anymore. Let’s put it out, and move on, and write another song. It’s not about this song. It’s about the next song. And the next one.”
Like a produced song, that’s a theatrical production, but a singer-songwriter with guitar on a stool at a coffee shop, that’s a completely different form of art, and lots of people do both. But some people do one and some people do the other.
CJ: “Well, I want to be able to compete in both worlds. And I think having the background in just the guitar-vocal, singer-songwriter world in California, and getting my feet wet in producing, and starting to learn how to produce myself, ‘cause if you strip away all those production elements, and you can still play the song, that’s when you know you have an amazing song.
“I think that I, having that background in the singer-songwriter, guitar-and-singer thing, will help me moving forward. And I’ll still be using that songwriting skill in my own productions. Recording my own guitar and recording my own singing and learning how to treat my own vocals—it’s just adding on missing pieces to the puzzle.
“Yeah… I have a bunch of new music coming up, that is more evolved than before and my intention is for it to be empowering, uplifting, and happy, and it has the same depth as Elements.”
But, it’s less introspective and more looking forward?
CJ: “Yes, exactly and that’s kind of my intention for looking forward. To be able to go that deep, and be that introspective and then have, like, an album of kind of happier music, and I’m still pretty in my feels a lot of the time, but I want to show a new side of the spectrum that I can hit. More upbeat, more produced, like really poppy, fun music.”
Yeah, that’s the difference I noticed between the Elements EP and ‘Take It or Leave It.’
CJ: “Yeah, ‘Take It or Leave It’ is a good intro to the new music… so, I wrote it with Aaron Blackmar, who’s the producer on it, and Angela Mukul [AKA. LeyeT], and she’s an amazing artist herself… and she and I are pretty close in the music industry out there, and it was really amazing to finally collaborate with her on a song. We came in and we were just talking about dating in LA, and what a struggle it is. And we were like, “Y’know, these boys are just gonna either take it or leave it!” and we were like, “We should call it ‘Take It or Leave It’! Oh my God!” We just kind of immediately dove into the song, and she loved it. She’s pretty sassy herself, and she was like, “I love the sassy, soulful voice you have, it’s going to go with the song perfectly.” She and I joke about how it’s about the typical LA guy or LA suitor. People are very detached and noncommittal out there. So it’s just like, *sigh* I want you to see me for all I am and if you’re not, I’m gonna be okay, and it’s supposed to be empowering in that way. ‘Take It or Leave It,’ is, y’know, a saying that’s been said, so I think this song really illustrates that feeling of “I’m gonna be fine with or without you honey, so whatever.”
“I really want this upcoming music to capture my personality more. Because I think this first EP was a good foundation for showing my songwriting ability and the level of depth I can get to.”
It seemed very who you are on the inside, rather than how you interact with other people.
CJ: “Right, right.”
Like you started at the centre and now you’re-
CJ: “Moving outward… just see—just go to the outward parts of my universe, and just see, y’know, what—I try not to limit myself too much. I think I can get stuck in, “Oh, well I sound this way and I want to sound that way,” and just writing songs and then figuring out how to market it later. Again, the editing later, and not critiquing myself while I’m creating. Just writing a bunch of songs.
“But yeah, well said, I think that first EP that I wrote right out of college—I kind of felt like reality—I feel like life hits you, you know? When you’ve finished high school, you’re like, “Oh, all my friends are separating—weird,” and then you do college, and then you start to like move out, and you pay for all your own bills, and y’know, and that hits you really hard, and you’re like, “God, life is really expensive!” and you’re like, become your own parent—no one is going to tell you to brush your teeth and wipe off your makeup at night. No one is going to tell you to look out for yourself. You have to do it for yourself.
“So when I graduated college, I remember feeling this like, *sigh* this is really tough, and feeling really alone, even in a big city, like LA, with so many people and so many friends that I grew up with and so many people in the music industry. I just felt so isolated and alone, and that’s where that all came from. And I think, in releasing it, I’ve connected with so many people, so, yeah, it had a happy ending.
“My next move is to just travel and to keep getting this perspective like I have on this trip.
“… And to get the beach from here, it’s seven hours. Just any beach. The closest beach is seven hours from Nashville. And I’m like [shudders]. That would be the one thing that’s, that’d be hard to live without… but I’m learning that it’s not so much the beach that’s my happy place, but the being surrounded completely by nature, and God, and God’s grace, and I’m like, “I didn’t make this! I didn’t make me!” and you get in your feels and grateful. Nature kind of resets you in that way—that’s how we’re supposed to live.
“I just think being in nature immediately puts me into being present and being in gratitude.”
So how often do you even get to go out in nature if you’re so busy in like recording studios?
CJ: “There are a lot of beautiful places surrounding LA. Like an hour in any direction, you can find beautiful mountains, and Yosemite is only a few hours away. I’m starting to get into camping, because I’ve recently discovered my passion for resetting myself in nature. But I try to give myself a beach day every month, or every six weeks. With myself, and my guitar and my journal, just to be there, and be present.
“But it is a busy town. It can be stressful and be pressured and, music, although it’s the work, it’s also the escape.”
That’s like, how some people will have a journal with them at all times, and musicians will just have a guitar.
CJ: “For me, actually, it’s my voice. I don’t always have a guitar with me.
“Something about singing—the vibrations, it just settles me into my own body.
“I do enjoy having a stable routine. That’s why—that’s another challenge to being an artist. You have a different schedule every single day, and you have to do your best to maintain that bird’s eye view—that perspective, that you know what your goals are.
“Because you don’t wake up the same time every day. Some days you have to sleep in because you were up late performing the night before. To manage yourself, as a human, and an artist, because it’s not linear. It’s not a linear thing at all.”
Chandler Juliet’s new single, ‘Take It or Leave It’ is out now.