This article originally appeared in She Shreds Issue #14, which was released in February, 2018. Receive a copy as your first issue when you subscribe here.
Last spring, Memphis singer-songwriter Julien Baker teamed up with Lauren Denitzio, front person of the melodic punk outfit Worriers, to tour Europe. Since then, both musicians have released their sophomore albums: Worriers’ Survival Pop (SideOneDummy Records) came out in September, and Baker’s Turn Out the Lights (Matador Records) arrived in October.
She Shreds asked Baker and Denitzio to discuss their experience touring together, and what followed was a conversation about working with an all-women crew, performing solo versus playing with a full band, and switching up their gear.
Lauren Denitzio: It seems like you’ve been having a really fun time on tour.
Julien Baker: I’m going to Europe in the middle of a full U.S. tour. Half Waif and Petal supported for the East Coast and Europe. Then I come straight home and do the West Coast, with Half Waif supporting. This was kind of the best tour I’ve ever done, because there were so many women on it. What is your lineup looking like?
Right now, we’re out with Thin Lips and Katie Ellen, which is a dream lineup. It feels really rad to have a tour filled with ladies.
Yes! I was on a tour where our entire van was ladies. There were two men playing in Half Waif, but [otherwise the tour was] three female artists and an all-female crew. It seems like it was somehow not as infuriating to deal with things like the sound guy or people at the venue not taking our tour manager seriously because there were so many of us.
If you reach critical mass, they can’t single you out and make you feel like you don’t know what you’re talking about.
Exactly. It’s like, well, we’ve made it this far and we’re all ladies! There’s no one guy that’s saving us. Are you still touring with your drummer Keith Sidorowicz?
He’s done the whole tour with us. We’re doing a few shows at the very end with our regular drummer, Mikey Erg.
Oh, that’s sick. I felt about Adan and Robin from Half Waif the same way I feel about Keith. They’re just regular human beings who treat women like regular human beings and I love them. But I think it’s also really a testament to them that they could hear all of us talk about how great it was to have all ladies on the tour and not feel this weird sense of bravado that they needed to be oppositional. They didn’t feel left out—women have to exist feeling that all the time.
It makes me optimistic that, like you said, you never thought you would be in a place where you could have a crew and a tour that was disproportionately women. But now we’re at a point where there’s representation and opportunities for women, especially in the audio and technical world, too. There’s that awful lingering misconception that women don’t know how to plug stuff into other stuff. I saw Waxahatchee not too long ago, and they had a crew of all women, too.
It’s amazing. We didn’t end up taking a tour manager on this tour, but we had been thinking about it. I tweeted about it, and within 24 hours I had gotten so many applications from totally qualified TM and merch people who are not men. No one has any excuse for always having an all-male crew.
The few men I’ve toured with are the most emotionally literate dudes I’ve ever met. But still, it felt really nice to be around other females, queer people, and people who were very conscientious about the vocabulary around mental health. This tour taught me a lot about being more confident in myself, and being okay with taking up space.
My previous experience in bands was with an all-male lineup, other than me. I think both good and bad things about that also helped me learn how to take more ownership over gear and sound and tone and things that I never thought I would necessarily do.
I saw Lucy Dacus play a show in Nashville, and she gave the proceeds to Southern Girls Rock Camp, and I remember her saying on stage, “Sometimes being able to do something starts with just seeing another person do the thing you want to do, and knowing that it’s possible.” I think that’s why it’s so important that me and Kiley (from Petal) and Nandi (from Half Waif) come from radically different backgrounds. Nandi plays with two keyboards at once, a laptop, tracks, and triggers, and she can do things with electronics that I have no clue how to do. But then I can make things happen with guitar loops that she can’t. It’s cool to grow. It’s scary for me to not fully understand my own equipment. I know I still have stuff left to learn, but the only thing I’m certain of is that I know how my stuff works. On my board I have two back-to-back ABCYs, to create…
So basically an ABY splits one signal into two, and an ABCY splits one signal into three, so then I have a dry signal that goes out to my amp. It’s a fail-safe, just in case everything stops. I still have the guitar I’m playing, and then I have a stereo loop with which I can make channels A and B, and if I run it back on itself using another looping device, I can make a C, and then all of those are on their individual tracks. But I can’t stop them like I could if I were using a laptop. I can only mute them. So essentially, I have to arrange what I play so that it all can work independently of each other. It’s kind of like a kaleidoscope, how it has three different individual images, and then they combine. I know how it works insofar as I can pull off the songs. I get really defensive when people are like, “Why are you doing it this way?” Because it’s not how the pedal is supposed to be used. I use it backwards.
And your loops were so interesting to me when we played together. I always thought looping was used to get it to sound like there are actually two guitars playing. But what you’re doing is so integrated into your sound as a solo guitarist. I wouldn’t know it was possible until I saw someone do it.
The same goes for you and how you rearrange songs, and how you play them. I’ve definitely seen you succeed in figuring out how to make a Worriers song work when you play solo. Having that elasticity of sound is really cool.
Do you run your guitar out of more gear when you’re with a band? I think when we were in Europe, you were running straight in, or you had a tuning pedal.
I always have a tuning pedal, and I think I had a Dyna Comp pedal and a Boss Overdrive pedal, but that’s it. When I’m in a band, I’m usually just the rhythm guitarist, so I’ve never necessarily had a huge range of sound for my guitar. When I play solo, I’ve gotten to a point where I’m trying different things. But when we were on tour together, I was the polar opposite of you, gear-wise, because I was practically running straight into the amp.
But to me that’s amazing, because when I see guitarists who have very little effects, or no effects at all, I’m like, “How do you do it?” I hide within the sound of building loops because I started playing with a band, and I want there to be dynamics, and big ups and downs. When we were on tour together, I just played the acoustic songs on the record on electric guitar. But now I switch to acoustic guitar, and I straight-up get scared. I’m like, “Will people think I’m good? I’m not ripping any solos!” My pride feels threatened.
Playing solo, no matter how confident I feel in the rearrangement, it’s always like, will people think this is the full song? Will this come across as dynamic enough? I shouldn’t care, but yeah, I totally know what you’re saying.
Watching you perform, I think of great songwriters who feel like they don’t need to dress their poetry in anything but just a very minimal arrangement. I have a propensity to over-complicate, because I want to prove that I am capable. When I was in The Star Killers, which was my first band ever, I used to insert these ignorant solos because I was the only girl in the band, and we were playing shows with all boys, and I didn’t want to be the girl with the guitar who only knew G, you know? I think it was that Bikini Kill documentary, where [Kathleen Hanna] was talking about all the dudes in the punk scene who can barely play their instruments, and they can’t sing at all, so why do I have to be amazing at my instrument? It’s a constant process of feeling comfortable with simplicity. I don’t have to prove that I am incredible. I can play four chords, and it’s fine. But it’s scary.
I think the more either one of us plays music and goes on tour in different forms, the more we find, “Oh, in this scenario, I would like to have another person on stage with me!” Or, “Worriers can be two people! Or it can be a full band!” And the song can have all sorts of different arrangements. You find the appropriate space for them.
For this whole tour around the album release, I’ve had Camille Faulkner, who played violin on the record. But now I’m going to Europe, and she couldn’t come, so the songs will feel a little bit naked. But I played an in-store where I did a bunch of songs acoustic, and that was also scary. Have you only toured Survival Pop—by the way, sick name!—mostly full band?
Since it came out, we have only played full band. But the tour you and I did together, I was playing some of those songs solo, [from] when Mikey and I did some duo shows.
When you play as a duo, do you run two cabs, or do you just turn up super loud?
I turn up a little bit louder, and Mikey plays through a cajón. So it’s me and percussion.
That makes sense. I didn’t know it was him thrashing on the drums, and then you doing one of those crazy multi-cab things. The two cabs I use are just for different sounds, not frequency splitters.
That’s next on my list of things to learn to understand.
Dude, you should play through two amps, because it’s sick! I didn’t think I would want to do it, because I was like, two amps is inconvenient, and it’s more stuff to try to fly or put in a van, and partially what makes it so cost-effective for me to tour is that I have such little gear, but then I got two amps, and it’s like… a booster pedal on steroids. It feels like turning the saturation up on the sound coming out of your guitar, because it’s not just louder, it’s wider, and it sounds really epic. It’s flipping awesome. I feel like I’m at a real rock show for thirty seconds of my set, and then I go back to sad, sad tunes.