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Finding A Voice Through Music and Fashion

by Gabrielle Bohrman

Purchase alumna and indie recording artist Julia Wolf knows exactly what she wants her music to sound like, as her latest single, “High Waist Jeans,” demonstrates.

The pulsating beat contrasts with her velvety voice, as she sings about removing toxic people from her life. She delivers lines like, “I am no Orpheus/ I’m not looking back twice,” with a spitfire rap cadence. Using high-waisted jeans as a metaphor for confidence, the song oozes female empowerment, a recurring theme in her music.

Her bio reads “Laidback but I don’t front,” a line from her recent song “Magsafe,” that describes her shy, but authentic personality. A quick scroll through her Instagram reveals more ingredients of her brand identity: campaign photos for her recently launched clothing line, Girls in Purgatory; videos of her freestyle sessions, accompanied by her own fist pounds and snaps beat.

For years, Wolf struggled to find a producer who understood and could execute her sonic vision. She finally found the right fit with Purchase alumni Jackson Foote in 2018. Together, they’ve produced 11 singles and earned 5 million streams since last November. Wolf spoke about her Purchase connections, her hip-hop influences, and how both she and her lyrics have grown bolder in an interview from her Queens home.

Your followers recently exceeded your challenge to leave 500 comments in exchange for pre-releasing the first minute of “High Waist Jeans.” How would you describe your audience demographic?

I'm always trying to reach young adults in general but mostly girls. I want to be a voice for girls who have gone through similar situations as me. I grew up extremely shy, and it was hard for me to always communicate how I felt. Now that I'm older and more comfortable I would just like to let girls know that we're all in the same boat.

Is “High Waist Jeans” based on a real experience?

Yes, it’s based on a relationship that ended. I tweeted, thinking about a specific person, just a random crush that I had a long time ago. And then my ex hit me up, completely assuming it was about him. It bothered me so much because my goals right now have nothing to do with relationships at all. I'm very career-driven.

Sometimes when you're with the wrong person, they want a claim on your success.

Like saying, “You got to here... but I was there to direct you.” A lot of times, that may not be the case. I just wanted to own my own wins. Instead of being supportive, people are jealous, and it never works.

How did your time at Purchase impact your career?

I had been training to become a classical pianist. In the midst of looking for schools, I found Purchase’s songwriting program. I was always writing songs but had no idea programs like that even existed. I instantly changed course, auditioned, and fell in love with the school. I first started producing there. I would take master classes with professors like Darren Solomon, who really allowed me to learn some tricks without me having a lot of prior knowledge. They really helped me find my sound.

Did you meet Jackson at Purchase?

Yeah, he was in the production program. I knew him very briefly and we followed each other on Instagram. Years later, he DM’d me, asking for a recording.

How was your connection with Jackson different than with previous producers?

The first time we worked in the studio together, I just knew we were on the same page because I wasn't being nitpicky at all. Normally I'm always like, ‘Can we tweak this, can you do that.’ With Jackson, it was effortless. He’s super-intuitive and I think he just understood the blend of sounds that I was going for, this indie but also hip-hop-influenced bubble I'm trying to make.

You’ve been featured on Spotify-curated playlists like Indie Pop and Fresh Finds: Pop. How do you feel about your music being put into a category?

I'm beyond grateful to be on these incredible playlists and have people show me love at this stage in my career. It does feel a little strange to be boxed into a genre. Post Malone is labeled as hip-hop, even though he doesn't rap. But it's still just that feeling; that kind of sound means hip-hop to people. My beats are meant to live in that lane. But a song like “Hoops” is very poppy. So, it absolutely should be on a pop playlist.

What has the response been to your sound?

I get a ton of people reaching out now, including those who predominantly listen to rap music. They’ll say, ‘I only listen to hip-hop, but I just added all your music.’ And that’s extremely validating for me, because I want people to pick up on those hints I'm putting in there, when it comes to the heavy 808s, and trap drums. Comments like that really make me feel better about it.

How does your Girls in Purgatory project relate to your audience?

Any way that I can engage more with people and learn about them as much as they're learning about me is so cool. Why wouldn't I want to know who's listening to my music? The name holds meaning so I wanted it to be more than just clothing, so it could be a conversation. I'm planning on creating a discussion board where people can anonymously write what's on their mind, and maybe once a week I'll pick one, post it on Instagram and we can all talk about it.

It’s called Girls in Purgatory, but I wanted the clothing and brand to appeal to both genders, because I think everyone understands the feeling of being stuck in the middle of two decisions and how not everything is so black-and-white. I wanted purgatory to represent that.

Does that feeling of being in limbo intersect with your songwriting?

Oh definitely. I don't write love songs at all. That’s not on purpose, but I’m not going to write about things I don't necessarily know too much about yet. I've certainly dealt with breakups and that side of not reciprocating the same feelings that someone has for you. I’m always torn, and it feels like a lose-lose scenario. And songs like “Play Dead” show that there is no correct path. You're going to go down A or B and then life will alter itself accordingly.

How did you come to design clothing?

My dad manages a clothing factory in Brooklyn. Ever since I was little, I've been in that world and saw the behind-the-scenes aspect of it. I’m obsessed with fashion. It's so expressive, especially for someone like me, who is not necessarily a big talker. At least I can express how I'm feeling through an outfit and people can recognize who I am a little bit easier by the clothing I wear. So I wanted to start making clothing for that reason.

“High Waist Jeans” struck me as a confident song. How has your music changed that side of you?

I can't even explain to you how cripplingly shy I was growing up. I was scared of my own shadow. I still carry some of that with me. I'm still not great with words. But I’ve certainly opened up more, especially on social media. Which is weird because I can be by myself in my room, and still show my personality. But I'm still afraid to ask the waiter for more ketchup. It's like two sides of me that live simultaneously. But that's why songs like “High Waist Jeans” can exist -- because I do have this confidence, but it's only half.

Do you plan to drop an album next year?

Yes, but I do want to be super-conscious of not rushing anything. Whenever it's a body of work like that, I want to make sure we're growing the fan base, and branding myself more on social media. I'm also interested in collaborations with artists I feel are in the same lane as me. If I could find a rapper who could feature on “High Waist Jeans,” then it could live in that world and just solidify the sound I'm going for.

I know your songwriting process starts with the lyrics. Are there any specific lyrics in your head right now that you've been wanting to work with?

One is “Crying in the nosebleed section. I saw someone else living my life.” And that's about me going to literally any concert, and just being so overwhelmed with emotion. Partly because of how incredible it is to see the music and the performer, but also just wanting it so bad. Just wanting to be the one on stage impacting other people the way that they've impacted me.

*Cover image credit to Alex K. Justice*


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