Music. Art. Culture. Writing.
Next up on Infinite Culture, Julia Nusbaum: a singer, songwriter, band leader, band manager, and all around creative soul who, as we in her band Mountain and the Dove might tell you, “has a fantastic smile, is really smart, rocks the mic, is a great writer, and has huge musical tastes.” That includes Ella Fitzgerald, the Beastie Boys and her latest project, Friends and Lovers.
On getting started: “I don’t want people to say, oh she’s just a singer, because I have other creative interests. But asking why I sing is like asking why I breathe. Because I love to, it brings me joy, it pleases other people when they hear it, because I always have. I don’t really remember not being musical with my family. My parents didn’t have a drive to be performers but both mom and dad played guitar and sang. I actually didn’t know my mom played guitar until I was older, because my dad always played and my mom sang. For me, it started when I was 12 with my bat mitzvah. My teacher said I had a good voice and said I should sing my haftarah. So he recorded it and I learned it in three or four days. Then I did my bat mitzvah and when I was done everyone applauded, and that felt great.”
On what she likes to sing: “I like to sing big stuff, so if it gets loud I like it. When I had Solid State I was the voice with a big sound. I love it, but it also makes me think of the inverse style. I love to sing jazz but I never really have. I would love to front a jazz combo and do the song books. Ella’s Cole Porter song books are my go to. I know it by ear and listen to it all the time. I also like to sing story songs, songs with a narrative that feel like there is something to latch on to that you can express. And I love to do harmony, I feel like I have a good voice on my own, but singing with other voices is even better.”
Singing with her brother compared to others: “I don’t think that singing with anybody else is as easy as singing with my brother. The flow and connection and communication that we have musically is just innate, and it doesn’t require very much, as opposed to working with other singers and figuring out how to communicate. Maybe we figured it out when we were kids, before we remember. But working now with my friend Rich (in Friends and Lovers), it’s pretty effortless for me to come up with harmony, but work-shopping the material, breaking something down, understanding what you want the song to be – that takes more work. I always want to understand how I am going to be of service to the song. Especially when playing with somebody else. With Rich playing guitar and adding the other vocals, my job is almost like being the support staff in a way. So I ask, how can I make this better?”
The voice as an instrument: “There’s a weird jealousy around singing. People always tell me, I wish I could sing. And I feel like I need to say, oh you can sing, everyone can sing. But not everyone can, not everyone can take it to an instrumental level with proficiency and flexibility. That’s what being a singer is, being in service to the song, being another instrument in a band, which is different from singing a lullaby or all the other ways people use their voices. It’s also completely baring – there is nothing blocking me from the audience, no guitar, drum kit, or keyboard, nothing except the microphone. In some ways it’s the most revealing thing you can do. It’s terrifying, it’s still terrifying every time. I’m in a place now where I’ll be performing more soon, at open mics and gigs, and I’m so excited and also completely scared out of my gourd.”