From September 2019 to early March 2020, Miami-based singer-songwriter Julia Bhatt released her first three singles, turned eighteen and graduated high school. As she was building momentum for her first-ever tour, the pandemic came knocking down these plans. Bhatt used her time during lockdowns to explore new methods of creating music – such as using software rather than guitar – and has since released the multiple singles, including the recent “Cotton Candy,” as well as her debut EP 2 steps back (2020). This July, the now-20-year-old will be releasing her debut album it is what it is. Bhatt’s music doesn’t stick to any one genre. Instead, she uses textures to build tracks with her producer, communicating in terms like “bubblegum pink” and “campfire vibes” to build a mix of airy folk and classic pop songs. However, like any other 20-year-old, Bhatt struggles with putting her work out into the world and the anxieties that come with promoting herself on social media. Her new single “On My Shoulder” balances a devil and angel on each shoulder as she navigates these complexities. Earlier this week, we spoke on pushing through self-doubt, her creative process, and what it’s like working alongside her sister.
Your most recent single “Cotton Candy” came out last month. Was it exciting getting that out into the world?
It was good. I mean, everyone I’ve talked to likes it. Which is nice, but I’ll be straight with you. I’m incredibly self deprecating, and I don’t love my music all the time. So interviewing is a little hard for me. I like this song. I don’t want to think too much about it because once I think too much about it, I start picking at it. I think it’s a good song and I’m excited to release more. I’m excited to release different things, you know.
It can be hard when you’re ready to share something with the world and you’re still a little bit self-conscious about it. What helps you get the music out there and push through those hard feelings?
Other people, mostly. I mean, the way I’ve progressed at all in this whole journey of singing is other people, because I never really thought I could sing. I’ve always been kind of critical. I have a couple of songs that I was going to put out a long time ago, but I don’t think they’re ever gonna see the light of day because I don’t like them anymore. And my producer is like, ‘They’re sick, you got to release them.’ I’m like, no. It’s hard because it never really changes. Every now and then I’ll be like, ‘Oh, it’s actually good.’ And then it’ll change again. It’s a constant kind of doubt, which really, really sucks, especially when you’re trying to promote music. But I just have to remember the stuff I like about it when promoting. I think that that song is a really fun song. I think it’s bright. I don’t have a ton of songs as “pop-y” as that. I’m ready to move on 100% though.
You have your next song “On My Shoulder” coming out on the 20th. In that, you have the angel and devil on your shoulder, which I feel like could almost relate to your feelings of like, ‘I’m putting out these songs, but I’m also super nervous about it.’
It applies literally everything, dude. I would consider myself somewhat smart. But I’m also incredibly dumb. And like, I know, in my head, there are two parts where it’s like, ‘You’re being stupid.’ And then it’s like, ‘I’m aware, but leave me alone.’ You’re irrational and rational at the same time. It also applies to school itself. I’m not in college right now, and like half of me is like, ‘That’s awesome. Do your thing, progress, live your life.’ But the other half was like, ‘Why aren’t you fucking going according to what you’re supposed to be doing according to everybody else. Everybody else is doing this.’ I have a friend who’s on track to do neuroscience and go to med school and all that, which is fucking sick, and here I am writing songs. So I hope to make the same impact that people like them are doing, you know, people like doctors. It may not be the same kind of importance, but something that impacts people the same way.
Is there something that you want people to take away from your music when they listen to it?
I just want people to like it. Music is such a big thing for me. One of the biggest things that propels me to do music, even though I’m not the biggest fan of myself, is because music means so much to me and there’s so much you can do with it. There are a couple of songs that I released, and I’m just like, ‘Oh, I hate those.’ But there are a couple of songs that I love. And I still listen to them. And they’re just great, in my opinion. The fact that I can do something like that and fall in love with a song that’s mine is crazy. But like, all my life I’ve fallen in love with other people’s music. That’s what I kind of hope happens with my music for somebody. That they’re like, ‘This is fucking amazing.’ That they can actually feel it. I know that kind of sounds like cheesy, but like, when you get sad you have a song you listen to, when you get like really happy or you have a certain vibe you think of a song. I want that to happen, maybe just to feel something. I want that to happen with my music.
“All my life I’ve fallen in love with other people’s music. That’s what I kind of hope happens with my music for somebody.”
You said that you have a couple songs that you really love. So, if someone was just starting to listen to your music and wanted to get into it, which songs would you recommend that they check out first?
“Marco” was one of the most on-the-spot songs I’ve done. And it’s still to this day one of my favorite songs. I think it’s also my most listened to song. So, that one. “Hair Salon Vibes” was one of the more recent songs that came out, it did very poorly. It’s still one of my favorites. I don’t know, I’m not great at promoting. Again, if you doubt yourself all the time, it’s hard to promote and be like, “Listen to my music. It’s fucking great! This is what it’s about.” Because like, sometimes I don’t even know what it’s about, you know? So it’s a little rough. But, I really liked that song. So I would definitely start with those two.
I read that during COVID, you began to ditch the guitar on some of your tracks and write songs on software using Ableton Live? Do you have a preference now between using guitar or software?
The song that has just come out “Cotton Candy” and [“On My Shoulder”] were both written on the guitar, and they were both simple songs that we then developed. I feel like there’s more of a path when I write it on the guitar. It’s more of like a very set simple like A-B A-B C-D. But when you write something to a track that’s pretty much the same all the way through and you have to start developing it, there’s freedom to add different parts. And like, sometimes I find that the first thing I hear is a chorus and then I can’t find verses, or I hear verses but can’t find a chorus. Like, there’s a song that my producer really likes, but I can’t find the right things so we’re not releasing it. So, I think writing on the guitar is much simpler for me, and I think it comes out much faster. Whereas, Ableton and software yields a lot more interesting results and more like, technically diverse. But I like them both, which is why they’re both featured on the album, a lot of [the album] is a mix of old shit that I’ve done and new shit.
It’s pretty cool to get a mix of it on the album. That way there’s something for everyone and they still can all blend together.
Whenever anyone asks for my genre, I never know what to say. Like, it’s literally my most dreaded question.
So if you didn’t describe it using words that are typical for genres, like don’t say indie or pop, how would you describe it?
Well, the funny thing is that’s how I song-build with my producer. I don’t know how to like say that kind of stuff. So I talk in textures. You know what I mean? I’m like, “I want it to sound like a bubblegum pink pop.” And he’s like, ‘Okay, I got you,’ and I’m like, ‘Sick. Let’s do it.’
“I talk in textures. You know what I mean? I’m like, ‘I want it to sound like a bubblegum pink pop.'”
It’s cool that you have that relationship with your producer where you can say that to him and he’s gonna get what you mean and you can create together.
He’s the reason I can make music. I don’t know how to put it all together. A normal person wouldn’t be able to be like … If I was like “bubblegum pink pop,” they’d be like, ‘What the fuck are you talking about? You can’t just say that and expect me to come up with something.’ But he’s just like, “Alright, let’s do it.” So it’s great, because I’ve also never really liked working alone. I think that it’s cool to bounce ideas off of other people and build off of other people. I think that’s what makes bands so interesting versus a single act. The more the merrier, you know.
Speaking of working together, your sister, Anna, designed the album art for your upcoming album, ‘it is what it is,’ as well as for “On My Shoulder.” What’s it like getting to bring that vision to life with your sister?
Well, it’s kind of the same thing there, because she’s someone I trust a lot. I trust her artistic view, which is something I value a lot, because I don’t know much about that kind of thing. It’s the same thing as like, I don’t know much about producing. So you have to have someone you trust enough to be like, ‘This is what I kind of want, but I want you to run with it.’ That’s essentially what she did. I gave her the songs. I was like, this is kind of what I want. And she’s like, cool. The album cover honestly, she did that mostly all herself. I just love her art, and I don’t want me on the album cover. I’m fine, you know, but like, I can’t draw like that. I can’t produce art like that. And so, I want somebody who can and something that’s really cool. I want to show that off.
You have upcoming shows and your debut album coming out, but is there anything else we can expect or that you’re really excited about in 2022? Those are two big things in the works.
Honestly, I’m trying not to. I’m definitely going to do shows. I’m not looking away from music, but I am trying to occupy myself with stuff that isn’t just music because I don’t want to fall down a rabbit hole. I know this isn’t related at all, but I’m really excited because I’m going to Europe for 14 days with my boyfriend. That’s what I’m thinking about right now. You know, if there’s shows that come that’ll be awesome. And when they come, I’ll promote them. But right now, I want people to listen to the music and enjoy, you know, their year, enjoy their time. I don’t have too much I need to say, I don’t have too much I’m expecting at all, you know.
I hope you have a good time in Europe because I’m very jealous. That sounds like it’s going to be a very fun trip.
Thank you! It’s like our first real grown up trip. It’s crazy.
That’s exciting. Where are you guys going?
We’re going a lot of places, dude. We’re using the Eurail. So we’re going to Paris and Lyon in France, and then we’re going to Zurich, and then we’re going to Amsterdam.
That’s gonna be so fun.
We’re really fucking excited, yeah.
Bhatt’s new single “On My Shoulder” was released April 20th, and her debut album ‘it is what it is’ is set to drop on July 20th. Stream “On My Shoulder” here.