People, papers and Julia herself tell us that Julia Haltigan’s musical family, a hundred-piece band that includes a singing-quartet alum grandmother and a father talented in the guitar-arts inspired her pursuit of music. Not having been fortunate enough to witness family reunions, we will say this: Julia Haltigan’s music is all leather boots, smoky rooms and whimsy in a way that makes us want to burn our bras while wearing pretty lace and red lipstick; confusing, wonderful, inspiring and astoundingly infectious. Gopher contributor Kyra Choucroun tracked the incredible Ms. Haltigan and asked her about everything from day planners to taxidermy.
Tell us about your upbringing in NYC.
Growing up in New York forces kids to learn how to be an adult at a very young age. That isn’t to say that you don’t get to enjoy the freedom of being a child. I spent more time in the city playgrounds built of cement and splintered wood then I did anywhere else. It’s just that by being exposed to so many interesting people and ridiculous scenes, you’re asked to understand things on a more adult level. I think times were especially interesting here in the 80s and 90s, before Brooklyn was the new Manhattan, before there was a Whole Foods supermarket next to the Bowery Mission. I grew up on Bond St. right off Bowery so when I asked my parents questions like “Dad, why is that man falling asleep standing up? It looks like he’s about to fall over” I think they they just told me the truth, which I’m very thankful for. Kids who grew up in New York had interesting perspectives on life at a young age. I remember going to parties with my parents at peoples’ lofts or on the roof of the Chelsea Hotel and enjoying mixing and mingling with interesting artists and musicians that my parents hung out with. I felt very grown up having conversations with them like “well, I personally think unicorns are more magical than pegasus’ but what’s your take on the matter?” The city is also filled with endless things to do and see, like museums, the zoo, the botanical gardens, Coney Island. It’s hard to be bored though I apparently complained about suffering from boredom often… what did I know?
I Can’t Have you – Julia Haltigan and the Hooligans
Blowin’ up My Baby With Dinah – Julia Haltigan and the Hooligans
When did you know you wanted to become a musician?
I guess I started taking it seriously when I was in high school, although I always sang and listened to a ton of music. My dad’s side of the family is very musical. My grandmother was in a quartet with her sister in the 30’s called The Larkin Sisters, which was similar to The Andrews Sisters. Our family reunions on that side of the family always have one night designated to music where we all sing songs together in rounds and stuff like that. We do this one song called “The Orchestra Song” where the whole family (like 100 of us) splits into different groups, with each group playing different instruments, so you have the trumpets, the violins, the drums etc. and we all sing our parts at the same time to create this orchestra of voices. It’s one of my favorite things in the world.
Tell us about the cover of your album, Julia Haltigan & the Hooligans.
The album cover from Julia Haltigan & The Hooligans was painted by my uncle, Victor Kerpel. He’s my uncle from my mom’s side, the artistic side. Victor is the most incredible painter. He paints these enormous oil paintings using brilliant colors and I’ve always admired his work very much. I really wanted him to do our album cover and was thrilled when he said “yes”. Victor and I met at Fanelli’s Cafe to discuss the details. I said to him “Paint whatever you want, just don’t paint a picture of me.” I just find it cheesy when an album cover is some glam shot of the artist. Two weeks later I went to check on the progress and saw that it was life size portrait of me… he can be so stubborn! Luckily it was beautiful and I was very happy with it. Victor is so talented, I hope I can get him to do more album covers in the future!
What would you say is a recurring theme in your music?
I really like using engines as metaphors for love. That’s what you get when you have a girl who loves motorcycles – “pistons pound like my heart does for you”. But I think I’m drawn to lyrics like that because they don’t have anything to do with each other, yet when you use them together to describe a feeling, interesting imagery is created. I also tend to talk about “running” a lot… I can’t tell you what that’s all about though, you’d have to ask my therapist (if I could afford one):))
What is a typical day for you?
I’m not ready in my life for typical days yet. I enjoy taking one day at a time and filling it with a ridiculous amount of stuff to do that can range from writing songs to visiting the petting zoo in central park. My day planner (yes I still keep a day planner) is scribbles of strange schedules.
Tell us about the music scene in New York City.
The music scene in New York City is great; I’m really enjoying it…It ranges in music styles and there are certainly groups that stick together, but mostly I would say everyone is supportive of each other here and interested in helping each other find success. I’m definitely sensing more of a community than in the past. People are working together creatively and finding new ways to have fun with music.
What would you say is your favourite piece of music? Why?
“Da Da Da” by Trio…. No just kidding. That’s what they’re spinning in hell I believe. I think if I had to live with a single piece of music for the rest of my life I would choose something up lifting and inspirational like “Free As A Bird” by The Beatles or “Thirteen Men” by Ann Margaret. I will say that my top 2 played song on iTunes are “The Climb” by the Coasters and “Crack of Doom” by the Tiger Lillies. What do you make of that?
What is the story behind ‘Where the Animals Used to Play’?
Oh man, I knew someone would ask me what that song was about sooner or later. I’m a little embarrassed. I wrote that song after visiting the Museum of Natural History for the first time in a while. I went straight to my favorite exhibit, African Animals, and stared at the Elephants for a while. I love Elephants. The longer I looked at them though, the sadder I got. They were all dusty. I started thinking about all the animals we’ve stuffed for natural history museums and all the animals we keep in zoos for “educational purposes.” I just thought, how interesting to be staring at animals in the middle of Manhattan when some of them used to actually occupy this land as their habitats, not Elephants of course. I wanted to write a song in honor of them but without writing an activist song. I didn’t want to preach, just appreciate.
Goodbye Cowboys & Rocket Men - Julia Haltigan and the Hooligans
Your song ‘Goodbye Cowboys and Rocket Men’ caught our attention. Could you tell us about your collaboration with fellow musician Freddie Stevenson and the a recurring ‘cowboy/cowgirl’ feel to your music and image?
Freddie Stevenson’s brilliant songwriting always inspires and encourages me when I’m writing. So when he told me that he thought Goodbye Cowboys and Rocketmen was a good song, I was flattered.
One night Freddie and Irakli, my manager and our common friend, were talking about doing recordings of some of my newer songs and when Freddie offered to have a go at producing it and adding his magical touch, I was thrilled. This is how that version came about, which is currently the only one available. We also did another song, but it’s not finished yet. One day!
I’m not really sure where the ‘cowboy/cowgirl’ feel in my music came from because clearly we don’t have many of those here in the big city, but I do think it has something to do with nostalgia. It’s more the idea of cowboys and what their image means to people. Honestly, when I think of cowboys, I think of little kids and toy guns, kind of like that Sony & Cher song “A Cowboys Work Is Never Done” one of my all time favorites.
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