Julien Baker‘s debut album, 2015’s Sprained Ankle, took the indie music world by storm, catching the attention of online music curators and publications, and topping some important end-of-year lists. Baker hasn’t slowed down either, with constant touring and special online performances, she’s been an indie rock constant for a solid year-and-a-half at least. On top of all of that and despite the emotional complexity of her lyrics, she’s only 21 years old.
1. ‘Sprained Ankle’ was Originally Self-Released on Bandcamp
In 2014, Baker recorded a 9-song album called Sprained Ankle, and then put it up on Bandcamp for streaming and downloading. It wasn’t the more polished version that a lot of us have heard, but rather an even more minimalistic execution. Her Bandcamp page was shared through word-of-mouth, which then led to Baker going on tour and selling CDs of the album. She was catching the right kind of attention in the indie scene, which lead to a record deal.
Eventually, 6131 Records signed the young artists, remastered, and reissued the debut full-length in 2015. The release of the album coincided with the premiere of the music video for the title track, featured above.
Though she had a humble beginning, Baker has now amassed thousands of fans. Her Instagram account is followed by over 30,000 fans, and her over 20,000 people follow her Twitter account. A lot has happened for the singer since she self-released her first EP in 2014.
In an interview with Stereogum, Baker revealed that connecting with her audience and fans is very special to her. On the subject of her lyrics, she mused: “For every time someone misconstrues your lyrics, there’s one person who finds the right meaning in them.”
2. She’s Queer, Christian, & Proud
Baker opened up to Pitchfork about her song, “Go Home,” last year. The song, according to Baker, is about the separation of “her queerness, her faith, and her Tennessee home.” Here’s an excerpt from her explanation:
“There are things that I might usually feel at liberty to say, and when I’m in the south, I wonder if all these people know I’m gay, and I wonder if I’m at liberty to make a comment about it. Ultimately, I’m not going to change my behavior to accommodate that fear. I would rather be authentic and risk making people uncomfortable.”
In an interview with Nashville Scene in 2015, Baker shared a similar sentiment. She explained that many aspects of her life could’ve “turned me off from faith,” but connecting with her fans has shown her that others are dealing with similar issues. “Like, being homosexual,” she said. “I want to be able to say to other people: These two aren’t mutually exclusive.”
Speaking with The New Yorker, Baker revealed that she has a tattoo that says, “God Exists.” And one of her songs, “Rejoice,” certainly brings to mind faith as well. Here she is performing it for OurVinyl Sessions:
3. ‘Funeral Pyre’ is Her First Release Since ‘Sprained Ankle’
In January of 2017, Baker signed with Matador Records and shared a previously unreleased song entitled “Funeral Pyre.” The song is featured on a new 7″ release, which also features the unreleased song, “Distant Solar System,” on side B of the record. Sprained Ankle also received a reissue from the bigger label.
If you’ve been following Baker’s career, “Funeral Pyre” isn’t anything new for you. Though this is the first release of the song, Baker performed it on NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concert series in March of last year. You can watch her full performance, including that of “Funeral Pyre,” right here:
Speaking with NPR’s All Songs Considered earlier in 2017, Baker opened up about the new song.
“Everything about the song is figuring out how you should act in your level of responsibility for your own health and to others in the dynamic of a relationship, which is a difficult lesson to learn.”
Read the full interview with Baker right here.
4. Baker’s ‘Photobooth’ Cover for A.V. Undercover was Voted the Best of 2016
The A.V. Club’s popular Undercover series, featuring artists coming in and covering others’ songs, has provided music fans with a number of great performances. Many artists came and performed in 2016, but when the website asked viewers to vote on their favorite out of the bunch, Baker came out on top. She shared a unique cover of iconic song, “Photobooth,” adding to her meteoric rise to indie stardom.
Her take on the song caught the attention of fans, and also Death Cab for Cutie frontman, Ben Gibbard. He brought Baker out on tour with him earlier this winter, and on January 20 at Milwaukee’s Pabst Theater, the two surprised the crowd with a duet. Gibbard and Baker traded off verses, with the crowd trying to hold back their excitement during this somber song, as you can see from this video:
The similarities between the two songwriters’ music might be clear to fans of the artists, but it needs to be pointed out. As writer Evan Rytlewski points out in his feature on Gibbard and Baker’s duet, the two tackle the very serious subject of mental illness and all that comes with it, but in a way that connects with audiences.
5. She’s Going on a Spring 2017 Tour with the Decemberists, Then a European Solo Tour
Folk rockers the Decemberists recently announced a spring 2017 tour, and the band is bringing Baker along with them. They’ve entitled it “The Shuffling Off to Ragnarök Spring Tour 2017.” It’s a brief tour, only taking place over the course of April, and finishes with three separate shows in New York City at Brooklyn Steel. These three concerts will mark the official opening of the new venue.
Here are the tour dates of the Decemberists’ spring shows with Baker:
April 7 in Ithaca, N.Y. at the State Theatre of Ithaca
April 8 in Pittsburgh, Penn. at Stage AE
April 9 in Richmond, Va. at The National
April 11 in Atlanta, Ga. at Fox Theatre
April 12 in Nashville, Tenn. at the Ryman Auditorium
April 14 in Philadelphia, Penn. at The Fillmore Philadelphia
April 15 in New Haven, Conn. at the College Street Music Hall
April 17 through 19 in Brooklyn, N.Y. at Brooklyn Steel
You can purchase tickets to this tour right here.
Baker won’t be done performing in Brooklyn though. To celebrate her recent signing to Matador Records and the re-release of Sprained Ankle, Baker’s headed to Europe for a short tour in May and June of this year.
Here are Baker’s 2017 European tour dates:
May 24 in Jena, DE at Trafo.
05/25 Berlin, DE at Kantine am Berghain.
05/28 Hamburg, DE at Aalhaus.
05/29 Munster, DEat Pension Schmidt.
05/30 Heidelberg, DE at Karlstorbahnhof.
05/31 Munich, DE at Milla.
06/05 London, UK at Bush Hall.
06/06 Manchester, UK at Deaf Institute.
06/09 Porto, PT at Primavera Sound.
06/10 Amsterdam, NL at Paradiso.
Tickets for European Baker fans can be found here.