Interview with Julie Brown of Chaos and Lace
Today I have Julie Brown with us; the singer and lead guitarist of the Queens, New York-based classic rock band, Chaos and Lace. Welcome Julie! Great to have you joining me on The Sonic City.
Casey: Tell us a little bit about your musical influences, your band, and its history.
Julie: I pretty much picked up on what my brother was listening to when I was single digits and he was in his early teens. Some of it I liked and some I didn’t. Some took a few years to catch on for me, but yeah it was a lot of classic rock like Hendrix, Zeppelin, Beatles, and The Doors. Those are all bands that have profoundly impacted the way I write and play my instruments. Then you can branch out into all the things that influenced the artists you like and it gets more and more interesting. Infinite diversity in infinite combinations. There’s always new sounds to be heard when people are willing to listen for them. I’m very much into a multitude of styles that are a fusion with a folk rock kinda structure as a foundation.
The band is officially the drummer Dan and myself at the moment, but we expect to later expand with a keyboard/bass player. It may remain us as the focal point for marketing though, and I like the cut of his jib. I’m hoping he’ll eventually get more into song writing. Regardless, I anticipate him singing a healthy portion of accompanying vocals in the future though. Perhaps lead if he feels up to it. Time will tell.
Dan and I actually met in a really interesting way, through a mutual ex whom he was still living with. Let’s call her Kiki. We both agreed Kiki was a lazy fuck in bed, and our friendship blossomed from there. It eventually became obvious I was going over to her place to hang out with Dan, and we started a band!
He and I have a pretty close family level bond having been there for each other essentially from the beginning. We always gravitate back towards one another for creative endeavours.
Casey: Always good to have a connection like that! Is the band working on any new projects at the moment?
Julie: I am personally working on my first solo record as it were at this time. I expect that to be finished by Easter. Living situations in the coming months will determine if Dan contributes and if it becomes a band album. It’s kinda like that reunion album Simon & Garfunkel almost did in like 76 or so, but it just ended up being a Paul Simon record. Ya never know what will happen.
If not this record, then we’ll certainly work together on the following one later this year. He’ll likely contribute drums, lotsa other percussion, and lotsa vocals. It will be vocally very lush I think.
Casey: I noticed that you also have some impressive instrumental tracks. Can we expect more of these in the future?
Julie: Thank you! Yeah, I know where my bread n’ butter is. A handful of people have been asking that so.. I guess I should. Yeah, I have two instrumentals planned for my upcoming album with lots of squiddily bits. The overall feel is largely acoustic rock, but still with the crazy whatever it is I do for leads.
Casey: I find that every geographic area has certain things that make its music scene unique or special. Tell us a little bit about your local music scene around Queens.
Julie: There isn’t much of one as far as I can see. Just a sea of embarrassing amateurs and everyone’s treated equally worthlessly by venues. It’s hard to ask for pay when every dork with a guitar is willing to take your job for free.
Casey: I have been noticing a preference for the ‘free entertainment’ trend around here, too; especially in some of the newer venues I’ve encountered. It makes it even more of a challenge for musicians to get by these days, I find.
Is there a particular show you’ve played that stands out most?
Julie: I played at a place called the Brooklyn Bowl. It was for some guys Beatle-themed event with multiple artists. I remember I was all stoked on learning a whole bunch of Beatles songs the week before, because the guy that ran it said I could play guitar with the solo artists. I was so excited to play all these songs by my favorite band on a big stage. Come show time, he sends his minion to inform me I’m not needed. Awkwardly, my own band had a three-song set too. Right before we go on, I’m in the back room knockin’ back Guinesses ranting about it to everyone.
Then it’s time for us to go on. I was about four sheets to the wind at that point and for a second or two I was scared stupid, but then I owned it. I milked the solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and had the whole place rockin’. That was pretty great. I am home on a stage with a groovy audience.
Casey: Love that one; Harrison was often overshadowed by Lennon and McCartney, but he he was definitely important to that lineup!
Do you have a favourite venue to perform at?
Julie: Not yet. I can tell ya where I definitely don’t want to go again. But ya know.. Goodness forbid somebody who works there reads this and starts a flame war about it. I liked a place called Local 269 which is gone now I believe, but it was just a little corner Irish Pub kinda deal. I liked it, and the owner lady would get sloppy drunk and tell us how great we are. That was fun! I like places where the staff is respectful to people. It’s rare.
Casey: For our gearheads, tell us about what type of equipment you use.
Julie: Nothing terribly impressive really. You’d think the kinda playing I do, I’d have a huge list for ya, but it would just be a long grocery list of knock offs and bootleg guitars. I’ve had an attachment to VOX amps and pedals for quite awhile though. I like guitars that look like guitars. Those are the best, and made out of a wood is a plus. *chuckles* I don’t really use any stompboxes.
On stage, I have a VOX Tonelab EX. All I use on it is the overdrives, delay (rarely) and reverb, and I only really use the expression pedal as a gain control. That goes right into a small AC4 combo amp and is miced into the P.A.
In the studio is no more elaborate. I don’t have any big effects chains. I didn’t grow up particularly well off, so I never really got to experiment a lot with those things as I was learning. So I guess I put more focus on how play good without them. Play harder and heavier for more impact. No drummer, so I’d develop heavy punkish rhythm playing.
Necessity really is the mother of invention. I’m glad I didn’t have those things as a kid cause it made me improvise and learn skills I wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s like how right handed people are so amazed if I play one of their guitars upside down, but they can’t do the same with my lefty guitar. It’s cause left-handers are exposed to your guitars everywhere, so it’s not a big deal to us. The average righty has never had any reason to touch a lefty guitar, so it’s the wondrous skill to them.
That point could apply to so many things really. Hardship builds character for damn sure. That’s why you can hand me any piece of crap instrument and I can make it rock. It’s not amazing, just what I grew up and learned on. Starting out with really good gear is a death sentence to a would be musician I think. If they ever wanna be great, they ya don’t buy a Ferrari to learn how to drive on ya know?
Casey: Agreed! Many people I speak to are dedicated Gibson or Fender users. Do you have a preference?
Julie: My tastes in guitars are always evolving. I never stop re-evaluating things really. I’ve found them to both have their merits. For my own personal needs at the moment, and the sounds I’m going for, I’m mainly using an Epiphone Casino which is based off of an ES 330. It is completely hollow and has single coils. I did some mods to it and I get a pretty squeely lead sound out of it.
Casey: If you could work with any artist (living or deceased) who would you pick?
Julie: George Harrison. He was a pretty major influence on my song writing. He seemed like a genuinely decent guy and is really good to his friends.
Casey: I find he’s definitely one of those artists that really grows on you, especially when checking out much of his post-Beatles work too.
Any new, upcoming artists around Queens that you think we should check out?
Julie: Probably. Somewhere. Joe Crow Ryan is the only person I’ve seen worth plugging. He’s not new though. I don’t think he needs our help.
Casey: Here in the Toronto area, I’ve found that in recent years the music scene has evolved to become much more willing to embrace the LGBTQ community. In comparison to about a decade ago, I feel that we have come a long way. Have you found a similar trend in New York?
Julie: I’ll be honest, this question gives me a lump in the pit of my stomach the size of a basketball. I’ve only been here since 2009, but I haven’t seen any particular change. It’s been pretty underwhelming here in my opinion as far as most peoples perception of fun goes. I’m not one for clubs and nightlife. I only ever go to bars to perform my craft for people, and any stores or anything good closes at 9pm and opens at around noon. They aughtta call it ‘the city that never wakes up’ Lotsa neat little indie shops if you manage to get there during old people hours while they’re open.
If anything, I’d say it’s a bit worse because everybody is more on the look out for pegging and harassing trans people now. Ya get that ‘hey I saw one of you faggots on the TV”. Or ya get a lot of those folks that think they totally get it, and jam their feet in their mouths up to the knee. Where as before there was a little bit of a clueless factor that allowed you to go under peoples radar more. This is why I preferred NOT living in the city.
As trans people (as in.. blank to blank binary) we’re basically scrubbing a dirty, scabby wound with rubbing alcohol and a brillo pad at the moment, but it’ll eventually get somewhere if we all get together and do the required maintenance and demonstrating normalcy to people. Not be like the black guy running in to scream DYNAMITE!
Just to not to be ‘the tranny” in everything and just be – That girl who just incidentally happens to be trans ya know? Not to make a big deal out of it, that’s what I want and I am waiting for. That’s what I try to be with my music. The subject matter is in the lyrics. If you know the things we deal with, you’ll get it but even if you are not the songs are broad enough to be applicable to anybody really. That’s what I wanna try to do, be the voice that says it’s okay kids.. You don’t HAVE to be super pretty and sing about your genitals. It’s okay to just rock.
Casey: While there has been increased exposure for certain trans artists in the media, many would argue that the community still faces significant challenges often spoke very little of in the press. What would you say is the greatest challenge that trans artists face in today’s music industry?
Julie: Being trans, and having a backbone, I feel like less people are interested in me because I’m not glamorous or a lyrically vulgar exhibitionist. Or a lot of trans people don’t want to listen to my music because they woefully EXPECT it to be embarrassing. I don’t blame them, but I want them to see I’m different. I won’t embarrass them in front of their friends if they play my album for them.
Casey: Any advice for young artists out there just starting out on the scene?
Julie: Sincere or sarcastic? Sincerely, I’d say don’t spoil yourself on equipment before you learn how to play. Make it a habit of practicing your skill or don’t bother. Sarcastically.. (but kind of sincere if flippant)
If you wanna succeed, then throw your principles away and just do what’s popular or whatever has the most shock value, regardless of the consequential PR damage you just did for the whole community. If you wanna be actually be great and make a difference, then do the opposite of that.
Casey: Anything else to add for our readers?
Julie: Live long and prosper. (Eerily, I wrote this the day before Leonard Nimoy kicked the bucket)
Casey: Thank you for Joining us on The Sonic City, Julie! It was great to chatting with you!
About the Author
Casey Robertson is a genderqueer human rights activist, musician ,composer, and graduate student researching musicology and cultural theory. In recent years he has been involved with the committees of LGBTQA projects such as the Durham Pride Prom, Allies for Equality, and Queerstock Canada. He also served as a member of the board of directors for PFLAG Durham Region from 2012-2014, where he was a member of the peer2peer support team and a facilitator for monthly sharing evenings.
Casey currently resides in the Church-Wellesley Village of Toronto and enjoys spending his free time scoring independent film projects and playing with his band Liberty Street, while on the constant search to discover new artists of all expressive forms. Follow Casey on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at CaseyRobertson.net