INTERVIEW: Julia Michaels

Julia Michaels never planned to write a hopeful album about love because, to be honest, she didn’t know she could. It wasn’t until she met her now boyfriend JP Saxe in a writing session where they wrote their Grammy award winning single ‘If The World Was Ending’ that the concept of love no longer felt bitter and negative. Fast forward some time, ‘Lie Like This’ was written and from there her debut album ‘Not In Chronological Order’ was pieced together.

Focusing on the present moment, she’s created a body of work that is a representation of where she is at right now in her life romantically, mentally and physically. The 10 track collection is purposefully set not in chronological order and gives you a whiplash of feelings from the moment she opens with the angsty anthem ‘All Your Exes’ right through to the candid reflection of closing track ‘That’s The Kind Of Woman’. It’s a complete overview of the many different feelings that life delivers, with a real sense of hope embedded deep into the songwriting. 

With the majority of the album inspired by new love, the songs have a natural positive aura around them as it soundtracks the moments of her learning to open up again. In classic Julia Michaels fashion, it’s ultra vulnerable and relatable and doesn’t hold back, and it’s already connecting on a global scale because of that exact reason.

I recently chatted to Julia Michaels about the surprisingly hopeful sentiment behind her debut album ‘Not In Chronological Order’, explored the creative processes behind songs like ‘History’, ‘Wrapped Around’ and ‘That’s The Kind Of Woman’, and discussed the satirical music video for ‘All Your Exes’. Check it out BELOW;

THOMAS BLEACH: Your debut album ‘Not In Chronological Order’ is a record about love, growth and learning to let go. You wrote it during lockdown with your boyfriend JP Saxe, and I feel like if you could go back and tell yourself this 2 years ago you probably wouldn’t believe that your debut album was going to be a loved up record? Was there a thematic record that you thought you were going to make instead at one point?

JULIA MICHAELS: To be honest, no. I was coming off the Inner Monologue Tour, and you’ve known me for four years now; I was very bitter about love. I was angry, I was pessimistic, and I was sour and shit. I met him towards the end of the tour, and the more that I was with him the more I realised how safe I felt, how kind it was, how meaningful it was, and how stable it was. And I had never really experienced that. It was so new to me and it was scary, but it was beautiful. I went to the studio one day and I started with ‘Lie Like This’ and it just went from there up until we wrote ‘All your Exes’ which was the last song we wrote for the album. 

TB: The album is titled ‘Not in Chronological Order’ because that’s literally what this album is. There’s no storyline, it’s just a collection of moments that are very current to you. After you wrote ‘Lie Like This’ how much of a big directional impact did it have on how the rest of the album took shift? 

JM: I think it was a nice test for me to figure out how to write about love not from a really dark place. Like I say in ‘Happy’; “I kill relationships for art”, I’ve always been the sort of person who’s thought they had to write a song that comes from an angry place, especially when it comes to love. This album was a really good testament to the fact I can write a really good song about love and it be from a place that is really beautiful.

TB: And then you can write a song about love where you want to kill all your partners exes…

JM: *Laughs*, I’m a spectrum, let’s be real!

TB: ’Wrapped Around’ is the sassy break-up anthem we all need in our lives, and it hears you in this really playful disco-pop light. So can you explain how this track creatively came together?

JM: I just really wanted to write something that felt really fun, sexy, and sassy. It honestly started lyrically and then developed over time. I wanted songs for situations. I wanted songs for when you were feeling sad, introspective, happy, in love and self aware. And then I wanted a song that was sexy and spiteful, because we’ve all been there. 

TB: Sonically ‘Wrapped Around’ and ‘Lie Like This’ were the most surprising tracks to come from this new chapter as they heard you really embrace a different angle of pop music in your own style. What was inspiring you to really experiment with sounds in this way this time around? 

JM: To be honest, to me it felt like an enhancement of ‘Hurt Again’. It just felt like an elevated version of that song, and that’s why I really liked it. It’s weird because I really wanted it to still feel like there were some cohesive elements from who I am and who I’ve been, to who I am now and who I was always going to be. It was more about enhancing those things that I’ve already focused on. 

TB: ’History’ is my favourite song on the album, because the lyrical delivery is quite conversational and it’s contrasted so beautifully by a stripped back and emotional soundscape. When you were writing this one, did the sound fall into place early on, or did you play with different arrangements? 

JM: It was always a tender moment. With ‘Inner Monologue’ part 1 and part 2, I freestyled a lot of those songs like ‘Body’, ‘Into You’ and ‘Falling For Boys’. A good 90 percent of those EP’s were just me playing chords and then hopping into the booth and just singing. I didn’t having anything; no preconceived ideas, nothing written down, it was all just a stream of conscious lyrics. I didn’t really do any of that on this album except for ‘History’. That was the first song I’ve done like that in a long time, which is probably why you resonate with it so much because you know my music and know me very well. 

But it started out with just the guitar and I sang “Have you ever broken a bone?”. And then I laid the chorus down and sort of started to piece it together, and John Ryan jumped on and started working on it lyrically with me too. It was just a beautiful, simple and organic moment. It’s definitely one of my favourite on the albums.

TB: The song hears you asking a whole lot of questions. So is there a go-to question that you love to ask someone either friendship or romantically when you get to know them that you particularly find really interesting because I love the “have you ever broken a bone” question as there’s a different trauma to that to love or family?

JM: Oh definitely! The song is really coming from when you’re first dating somebody and your so enamoured by them and you just want to know everything about them. You’re like “what’s your dogs name when you were 5” *laughs*, because you just want to know everything. But if I was to ask a friend a question, I think my go to would probably be “what’s something you can’t live without?”. Because for me one thing I can’t live without is connection, so if somebody says something that is materialistic then I’m like “oh okay, I generally know the sort of person you are”. But if you say something like “I can’t live without my family” or “love”, or something that has substance to it then I’m like “okay perfect”. 

TB: The music video for ‘All Your Exes’ is hilariously charged and contrasts the satire of the situation perfectly and feels like it belongs in the Jawbreaker and Heathers cult film worlds. What was one of the funniest things that happened on set because it looked like a lot of fun? 

JM: It was a lot fun! When I was soliciting treatments for the video I knew I wanted to do something that felt very comedically dark, satirical and fun. I got a bunch of treatments back and one was from this director Blythe Thomas, and she was the most wonderful and so collaborative. I had this funny visual idea for a dinner party, and she was like “wait, why don’t we do a party with all of his exes but they’re all dead” and I was like “omg, that is the funniest thing I’ve ever heard. We’re doing it!”. 

So I had this Hot Cheeto pizza, and the door was really heavy so whenever I had to bump it open with my hip I had to push it really hard and every time Cheetos would fall on the floor and it was so funny. The girls were such sports, and there was one who was sitting to my left at the table who was like “girl, just shove a Twinky in my face, it’s fine” *laughs* It was so funny. She was like “I have big nostrils, put a Hot Cheeto up there”. I was like “you are so funny, I love you” *laughs*. 

TB: ’That’s The Kind Of Woman’ is the closing track on the record, and you’re no stranger to intimately charged unravellings, but this song felt like a different type of candid. Did you have any anxieties surrounding letting this one go out into the world? 

JM: No I didn’t actually. Like you said, I’m no stranger to laying it all out on the table musically. I was sitting in the bathtub one night and I had this random thought where I was like “if I was a well rounded human what would that look like”. And I was like “yeah, that’s the sort of woman I would happily leave myself for”. I brought it to my wonderful friend Michael Pollock, and he was like “I want to give you more, but I also don’t because these should be your flaws, your insecurities and the things that bug you everything. He honed in and finessed it with me, and it was such a beautiful thing as we both cried as we both related to it so much. We even went back in to try and re-record some of the vocals as I was crying in bits but it just never felt the same so we kept it as it is. I think that song and ‘Little Did I Know’ are two of my favourite songs I’ve ever written. 

TB: You’ve been a part of so many incredible other artists albums, and this record is your first time having a full body of work out that is all your thoughts, feelings and emotions. But when you look back at your co-writing experience, is there an album you’ve worked on that has a special place in your heart emotionally?

JM: Ummm…I mean… no. I take what I do really seriously, so I’m always giving 110% of myself. I don’t ever leave the studio going “I gave that person a quarter of me”. I really dive in, be there with them, and pull out whatever I can and hone and finesse people’s emotions. So no there isn’t one more than the other as everything I’ve worked on has been so fucking special, and I know that sounds like such a shitty copout but it’s not. I’m like a proud mum of all these things that I’ve been able to create with all of these beautiful people. 

‘Not In Chronological Order’ is out now!