The former Fur Patrol front-person recorded and toured with Jon Toogood’s Shihad side-project The Adults, she performed tribute shows for artists as diverse as Jaques Brel, Joni Mitchell and Billie Holiday, she was a cast member in Jesus Christ Superstar and appeared twice with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra. Just this year she was spotted singing backing vocals for Neil Finn and performed an outdoor show with The Blackbird Ensemble.
It’s no wonder that it’s taken Deans seven years to follow her acclaimed solo debut , Modern Fables with We Light The Fire. She has been promising the album for quite some time now, offering up teasers such as Walking In The Sun and Clandestine along the way.
“I was just doing so many other things that every project that I worked on took all the energy out of me”, she takes a breath, “I kind of immersed myself into the world of each project that came through. And then I’d have to refocus and try and get back on track, by which time I would have forgotten where I was at. Or where we were at. And, um, having to go back and remember, and find everything again.”
The ”we” she is referring to is her life partner and sound engineer David Wernham and herself. Together, they built a studio at their home on Auckland’s North Shore so that when Julia finally did have time to concentrate on her own music, she wasn’t at the mercy of a studio clock. Although, that in itself may have contributed to the album’s long incubation period.
“The thing about going into an actual studio where you pay for the time is, you’ve only got that much time. And so you have to do it. So the focus and the… pressure is on. You can’t just spend… seven years fussing about. “
“With Fur Patrol, we used to go in and we’d rehearse and rehearse and rehearse and rehearse and rehearse, before we even thought of going into the studio. We’d have those songs pretty much down to a T before we even booked the studio. Um. Whereas this – both my solo albums, have been a much more, “Oh, let’s just try this,” sort of making it up as we go along.”
Oh yeah, speaking of Fur Patrol, Julia did also manage to squeeze in a few reunion shows with the boys during those intervening years.
“It was so much fun, it was like falling off a bike”, she recalls, “that’s the great thing, we spent so much time playing music together, the muscle memory there is insane. I miss hanging out with them too. We were like a little family.”
The elaborate production and keyboard-based tracks in We Light Fire all sound a long way from the guitar-driven rock of Fur Patrol. But Julia notes that there is a connection, particularly in her bass lines.
“Well, the bass is great fun! I think in all honesty, whenever I got stuck, I’d ask myself… what would Andrew Bain do? Cause he’s the bass player on Fur Patrol and I’ve always loved his bass playing. So, he’s my bass idol, really.”
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It turns out that music and performing has always been a part of Julia Deans’ life. Born in Wellington and raised in Christchurch, both of her parents were influential.
“My Grandfather on my mother’s side could play pretty much anything you gave him. And Mum and her brothers did Irish step-dancing. So that side of the family’s Irish. I grew up listening to a lot of that kind of music, and also Dad’s side of the family have a Scottish heritage. They’re artists, artists and farmers, it’s a great combination.”
“My mum likes to tell the story about how she walked in and found me standing on an overturned laundry tub,using a heater cord as a microphone…when I was about three, I think.”
The Irish step-dancing might explain how the teenage Julia came to join a Celtic band named Banshee Reel who released two albums in the early 90s and toured internationally.
“We turned into this little band of gypsies travelling all over New Zealand and went to Canada a couple of times, and travelled extensively, drove – oh my God, we drove so many miles over there. You can go a long way without seeing a single bush behind which to have a wee, as well, and I have a small bladder! There were a lot of uncomfortable trips on that tour.”
But the harder edged sound of Fur Patrol was just around the corner.
“I love my rock ‘n’ roll. I think the first Led Zeppelin song I ever heard was Good Times, Bad Times blasting through a ghetto blaster that the leader of this youth group camp pushed through the door of the bunk rooms in the morning. And I saw the door open and the ghetto blaster slide into the room … and then his hand lean over and press the button and these drums and the guitars started… and I just sat up in bed and just went, “What is this?” I was so excited, and that was it. That was it!”
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Twenty plus years later, that rock and roll heart can still be heard on We Light Fire in songs such as The Panic. But, there’s also a new found sense of community awareness, songs looking out, rather than inward such as Burning Cars and Clandestine.
“I did make a conscious decision to not just write about my own personal blah-blah-blah and try and focus on what’s around me, and whether it’s close to my community, or in the world at large. The last ten years I guess, politically, have been becoming increasingly more and more polarizing of communities. Or it seems that way. Because it’s like, the loudest voices are often the most extreme. I’ve been reading a lot of news and so forth. It’s almost like there’s no neutrality in receiving the information, or very little neutrality in the information that we get these days.”
“There’s a lot of opinion behind the more infotainment kind of new channels, containing a lot of spin which is not healthy and creates this great divide within our communities as well. It becomes a very much us-vs-them, and “I can’t listen to you because I disagree with what you think”, which is really, really unhealthy, and in order for people to get along, and for… people, for humanity to progress, we need to be able to listen to each other, and discuss ideas rather than just, sitting opposite each other and yelling at ourselves. We don’t admit to being wrong. Clandestine is all about that. It’s like, “Ah. I’ve was being an arsehole.”
And Burning Cars is even more political.
“I wrote that around the whole Arab Spring thing because at that time in the States, there’s crazy bipartisanship, just shouting at each other. We actually want the same thing in our hearts, which is just to be happy, and be able to live our lives and love our families and live in a beautiful world. And live comfortably. To have medical health, and food, and a shelter. They’re pretty basic needs. That’s all. But there’s all this other bullshit that goes on as well.”
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And what would the 20-year-old Julia Deans think of today’s model?
“Oh, she’d be stoked, I reckon….disappointed that she didn’t have more money. She’d definitely be disappointed about that. But other than that, I think she’d be quite happy.”