You couldn’t script Julia Brennan’s big break. The 18-year-old’s local radio station has a segment called Make My Monday and they well and truly made hers by playing a snippet of her debut single, “Inner Demons.” It was good exposure for an independent artist, but she couldn’t have dreamed it would result in offers from three different record labels. The Minneapolis teen eventually settled on Columbia Records and her introspective ballad is now top 40 at HAC radio and expected to gain even more traction in the weeks ahead.
I recently spoke with Julia about her fairytale start in the music industry and the inspiration for her surprisingly dark anthem. “I guess it came from wanting to be really truthful and really raw about the emotions that people go through and not sugar-coat any of it,” she explains. The rising star also opened up about her debut album, musical upbringing and undying love for One Direction. Get to know her a little better by reading our Q&A and watching her emotional “Inner Demons” video. We have the premiere below.
“Inner Demons” is quite dark for a nice girl from Minneapolis. What inspired it? A lot of people ask me that because I seem like, I mean I like to think I’m a happy person, so I get a lot of “How did you get so dark with the song?” And I guess it came from wanting to be really truthful and really raw about the emotions that people go through and not sugar-coat any of it. I wanted to bring to light that darkness and show that life isn’t always easy.
What gave you the initial idea for the song? Well, I had just started seriously thinking about songwriting and I didn’t really know where to start. I had a friend who… I kind of became her therapist, I guess you could say. I really wanted to help her. Every time she’d come to me for some sort of help or advice, I could only tell her that I’m going to be there for her and tell her that she was strong enough to get through it. I felt like most of it was just words.
It felt like I couldn’t really do anything for her. I couldn’t fix the issues she had with her family or the struggle that she fought with herself. I thought about the things that she was going through and how hard they really were. I just decided to put these feelings into a song. I just put that into music I guess you could say.
How did the song get its first radio spin? It was very, very odd I’m told from people who have worked at labels for a long time. I put it on iTunes by myself and I was trying to promote it myself. I sent it in to Minnesota’s biggest pop station, 101.3 KDWB, on a whim. They have this morning segment called Make My Monday and I sent in a request online to see if they would play my song.
I didn’t think anything of it, but I got a text from someone of the radio station and they said “We wanna make your Monday!” And so I just went with it and they called me on-air and they played 60 seconds of my song. And within three days I had three different emails from labels.
How did they find out about it? It’s really, really weird but I guess they watch things that are trending or things that are getting big spikes and I wasn’t signed, so when they saw my song get such a big reaction on some chart, they were a little confused. They wanted to find out more about it, so they flew out to meet me.
What went through your mind when you saw those emails? I have a really great friend who’s an entertainment lawyer. At first, when I saw the emails come through, I genuinely thought they were fake. I thought they might have been a joke, so I sent them to him and asked, “Hey are these legit? Should I answer?” I waited a little bit, I was really nervous. I didn’t wanna make a mistake right at the beginning.
Why did you decide to sign with Colombia? I got offers from three different labels and they were all great. It was a really hard decision to make. It was really hard to discern which one would be better for me but in the end, my heart just told me that Columbia would be my home.
Were you a musical child? I was, yeah. I’ve played piano since I was about 4, so almost 14 years. And I always loved to sing. I always dreamed of being discovered, going on X Factor or something like that. I loved music but I honestly never thought it would happen for me. I didn’t think people would care to hear my voice, so I actually thought about being an actress. I love film, I love acting and I thought that I would be better at that.
I originally planned to concentrate on acting but then someone found my music reel somehow, I don’t know how actually, and it slowly got passed around. Then I got introduced to this producer and we recorded music together. It was really odd how it happened, but it was all an organic process.
Does music run in your family? Yes, actually. I have an older sister, she loves to sing as well and my younger brother loves drums and guitar and the instrumental side of it. My dad’s mom was Miss Minnesota of 1951 and her talent was piano and she performed all over the country and performed with Bob Hope. My mom was a wedding singer and she travelled around the state, she would sing at weddings and her mom was in a quartet that would sing on the radio and sing all around her state so both sides kind of have passed it down.
What did you listen to growing up? A little bit of everything. My mom always loved bands from the ’80s. Her favorite band is Chicago. The older I got, I really tended towards music like Adele, John Legend and Sam Smith — that kind of ballad, soulful music.
Did you ever fangirl for a band? Oh my goodness, I was the biggest One Direction fan you could find and I was so, so heartbroken when they broke up. I’m still sad about it.
Who was your favorite? Oh gosh, I love ’em all but I have to say I am a big Harry Styles fan and he’s the only one who hasn’t really put anything out yet. It’s killing me!
What’s the plan for you? I think the plan is to potentially release one or two more singles and then an album.
Is “Inner Demons” representative of your other songs? There are a lot of ballads. There is some more upbeat stuff that is a little… I’d like to say brighter. I’m trying to be consistent but not too similar I guess.
Have you ever considered really mixing it up? I’ve thought about it. Before I was signed, I worked with some R&B, hip-hop producers here in Minneapolis and I actually really liked what we got out of it. But I guess we’re taking slow steps, so I don’t confuse anyone but I think it would be really cool to try eventually, I’m not opposed to it.
Have you thought how fame could potentially change your life? It’s hard to picture because everything has changed but, at the same time, nothing’s changed because I’m still home and I’m still with my family. I’ll fly to Los Angeles and Nashville to record and do all these exciting things, but I still get to be home. I haven’t hit that stretch of insanity yet.
What should everyone do when they visit Minneapolis? Good question! Let’s see… I don’t know how to sum it up! Well, I would say just go to the city and walk around. Minneapolis is a very underrated place, but it has a lot of beauty to it. You should visit First Avenue where Prince used to play and just all the little places that you kinda wouldn’t think were really cool, are really cool.
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