Juliane Jones, a singer-songwriter who just received a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology, is our guest on Program #38 of the Middle Chamber Books and Music Podcast. Juliane talks about her specialization in Chinese operatic music, and how she has integrated Chinese lyrics into songs on her new CD, “The Space Between the Telephone Lines.” We also hear several tracks from the CD.
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About Juliane Jones, from her website:
Singer-songwriter and ethnomusicologist Juliane Jones finds harmony in what seems like self-identity dissonance. “I occupy a middle space – my world is about intersections,” the New York-based songstress explains. Juliane’s father is Welsh, and her mother is from LA. She has lived internationally in five different places and speaks fluent Chinese and French. She is an ethnomusicologist by profession and an actively gigging musician. Evocatively, Juliane titles her kaleidoscopic, singer-songwriter, English-Chinese hybrid album The Space Between The Telephone Lines.
Juliane’s expansive artistry melds genres and inward/outward travelogues. It’s an exquisitely curated showing of diverse identities, spanning the genres of indie, alternative, folk, pop, electronic music, and rock, as it incorporates her experiences from studying music in China and France. Her writing evokes the astute and playful lyrics of Serge Gainsbourg, and the vivid narratives in the French Chanson genre with elements of Canto-pop music, inspired particularly by the Chinese artist Faye Wong.
Juliane has been building her artist profile through gigging in NYC’s vibrant singer-songwriter scene and expanding her outreach through gigs nationally and internationally, most notably with intimate gigs in Shanghai. In addition, she’s received exposure through having tracks played on Fairchild Radio and TV broadcast in Canada.
A foundational moment in her life’s work timeline occurred while in college in the East Asian Studies Department at the University of Chicago. She was studying the great Italian composer Giacomo Puccini and became inspired by the fact that he integrated Eastern music within one of his operas. It was a revelatory moment: Previously she was a prodigiously talented singer-songwriter with a separate intuitive gift for linguistics and understanding different cultures. This light bulb moment helped her discover the harmony in the space between these worlds.
“Ethnomusicology and songwriting are similar in a lot of ways. Ethnography is really about description, observation, and interpretation. Songwriting is similar, but in writing songs the author can blend fact with fiction—it’s more flexible,” she says.
The Space Between The Telephone Lines uses pop conventions to explore intriguing, contrasting dialogues in music styles, cultures, and love. “The progress and innovations in pop have made it the perfect medium to explore different cultures and genres to create a fresh artistic vocabulary,” Juliane reveals. The album standout, “When You Sleep,” blends elegantly essential classical motifs with sweet folk pop. The accompanying video presents a charmingly quaint snapshot of new love. “That’s about when you get to that point in a relationship when you are so crazy-mad-in-love that you start second-guessing what you have,” Juliane says. The sublime, pastoral pop of “Rhythm & Blues” dissects long distance relationships in a playfully conceptual video and lyric scheme, referencing the Chinese myth of the red string of fate that connects destined lovers.
Throughout the album Juliane innovatively explores an East-West cultural exchange. She sings portions of songs in Chinese, boldly challenging herself to keep thematic and melodic continuity within Western pop conventions. Further enriching the East-West artistic dialogue, Juliane covers a song by beloved Canto-pop artist Faye Wong who previously ignited her own cultural exchange with a gorgeous version of the Cranberries “Dreams.”
The album was tracked in Nashville and produced by Juliane and Doug Beiden.
Reflecting on the profound journey to arrive at The Space Between The Telephone Lines, Juliane says: “For me, answering big questions about music, culture, and life has always been a part of my songwriting. I’m always looking for new ways of understanding music, and I’ve always been interested in how writing music can be linked to individual biography and social history. I’m forever fascinated with that moment of creation, it always seems magical.”
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