Dispatch 16: Julie Odell ~ Cardinal Feather
“I’m ready to have more fun with music and this song is the start of that for me.”
Interview JEFFREY ROEDEL Music JULIE ODELL
When Julie Odell’s lips open to sing, it’s the sound of a chasm cracking across the sand and spilling out over welcomed ears a rush of Southern soul. Little and big, vulnerable and hollering, tingle-the-hairs-on-the-back-of-your-neck soul.
Sounding like St. Vincent might if Annie Clark spent more time shaking her boots across an abandoned summer camp than chillaxing at David Byrne’s house, Odell recently recorded two sides for the fledgling Sickbay Singles Club: “Cardinal Feather” b/w “Strange Endangered Bird.”
Listen to the tracks here.
After a couple of spins, Wonder South caught up with the talented New Orleans-based songwriter, baker and graphic artist to discuss the new single.
You often perform acoustically and more simply when playing live, but “Cardinal Feather” has a more driving folk rock sound to it. Describe the sound you heard in your head that brought you to this production approach?
I wrote “Cardinal Feather” during a life shift where many things were ending and beginning. I had no idea what I was doing. Living in the woods in South Carolina, working on a farm, touring with Givers, getting pregnant, becoming a mother, moving back home to New Orleans. I've been given the opportunity to prove myself to myself and to not be afraid to be bold and loud and do whatever I want creatively. I think that the driving force behind all of that is represented through the driving sound behind “Cardinal Feather,” and it's also the sound I would have if I had a band, which hopefully sometime soon I'll be able to put together. I'm ready to have more fun with music and this song is the start of that for me. I've been playing solo for so long that most people who have heard me would expect something different in a recording, but I'm happy to get to work with my musician friends who helped make that sound happen. Tiffany Lamson added the percussion and Chad Viator laid down the bass and made that whole transformation of the song a possibility.
Both songs are filled with nature imagery and allegory—trees and roots and growth—like the line “I came straight from a forest from which my soul was cut.” What initially inspired the lyrics for this song?
I grew up in Ruston, Louisiana, with a giant ravine behind my house. Most of my childhood was spent romping around in the woods. My parents are both artists, so I spent much time touring around the country with them in the back of a Dodge Caravan going from art festival to art festival and camping along the way. In high school, after Katrina, I would go to this abandoned house on the lake and write. And for the past several years I’ve moved back and forth from the city to deep into the woods somewhere. I just feel like I belong on Earth the best when I'm way out there in the woods.
“I always think about the perspective of a bird in the sky, in a tree, in a nest. Those are all places I’d like to be.”
Both songs reference birds, obviously. You’ve drawn a great deal of birds in the past that I’ve seen. What’s at the source of your avian affection?
I honestly can’t completely put my finger on why I love birds so much. I've had so many strange interactions with certain birds that it just feels to me at this point that I have a connection with them in some way. For example, every time I move back out to the woods a pileated woodpecker moves in right next to wherever I’m living and makes these mysterious appearances when I’m really in need of encouragement or hope. In my early 20s it was mockingbirds always showing up right next to me on a porch or a rooftop and singing percussive notes along to whatever I’d be playing on the guitar. Great blue herons always find me when I’m in need of centering myself and focusing on things that bring me peace. When I was younger it was always owls. I mean in the midst of all my teen angst an owl would show up at the most ridiculous of emotional times and I’d feel a great sense of calmness and adrenaline come over me. Ya know, a whole bunch of weird birdlady stuff. Aside from all those experiences, I always think about the perspective of a bird in the sky, in a tree, in a nest. Those are all places I’d like to be.
Your songs often leap from mood-to-mood within a span of minutes or from one verse to the next even. Do you record the vocals to the full song all in one go? Do you approach them in sections based on the vibe of that piece?
I usually record them in one go. I find that if I chop it up too much the tone is inconsistent. I like to tell the story and keep all the rush and breath intact to better convey a solid message.
What songwriters or musicians from the South are your favorites right now or have influenced your work?
Karen Dalton from Oklahoma is my biggest inspiration vocally. She helped me to accept my own personal style and to embrace my "flaws" and to let my tone express another side of honest storytelling. She was weird and I love her. God bless Karen Dalton.
Describe your ideal day outside?
I’d be in a canoe on Lake Martin while all the lotus flowers are in bloom with an ice chest filled with fruit and champagne, or a mushroom hunt hike down to a sandy beach along the Chattooga River on a sunny day while all the mountain laurel are blooming. Either way, I’d be among a body of water and lots of flowers.
For more on Odell's music, visit her SoundCloud.