September 2, 2009

A Songstress and Her Six-String

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Finding multi-talented individuals at Cornell may seem like an easy feat, but the kind of musical talent and finesse that characterizes Juliana Richer Daily ’10 comes as a quite a surprise. A jack of all trades, Juliana spends her time either in the studio working on various design projects prescribed by her design and environmental analysis major, hanging out at her sorority, playing lacrosse, taking photos for the yearbook or writing and performing songs on her guitar. These songs have found their way onto YouTube at Juliana’s personal site ( and found fans both here in Ithaca as well as across the country. These songs have also been and continue to be performed regularly at The Nines’ open mic night on Sundays. The Sun had an opportunity to sit down with her and find out more about the process and inspiration behind her work.
The Sun: How did you first get into guitar and singing?
Juliana Richer Daily: I took piano for eleven years and I’ve always been a shower singer, but I didn’t start [putting my music on YouTube] until three months ago. I’ve always had a guitar lying around my house but I didn’t take it seriously until last fall when I was in Denmark. I brought one with me and had a lot of free time so I started playing a lot while I was over there. One of my friends here [recommended] I put my stuff online but I didn’t want to be one of those people on YouTube. Finally, though, I decided to do it and it’s been pretty cool.
Sun: So did you teach yourself to play guitar?
JRD: Yea I’ve never taken guitar lessons or voice lessons … I have ten original [songs] but I don’t really know what I’m doing. It’s fun though and I’m trying to take it more seriously now.
Sun: What kind of performances have you done?
JRD: I’ve done piano recitals since I was five, but as far as performing goes [with regards to guitar and singing], I’ve done small stuff at The Nines. I think as far as having more confidence … it’s been reassuring for me that people hear what I’ve done and enjoy listening to it [referring to subscribers on YouTube].
Sun: Where do you think the growing fan base on your YouTube channel has come from?
JRD: I do open mic on Sundays [at The Nines} and I did a benefit concert at The Nines last semester. I was in New Orleans at the end of the summer doing some volunteering and I played at this transitional home for AIDS patients I worked at. I’d like to perform more. I don’t know, the people that subscribe to my channel are from all over the place.
Sun: What has been a big inspiration for you songwriting-wise?
JRD: As far as music goes, I’m all over the place. In terms of what I write, it’s more of the folk music [I listen to] I suppose, but I listen to anything from classic rock to hip-hop, electro, dance. I grew up listening to my parents’ music: Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, James Taylor; I think that’s where I’m comfortable.
Subject matter: I got a few ex-boyfriend songs in there. I think some [of the subject matter of the songs} is personal. The most recent song I wrote was about me being in New Orleans … but the ideas really come randomly. I think I write best at three or four in the morning when I’m tired and [an idea hits me], so I get up and grab my guitar
Sun: How does the song writing process go?
JRD: It’s a big old mess. Sometimes lyrics come first. I always have a notebook on me, so usually some of the stuff [I write down in it] will turn into lyrics. But one time a song started with chords. I’ve never taken music theory, I don’t know much about composition; I think my lyrics have more substance than the music itself … Is there a right or wrong way to do it? [I think it’s] whatever works for you. I usually start in the middle of the song and try to think about the other parts around it. There’s no rhyme or reason [to the way I write songs]. It’ll usually start from one part of the song and build outwards. Sometimes it will start with the title of a song, sometimes I won’t have a title until two weeks after I’ve written [it], while other times it’ll start with the second line of a bridge, sometimes I just like a chord progression. There’s no formula for it.
Sun: How do you fit playing and performing into your life at Cornell?
JRD: I don’t know yet. I want to take [my music] more seriously and devote more time to it. But I think I work best when I have a lot going on. If anything, [being busy] will give me more stuff to write about. My mindset about school has changed in the sense that it’s not all about grades anymore … I think I’m finally understanding that being here is about learning for the sake of learning. If you’re not getting something out of the experience as a whole, then what’s the point? Music is a part of life, it’s something I love, so I’m going to find the time.
Sun: Do you think this is something that you could make into a life career?
JRD: I’m staying here for one more year to get my master’s, but I’d love to make a career out of music. I don’t care about being famous … But if I could pay the bills by playing guitar, I’d have it made. Making a living doing what you love, what else is there really?
Sun: What’s the next step for you?
JRD: I’d love to record my original songs and make them into an EP to put on iTunes. It’s easy, you don’t have to be a famous person, it’s a way for anyone without a label to allow others to download their music … I’d also like to have other instruments involved. Many of my songs I can hear with other instruments. There’s this one song that has to have a cello. There’d be more musical growth if there were other instruments.
Sun: On a less serious, but potentially relevant, note: If you were to make it big, and you had a rider [a provision in professional singer’s contract allowing for anything the singer wants in the dressing room prior to a performance], what would be included on it?
JRD: I’d want skittles, I suppose water is a given but it’d have to be ice water and a really squishy rug. Can you request that? Oh, and there’d have to be kittens.