Julien Baker is doing better, thanks for asking


Julien Baker makes the kind of album that hits you so hard you can taste blood in your mouth. She occasionally raises her voice, but completes the task without a scream; that would be messy, and Baker runs a tight ship. It's Baker steering that ship into all the gory parts of life that twists and turns you the most, which is the point that Hanif Abdurraqib made in his essay announcing her new album, Little Oblivions.

“If you are lucky enough to have a future where the present anxieties of distance become romantic memories,” Abdurraqib asserted, “I hope there are people who turn this album over in their hands years from now and remember the world it tumbled into.” Perhaps the staying power of Little Oblivions lies in the fact that, while it formidably applies to our current context, it was written before anyone even whispered the term ‘corona’.

“It’s really disorienting and bizarre,” Baker tells us. “It feels weird for it not to be a commentary on the pandemic, because that’s what’s been absorbing everybody’s attention for so long.” In fact, the bones of these songs materialised across notebooks and voice memos all the way back to 2019. “By the time we had the record done,” Baker continues, “that was about when the US started universally acknowledging like…this is no longer a remote concern we’re hearing about on the news. And then everything got cancelled.”

As Abdurraqib aptly articulates, it does, despite not being centred on the pandemic, offer the light of a primary takeaway: “How lucky to still be living, even in our own mess.” You would have to say that Abdurraqib understands Baker in a way that allows him to assign lessons to her music that a general writer wouldn’t have been nearly as confident in. That’s because they share a history, meeting initially at a Christian writing conference in Michigan. In that way, Abdurraqib uniquely understands Baker’s journey not broadly through life, but also through the tumultuous conflict that the Christian faith brings to it.

“I’ve never really thought about it like this before this moment, but it’s almost like going through album cycles coincides with deconstruction and healing.”

“It’s just very funny to me that that’s how we both met given the sort of scope of both of our work, you know?” Baker observes. “I would still call myself a person of faith. And yet I feel, especially with this record, like I feel really culpable for maybe having an over-idealised schema of what enacting faith or enacting love or I don’t know, seeking God, meant…I started to dismantle the things about specifically westernised American Christianity that can be extremely toxic, especially to any community, damn, but like, especially to the queer community. And those are things that I had to reconcile.”

Not for nothing, Baker has been really into cult documentaries lately (“I became weirdly obsessed with cults and watched The Vow and Waco and all of that stuff”). That’s not necessarily the reason that she’s been questioning the institution of religion, but it does all come down to the concept of being taken advantage of, where leaders unconscionably spread hate with no real foundation to expect other people to accept their bias. Being a queer woman and a person of faith herself, Baker was pushed and pulled into directions that could have ripped her in half before she had to confront the impact that it was having on her.

“When I was writing that music,” she adds, “I was very unhappy. It’s funny, because I’ve never really thought about it like this before this moment, but it’s almost like going through album cycles coincides with deconstruction and healing.” She references her sophomore output, Turn Out The Lights, and how it reflected a similar experience. “I made Turn Out The Lights and I was going through all this emotional turmoil and then toured it and I felt very stable and incredibly grateful for my friends and where I was in life,” she recounts.

“And then when things started to get to be too much again, it’s like I pulled back from touring and now I’m releasing this record that’s about such harrowing events in my life. And I’m just like looking at my sweet dog over here…and feeling very grateful. As cheesy as it is, doing a lot of sitting in gratitude, as it were.”

Is she doing better then, now that the album is coming out into the world and those harrowing events are in the past?

“I’m doing well,” she laughs. “Thank you for asking.”

Little Oblivions is out now.