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The Voice of Juliagrace: How her Guitar meets her Words, in her Words

by Mary Domb Mikkelson

     She’s 18, a freshman at Cal State Fullerton, a busgirl, a dance teacher (“for the most darling small people I’ve ever met!”) and a volunteer who works with special needs adults at Pilgrim Pines Camp and plans to help at a Honduras orphanage next summer.  She’s also a songwriter and singer who’s “excited to be alive!”

     Meet Juliagrace – Julia Grace Dickau, member of Church of the Foothills UCC/DOC in Tustin, CA (“the most open-minded congregation like ever!”).  Google her and you’ll be immersed in her music – from “jamming at lunch on Valentine’s day” to a “Charity Concert Under the Stars.”  Among her songs you’ll find “She’s a Blindfold,”   “Gone,”  “Runaway,” “All But Your Soul” and “Lemon & Honey” – but a few from a long list dating back to third grade!

     “I wrote a song about my best friend moving to Texas,” she recalls, “then ran downstairs and sang it for my parents.  My mom cried and said, “Oh, honey, she didn’t turn away from you,” so I changed the lyrics a little so it wouldn’t make her cry as much.  I can still sing it today – it was called “You were My Star.”

     Her emotions, concerns and eclectic range of interests infuse her songs with wonder and richness.  “One most people love the most,” she says, is ‘San Francisco.’  The enticement of the idea of freedom and independence, along with the always-happening night life and the music scene, was too good to NOT write a song about my dream of living there.  That song is on my demo, as is ‘Lemon & Honey,’ which is about people who call themselves religious but all they do is say they love God.  You know?  They don’t try to emulate Christ; they don’t care about the person sitting next to them; they’re just focused on worshipping.  I have nothing against worship, but you’ve just gotta walk the walk.  Nobody knows what comes after this life; we’ve got to live it right and treat other people with infinite compassion.”

     Asked to describe herself, she replied, “I’m not the biggest fan of make-up. Occasionally it’s fun, but I don’t wear it on a regular basis.  All it does is make me look like everyone else.  I have no aspirations to sound like anyone else, or look like anyone else. Being “musically superior” or “more beautiful” is much lower on my list of priorities than being unique and true to myself – natural.  I’d so much rather rock out and sound horrible but have the time of my life than be a media zombie who is so far gone from who I really am.”

     A liberal Democrat raised in “a predominantly conservative county (Orange),” Julia, the younger of two daughters of a 2nd grade teacher and a “guitar player who can fix anything,” comes from an “all liberal” family.  “When we watch politics on TV, though,” she adds, “I question more things than my parents seem to.  Biden’s statement, “Osama Bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive,” for example.  It’s great that GM is still operating (though it’s a corporation, not a human, so if I were gonna get anal about it, I’d question that word ‘alive!’) but why is a death something to celebrate?”

     “I’m interested in everything and anything anyone wants to share with me,” she says.  I love school and generally my favorite people can be classified as babies/children, older people and people with special needs.  I love finding people my own age who are fantastically interesting, and I’m not saying it doesn’t happen frequently.  However, if I were looking for a place to sit and eat lunch and there was one seat open at a table of old people and babies and one at a table full of pretty people my age, I would bet the conversations and experience I’d have at the first table would be so much more enriching.”

     As for her music and dancing:  “I started playing violin in 4th grade and was such a music nerd. I would go in the music room and practice nearly every day during recess. Our teacher gave us tickets that we could use to buy candy from him when we did things like practicing extra, and most kids would get maybe four in a few months, which could get them a lollipop, but I’d end up with so many that he’d have to go to the store to get me a big candy bar! He was such an excellent and devoted teacher. I’m such an advocate for music education in elementary schools because of what a positive and lasting impact it has had on my life.”

     Dancing, a passion since early childhood, grew in importance in middle school and “shifted my passion away from constant violin practice.  I didn’t have a problem with that.  As long as what I’m doing is something I’m passionate about, I don’t care what it is.”

     A popped kneecap while rehearsing for the Nutcracker Ballet in high school, led Julia to a new passion.  “I sat around feeling sorry for myself for a few days.  Then I saw one of my dad’s guitars lying around and decided learning to play would be more fun.  It was!”

     She started playing in benefit concerts that year.  “I was absolutely petrified…with sweaty palms and trouble breathing,  until I started singing.  Once I got into it, everything was okay.  Everything else became secondary to what was happening where I was right then.  And that became my identity.  When I start to play and sing words I have written with purpose, then that is who I am.  My songs are my identity.  When I compose and perform I am invincible!  I can put anything into my writing and I can improvise onstage to make something better.

     “I’m not always comfortable sharing my inner thoughts, opinions and feelings with the people around me.  So I share them with a piece of paper, a napkin, the air in my car or my arm – or record them on my phone.  Then, later, my guitar meets them, and I sing them into a microphone and people are listening…people are caring about what I’m saying and maybe even trying to remember it or think about what it means.  And maybe they can relate to what I’m saying, and maybe it can somehow help them, even if it’s just by knowing that someone else feels what they feel.

     I can’t tell you how much just knowing that how I’m feeling isn’t crazy or totally new has helped me.  Somebody somewhere understands or has understood.  I think that if everyone knew the truth in that statement, we would all feel so much less alone and be more willing to reach out to other people, and that would help everyone so much.  The fear of being thought weird (in a bad way) is so dangerous.  I hate it.  One day though, you just have to come out of your weirdo closet, and once you do you’ll realize that so many other people love you for who you are and you’ll be so much happier. I think we all have our own unique closets to come out of.

     “I also think, that it’s important to have thoughts that are fresh and original, but when it comes to feelings, I definitely prefer finding a kinship, knowing I’m not alone.  All I want to do is make a positive impact on the world.  And if music can be one way to do that, then I can’t ask for anything more.”

     Her new song, “I’m Pro-Choice and Pro-Life,” for example, challenges the Republican Party Platform’s support of a ban on abortion, even in the case of rape, in an original – and edgy – way.  Typical of much of her music, it’s honest and raw-edged.  Hear her voice, her passion, as she addresses “the male members of the GOP:” (selected lines – entire song may be heard in the attached YouTube video)

You can walk like a woman,

Talk like a woman,
But I don’t think that you’ll ever be one.
So where is your place to tell me how to deal with one
Unwanted life?

Have you even walked half a mile in my shoes?
They’re bigger now, since the news.
Now don’t get me wrong, don’t get me wrong;
It’s wrong to take a life.
But you’re doing the same to so drastically change
Mine

     The song also addresses the cruelty of forcing a victim to carry the constant reminder of her rape, the inequality of punishing a woman when a man “can just walk away” and the need for “real” sex education.  Julia’s voice.  Julia’s words.  Julia’s “impact” on her listeners and the world.  Interestingly, she accompanies herself on the ukulele rather than the guitar for “Pro.”  Why?  “I like making my more intense-lyric songs sound lighter.  It’s contradictory and I like that.  If you weren’t listening to the lyrics, you’d think it was a happy song.  But when you dive deeper, it isn’t.  And I like people who dive deeper, so I want to give them something to find!”

     Open mic nights, jam sessions and a recent demo CD with Proof Records (“We busted out three songs with harmonies and guitar in a little over three hours and it was such a phenomenal experience!) also give her many opportunities to make an impact.  “Open mic nights are my all-time favorite atmosphere,” she reports.  “Everyone is so friendly and supportive.  They’re a great place to try out new material and make mistakes.” 

     While Julia promotes many of her songs on YouTube, her website, (www.facebook.com/juliagracemakesmusic) and Bandcamp (http://juliagrace.bandcamp.com) and will be up on Reverbnation and Soundcloud in the near future, she says, “I’m a little more anti-technology than your average teenage girl.  So I try not to focus too much on my internet music.  I’d way rather spend a night playing at a coffee shop, handing out my CDs and getting to know other musicians. 

     Whether you “catch her” at Java Joe’s in Yorba Linda, via the web or at a Planned Parenthood get-together, you’re in for a special experience.  Watch for her!  You’ll delight in what you hear!

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