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Julia Michaels: 'Just Write Whatever the F*ck You Want to Say'

The force behind much of today's popular hits, Julia Michaels, chats with Berklee Groove prior to her biggest headliner show in Boston.

Girl with Micro Braids

DECEMBER 7, 2019

Having written a breath-taking collection of hits for the likes of Justin Beiber, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Ed Sheeran, Clean Bandit, Kygo, Shawn Mendez, Britney Spears and many more, Julia Michaels has astounding experience under her belt. At only 25, she has accompanied P!nk, Maroon 5, Shawn Mendez, Niall Horan and Keith Urban on world tours. Now she’s touring the world on her first headline tour. And at the House of Blues, in Boston, she announced ecstatically that this was the biggest headline show she’d ever performed. And holy f*ck was it a worthy culmination of her experiences, all wrapped up in pure unfiltered joy!


The day before, I had the chance to talk with her. I could have asked her buckets, hours, heck even days-worth of questions. But we had 15 minutes. Although I wish we could have roamed free to chat about everything and anything, below is the pick of questions I felt were most important to ask her.


Even if Julia never reads this, I want to thank her from the bottom of my heart for being so authentic, touching and moving me through what she shared in our chat and through her show. You know that fuzzy fluttering feeling in your heart? Well that was my constant companion through these two experiences. When you admire and look up to another human so much that you close off? Well that was my experience too.


She makes such a nourishing safe space in her music that her live show is the perfect crystallization of all that palpable emotion. The room was full of other vulnerable hearts who understood the feeling of isolation caused by anxiety and depression. But these same people joined together in a depth of joy that I’ve never felt before. She embodied this overwhelming sense of relief, gratitude, honesty, freedom and pure euphoria. I felt her energy to the core of my being. She gave, her band gave, and the room gave back 1000x more. This continued all night, to the point that I felt she’d tattooed the happiest smile right on my face. Hopefully one day I’ll get to meet her in person and give her a real bear hug.

Oprah Winfrey famously says, ‘surround yourself with people that fill your cup, until your cup runneth over.’ Julia’s cup was running over and having gone from battling extreme stage fright to this is so inspiring. I felt at peace with the homies waving silk roses in the crowd, at peace with the ever so real and raw Julia Michaels.


When you write, do you write from a personal perspective or channel it through someone else?

I think a lot of my inspiration comes through conversation, comes through memories, and comes from present moments. I don’t usually channel it through anybody else. It’s usually coming from my point of view. If I’m writing for myself, or if I’m writing with or for somebody else, then it’s a blending of perspective. It’s a mixture of what I’m going through and what they’re going through. It varies and everyday it is sort of different.


Do you have a collaborative process?

I guess my main process is to chill a lot. We go in the room and hang out, order food, and just talk for a little while. Someone will say something, which will start to spark an idea and then we’ll run with it. If it doesn’t feel right, we’ll scratch it and just start over. Sometimes there are some days when we don’t get anything. You know it makes you realise we’re not machines. We’re human and some days it’s amazing, some days it’s not, and that’s ok!


Who inspired you to get started on your journey?

Gosh, so many people - a lot of singer songwriters, actually. The usual female suspects, I guess, would be Fiona Apple, Alanis Morissette, Sheryl Crow, Ani DiFranco. All of the women that write from the heart and are just unapologetically themselves and write whatever the fuck they wanna say.


How did you find your sound?

I don’t know - I don’t really think of my music as having a particular sound. I guess words are just my sound. I just write what I feel. Sometimes I write good things and sometimes bad things. I’m grateful that I have this outlet to be able to confront a lot of things that I deal with or am going through. Then I get to put it out in the world and meet a lot of like-minded people along the way, who are going through similar things.


A profound realisation from writing?

I’ve done a lot of collaborating with a lot of people, but on my records I’ve done a lot of songs by myself, which I was never really confident enough to do. And I feel like I’ve definitely found my voice more. I tend to be a little bit introverted sometimes and very observant. I’m not the most confident person. So I guess writing a song by myself has been the most profound thing for me and feeling ok and secure with it.


Have you observed anything about the songs that touch you regarding what makes them good songs?

I think it’s just what feels good to you. I don’t think there’s any like method to a great song. I think if the words feel good to you, if the sonics feel good to you, and if the melodies feel good to you, then that’s what matters.


I feel that your songwriting has brought back an honesty that has been missing in the pop world and was wondering what your thoughts are on that?

Well that’s very kind of you, thank you. I don’t really know what to say to that, but that’s very kind and I’m grateful that that’s what I’m known for. For being authentic, being a vulnerable person and being an honest person.


Do you ever get writer’s block?

Yeah, totally! I find that there’s so many things to write about and 500 ways to say the same thing. But there’s definitely days when I’ll go to the studio and I won’t have anything prepared and not be in the right headspace to write. I’m never too hard on myself about it. I had someone tell me one time, if you’re in the studio and you don’t feel it that day, and you want to go to the movies, go to the movies. If you want to go for a massage, or you want to go to the beach, just go to the beach. At the end of the day you’re human. You’re not going to write an amazing song everyday, that’s just not possible.


What’s something you’ve really struggled with that ended up being a great life lesson?

When I started performing, I used to have really bad stage fright. I used to run away from people. It was a really hard time. The more that I performed, the more fans that I had gotten. But the more that they would sing with me, the less alone I felt. That’s the biggest obstacle I’ve had to overcome and I’ve definitely worked my way up to overcome it. Now I get to sing songs with 2000 like-minded people every single night and we all get to have these wonderful cathartic experiences together. I’m really grateful for that.


If you could go back to a point on your journey to give yourself advice, what would you say?

I don’t know if I would give myself advice because I feel it would alter the course of my life. I think it would take out the bad, and without the bad there wouldn't be good. There wouldn’t be all the mistakes that I’ve made, which I’ve learnt from. I don’t know if I’d want to go back, because I feel like it would change what I’ve been able to overcome and succeed at.


Your advice for someone starting out on this journey?

This is going to sound super cliché and annoying, but just be yourself. I think so many people think that they have to write a specific sound because it’s popular or trendy. But that’s exactly what it is. It’s a trend that’s here and then it’s gone. And then all of a sudden you’ve made your entire album that’s trend related and nobody cares about the sound anymore. So I think you need to just stay authentically you and write what you want to hear and say what you want to say. If it’s you, then people will love it and they’ll follow you.


How do you #getinthegroove?

I’ve always been an insecure piece of sh*t. But the process is different for everybody. If we’re talking in terms of me writing a song, I don’t write anything down and I don’t even usually go in with a concept. I’ll have four chords and I’ll put those chords down. Then I’ll go on the mic, close my eyes and sing what I feel.



You can catch her upcoming tour dates here: her latest release with Selena Gomez here: her album Inner Monologue Part 2 here: follow and tag her on Instagram @juliamichaels.

Julia Michaels at Boston's House of Blues

CREDIT TO: BEN PU

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