Interview: Juliet Varnedoe

Could you share the story behind your latest song and what inspired its creation?

“Old Spot” came about one day while I was washing dishes and feeling blue. I heard this Gypsy jazz riff on the radio and I started to hum along. I realized that oftentimes we get gloomy when we start thinking about the things we think we missed in life – as if there is some sort of guarantee! While working with this idea, I wrote the chorus lyrics that reminded me not to focus on what I think I need, but rather all the things I already have. How simple and mysterious that shift can be.

How do you approach the process of songwriting, and are there any specific themes or emotions you tend to explore in your music?

Sometimes a phrase comes to mind first, sometimes it’s the chord progression. Sometimes they happen together.
Once I have a mood or idea in my head I listen for riffs and play with chord changes on my piano. Then I make a LogicPro demo, adding vocals and getting a soundscape and rhythm feel together.
As an indie musician, how do you navigate the balance between creative freedom and commercial appeal?
I listen to a lot of jazz and blues recordings. I hear many recurring patterns – for jazz it’s the ii V I progression; for blues I IV V. I incorporate these traditions in my songs. So in that sense there is a commercial appeal in that there is a great tradition in these foundations. The creative freedom comes in how you tell the story.
Can you talk about your experiences collaborating with other artists or musicians? How does it influence your creative process?

Jazz is very much about collaborating with others – that improvisational spirit is the heart of jazz music. I like to think of bringing that “jazz band” spirit to my work, even when I’m using a DAW platform to find a groove or a sound.

What role does technology and social media play in promoting your music and connecting with your audience?

Social media can be a great resource for connecting to other artists from around the world and getting inspiration from their achievements. It gives a very personal insight to their projects. I try to do that with my social media as a way to connect a potential audience as well.
Are there any particular artists or genres that have had a significant impact on your musical style?
I love all of Chet Baker’s recordings, and I am a big fan of Johnny Hartman’s singing. I was trained classically, so I still love classical music.

Indie musicians often have a close relationship with their fanbase. How do you engage with your fans and build a dedicated community around your music?

Live performances are best, but I also have built an email list over the years and I reach out to my fan base regularly.

Could you describe a memorable live performance experience or tour that has had a lasting impact on you and your music?

I always learn something new when I perform live – there’s a lot of prep involved so that when it comes time to perform, we can all relax and actually listen to the music.
A memorable experience is when I first went on stage at the Duplex in New York and I started having fun. I realized that I could do this.

In an era of streaming platforms, how do you feel about the changing landscape of music consumption and its impact on independent musicians?

Go with the flow. I find many musicians on streaming services that I never would have heard before and when I follow them I hear their latest releases. I strive to build an audience as well and streaming provides an opportunity.