"Black Watch Kilt" is Julia Douglass' first studio recording in seven years. Produced by the Twin Cities' own star producer Andy Thompson (Jeremy Messersmith, Dan Wilson), this six song EP has beautiful, lush, full arrangements that show off the melodies and harmonies and her off-kilter, yet universal, sweet-and-sour sensibility. Written and recorded in Minneapolis in 2013.
About "Black Watch Kilt" by Julia Douglass
I was living over a grocery store in Northeast Minneapolis the first year I moved back to Minnesota, after I had been living in New York City for twenty years. I had had writer's block for long time in New York. I could never finish anything and it was time to leave. It was the winter of 2010-11. And I would stare out the window onto the parking lot and I'd look at the snow, it was a crazy snowy winter. The worst they'd had in years, 2011. I had been gone for so long, it was really weird being back. The people I used to know were gone or had moved on. I'd look out the window at the snow and all of the cars pulling in and out, and I would get really into watching the dramas and scenes in the parking lot. I'd see employees smoking on their break, I'd see lovers meeting there, I'd see a lot of cars almost crash into each other. When the weather was really terrible I would stare out the window and think "I hope every gets home okay," as I'd watch them slide out of the parking lot into traffic. I just got really attached to the people, and their groceries and the goings on at the parking lot.
It was the first time I had ever lived anywhere that had good light and that had a view, and I would just sit there with my coffee and stare out the window, and was finally able to finish these songs.
I think this collection of songs has a kind of neo classical vibe to it. It's pretty melodic with some dissonance thrown in here and there to keep things from getting too easy. Andy and the musicians did a fantastic job with the arrangements, I couldn't be happier with them.
"As the Crow Flies" - I've been working on this song since the mid nineteen-nineties. It's probably the most ambitious song on the collection. It's got a lot going on. And it's almost too much. I was trying to write something that for the verse was pretty sophisticated melodically, and also lyrically. So musically it starts out as pretty neoclassical, heavily influenced by Schubert, so of course we feature the brilliant Dan Lawonn on cello.
The lyrics are also complex. For the verse I was going for a Stephen Sondheim, sort of snarky, clever, sophisticated word play thing, which can be emotionally distancing, but kind of funny, along the lines of old school Cafe Society stuff, regarding the subject of infidelity or a flirtation that is close to getting out of hand. "It's not your fault, Walt is your Gestalt," and "his messy charisma is messianic". That kind of thing. Then I thought I'd try to contrast it with just a strait up, simple, rock n roll chorus. "the crow flies, the crow flies, you've got love as the crow flies." With just a simple familiar sounding groove we've all heard a million times before.
Then I don't know what happened but when we recorded it, the song just sort of took off and turned into something really special I think. It's a combination of so many styles, cabaret, rock, classical, musical theater, and rootsy, that all melded together somehow and turned into something pretty unique. Compositionally and lyrically I just wanted to smash as much as I could into this song and to see if it would work. It took me twenty years, but I think we got it.
"Black Watch Kilt" is a song based on a email I got telling me about the unexpected death of my friend Carol who passed away in 2007. I had tried for years to write about Carol but couldn't get it right. One night, while staring out the window at the grocery store parking lot, I re-read the email her sister wrote me that told me the news, and I realized that that was the song. This is my favorite song on the recording. I recorded it just as a demo with some other tunes over at a studio and I was really sick. I had a terrible cold and sounded kind of weird. I just did it live to track with the guitar, assuming that later I would "really record" it. I sent it to Andy Thompson to see if he was interested in working up an arrangement, and he said "let's use this vocal" and I thought, "oh that's not a real vocal." But then I listened to it and I thought, that sounds really nice. Okay. Dan Lawonn worked his cello magic and the thing really took shape and turned into a nice arrangement. It's my favorite song on the EP.
"Alice" this song was a fifties tune that I had stuck in my head for years. I would be walking around and it kept popping up in there, this little ditty, "what do you want me to do, Alice? do, Alice, do?" And I kept thinking, 'is this song about "The Honeymooners"'? I don't think it is. And it just never went away. And I thought 'I can't write a fifties song. I don't like fifties music.' But then I went to a handwriting psychic gentleman, that fellow Mykal, on St Anthony Main in Minneapolis, and I gave him a handwriting sample. And he said 'you're furious with someone, just give the guy a break, he's doing the best he can.' And I thought, 'oh he's talking about that guy in that fifties song in my head, that guy who's married to the woman named Alice.' And so then I was able to finish the song. It's about this poor man who loves his wife and just can't do anything right, and about middle age disappointment and a dying relationship. And it's set to a fifties melody, but it gets a bit more involved musically than just a simple straightforward fifties pop tune form.
"Funny Voices" is I think a pop tune. Musically it starts out pretty simple and sweet, but builds into this totally shameless pop tune, complete with fantastic Jeremy Messersmith backing vocals. I was thinking about a character who is a little rough around the edges, and is a goofy girl and is thrown over for a high society classy dame. That was such a fear of mine. To be thrown over for an heiress who knew art history and could jump horses. That would have just killed me when I was young. I guess that's a common theme. Status and power are desirable things you think you would want in someone. But at the end of the day, you just want someone reliable who can do funny voices in the car on road trips.
"My Boyfriend Is A Genius" - I've done this tune for years. It's the first song I ever wrote and it started my career. I wrote it at Yale and then it was the first song of mine I ever performed in public. I played it in McGovern's Bar in Tribeca in Manhattan in 1991. They asked me then to play a whole set the next month and I said "sure" even though I didn't have any other songs. That was a fun night though. It kind of started the whole thing. I got invited to a party the next night by some fellows in the audience and I met my husband at that party. No one knew who I was at the party. They kept saying who is that? And then someone said "No one knows her, it's the singer from last night." I never would have met him if I hadn't just stormed the stage and demanded a turn at the mic from the guy who was performing.
We re-recorded it for this EP. I had never owned a full band recording of it. We didn't mean to re-record it, it just sort of happened. We were done with the session and it was still kind of early, and I said to the band, "Guys do you mind laying down some tracks to this?" it had been an older recording off of "Poor People On TV" a pretty stark version, just electric guitar and vocal. They said sure, why not, they just really nailed it and went to town. I really like this version. It really rocks.
I originally wrote "My Boyfriend Is A Genius" because a charming, brilliant cad I briefly dated at music school, had implied that I was not smart enough for him, which was extremely irritating. And I got my revenge with this tune. Musically it's pretty neoclassical as well. But it really sounds like a rocker. Since I was at a conservatory at the time I had been playing around with a Vivaldi bass line from the "Gloria" cantata. I always loved the groove on that piece and was convinced it was a total rocker tune. It always has grieved me that classical music is not explored by rock and pop musicians and their audiences, and that it is so marginalized. To me, music is music, it's all the same thing, and classical music is the mother ship. If we get rid of that we're doomed. So I thought well, I know they would really dig this groove, and never in a million years will they go hear Vivaldi. So I'll bring Vivaldi to them. And that's what I did. And they loved this tune. So it was a thrill for me that it worked in all of the bars I've played in. It's just a bad ass rocker break up song. Although the bass line had originally been used as a Glory To God Allelujah choral mass by Antonio Vivaldi in the 1700s.
"No Questions Asked" - I had the lyrics for this song laying around for a long time. I wanted to write the saddest song in the world. To me, teenage car crashes are the saddest things in the world. I think about the close calls I had as a kid and I just shudder. So that is what this song is about. About a father wishing he had just said "No Questions Asked, I'll come get you" to his kid. I brought it over to Andy Thompson and we finished it together.
I guess this is a collection of songs for the most part only middle aged person could write and sing. You have to have been around the block a few times to write these songs and to understand them. And I'm really proud of them and very happy at the production and arrangements Andy Thompson and the musicians came up with. I'm just so happy these tunes are finally done, and are seeing the light of day. Thank you for listening.
Julia Douglass, lead vocals, backing vocals, acoustic guitar
All songs written by Julia Douglass (SESAC) except "No Questions Asked” written by Julia Douglass and Andy Thompson (ASCAP)