Julia Nunes began posting on YouTube almost a decade ago, rising to fame with videos like her cover of Destiny’s Child‘s “Survivor,” which won her a free ukulele, and the original song “Into the Sunshine,” which skyrocketed to over a million views. Since then, Nunes has done a bundle of amazing things, from opening for Ben Folds to performing at Bonnaroo to playing in America’s living rooms, all the while recording enough music to release five albums.
On January 3rd, Nunes launched a Kickstarter to help her produce a sixth album. Though her first Kickstarter, in 2012, was big enough to land her TV interviews and internet profiles, this new project is blowing it out of the water. “Julia Nunes + Feelings = New Album” has raised (as of this writing) $111, 684 of a $25,000 goal, and there are still two full days left to donate.
Given how wildly popular she is and how y’all reacted when we included her in two recent lists, I figured it was time for a talk with the woman herself. She was, as you’d expect, overwhelmingly nice and cool, even though I made her wake up for a Skype call at 8:30 in the morning.
Okay so, to start, tell me your age and where you are living?
I am 26-years-old, newly. I live in Los Angeles, newly.
I just checked, and your Kickstarter is up to $82,000. Were you expecting that when you were planning it?
Um, no. I knew I wanted to do it on my birthday. I wanted to ask for $10,000 more than I did last time. This is a more serious album, and I have a vision for it that’s more expensive to put together. Last time I asked for $15,000, I remember thinking that was just an exorbitant amount, that it was too much to ask for.
Then I was like, “Okay, if I don’t make my goal, what am I gonna do?” That was my mindset, going into it — If $25,000 is overestimating how much the internet cares about me, what am I going to do? Then we made it on the first day!
What are some of the things you’re going to get to do now that you’re almost triple your goal?
I’m very excited to shoot some music videos. When you’re recording you can’t help but picture how the music video would look. Now that I actually have a good budget, I can talk to some of my video friends about stuff like shooting on location, which, I never thought I could have. Just a location for a music video can cost thousands of dollars. I’ve always been like, “Cool, cool, cool but it is never going to happen.” Now it can!
You can do it Beyoncé style. In the middle of the night you drop all these videos and everyone freaks out. What can people expect from the new album musically?
I think there’s a little bit of everything. Stuff you could hear on the radio, full blown pop/dance songs, and then the last song on the album is just me and a ukulele, and it is like the most gut-wrenching song I have ever written. Then there’s everything in between. There are songs that might sound like my old YouTube stuff, just with a real drummer.
How have you managed that change? All my friends and I started listening to your YouTube videos however many years ago, and you still sound like you all these years later but you have all these other parts coming into it.
No matter who I work with or what project I’m a part of, it becomes me because there’s such a specific way I want to do things. It all goes through the filter that is my brain, like if you only ever used Kelvin on instagram.
Is there anything else you’re working on?
In the next couple of months we’ll start actively planning the living room tour that I’ll go on after this album comes out. In the last couple days of the Kickstarter I’m gonna announce if we reach a certain goal, I’ll record an acoustic version of the album. I’ll go on tour with my bandmate, we play as a duo, we both sing. He plays guitar and I play ukulele, we both have foot pedals for percussion. However we arrange it for the tour, I wanna make it an album of the same songs as an acoustic duo.
The living room shows are really a neat thing. Do you think that’s a thing you will be doing for the foreseeable future?
They’re so incredible, and easy. The level of stress that I feel at a living room show is so minimal compared to a club date or opening slot. Touring is so so fun but it can be rough, and that’s why there are roadies and things I could never afford. With living room shows, it’s all just me and my bandmate. Every show is just kids hanging out, having a singalong. It’s like my favorite kind of party, every night of the tour! I think it’s a thing i’ll be doing for the foreseeable future and beyond.
What is the most nervous you have been before a show?
I can think of two times when I’ve been as nervous as it is possible for a human to get. One was before a show I did in high school at a coffee shop. It was my first real playing-music-in-front-of-people. I was 16, maybe 15. My legs were such Jell-O that I went to the bathroom and literally fell onto the toilet.
The second time was my first time opening for Ben Folds. It was real rough. I played the opening chords to one of my songs for like two minutes before I started singing. It was ridiculous. I couldn’t.
What about the least nervous? What’s the best show you’ve ever done?
The best show I’ve ever done. Okay, the least nervous! My bandmate Mike, who played bass on this album, we’ve been playing together for a really long time. I had just put out “Settle Down,” we were about to play Conan, we went to Sundance. This was two years ago. We were sleeping on the floor of a cabin that was housing 11 people, and everyone was dog-tired the whole time.
Mike and I were playing all these little showcases every day. Basically walking down the street from venue to venue playing the same set list over and over. No one cared about us, we were basically background music. By the second day, after playing all those shows, we started just having fun, the two of us on stage, fuck everybody else in the room. We were playing around with the harmonies, having a fucking blast. Then we played this Gibson-sponsored lounge thing, and we finally had a real sound system, a real monitor and were on a real stage.
We got up and played the pop medly first to make them pay attention. Then we played a heart-wrenching original. We were so well rehearsed and so comfortable and it was the ultimate satisfaction of getting people to pay attention to you when they didn’t necessarily plan to. It was great.
Are there any cool guest appearances that we can look forward to on the album?
I think the person I am most excited for people to hear is Adam Christgau on the drums. He is Tegan and Sara‘s drummer and he’s a friend from Brooklyn. He was the first person to fall in place for this album.
When you aren’t making music, what do you do?
I’m pretty much always working. Always working on some sort of video, song, or tour. My life two years prior was so different, if I wasn’t touring, I was laid out at my house. “What is life?” “How do I do anything?” This year, working on an album, I can actually stay in one place and have a life. I spend a lot of time at my friend’s house grilling. I have also been setting up an apartment on my own for the first time in my life. I’ve been really into homemaking. I’m really into cooking. Also, dancing. I made the list of things I was going to do in LA to Follow My Bliss. On it was take hip-hop dance classes. So I did that.
What’s the best thing you cook?
I make zucchini pasta and then kind of a meat sauce, but instead of meat it’s tofu scramble. It looks exactly like pasta with meat sauce, but it’s zucchini, a fuck-ton of vegetables, and tofu.
That is the only way I like zucchini. It weirds me out in whole form but if you slice it thin it is so good.
Yeah! Also, it’s pasta. Does everyone remember pasta? It fills the void.
What about TV and movies? What do you do to entertain yourself?
Gosh, I love, uhhh, Broad City. We watched it last night. I don’t have TV.
That’s the thing, this question was cool in 90’s when everyone watched the same TV Shows. Now it’s like, I’ll watch whatever I can get on Hulu.
Yeah, I think Broad City is the only show I go out of my way to see on a television. We go to a friend’s house. I don’t know. My producer Joanna holds a “Friday Night Friday Night Lights Nights.” I’ve never seen Friday Night Lights, so we started at episode 1 and now we’re at episode 8.
It is good. It is really good. We set it up on her projector and everyone sits out on her back deck under blankets and it is so fucking cute, but the show is good.
One of the other things people talk about is that now you’re in this relationship with Dannielle Owens-Reid. You never really had a “coming out,” which we’ve written about before. Did you ever plan on being like, “Hey guys, this is happening?”
I was dating a person for five years before I started dating Dannielle and I was never like, “He’s my boyfriend,” to the world. It seems unnatural to say, “Here is the human that I kiss regularly, for you to see.”
Dannielle is in my pictures, and I think it’s pretty clear that we’re together but the idea of making an official announcement just feels weird. Even with my family, my mom heard I had a crush on Dannielle first, then heard about it when we kissed, and then “Uhhhh…I have a girlfriend.” It didn’t feel like a “coming out.”
Why do you feel like you have to make an announcement?
In general, as something becomes more visible, more people want to define what they see and they want to know exactly what you are. I think at some point it’s possible that the pressure to label myself for the internet will overpower my discomfort with having to do it, though. Does that make sense?
That makes sense. Do people ask you a lot?
It’s really interesting. In person, a lot of our friends have started calling me gay, which isn’t true, but I don’t correct them. And then five years ago, people assumed I was straight and I never corrected them, either. It feels weird being like, “Well, actually I’m not that!” And there have been some interesting hostile remarks about what I “am” on the internet. It’s not an overwhelming amount, but maybe there will be more after this interview!
I just want to do all of the things that I want to do. I never want to let any sort of fear hold me back from, say, an interview that I think is cool for a website that I think is cool. I’m not ready to be like, “hello, this is how you can label me,” but I’m definitely not gonna deny things about my life, either.
That must be a hard part of dating Dannielle in particular because she’s already such a known person, and I’m sure once you started hanging out with her, people were probably like, “Oh what’s happening there?” People feel like they have a little bit of a right to your life because you write such personal music, people want to be a part of it. Like you said, it is a lot of pressure for you when you don’t necessarily know how to talk about it yet.
Even a bunch of our friends were like, “Yeah, I always knew.” No, though! We were truly just friends. Dannielle was dating someone when we first met, there weren’t any vibes between us, but then something changed.
I don’t think it’s because Dannielle has a following, or because I write personal songs that people want to know about our personal lives, I think that’s just how people are, they want to know things.
Have people acted differently toward you?
I’ve actually had messages that said, “You’ve helped me figure out my sexuality,” or like, “you were my first lady crush before I knew I was into ladies.” Which is nice! The funny thing is, when I was first making YouTube videos, I was such a tomboy and people totally thought I was gay, even though I had a boyfriend. But, still, I was like, ladies love me, cool, and if I meet a girl I’m up for, that’s also cool.
My girlfriend actually was reminding me the other day of a video a few years ago where someone asked you, “Are you gay or would you ever be with a girl?” You were like, “So far no, but there could be someone out there.” She said that at the time, it was important for her.
That’s so cute! I think I have my parents to thank for that mindset, bringing me up in such an open minded household. I remember being shocked by homophobia in the real world. I was never afraid of what being gay would mean for me.
Tell me more about being in a relationship and having it be public like this.
I love dating someone who does social media. It’s so much fun. Recently, I changed her toilet paper roll, put it on the wrong way, and she Instagrammed it. I laughed about it for 500 years, and then I went back to change it, feeling like I won the internet, and she posted a picture of me having changed it.
It’s like if an old man car fanatic found a chick who was super into cars. I’ve always loved internet jokes so much. I love the internet, and Dannielle gets it and is so so funny. That is the coolest part of being public.
Are you excited for A-Camp?
Yes, although I don’t know too much about it! I met Riese five or six months ago in San Jose, and I heard all about how it is basically summer camp for adults.
I know I’m playing music! I know I’m there for a bunch of days. I might be doing a music night with Jenny Owens Young — WAIT! Jenny Owen Youngs. I always do that.
Me too! That is a tricky one.
Okay, that’s all I’ve got. Is there anything else you want to say to Autostraddle?
People will probably ask questions in the comments.
I hope they are nice.
Oh, they usually are!
Julia Nunes has mere hours left in her Kickstarter. Go hit it up and get mad perks, like that EVERY DONOR will get a free acoustic version of her album! Then check out her website, her youtube page, her instagram, her tumblr and her twitter. Then maybe have some ta.