Saturday, September 7, 2013

Chicago musician Julie Meckler bringing intoxicating vibe to scene


On her debut album, "Queenshead," French songstress Julie Meckler grabs listeners with her intoxicating voice and doesn't let go.

Meckler will celebrate the release of "Queenshead" with a show Sept. 26 at the Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia Ave., Chicago. The Blue Ribbon Glee Club and Roy Ivy are also on the bill.

The show starts at 8:30 p.m. and tickets are $10, available at

I had the change to talk to Meckler,, about her new album.

Q - Great to talk to you. Of course, you will be celebrating the release of your debut CD, "Queenshead," with a show at The Hideout. What goals did you have for the album and do you think you achieved them?

The first goal was to finish it, print it and release it, really. Everything was new for me in the making of this album. 

Also, to be truthful and genuine through the whole process. It took us three years to make "Queenshead" and yes, I'm really proud of it!

It's a very personal album. It was a very specific time in my life, and the album sounds like my life - joyful and dark, groovy and languid, American but so French.

Q - The album is drastically different from the album you made last year with garage rock band Rambos. Should people be surprised that you have many musical sides?

No, people shouldn't be surprised. Or, if people are surprised I suppose they'll be surprised every time they see my name. 

I'm a music lover. I have no boundaries concerning genres, styles, time-periods for music that I'm listening to and what I like to perform. 

I think you can tell on the record that my voice is very versatile. I met my husband when we were both playing in the West African music Chicago band Le Orchestre Super Vitesse. 

My next project will be very different from this, and I don't know exactly how, but that's something you can count on! Everything is open.

Q - On "Queenshead," you cover the song "Soul Love." Why did you want to want to cover the song and what do you think you added to it? Would you call David Bowie an influence?

In the beginning of this project the band was just me and Brett Bakshis. We would hang out and play my songs and also sing some other tunes and try to twist them and play with them to create new material. 

I should mention that Brett loves to sing too. We love some of the same artists (for example, David Bowie of course, PJ Harvey, The Pixies, Jeff Buckley, Portishead...). 

With "Soul Love," I don't think we added something to it, necessarily. I think we used the original song (really just a memory of the original), as raw material - Brett created the bossa nova guitar style for the song, I experimented with the vocal lines, later Will Phalen had the idea to add some harmonica to bring in some Americana feel. 

On the recording we also added Kurt Schweitz on upright bass to have a more traditional groovy, jazzy, bossa nova bass line. When we perform the song I'm never thinking of the original version and actually, most of the time people don't recognize it at a David Bowie tune.

Q - You document your fear of being deported on the song "Deportation Blues" and now thankfully you have your Green Card. Should the process be made easier for people who want to want to live in the United States? What was it like being able to return to France this summer?

Immigration is a hard subject, which is very often treated and talked about with statistics and numbers - where I think we always need to see the human part of it. To emigrate - to leave your country, culture, family and friends is always a very radical and painful decision. 

Yes, I think the U.S. but not only the U.S. - the Western countries -  should improve immigration policy, especially towards people asking for political asylum. I don't believe in borders. 

People should be free to go  and live wherever they want. Children don't understand borders. We shouldn't either.

Returning to France this summer (for six weeks!) was a journey extremely rich in emotions: Reconnecting with my friends one by one, catching up, realizing all the beautiful friendships I still have after five years of absence, meeting their kids for the first time, seeing my Grandma who is 85, introducing my husband to my people, introducing my other home/country/culture to my non-French-speaking husband. was great! But, it was also great to feel that Chicago was my home and that is for sure where I want to live. I'm happy to be back.

Q - One Chicago publication called you one of the "15 Chicago Artists To Watch." Did that surprise you and put a lot of pressure on you? What are the names of some other Chicago bands that you admire?

Since I'm not from here sometimes I don't really get the importance of certain things like being recognized by media and press. I'm happy to be noticed, but It's usually the people around me that are even more excited about these kinds of things. 

So, I didn't really feel pressure. We just continued working and keeping our heads in the recording process...lost in time - It was such a long process. 

Through my husband James I've been able to meet many incredible jazz musicians he's playing with like Matt Ulery and Rob Clearfield. My friend Jeremy David Miller - those people I really admire their creativity, their musicality, and their groove, all in different ways.

Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you think you fit into it?

I see the Chicago music scene as a talented, big community of very open, nice, and curious people. It's because of the welcoming support of musician friends that I've been able to start playing music, create a band, play live shows, record an album. 

I'd like to think that what I bring to the scene is a freshness, and a spontaneity in my way of perceiving and dealing with music.

Q - What made you leave behind your life as an actress and do you think you made the right choice?

Tough one. I wouldn't say I left it behind. 

I'm still on stage performing just in a different way. Now, all I have to do is really be myself out there on the stage - a sublime me - and sing. 

Singing is really the moment where I'm truly myself. But, I love acting and dancing - I'm still a performer and always will be, whatever stage I'm on.  

I hope I can be a part of some European theater/dance projects in the future, continuing to live in Chicago - we'll see what comes. I wish I knew how to bring more dance and theater into my live shows, but I already do try to envisage the visual aspects of the show through decor, special lighting, costume, toys and figurines I have on stage. 

I've also even started thinking about some makeup for the band.

Q - You are married to the trumpet player in your band, James Davis. Is that hard being in a band with the person who you are married to? How do you make it work?

James and I met playing in Le Orchestre Super Vitesse in late 2009. At that time my band was already in the recording process. 

The core of the band (Brett Bakshis, Will Phalen, and Shawn Rios and me) had been playing together for at least a year already but I always wanted a trumpet player. And then I met James - with him everything is just easy. His trumpet and horn arrangements completed some existing songs little by little, first on stage then on the album. 

I think you should ask him how he makes it work. He's such an incredibly talented musician and composer. I'm so lucky that he wants to play with me!

Q - Do you have any dream projects or collaborations?

Working with a Balkan Fanfare. Also, Arthur H.