Q&A with JULIA DAVO
Watching the musical journey of singer songwriter Julia Davo is like watching a rockstar biopic in real time. The nineteen year old Long Islander, full of talent and drive, has spent the last year on tour as part of the original cast of Hits! The Musical. When she’s not singing the hits of icons like Madonna and Joan Jett, Julia is building her own legacy through writing and performing original music that bleeds authenticity. I was given the opportunity to speak with the young singer, whose story is sure to inspire anyone looking to break into the music scene.
ALLY: So I did a brief deep dive into your discography, and I just wanted to let you know how much I love your sound. It is so, so amazing. There's something about it that's equal parts unique, but also nostalgic. Like, there's a familiarity, but like also has this extremely fresh and new sound. It's just really, really great. And I absolutely love it. So my first question is, do you write your own music?
JULIA: I do! Everything that you might have listened to that's released on Spotify or iTunes. That's all original work. So I write all the music and the lyrics to my songs. And I have a lot of songs written that I haven't released yet because I'm just waiting, I don't know, to hopefully get signed to some sort of label. That's my ultimate goal for these next few months. But writing music is honestly, out of all the art forms, probably my favorite thing to do.
A: Oh, that's so cool! As someone who has never written a song, I find that process so interesting and so impressive. So what does your writing process look like? Do you sit down with the intention of writing a song? Or do the ideas kind of come to you randomly?
J: They really come to me randomly, it's kind of insane. Sometimes I'll literally wake up at three in the morning and I'll just have this idea of this tune that's almost matched with lyrics already, and I'll write it down, and it just kind of comes out of me. And I'm super lucky that I've never really had writer's block. I'm sure I will one day. I really find it easy to sit down and write a song, but I never like to force it. I wouldn’t really sit down and be like, “Okay I'm gonna write a love song now”. It's just when I have a certain experience or a certain feeling it'll just kind of pop out of me. And then I'll write it down, and then I'll start working on making it.
A: And do you play instruments as well?
J: The tour I was just on, I was playing electric guitar. I was a singer on the tour, but there were a couple of scenes where I had a guitar. So just guitar and ukulele, but nothing else.
A: And are you self-taught?
J: Actually I kind of am. But for the tour specifically I was getting lessons just to brush up a couple months before the tour with Mark Cocheo. He actually was my old songwriting teacher because I went to Long Island High School for the Arts. So he's, he's wonderful. And he was helping me just to make sure it was perfected. I kind of taught myself guitar a few years ago but I never expected I'd be playing it professionally. I needed to make sure I was perfect.
A: I was also really blown away by your voice. You're like, a powerhouse vocalist. I almost get an Alannis Morissette, Amy Winehouse, Jewel vibe in there. Who are some of your main inspirations in terms of your vocals, your music and also your fashion?
J: I mean, the first person that comes to mind is probably just in general, like, my biggest inspiration as an artist would be David Bowie. I wanna be that, I wanna be a female David Bowie. I just like the bizarre theatrical qualities that he had, and I'm a sucker for classic rock and roll. I wanna bring that back in a way. But other inspirations for me might be Blondie, Pat Benatar, Joan Jett, Lady Gaga… I know a lot of people compare me to her. And I just love really out-there kinds of clothes and eccentric accessories.
May she rest in peace, one of my biggest inspirations has been Tina Turner, actually. A few years ago, I saw Tina the Musical because I've always been into musical theater, and this was before I started taking up rock and roll. I remember seeing that musical not knowing what I was getting into. I had no idea who Tina Turner was. And from that moment on, I was like, I wanna be a rockstar, just like her.
I actually stood outside the theater and waited at the stage door. I asked the woman who was playing Tina Turner, Adrienne Warren, if I could sing with her. And I remember her and I sang this huge duet together in front of everyone. It was one of the most memorable moments of my life. And she was like, “What do you do?”, and I was like, “Oh, I'm a musical theater geek.”, and she goes, “No, you're a rockstar.” And I was like, okay… maybe I am. So, from then on I've had this love for rock and roll. So obviously hearing that Tina Turner had passed away was so devastating for me.
A: Wow. That kind of leads into my next question, because I was gonna ask if there was a specific event in your life that led you to want to pursue a life of performing… Obviously, that's a big one. But was there anything else?
J: Honestly, that's really the one that comes to mind for me. Because other than that, I wouldn't say there's one set moment. I just, I know I was born just being so creative, and I kind of always knew in some way I wanted to perform. But I think now I kind of have a more focused path. I wanna be, of course, on Broadway, but I really wanna be a rockstar. So I'd say that it’s the moment I described which really showed me what I think I'm here to do.
A: I remember hearing something about you going to California at one point to pursue music. I would love to hear that story from you.
J: Absolutely! So, it's kind of a funny story. My whole life, I wanted to do musical theater. And my whole life I'm told NYU Tisch; that's where you have to be. If you get in there you're golden. That's where all the performers go, so that was always kind of what I thought I wanted. And, you know, I was lucky enough and I worked so hard just to get into that school. I felt confident in my performance audition, but I'm not always the best scholar and it was tough to get my grades, especially my math grades, up to par. It was a struggle, but I was so happy to get in. I remember I stayed there for about one semester until I was finally like, “What am I doing here”? I honestly just really didn't like it and I just felt like I just wanted so badly to be out there auditioning for things.
Really quick side note story: there was this one teacher I had who kept telling me my writings were, like, too upsetting for her. And writing, not just songs, but also books and poetry, has always been my thing. That's why I got into NYU, on a writing scholarship. So my writing teacher kind of hated me, which was discouraging. And I remember I took this leave of absence because I'm like, “You know what? I'm gonna take a pause, and I'm going to see what I can do and see what auditions I can go to and just see if anything happens here.” I emailed all my teachers about what my plan was, and I was like, “Thank you for all you taught me.” And here was the thing, my writing teacher had given me a zero on one of my writing finals that I worked so hard on. It was genuinely good writing, but she just, I don't know, wanted me to be more bland or whatever. And I remember her emailing me like, “where are you? Why aren't in class?” And basically, I just go, “Hey, Mrs. Blank, thank you for your concern. I've actually decided I'd like to be a rockstar.” And that's essentially how I resigned from NYU.
But mind you, I don't have ANY money and I don't have anywhere to stay. I'm 18, or maybe 17 and a half at the time, and I scrounge everything I can and waitressing, and I get a plane ticket to LA where my best friend luckily lives. So I give myself one month and I'm like, “okay if you can't make anything here happen in one month, you just go home either go back to NYU, or just try to work and support yourself in the city and audition there.”
My main goal of the trip was really to get signed to a record label, which is a lot harder than I thought for them to even see you. So I've NEVER been to LA before and I'm ubering around with this list of labels that I'm literally knocking on the doors of, trying to get in. The security guards are like, “You know, this is charming and this is sweet, and we're sorry, we want to help you, but you can't get in without an appointment, you know?” And I'm just begging, and I'm trying, and I'm playing my music, and they're like, “You know, we like that… but we can't help you.” So that was really discouraging. And I remember I'd been in LA for like, one month, and I booked one commercial. Sure, it was a pretty cool commercial, but that was it. And I was kind of like, “Are you kidding me?”
So I had the plane ticket back home, and it was my final week. That's when I actually found the audition for the national tour. It's a musical, and I remember just jumping in, auditioning, and being like, “There's no way this will happen.” They literally did a nationwide talent search and auditioned over 7000 people. I thought I would just do this for fun and then go home. So that's really what I did. And then the second I get back to New York, I get a phone call that's like, “We'd like to call you back for the tour.” So they flew me into Florida for a few days for a call back. It was essentially a competition of the final, maybe hundred people. And then they cast 28 people. Just in a couple of weeks, I knew I was cast for the tour. I'm so lucky, and I feel blessed. It was such a quick turnaround from leaving school to just having something that changed my life. And for the next seven months, my life was dedicated to rehearsals, and then touring.
A: Wow, I feel like you just pitched me a movie. I could see it all play out in my head!
J: I would love to make a movie one day…
A: I would definitely watch it! I would love to know about the first song that you ever wrote. Was it a strong start? Was it absolutely terrible? And how have you grown as a writer since that point?
J: I remember two songs that I almost consider my first song. This is such a weird memory, but when I was young, maybe like six or seven years old, in my bedroom there was this little picture. It looked like it was purchased from, I don't know, Barnes and Noble or something. It had a bunch of little quotes on it, and I remember every night as a little girl looking at each quote and, in my mind, writing songs to the quotes. I would use each quote to inspire a different song. I still remember these songs that I wrote in my head and I think it’s so interesting to reflect on that, because it’s when my mind was starting to work in a certain way.
So in my sophomore year of school, I actually went on a mission trip to Jamaica for a few weeks and it was a super insane experience. It was just different from any life experience I'd had so far. I had a ukulele there, and we were going to orphanages and witnessing these really horrible situations. It was really upsetting. There was this one little girl that I met, and she was clearly abused and just dropped off by her parents as a young, young girl. I remember that night going back to the hotel, I sat down and I wrote a song about her, and that's the first song I think I can remember that I really wrote.
I remember coming home and telling my brother I'm a songwriter, and he was like, “no, you didn't” and I was like, “actually, I did.” So I told him to name anything in this room and I'd write him a song about it right now. Like, I don't need any time to think and he was like, “Okay… this coke bottle.” and I remember I wrote this 1 minute jingle song about Coke. It was just super fun, and ever since then, my brother has been my biggest supporter. He really believes in me.
In my junior year of high school, junior and senior year, I was going to Long Island High School for the Arts. I applied for this scholarship that was this dream recording studio songwriting scholarship. I hadn’t written that many songs so far, but I decided to do it so I could try to get this scholarship because the winner got ten hours of studio time at a recording studio on Long Island. I submitted this, honestly, lame song I wrote. It's a lot different than anything I would write now, but I was fortunate enough to win it, and I got ten hours of studio time. So I met this boy in the city, who's a really great guitarist, and he and I started hanging out and jamming out together. It started with covers, but then I started writing music and he would pick up his guitar and add chords, and all of a sudden we had songs. And that's how we wrote our first single, You, which is on Spotify. We recorded that at the studio. So it was completely free, which is insane.
A: Do you think there are still elements of those original songs that can be found in the way you create music today?
J: I think there are definitely elements. You know, what's interesting about my writing and my sound now is how I write in so many different styles. I can write pop, rock, R&B, I can pop-rock. So, I think my style back then used to be a little more like folk and almost had a country kind of twang to it cause I was just starting out and putting words to paper. But I almost wanna bring back some of those songs I've written that no one knows about and either alter them and make them more rock and or just completely release them how they are. I love rock and roll, but it's really important to me to be versatile, because I think music is constantly evolving, and there are trends, and I just wanna give people what they want, and I wanna have something for everyone to listen to.
A: I mean, honestly, you could do both! Like a rock version and a version “from the vault”.
J: So funny you say that because I had this phase where I was writing all these acoustic songs when I first started teaching myself guitar. So I have all these songs that are just guitar, almost like Taylor Swift when she was younger, those kinds of songs. And I started listening to one of them, and I was like, “You know, this would sound so much better if it were like a punk rock song.” So, it's not released yet, but I have one song called Sidewalk Chalk. And it's like, Sidewalk Chalk (Acoustic Version), and then Sidewalk Chalk (Rock Version). So I think it’s a cool concept.
A: That's awesome, because it could also give the song a whole new meaning; a whole new vibe and a whole new life.
So, I wanna talk about your time in Hits! The Musical. You had mentioned the audition process, which sounded insane, but what was it like working so closely with such a creative and talented group of people? Did you learn a lot?
J: It was, it was wonderful. I mean, I don't even know how to sum up the experience. It was just beautiful. I think it was such an interesting dynamic because no one in the show is over 22 years old, so everyone is a kid. A lot of the people in the cast were 10 to 16 years old. That's almost the appeal of the show, it was like America's Next Young Superstar. So I think for me, it was just interesting, because I'm used to always being the youngest person in the room when it comes to things like casting calls. But I was one of the older kids here, and I just loved it. There was a sense of community in the cast, especially with the older and the younger girls; doing each other's hair and making sure we were all okay. And I think it was just so sweet how these young kids were looking up to us and, mind you, these young kids are insanely talented. It was so inspiring to feel like I'm with my people: people who are passionate and excited. And working with the creative team, especially, it was just so much fun. Our director was brilliant, and our choreographer and music director as well.
It just felt so great because it's also like building something from scratch. It's not like the show was written, and we're just jumping into roles. The show is essentially written around us. They shaped us into all of these roles, so it was such a wonderful thing to be seen as an artist and to not be put in a box. I'm doing Marilyn Monroe in one scene and then in the next scene, I'm playing Joan Jett. And that was just so cool to be able to jump around from those different characters.
A: What would you say was the biggest challenge you faced while on tour?
J: The travel itself was often physically tiring. I'd say the biggest challenge is probably staying completely ready and healthy for the shows. I actually did all of the shows and I'm so proud of myself. This is a specific challenge, but when I was in Nashville I got a really bad kidney infection. Really, really bad. I was in hospital and the doctors were so concerned and they gave me antibiotics. I don't think I've ever been more sick in my life, but I was still on stage the next day in my Marilyn costume performing. I'm just so proud of myself. And, don't get me wrong, it hurt. My whole side of my body was killing me. But I remember thinking that the audience paid to see the show, and I'm gonna give them the show. So I think the challenge is always just staying, as you know, and in as perfect shape, physically and mentally, as possible.
A: Now, are you someone who gets any kind of stage fright before you perform, whether it's in Hits! The Musical or even if you're doing a local gig?
J: I wouldn’t call it stage fright. I get adrenaline and butterflies in my stomach, but no I've never felt stage fright. I've never felt like I was on stage and I was nervous in any way. I've definitely felt like stage fright in other situations that don't have to do with the stage, like in social situations. I've definitely felt awkward, anxious. It's almost like “life fright”. But for some reason, the second I step on stage, I'm almost too comfortable. Sometimes, you know what I mean? I'm just home, and I'm not trying to impress anyone.
I do have to make sure I'm nuanced and ready to perform, especially because I have such a history of just gigging in the city. Now that I had to step into a professional tour, I really had to be like, “Julia, like, you gotta do all the moves, and you gotta remember all these costumes. And this is their show, not your show,” you know? I wanted to really just help their vision come to life. But when I step on stage, I just feel like everything falls into place, and I feel so blessed for that.
A: Do you have any rituals you do before going onstage?
J: We had this whole thing where before each show, we had to pre-set all of our costumes. We had, like, maybe 20 costume changes each in the show. And it's an hour and a half show, so it's pretty intense. I remember every show I’d get my mic on, and I would walk through all the pre-set, which is just where you put your costumes backstage. Then I’d do my makeup, which is honestly so relaxing for me, doing my makeup and my hair before the show. You know, everyone likes to do different things. Before some big shows, we would all get together as a cast, and we would all sing a song. We would sing the song, You've Got a Friend, which was really sweet. We would also sing songs by our executive producer Dionne Warwick. She would often come backstage, and we would all sing her songs for her before the shows. You know, I think it's just about being with each other before the shows, and just hyping each other up.
A: Thats so nice! And Dionne Warwick… oh my god.
J: Oh, she's so sweet and wonderful and generous. She really helped us so much with our show.
A: What's it like as a woman breaking into the music industry? And what does it mean for you to share your art with the world?
J: That's a great question. I mean, I think as a woman, it's tough, but I wouldn't want it any other way. I obviously love being a woman and I love expressing myself as a woman and I love singing as a woman. And female rock is everything I want. This is just kind of a specific example that comes to mind, but it's tough feeling taken advantage of on the business side. Like there will be times where I’ll perform a three hour gig and be promised a certain pay. But then all of a sudden, they'll try to switch up on me. And I've witnessed with my fellow male musicians that things are different. I feel like sometimes they see the young blonde singer walk in, and they try to take advantage a little. It's unfortunate, but I think it just fuels me more. I think, with me, I need to be strong and I need to show people that I'm serious about what I do. Unfortunately I feel like I have to prove myself, but I think that goes for every musician, male and female. You have to prove yourself.
It just means so much to me to have a female voice and to make music that can inspire other females and other males. With me, it's not even a gender thing. I want to be heard and show people that whether you're super feminine or super masculine, it doesn't matter. If you have something to say you should say it. I love playing around with just different looks and styles. Sometimes I'll dress super feminine, and sometimes I'll dress a little less feminine. I've even done some concept videos where I'm in male drag, like David Bowie drag. I just think gender and all of that is such a beautiful thing and I just wanna show people that they can be comfortable in their own skin.
A: That was such a great answer!
Before we part ways, any new projects or exciting news you want to announce to your listeners?
J: There's definitely a bunch in the works. I've been going to a few auditions, but kind of just sitting back and waiting to see what happens. I definitely plan to release a song this summer, so you guys can look out for a new single by Julia Davo on Spotify and iTunes this summer! I'll probably announce it in a couple weeks. But other than that, I’m really just gonna be laying low for a couple months here in New York. Just taking the time I need to do some gigs and to work on some more music, go on some auditions. Then I'm really excited to see what comes of this coming year. There are some plans for projects, possibly in LA and even Las Vegas, so I'm just waiting to see what happens with that. But the second I know, I will let you guys know.
I guess that's the thing about this business; things are a little up in the air. But I'll tell you one thing: I'm NOT gonna go back to NYU. I think I'm ready now to just completely jump in and make this a full time living.
You can find Julia on Instagram @juliadavz and listen to her music on Spotify and Apple Music!
Blog by Ally Roberts