Julien Baker was surprised when Ben Gibbard tweeted out her covers of Death Cab For Cutie. Baker performs at the Vera Project on Wednesday, Aug. 10.
One of 2015’s sleeper hits was “Sprained Ankle,” the debut from singer-songwriter Julien Baker, who headlines the Vera Project on Wednesday (Aug. 10). The album features nine slow-burning solo electric-guitar confessionals with a bluesiness befitting the 20-year-old musician’s Memphis roots.
The record caught a second wind this past spring when a trifecta of live cover songs by Baker popped up on YouTube, all originally by similarly minded ’90s indie tunesmiths — emo-punks Jawbreaker, the late Elliott Smith and Seattle’s Death Cab For Cutie.
Baker was on tour when the videos emerged, so she insists she was oblivious to the collective swoon Gen Xers let out on social media. And she’s still amazed that she heard from Blake Schwarzenbach of Jawbreaker and Ben Gibbard of Death Cab. Gibbard thanked her directly, then tweeted out her covers.
Julien Baker, Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster
7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 10, at the Vera Project, 305 Warren Ave. N., Seattle; $12 (206-956-8372 or theveraproject.org)
“I was so afraid [Death Cab] would think I was just some fangirl,” she laughs. “But I am — who isn’t? They are one of the most monumental bands of all time.”
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This isn’t a case of a young artist who’s brilliant, knows it and is putting on a facade of earnestness. Even with all the accolades — The New York Times, NPR and Pitchfork love her, too — the big-eyed, slight-statured brunette gives off the vibe of some sort of superhero still learning the extent of her own powers.
Chief among those is her voice, which, coupled with her unique playing — part folk-rock fingerpicking, part post-rock atmospherics — can silence rooms even at its lowest volume, triggering goose bumps and waterworks as it gets louder.
As a lyricist, Baker is not afraid to go to places some might find too earnest. The cathartic track “Rejoice,” her signature original so far from “Sprained Ankle,” paints her as a wavering agnostic leaning toward being a believer.
Listening to Baker talk about growing up in Memphis shines a bright light on her music’s lack of artifice.
“I got into music when I was young because everyone does here,” she says. “Maybe you don’t come out of the womb listening to Big Star, maybe not every 5-year-old is well-versed in the catechisms of B.B. King … but a love of music is compulsory.
“And beyond rock and the blues, there have been so many strange permutations in the DIY scene, the punk scene, that don’t necessarily get as talked about. There’s no way to pigeonhole it … it’s not like hard-core in Boston, country in Nashville. It’s intrinsically ‘other.’ One foot in the South, one foot in modernity. And that’s how I approach my music.”