Singer/songwriter Julia Klee forges new paths on indie scene
By MARY HOULIHAN For Sun-Times Media November 18, 2013 8:26AM
Julia Klee decided to take a night off from studying to see a band while attending Columbia College Chicago. That decision sent her life in a new direction. | Sara Nevels photo
‘Julia Klee with small houses and ty Maxon
When: 9 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Schubas, 3159 N. Southport
Tickets : $7
Info: (773) 252-2508; www.schubas.com
Updated: April 14, 2014 4:48PM
Julia Klee was in her third year at Columbia College Chicago when everything changed but not in the way her parents might have expected. An accomplished pianist and singer, she was studying for a “really big final” but it just wasn’t happening. A group of friends were headed out to see the band Iron and Wine so she ditched the books and went along. It was a decision that would set her on a new path.
“I had been thinking about quitting school but it was such a big decision,” Klee says. “The concert seemed such a collaborative, inspiring experience between the musicians on stage. What originally drew me to music was the creative side and that’s what I decided I wanted to explore.”
Since then Klee has made inroads as a singer-songwriter on the indie-folk scene. She sang for a time in Joe Pug’s band and performed with Texas musician Colin Gilmore. She has a haunting vocal style that has been compared to Neko Case and Kelly Hogan.
Klee headlines at Schubas on Tuesday where she’ll be backed by her band: Randy Mollner (fiddle and mandolin), Jason Bennett (guitar), Tim Bennett (drums) and Mike Niebauer (bass).
Klee, who now lives in Evanston, grew up in North Canton, Ohio, where her parent’s musical tastes tended toward “strong singers” such as Celine Dion, Barbra Streisand, Air Supply and Taylor Dayne. “As a kid, I would try to emulate what I was hearing,” she says, with a laugh. “All these big voices.” Musical rebellion came with a teenage turn to Green Day and Alanis Morissette. “Then I came across Bob Dylan and everything changed, and a whole new world opened up to me.’
Klee’s well-received 2011 debut album, “Big Charade” features original songs that move from folk to country to rock. Her songwriting talents formed at an early age. “I was taking piano lessons and didn’t like what the teacher was asking me to play,” Klee, 28, recalls. “So I started writing my own songs.”
It wasn’t until she was older that Klee hit a chord with country music, the strains of which can be found even in her songs that edge toward rock. The pop quality of modern country had no appeal (“it’s missing its soul”) but she did connect with the likes of Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn.
“I listen to older music much more than what’s new,” Klee said, adding that she’s currently going through a Sam Cooke phase.
Now busy working on new songs, Klee says she has about “300 vocal notes” storied on her iPhone and waiting for further attention. “Sometimes I have a hard time verbalizing certain thoughts and emotions,” Klee admits. “But then I sit down with my guitar and it just comes out in the songwritng.”
Klee also is a member of a unique side project that fits right into the current trend of rootsy bands influenced by bluegrass. But, the seven-member band Gussied, has a twist — it’s a wedding band.
“Our aim is to do bluegrass infused interpretations of traditional wedding band songs,” Klee says. “Each of us comes from a different musical background so it’s been interesting and a lot of fun to transform these songs into something new.”