To see Julia Easterlin perform is to watch an artist execute a work of exquisite detail. Leaning into the mic, she breathes rhythmically, and with the help of a loop pedal stitches these staccato exhalations into a delicate drum part. Bit by bit she fills it in, layering dozens of duplicates of her own voice upon each other like brushstrokes on canvas, broad and expressive and bright. When she reaches the chorus, she goes into a kind of trance, eyes half-lidded and arms opened wide.
That she is able to achieve this cathartic release is impressive, considering how much concentration it takes to perform her songs. Most of the time, Easterlin is up on stage all by herself, with just a loop pedal and a microphone for company. One mistake, and the whole thing comes tumbling down.
Easterlin says she thinks of composing for loops as a puzzle: “Everything has to line up horizontally and vertically, and everything has to be perfectly symmetrical.”
The tension between her musical imagination and the limits of technology are a central one for the 23-year-old Berklee alum, who continuously battles miscategorization as some kind of experimental electro-psychedelic artist, as opposed to the singer/songwriter she is at heart. “I started using a loop pedal because I felt like my voice was really my primary instrument, and I just wanted to make the most of it … But in terms of composition, I’m not really composing any differently than anybody else would on any other instrument,” she explains.
Easterlin grew up in Augusta, GA, where she attended a performing arts school and studied West African dance. She started singing in coffee shops as a teenager, first accompanying herself on guitar and piano before switching to the pedal. She cites the lush harmonies of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young—a favorite of her parents—as inspiration, as well as the edgier stylings of Björk and Radiohead. The West African influence is apparent in her new single, “Go Straightaway,” a catchy, feel-good number that surges with brash percussion and a chorus of wailing background vocals (her own, of course).
Despite her knack for joyful, heartfelt compositions, Easterlin explores darkness just as keenly.
“I want there to be a roadkill effect. Like: ‘this is weird, and I can’t stop looking at it. Or listening.’”
It’s a funny thing to hear from the small-statured Easterlin, who has an easygoing charisma and a voice that is equally warm and compelling.
Paradoxically, it is the loop pedal—a piece of technology that many find alienating—that makes it possible for her to unite these two poles: the estranged on the one hand and the human on the other. With the pedal, she is more than just a singer; she is a one-woman chorus. “I think that there’s something really primal about why and how people connect with the human voice,” says Easterlin.
“I love being moved by people’s voices, and I wanted to create that in my own music.”
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