Published on September 13, 2018. Interview by 2018 Summer Intern, Emma Brodeur. Juliana Daugherty is a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist whose debut record, Light, was released earlier this year. Juliana was the New City Arts Fall 2017 Artist in Residence.
Juliana is our seventh featured 2018 artist in our third 7x7x7 Series, which asks 7 questions to 7 Charlottesville artists and published once a week for 7 weeks.
If you had a free afternoon in Charlottesville what would you do or where would you go?
These days I'm very into aimless strolling. I might take a leisurely walk on the Rivanna trail, or just meander around my neighborhood while listening to music.
Describe your artistic work in 7 words.
Sparse, rococo, circular, angular, toothy, transparent, opaque
Who or what inspires your current work?
Natural objects, landscapes, and occurrences. Human interactions. Female singers embracing loudness and ugliness and weirdness and theatrics. Poems that make revelatory, calamitous turns. Connection and disconnection. Confusion.
Consider one piece you’re working on right now. Give us a snippet of your routine—from start to finish, what goes into making it?
I rarely work from a set idea or enter the process already knowing what I want to accomplish, so I almost always start off with some kind of improvisation. If I'm working on a song, I'll play around on the guitar, singing whatever melodies come to mind and trying to find chord progressions to suit them. If I'm working on a poem, I start with a freewrite—writing continuously, letting my focus drift wherever it wants to. In both processes, something eventually sticks—a line, an image, a melodic fragment or chord progression. This becomes the seed from which I build the rest of the song or poem, though it sometimes gets discarded in the process.
I edit continually while I'm writing, so it takes me a long time to get to the stage of a finished draft. I also work in concentrated bursts. When things are going well, I'll finish a whole piece in one sitting (I'm a night owl, so this usually means working through the night). Sometimes the work is resistant, and I end up with big pieces missing (or filled in with placeholders)—a bridge or chorus, a final stanza. When this happens, it's often weeks or months, or even longer, before I find a solution that feels right to me. Otherwise, though, I don't do much in the way of revision. I like to revisit work after I've put it away for a few weeks, and make little tweaks here and there with clear eyes and ears, but I rarely put a piece through multiple "drafts"—it's either finished or it isn't.
I don't worry about lyrics when I'm writing a melody—I just sing nonsense words. Occasionally, though, some element of meaning finds its way into the nonsense. When this happens, I try to treat it as significant, and use it to direct the rest of the lyrics when I do sit down to write them. Lyrics feel more malleable to me than poetry, and less mathematical, so I tend to revise new lyrics on an ongoing basis, until I start performing them regularly and they fix themselves more permanently in my brain.
Recording a song is a whole new animal. My recording process has always been collaborative, and I mostly work by trial and error. I usually have a general idea of what I'm looking for aesthetically, though it's often nebulous. I do my best to communicate this to whatever other musicians I'm working with. Then we try lots of ideas out and evaluate by feel, until we find the form that's best for the song.
What have you learned about yourself as a person through the experience of making art?
Art is the best way I know how to make sense of the world. To do good work is to strive for new ways of seeing and understanding. My best work is as revelatory to me as it is to any audience.
What would you like to see happen in Charlottesville to better support artists in our community?
Better funding resources for early-career artists working on short-term and long-term projects. Better facilitation of mentoring relationships between established and early-career artists.
What is currently on your studio/work desk?
Lots of books (my desk doubles as a bookshelf); a reproduction of William the blue hippopotamus from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (previously owned by my mother and long coveted by myself); a largish rock with a satiny sheen (pleasing to look upon, pleasing to touch); a metronome I intend to use more often; my cat, no matter how many times I shoo him off. Not on the desk but nearby is a large collection of fossils, rocks, shells, bones, arrowheads, and other oddities—things I like to pick up and ruminate on from time to time—and, of course, recording gear and amps and instruments.
The opinions expressed in this interview are solely those of the artist and do not necessarily represent the policies or positions of NCAI.
As the daughter of two symphony musicians, Juliana Daugherty began classical training at an early age, playing a variety of instruments before undertaking intensive study of the flute. After a year of study at the North Carolina School of the Arts, Daugherty transferred to UNC Chapel Hill, where she turned her focus to poetry and indulged a long-standing interest in Irish and American traditional music. In 2010, she moved to Charlottesville to pursue an MFA in poetry at the University of Virginia—awarded in 2013—and joined up with local bands Nettles and the Hill and Wood, with whom she continues to perform as a vocalist, Irish and classical flutist, and keyboard player.
After several years of performing, recording, and touring with these and other groups, Daugherty turned her focus toward a solo endeavor. As a songwriter, she seeks to create songs that are intimate and honest, bypassing intellect to travel deeper into the unquantifiable domain of human feeling. She performs regularly at local venues, and her work has been featured on NPR's This American Life. Her debut record, Light, was released on the Austin-based independent label Western Vinyl earlier this year.