The Importance of Being Led: Julianna Zachariou on "Meanwhile"

To kick off a new season of interviews, I got to sit down with Julianna Zachariou to talk about her upcoming album, Meanwhile, and some of the process that went into making it.  The album will release on December 1st (TOMORROW)!


CM: Does [Meanwhile] follow any theme or story?  Or is it more of a collage?

JZ: I tried to think about that, because, when I named it, I had to keep that in mind.  It’s called Meanwhile because I think 80% of the songs were written in the same season, and it was a season where a lot of things were happening that I didn’t feel all the way prepared for, but they were happening regardless.  There was a lot of knowing that I’d be better for it, or that maybe I’d learn something from this or whatever.

So it feels like—coming out of that season—that all of that was leading towards where I am right now.  It also feels simultaneously insignificant.  Like, very significant, but also like I’ve just been waiting to get to this point.  So it ends up being Meanwhile— between ‘A’ and ‘B’; and I’m at ‘B’, which is good!  But there are a zillion points in between.  There’s ‘A’, and then subcategories 1-10, and then subcategory square-triangle-octagon.  And then B.  It’s been about two and a half years in progress.

Were your life experiences the inspiration for the songs?

Oh yeah.  So many of them came out of a season or moments where I didn’t know what to say, or what to do about something.  Whenever that happens, I can usually write and figure it out.  It’s weird because there are some songs on there where I pay attention to the lyrics again (which is funny, because I wrote them), I realize there is so much that I already knew that took me two years to believe.  It would have been a lot better if I just listened to what I knew; I would have ditched a lot of pain.


I think it’s just an issue of trusting yourself, which is something I’m not very good at.  I think one layer of that is just that I’m indecisive.  That would be the surface layer, and then deeper than that maybe I’m afraid of owning a decision because then I have to deal with the consequence if it doesn’t work out; for some reason I think I ditch that ownership, and it helps me feel a bit less responsible for my own tragedies.

Right, it’s a safety or a cushion.

Oh yeah, but it makes it worse and it’s the long way around.  I’m really trying not to do that anymore.  That is so much of what this album is about; I knew something was wrong, and then I fought that feeling for two years, and wrote all these songs.


Do you have a favorite song on the album?

I don’t think that objectively I do, like I listen to one and go ‘Wow, this is my favorite song!’ but I do have a favorite song for the way that it happened.  It’s Looking for You because I wrote that song the day we recorded it—we’d go in after all of the artists who booked time [at the studio] were gone, so we’d usually go in at like 9pm and then record over night, because that’s the only time it was open.  So, Kam was like, ‘We have time tonight, do you want to come in?’  And I said, ‘Sure!’ so we went in, and it was dark and it was just me and my electric.  We messed with some sounds, and the recording you hear is basically the first time I’d sung [the song] all the way through.  And so it was kind of making itself while it was happening, and I made some choices in the moment that I wasn’t expecting.  You can feel it breathing, and you can feel me working my way through it as I’m doing it, and it’s so the sentiment of the song too.  It’s really sad and mad.  So that’s definitely a favorite of mine, for sure.


It’s interesting; the way that the record happened was that I was kind of learning how to make a record while I was making it, and there are a lot of things now that I would do differently, I think.  When I was younger I also recorded a record, when I was like 16, and then again when I was 14.  The fourteen-year-old one didn’t work out; sixteen-year-old one did, but it was just recorded in a day; I didn’t really have a band.  So I used to be really afraid of things sounding off, or my voice being off, or something not being perfect or exact.  Then I started this process, which kind of started off that way, but I think because I wasn’t paying for it and it was all just friends and we all were just trying something out, there’s a certain open-handedness about the whole process.  I was okay with things just kind of sprouting the way they would naturally.  I would bring in different musicians —my friends— who would be themselves on the track and it would make it more dynamic than I could have.  The whole thing kind of ebbs and flows and is kind of wonky in some ways, and I love it for that.  I trained myself because I would be listening to records while I was recording it, throughout the week.  I would listen to them and be like, ‘This is so not perfect, but my favorite thing about this is when that thing squeaks, or when that thing feeds-back, or when these voices are all singing in parallel and they’re all kind of off, but they work,’ and then by the end of it I learned the important part is me sounding like me.  That’s the only thing distinct about me; it’s me sounding like me.  If I’m trying to do anything else, then it’s probably not the best thing that I could be doing.

It sounds like the process was really important— was there anything that you wish that you didn’t have to learn along the way?  Anything that you wish that you knew before starting?

No.  Probably not.  It was therapeutic.


How has life changed since you finished recording then, if that was therapy?

I finished recording [the album] right before I went to Scotland, so it was a very tumultuous season, and then I was just gone, and nobody knew me.  Everything that was an issue was an ocean away from me.  It was just me with myself.  I got to dig up a bunch of stuff, and then I had to go sit with it in Scotland for five months, and learn how to like myself again.  That was hard.  So yeah, part one: raw, music-building, stuff.  Part two: isolation, looking at all that ugly stuff and saying ‘that’s okay, that’s what happens, it’s okay.’ and so I guess in parallel, learning to be okay with the stuff that wasn’t perfect in recordings I got to learn to be okay with the stuff that wasn’t perfect in just the way that I interact with the world, and the way that I create relationship, and stuff I need to work on.  Then I came back and I had to believe that all of that mattered, and that it was worth listening to, and that I was also worth making relationship with.  I had to believe that my off-road experience was something worthy of being received.

It’s been a long time in the making.

It’s been a long time.  A long, long time.  Which is cool, because that doesn’t happen much.  I got to take my time, and I knew there would probably never be another time when a record would feel like this, so I was kind of soaking it up.  And then left the country for five months in the middle of the process…

It’s the importance of being led, and following that, despite whatever you think the process should look like; it probably isn’t going to look like that.  I guess there really was no other way of doing it.


Julianna will be releasing Meanwhile on December 1st, but until then you can listen to Things I'll Never Know and Skin.  The singles can be found with the rest of Julianna's music on Apple Music, Amazon, Spotify, and Soundcloud.

More link goodness/Julianna on...