Tiny Dinosaurs is a story of second chances.
I’ve never been one for the musical sob-story – it’s a bit TV talent show for my tastes – but French-born musician Julie Jay’s is more compelling than most. Traumatic surgery left the singer-songwriter in a coma and without the use of her voice for six months – but not only did she find her voice again, she was also able to put it to music.
Released in October of this year, Awake is the first of two planned EPs (the follow-up, Asleep, is due early in the new year). Among its highlights is a track called “Shut Out The Light”, featuring the vocals of Peter Silberman of The Antlers: himself on the cusp of his second chance with an impending solo album, Impermanence, acting as a return to music through the fog of temporary hearing loss.
The track is a melding of minds as much as a melding of music. Jay’s voice has the grace and gravity of a Sharon van Etten, while Silverman’s harmonies suggest a touch of the alien. Although, as Jay explains below, the song is not directly inspired by her illness, its softness and otherworldliness share the feel of being roused slowly from extended slumber.
These are five incredibly special songs that I feel very glad exist; even more so knowing there’s a follow-up EP on their heels.
How did you get started writing music and performing?
I was a late bloomer. I started when I was about 14, playing the drums in a punk band. I was not good at all and got fired. Haha.
A friend of mine had the best taste in music. She introduced me to The Pixies, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr. I borrowed a guitar from another friend and learned how to play by watching the Nirvana and Neil Young Unplugged.
As soon as I was able to play a few chords, writing music seemed very natural to me.
Three words to describe your sound…
This is a question I am always unable to answer.
What influences you – both musically and otherwise?
I think movies have a huge influence on me. Whenever I watch a good movie, I want to make music. First time I felt that way was watching Twin Peaks with my parents as a kid, and I wasn’t even a musician at the time. Angelo Badalamenti made me aware of how important music was. Take away the music in movies, and you take away 80% of the emotions.
Otherwise, it’s rare that new music influences me. I tend to listen to old stuff most of the time. But once in a while something new comes out where I am like “wow”. But it’s usually artists widely influenced by old stuff.
The press around the recent EP focuses quite heavily on your surgery and recovery. Has music always been a theraputic thing for you? Why do you think that is?
Music is definitely therapeutic for me. Whether it is by listening to it, or writing it.
Many records helped me get through stuff when growing up… even still today. When I feel sad or stressed out, I listen to music, and it calms me down immediately.
Writing music is another form of therapy. You get to let things out, even if it’s hard. Lyrics don’t always come easily to me, even when I have a lot to say. I guess it’s easier to do this than actually talk. I can shut out easily, and this is the best way for me to let my emotions out. Especially because I mostly record everything on my own, that way I can completely let go.
I’m curious about the name, Tiny Dinosaurs, for what is effectively a solo project: why did you choose the name?
It is a solo project, with a band option. I picked it with a friend, hoping I will be able to get people to join once I move to the US for good.
The EP has been recorded partly in Brooklyn, but mostly in my home studio in France. I collaborated with musicians/engineers mostly via email. Next EP will likely go the same route, as I am currently applying for an artist visa to live full time in the US.
Calling your EP Awake after your recent experiences might seem a bit on the nose, but I get the impression from track names like “Sit and Stare” and “Insomnia” that it’s a bit more complicated than that. Where did these songs come from?
Yeah, Awake and Asleep are titles that have nothing to do with my surgery, but it was a wink to it as well. Awake is mostly about long distance relationships and love. Asleep will focus on grief, and letting things go…
With the names Awake and Asleep, your two planned EPs are clearly planned as companion pieces. How far through the recording of the second one are you, and what can listeners expect from the new recordings?
I have a lot of stuff already recorded, but I’m going to be in France for a few months, and I am thinking of re-recording things in order to have more choice in where I am going with this, sonically. I am also still unsure I will keep the songs I picked a while back. I have so much material I could put three albums out right now! I really can’t tell listeners what to expect, as I am not sure myself. But it will be an interesting process.
What have you got coming up in terms of touring, other projects etc?
I’m going to book a EU/UK tour for Jan/Feb, and hopefully start touring the US in the Spring. I also have a bunch of collaborations in the oven, which I hope I can feature on the new EP.
And what are you listening to at the moment?
Angel Olsen, Warpaint, Solange. Not much. I am listening to Democracy Now podcast more than music lately 🙁