We’re happy to spotlight one of our past Music for Mental Health benefit concert’s artists, Julie Odell (2018), for this month’s artist spotlight series! Julie shared her reflections on all things music, mental health, and more – read on for the scoop. And be sure to scoop up your tickets for THIS year’s benefit, featuring excellent music, free food, and local outreach organizations, happening Sept. 20th, at www.gasagasa.com!
Describe your music in three words.
Julie: Chaotic, dreamy, earthy. Grounded and earthy? (Laughs). Grounded and earthy!
What is the earliest music memory that made you have that “I want to do that” moment?
Julie: The first memory that pops in my head is when I was driving down the highway with my older sister, when I was in elementary school, and we were listening to Mariah Carey. She’d be singing and I harmonized with her during the car rides. She was always playing piano, listening to Fiona Apple, Tori Amos, Mariah Carey, Dixie Chicks, singing the melodies around our house, and I’d come in sing the harmonies. Those scenes stand out as imprinting that music love in me.
In addition to being a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist (guitar, piano, organ), you’re a designer, artist, cook, baker… the list goes on of what you do creatively. How has that all woven together and developed your artistry over time?
Julie: Each one is a different outlet and provides me a way to express something I may not be able to express in one format. That could be painting something that maybe I'm not expressing in music, whether it’s because I don’t know how to or don’t feel it in music form. It shapes me in ways that, honestly, help me get by, and they each lend a hand in influencing the other creative outlets.
What is your creative process when it comes to music?
Julie: For the most part, especially now that I have my daughter (age 3) and only having so much time to write, writing process comes in the form of short voice memos or jotting down notes, lyrics, when I can. Then I’ll come back to the collection of snippets and combine them into songs, over time. It makes the song switch from one extreme feeling to the other.
*Check out Julie Odell’s single “Cardinal Feather” for such an example
Allen Toussaint once stated, “Music is everything to me short of breathing. Music also has a role to life you up-not to be escapist but to take you out of misery.” With that said, how has music gotten you through hard times in your life?
Julie: With my own music, for example, the other day I was feeling overwhelming sadness that I couldn’t put my finger on. I was in a dark place, and I forced myself to pick up my guitar to let it out, writing a 90-second song. The song started out with me basically putting myself down for feeling this way, but the more I wrote, the more I realized that I was doing that. So, I turned the song around to more of an empowerment, “I’m gonna come out of this,” thing. That moment of music making me sit down and process what I was feeling helped me to pull out of the dark feelings I had before I started the song.
Then sometimes with other music, if I’m feeling a particular way – sadness, again, melancholy, unsettled, whatever - I listen to a similarly-sounding song. I feel allowed to settle into that feeling and accept it, embrace it for a minute to cry it out, thanks to the song I’m hearing.
When you hear the phrase “Music for the Mind,” what does it mean to you on first impression?
Julie: The first word that pops in my head is healing. I feel like music is vital to most people that I know to get through life.
In addition to music as a catharsis, are there other resources or coping outlets that you use to care for your mental health?
Julie: Sitting on my porch and watching cars go by (laughs). Sitting on any porch, really! Remembering to take deep breaths throughout the day, baths and candles, cooking. Full, long days of cooking – especially gumbo – makes me happy. Stirring that roux is a definite place of zen.
Let’s do a fun one! You’re singing karaoke on an off-night – what’s your go-to song?
Julie: Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy.” You knew that was coming! (Laughs).
To end our interview, please feel free to share any last thoughts on the topics of music, mental health, or whatever is swimming in your mind right now – and thank you for being with us today!
Julie: Sure! Well, after I had my daughter I went into a deep depression (*editor’s note: National Institute of Mental Health: Post-Partum Depression for more information). It was not something that was ever explained to me or something I knew about, or something that anyone around me was familiar with at the time. It took me a long time to come out of it. My daughter is about to turn 3 and I feel like I’m still in the tail end of getting out of that period of darkness. When I first started experiencing depression, I was living in the woods and wasn’t around many people. When I got back to New Orleans, I reconnected with a social and music community, playing music with friends, and that made a difference in helping me sort of accept and move through the dark feelings. And that community also led to me finishing up an album of the music I wrote during these times that should be out by the end of the year. The feelings are real, and do happen, and I think it’s important for us to talk about it.
Julie Odell is a New Orleans-based songwriter, performer, and multi-instrumentalist who blends pop, folk, rock, soul and alternative sounds into an ethereal brand of singer-songwriter catharsis. Julie also has talents as a graphic artist, designer, and chef, and, in addition to finding her musical pursuits on local and national stages, you might find Julie’s other creations at pop-up kitchens and mixed-media markets around the city. To listen and learn more about Julie, go to:
All photos by Jose Cotto for the Brett Thomas Doussan (BTD) Foundation.