Julia Deans is one of New Zealand's best known rock chicks as the former frontwoman of Fur Patrol, but whose career has veered from Irish folk to the musical Brel. This week she sings Joni Mitchell in the Auckland International Cabaret Season.continued on A34
1. Do you come from a musical family?
My grandfather, Jack Moriarty, was amazing. He could play anything and my mum grew up doing lots of Irish dancing. I always sang at church and with my friends. Then when I was 18 someone asked if I wanted to play guitar and sing backing vocals in this band [Banshee Reel] and that was it. I'd moved to Wellington to go to jazz school and study composition but I only lasted three months. We started touring and that was way more exciting.
2. Why jazz?
I started out playing classical piano and didn't know much about jazz so just wanted to explore. I love learning new things and despite wasting a few thousand dollars dropping out after three months I still got so much out of it. So many New Zealand musicians have studied jazz - Warren Maxwell, lots of the Fat Freddy's boys, the Shapeshifter boys.
3. Who was your teenage musical influence?
I discovered Led Zeppelin when I was about 13. It was one of those flash bulb moments. I was at a friend's church youth group camp and this gorgeous guy was running it. He was one of those awesome humans who didn't push the whole Jesus thing but was interested in helping us as teenagers. We were lying in our bunk beds asleep one morning when the door opened and I saw this arm push a ghetto blaster through it and press play. Good Times, Bad Times blasted out and I sat up. I think [Robert Plant] influenced my singing. He could do that big trill and then the deep sexy-time voice. Chris Purdy was the youth camp guy's name. I wonder where he is now?
4. Did you have a religious upbringing?
I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian church. I was only into the singing really. I just didn't believe [in] it from a young age. There was a lot of fear in the teachings, Armageddon and Christians being tortured. My parents were really young and I was about 5 when they joined. I know how those outreach programmes work - they often look for people that are lost or vulnerable and to their credit, they provided great support. Mum and Dad got out too once we became teenagers. I don't believe in God now but I think the beautiful thing that happens in churches is people congregating for a common belief and supporting each other.
5. Is it harder to be a woman in rock than a man?
Yes, I think so. I've been fortunate with the people I've played with and most musicians don't give a shit about whether you're male or female, it's how you play. But in Australia it was more of a boys' club. I was often the only girl on the road with three bands together - that's 12 musicians plus all the crew and the women that wanted to be there after the gigs. Often the first thing guys will do is just start hitting on you. I was never into that and would bat it away and after about five minutes most would go yeah cool, you're just another person. Some wouldn't get the message, though. I did milk the perks if there were any, like getting my own room. When I first started out I was into lifting the gear and everything but I threw my back a couple of times and went no, f*** that, I'm a girl, I'm not lugging gear.
6. You've been with your partner, sound engineer David Wernham, for 12 years. Will you marry?
Yeah, 12 years is a long time but no. No marriage. I don't believe in wedding vows. No piece of paper from the city hall keeping us tried and true. Having a party would be great. Presents? I hadn't thought about the presents. Perhaps we should rethink it.
7. When have you failed?
Failure is regret, I think. Regretting not having done something when you had the opportunity. Or when you start measuring your achievements against other people's, that's when you start thinking about failure. You can trap yourself in this spiral of despair because you feel like everyone's having a way better time and doing way better than you are. It's fatal, because you know there's someone looking at what you are doing and thinking 'they're having a way better time than me'.
8. Do you ever get down?
Oh yeah. I don't trust people who say they don't. Towards the end of Fur Patrol I was down. We'd been touring our asses off and working really hard in Australia but everything fell apart and we lost faith. We'd spent too much time listening to other people rather than following our instincts. It's hard to stick to your guns. I had to take time out. I felt really lost with music and that was the worst part of it. After that we decided to make another album. In some respects I think it was the right thing to do, other times I think I should have walked away then. But you have to accept the decisions that you make.
9. You had a decade of living and singing in Melbourne. Do you miss it?
Yeah, I do. I miss friends more than anything and it was hard to adjust back to living in Auckland. I came back because I was doing more music here than there in the end. I love living here now though. I really enjoy the lifestyle. I love having a backyard. We've got a lemon tree, grapefruit, two banana trees, feijoas. We brought our cat back with us and he'd never seen grass before except on the median strip. He went crazy when he got out into the garden.
10. Which Joni Mitchell lyric do you wish you'd written?
I've only just started to know Joni Mitchell which has been awesome. It's like a beautiful big gift - she's such a wordsmith. From Amelia: "It was a hexagram of the heavens; it was the strings on my guitar", and "I dream of 747s over geometric farms". Amazing.
11. What's next?
I've got a new album that should be out later this year that I've written using old synthesiser sounds. I think my songs are sounding really beautiful, some of my best lyrics I think, less introspective and more about what's going on in the world around. I'm doing a psychology paper by correspondence and I really enjoy it. I'll see how I go and maybe in 10 years' time I might have a degree and a change of career. Ha!
12. What are your new lyrics about?
It sounds morbid but looking at death as part of the cycle of life and how we're here for a short time. My grandpa was 96 when he died and after that the reality of it set in, when you start looking back and going 'I really wasted some gold opportunities'. It makes me want to travel more, tour more, study more, learn more, meet more people, eat more good food, drink more good wine. More of all of that.
• Both Sides Now: Julia Deans Sings Joni Mitchell, Wednesday June 4, 6.30pm and Sunday June 8, 7pm at the Auckland Town Hall.