Julie Christmas Gets Real About Gender, Big Sticks, and Working With Cult of Luna
Stream the prolific, unapologetic vocalist's new collaborative LP with post-metal veterans Cult of Luna.
This Friday will see the release of Mariner, a collaborative album between post-metal stalwarts Cult of Luna and the inimitable Julie Christmas. With her unmistakable voice and penchant for unforgettable performances, Christmas has long been considered one of heavy music’s inveterate badasses. Beginning with her work in the noise rock melee that was Made out of Babies, Christmas has spent the last decade peeling the paint off the walls like few other vocalists in extreme music can.
Her past collaborations with Mouth of the Architect, The Dillinger Escape Plan, and a membership in the supergroup Battle of Mice have been impressive enough on their own, but it’s Christmas’ solo work that definitively assured her clout and influence within and beyond the heavy music scene. Specifically with 2010’s The Bad Wife, the Brooklyn native displayed a raw yet vulnerable ferocity that garnered her well-deserved attention and acclaim.
That said, it’s no surprise that with what’s been a relatively quiet few years since, the amount of force Christmas brings to the noise is understandably sought after by acts like Cult of Luna. In a recent conversation with Christmas, we talked about the collab, but we also inadvertently delved into a topic that, as Christmas explains, should raise far more questions than answers.
Noisey: So how did the collaboration with Cult of Luna come about?
Julie Christmas: They were curating a festival in England, and they reached out to see if we could perform The Bad Wife. That album wouldn’t have been easy to do live, and it would’ve been in England, so there wasn’t a way to do it. That wasn’t the first time they’d reached out. I had looked into them earlier when I was looking for people I wanted to work with, and I thought they were great. I tried to get in touch with them as well, and it just didn’t happen. We kind of missed each other a couple of times within the space of about a year. Then they got in touch again, and they sent me a track. I did it; I loved it, and they were happy with the way it came out. Johannes Persson was pretty much the person I was speaking to, and he reached out and said, “Do you wanna try and do an album with this lineup?” Then we just started working.
Is there a difference in creative perspective for you between your solo and collaborative work?
For me, the people might change but the process is pretty much the same. It’s exciting when you get to work with people who know what they’re doing. With a group of guys like Cult of Luna, they’ve all been doing it for a long time, and they have their own way of working on things. With me, though, the process is with the music and not really the people. Those guys are great to work with personally, because they have a sense of humor, and they’re all super talented but regular, normal people who are just trying to do something that they believe in. They’re not fake, and there are lots of fakers out there who may not even realize it [laughs]. You get the best person you can to work with who really knows how to make that sound that has some fucking guts, and then you make that song and do what you can to it.
You mentioned fakers. That’s one of those things that tends to come up more in the metal genre more than others – the idea of what’s “true” or “real”.
I think you can say whatever you want about your own music, and you can try to put an idea out there using your words, but the music says everything. With any type of music, there can be a million different titles, and you can call it whatever you want, but people who are listening deserve the respect of the musicians. If you fake it, people know. When I go to shows, I can tell when somebody is fucking putting it out there or when they’re not, and I think most people can tell, too. They want some honesty, and they wanna be able to relate to the show. If you’re a musician or a writer or a mathematician, whatever you’re doing, if you’re doing it halfway, then the rest of the people around you who know what they’re looking at are going to recognize it and probably pass you off.
I’ve been to shows where you can tell that the people are trying really hard, but their heart’s not in it, and sometimes I see the audience fucking eating it up, and that’s astounding to me. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s that the artist has to be matched with the right audience. But no matter what I know that there’s a bunch of fake motherfuckers [laughs]. Heavy metal is like funk. You may not like it, but you can tell there’s a handful of people out there who know what to do and can make it right, and then there’s 100,000 people who are just wearing the black shirts and have the tattoos, and they’re really just a bunch of pussies [laughs].
Is it too late to cover up my tattoos and take off this black shirt?
[Laughs] It’s too late. You already told me.
Of course there’s the other side to that, too, where there’s that concern about how offensive extreme music is supposed to be.
Like how all porn is extreme porn [laughs].
Exactly that. Is there a point where it’s too far, where offense eclipses intent?
Here’s what I know. If being offensive is the intent, and it’s working, then that’s kind of it. It depends on whether or not you’re talking about some sick fuck who’s so weak that they can’t express their feelings towards women in any other way but anger. Wouldn’t you look at somebody like that and think: Guess who spends a lot of nights alone [laughs]? You know, somebody told me after a show once, “I just jerked off to you last night,” and I was like, “I guess you were by yourself then.” [Laughs]
Jesus. But that goes back to the honesty you mentioned earlier. Is extreme music’s fanbase being honest with themselves about misogyny in its music, or is it irrelevant either way considering the nature of the genre?
That’s a draw when there’s a woman in a band who absolutely doesn’t care about selling their tits. It’s not a sexual thing. It’s just someone who’s performing who happens to be female. The best possible answer to any question that people ask like, “What’s it like to be female in a metal world,” is just to be it. My answer is just in my being there. I can’t tell anyone else what to do. If you’re talking about the responsibility people have towards making lyrics that might be influencing other people and those lyrics being about something like rape, I think it’s pretty much always been there. I remember when I was younger, I liked punk, and I remember there was always an element of that. It depends on how serious people are about the message. Are they just saying it to be controversial so people will pay attention to them? Because that’s pathetic. Or, are they really dangerous people who maybe deserve to be taught a lesson? I don’t have to fake it in front of anybody when I’m onstage.
This is why I don’t perform that much onstage anymore, because it’s really difficult. It hurts me. It’s physically difficult, and it’s emotionally pretty fucking difficult. And again, I think people can tell that. I think that when people are going up there, and they need a tool like a fake line about how they’re gonna hurt somebody, it’s just really shows through. If you have to do that; if you have to resort to that to get people’s attention, then you’ve pretty much just announced that you don’t mean what you’re actually saying. People who mean stuff like that, it’s like the expression, “Speak softly but carry a big stick.” If you’re a big stick [laughs]…
That’s the title of this article now.
[Laughs] Perfect. But, you know, what I’m saying is that if your big stick is all that does the talking, then you’ve lost the respect from anyone who really matters [laughs]. I mean, if all you’re doing is barking really loudly, then everybody pretty much knows you’re a Chihuahua [laughs]. But as far as gender, I’m not really sure you can put it to that at all. I’ve had people saying, “She needs to be raped” about me, and that’s when you just start carrying a fucking blade with you when you go to record, or when you’re warming up before a show, or going outside before the show. But then you go back in the club, and it’s the biggest, toughest looking guy in the room who helps you at the end of the night if you have a cut or something like that.
Maybe making it just about gender is not the answer. It should be about the person. You’re right, the way people perceive females in heavy music is sexualized, but if it’s sexualized, what’s the product you’re really putting out? I don’t know. It’s a huge question. There are too many different ways that gender is important and unimportant.
Jonathan Dick is not on Twitter, but he does battle a lot of mice.