Juice, Worth The Squeeze
On JULIA, the debut record from Naarm-based singer-songwriter Juice Webster, one of the country’s best singer-songwriters makes herself known
Image credit: Ryan Kenny
Juice Webster has never been one for labyrinthine lyrics.
Her pen packs a poetic punch, with the very first couplet of her career — “I choose my life, I choose it all / I choose to stumble and to fall” — a prescient declaration of her artistic intent. It’s a statement that not only underwrites her distinctly personal style of confessional alt-folk, but colours the four-year journey to her debut record. Juice lives on stages and in studios, rehearing and recording, as Julia — the woman behind the mantle — tackles the highs and lows of the everyday that comprise her intimate tellings.
She takes the slings and arrows of angst, empathy and devotion, sets them to soft strums and gentle ambiance, and adorns them with a solitary vocal, equal parts honest and impassioned. Her debut record, so self-titled that it skips by her alias, fuses the stripped-back arrangements of her earlier releases with stronger synths and bigger band tracks, natural evolutions that help underline her vivid stories. The result is a beautiful record that solidifies her as one of Melbourne’s most affecting singer-songwriters. On JULIA, Juice Webster surpasses herself, arriving fully formed amongst anxieties, loves, memories, and the melancholy of transcience.
When Juice gets on the line, she’s only just previewed the record at Longplay Bar in Melbourne. “It was really sweet, I'm really glad I did it,” she waxes, still excited. “I think I was a bit anxious about it feeling a bit indulgent or something beforehand, but it was actually just really, really nice… it felt like a very wholesome way to celebrate the record.” It’s not often that a debut album listening event can fill out a space, but Juice’s sold-out session speaks to both the community she’s built and the excitement she’s fostered within it.
The road to JULIA has been paved by slighter projects — 2019’s You Who Was Myself and 2021’s More Than Reaction — and lined with stages, some shared with local staples like Telenova, Maple Glider, and Slowly Slowly. Tracks like Wanna Be Held and Lover, I Swear have resonated with crowds the country over, making JULIA less of an out-and-out debut and more of a formal reintroduction. In the lead-up to her first LP, Juice knew she had to do something to really mark the occasion.
“I think releasing music these days feels funny,” she muses, contemplative. “I think someone had asked me, ‘how would you like someone to listen to your record,' and I thought, ‘I just want them to listen to it all in one, in the dark,’ and this felt like a rare opportunity to be able to do that.” Far from just an ideal listening experience, the intimate party helped bring fandom, often lost in an abstract haze, into reality. “There were quite a few people that I hadn't met before, and that felt really special, that they were really keen to be involved and show their support in that way,” she glows. “I think that social media is a funny thing as well,” adds Juice, recalling those face-to-face meetings. “You can feel quite disconnected.”
Disconnection is a feeling that runs throughout JULIA, coming in waves, ebbing against the tender bonds within. The album opens with dissociation — “I’m wild in the way I’m not there,” sings Juice on Returning — and the sentiment swirls about the interpersonal relationships and internal monologues. “It can be something like social media,” says Juice of the isolating elements, “but in my case, it is, in a large part, feelings of dissociation… it can be something as simple as feeling really anxious and, as a result of that, feeling really tired and feeling like you're just not operating at the same level as someone else, and so that makes you feel kind of disconnected from the world at large.”
Image credit: Ryan Kenny
Juice’s interiority, far from singular, is mirrored in the dynamics that make up JULIA. Tender album track Among The Wires sketches a trying time through an attempt at connection, one thwarted by the very hardships that inspire it. The closing plea — “all I’d ask of you now is to survive this” — is a haunting effort to break through. Elsewhere, on single Without You, connection is an anchor that ties Juice to stability, with little more than a soft presence shielding her from the slings and arrows of the everyday. In her telling, connection isn’t a choice, but a hard-earned state to aspire to. “It's an uneasy feeling, so I do feel like my instinct is to want to find a way out of that,” she explains of her own disaffection, “but then at the same time... there’s also that feeling of sitting in it because you're too tired to try and combat it.”
More than just a recurring motif, the tides of disconnection helped shape the stop-start process of writing and recording. “It's not like I just wrote these 10 songs and I was like, 'Great, they're all great,'” she admits with a laugh. “There's a lot of bad stuff that came out of my mouth that will never see the light of day! I think I’ve kind of settled into my process a little bit more, being that sometimes I feel really creative and I try and capitalize on that when I'm feeling that way, and when I feel like I've got stuff to say and when I'm feeling really good, I'll make the time to utilize that.” On lead single In The Zone, she mires herself in that foggy detachment — “I’m half awake behind a curtain, wrapped up in every little old mistake” — sketching clarity as a hard-won state of mind: “I have never known what it feels like to wake up feeling in the zone.”
“It used to kind of worry me and stress me out a bit,” says Juice of those creatively fruitless patches, “but I think I've come to sort of be like, 'It's okay, just ride it out, don't push it… if nothing's there, nothing's there.'” These days, those stretches are opportunities to “read or just observe the world around me a bit more, or spend time with people who inspire me… [I] just try and use that time to fill myself up a bit more creatively, and then wait for that creative time to roll around again.” She’s not averse to a little bit of perseverance, but as Juice explains, the ten tracks that make JULIA were all products of those inspired fits.
In embracing the freedom to write on her own time, Juice also shirked the pressures that threaten to subsume a debut record. “I really wanted to make a full-length, album and that was a goal, but I think… I'm not someone who sits down kind of really consistently and writes,” she says, explaining how her loose, intuitive writing process has endured. “When I was writing the songs, I wasn't thinking like, ‘These need to all belong together, and these all need to make sense as a body of work,' but it was rather like, 'I'm just gonna keep writing, and when I feel like I've got the 10 songs or whatever, then maybe I'll start recording them and viewing them more as their own their own body of work.'”
The unifying experience came in the recording, which traded sporadic writing sessions for dedicated jams. “Alex O'Gorman engineered it — Gormie — and he has a space in Pakenham Upper,” explains Juice. “His Dad built this studio there, and it's so beautiful. You can see horses from the window in the paddock, and it's very open and was just a really, really nice place to make music.” That serene space hosted a string of talented collaborators, including guitarist Theo Carbo, bassist Noah Hutchinson and drummer Ollie Cox. “We tracked the band stuff during that time, so we all played together, which felt really beautiful and freeing,” she enthuses. The more solitary tracks — such as All For You and Waking Dream — were tracked back at Simon Lam’s studio in North Melbourne’s Meat Market, along with all of Juice’s vocals.
“He's my partner as well,” says Juice of Simon with a laugh. “I just think he's a ridiculously talented human, and he makes some of my favorite music in the world.” A longtime collaborator, Simon began working on Juice’s music when she started making it, handling the master on You Who Was Myself before graduating to production and mixing on More Than Reaction. “I think it can be a funny thing, working on music with your partner, because music is such a personal thing, and I bringing anyone into that world, it's a very singular kind of specific type of relationship,” she elaborates. “I think it's really, really beautiful… I think he knows me in a way that no one else will ever know me, and so I think having someone like that work on your music, it feels so, so special.” Juice gushes over Simon’s craft — “I love his tastes, I think he's just such a beautiful songwriter, he's got a really singular voice and style, and I think he brings out the best in my songwriting” — which, in what must be a similarly special experience, produced a love song dedicated to himself.
“I still don't really know,” admits Juice of her approach to writing lyrics. “I don't really have a clear process for lyric writing. Often when I write a song, I'll just play something and sing stuff, and sometimes certain words or phrases just fall out, and that will create a really nice starting point,” she continues. “Sometimes I'm like, 'I don't know where that came from,' like a word or a phrase or something.” Juice’s occasionally oblique phrases conjure curiosity even as they hit home. Waking Dream is a powerful example of her enigmatic approach, with the lyrics shrouded in a mystique that extends to both audience and artist.
Sometimes, as Juice admits, the phrases that leap out are a little less mystifying, as on Without You, a loving dedication that she calls “cheesy as hell.” That self-awareness, delivered with a laugh, isn’t a shield for sincerity, as Juice reflects on her penchant for vulnerability. “I don't find it difficult because I think that's just who I am, and I've kind of always been someone who wears my heart on my sleeve a little bit,” says Juice of the honest, forthright lyrics. “When I wrote ‘Without You,’ I was like, 'it's cheesy,’” she says with a laugh. “I really love that in songs, and so I think there’s part of me that might be like, 'oh, maybe this is a bit embarrassing or whatever,' but I do pretty quickly get over that.”
“I really like being direct in my songwriting, and I think that's also just how I communicate,” says Juice. “I think I'm quite direct.” That forthright communication renders deep emotions in sharp terms, and a familiar statement — “I don’t know what I’d do without you” — is enlivened by earnest expression. A cliché is shaped by overuse, and some of our most profound shared experiences, no matter how real, can seem at first a platitude. “I think maybe sometimes that creates really earnest lyrics or really cheesy lyrics,” she says, “but I think I'm becoming more comfortable with that, and more comfortable leaning into that.”
A simple lyric lands pointed and relatable, but beyond that, it gives Juice herself a sharp insight into her own mental. “It's a way of exploring why I'm feeling that way, and what things might be contributing to that feeling,” she muses. “I'm not always able to really quickly or easily put words to my feelings, or even [put] specific emotions to my feelings, I sometimes just feel a bit uneasy or just uncomfortable, and songwriting is a really nice way of untangling a lot of those feelings for me.” More than just clarity and catharsis, the process can be revelatory, pulling back the curtain on things yet realized. “The subconscious is so amazing and so powerful, and I find that my subconscious often will bring these things out in songwriting that I'm not even ready to acknowledge,” adds Juice. “Sometimes it can even take me a while after I've written a song to come back to it and be like, 'Oh, she knew!'”
Juice credits the same intuition for informing the finishing touches, including the art that emblazons her ten-track collection. “I knew right away that I wanted a lot of nighttime, and I wanted water,” Juice explains, those inclinations similarly steeped in her subconscious. “I don't know if there was anything that specifically drew me to those things, or if it was just something I was feeling or thinking about while I was making the record.” That vision, though clear, didn’t actually bring about the album’s aquatic art. “The cover art was kind of a fun coincidence, kind of almost an accident,” she recalls. “I had dinner with my friend, Chayto, and he was going to take some photos of me. We were in the city and my friend Edvard lives in an apartment block where there's a pool, and I was like, 'maybe we should just go there?'” One cold and quick after-dinner dip later, the pair had stumbled on their intimate cover. “It was like a 'if we get the shot, cool, but like I'm not expecting that,'” she says happily. “The idea was there, but it wasn't conscious.”
The inspiration pouring out in revelatory lyrics and striking images, Juice circled a title throughout the recording process, ultimately ending up with a fully mixed — and entirely untitled — project. “I was really struggling to name it,” she admits. “Nothing was feeling right, and then I just wrote down 'Julia,' and it felt really right to me. The more I thought about it, and the more I thought about what the album means to me, it just made a lot more sense.” After pouring so much into the record, and honing such a confessional style, it’s hardly surprising that “it almost feels like just another person now.” “It also, as a body of work, just feels like something I've been trying to kind of get to for a while, like it's something I've been trying to achieve, and it felt really nice to just name it my name.”
Image credit: Chayto Nadin
JULIA might mark the end of the long road to a record, but as Juice speaks on international shows and half-formed plans, it’s clearly the beginning of something much greater. “I'm making music at the moment with my friend Hamish, we're doing some cool, shoegazey sort of stuff, which has been really, really fun to make,” she says, already immersed in the next experiment. “I find it so inspiring and beneficial to just make music with other people, and make all sorts of music, because I think it unlocks different creative sources within you.” It makes sense when Juice says she’s working on songs with some other friends too, expanding outward even as she moves forward.
That momentum has taken Juice farther than ever before: she’s chased the record release with a hometown show, and followed that celebratory gig up with a European excursion, featuring her first performance in Paris. There’s half-formed plans and quiet hopes, but as the horizon stretches out before her, there’s no telling what’s next. “I'm really excited,” says Juice without a hint of hesitation. Inspired, invigorated, and in full control of her process, she’s truly in the zone.
Juice Webster's new album JULIA is out now via Cohort