One band can only do so much.
That’s what Julida Alter and her husband Sean realized regarding the Blacksmith’s Daughters, a six-piece folk band formed by Julida, her sister Annella Platta, their respective husbands, and a couple of friends. Following that band’s last album release last October. Julida and Sean have since branched out with a new musical duo called Julyda.
The project pairs Sean’s edgy pop-rock arrangements with Julida’s classical vocals in this unconventional collaboration in which both claim songwriting credits. The couple finagled time between their full-time gigs (she is an English language teacher for elementary students in Independent School District 196; he runs the Apple Valley site of MacPhail Center for Music) to compose and record Julyda’s debut album, Do You Hear Me.
We spoke to the couple about the groundbreaking venture ahead of their album release show at the Warming House on Saturday.
City Pages: What are the benefits and drawbacks of a husband-wife musical project?
Sean Alter: For me, it was 100 percent positive, and I’m not just saying that because Julida’s standing right next to me. We have a similar temperament. We don’t waste a lot of time. I could do all the instrumentals and the arrangement and the texture the way that I wanted and she would sing over it and add cello and piano. My tendency is to always go rock ‘n’ roll and her tendency is to go a little bit more jazzy and classical, so we ended up merging the two. It was really easy – not that it wasn’t a lot of work – but we didn’t waste time fighting, if that’s what you’re asking.
Julida Alter: At first it was a little more difficult because we were both musicians, we’d done this before, and we got frustrated with “Why isn’t this going faster?” and with just being the two of us and having to learn to make a full sound, an interesting sound. I think it helped us outside of our relationship because it is kind of easy when you care a lot about something to get harsh, to get critical, to get too opinionated. At least for me, it helped me discover – because we’re still in a new part of our relationship, we’ve only been married a year and a half – what’s a good way to talk to each other that’s actually beneficial and helps when you don’t like what’s going on or you want something else to happen.
CP: Does that dynamic play into the title of the album?
JA: Actually, we always end up naming our albums after a song that hits home with us. That one happened to be a song I wrote about the Book of Revelation in the Bible. This isn’t exactly a Christian album but we are Christians. Recently I’ve dived deeper into Christianity and tried to read, yet again, the Book of Revelation, but was very confused. Instead of giving up on it this time, I pushed myself to study the book, re-reading it many times and also researching others interpretations on it. What really struck with me was the story of the dragon (the devil) and also how charming evil can be. It’s also all about this question of: are you out there, God? Do you hear me?
CP: Do you spend a lot of time contemplating that?
JA: Yes. Yes. And just wondering: Are we living a life that is good enough, a life that is worthy?
CP: You’re both big on maintaining a sense of adventure in your lives. How does this album fit in your adventure-seeking ethos?
SA: One of the things that’s nice about this project is that we get to play a lot more. It’s simple math: six people in the Blacksmith’s Daughters to two people with Julyda. We were able to set up a regional tour. For me, that’s 100 percent fun. To be able to go out and play once or twice every week all summer is the funnest thing I could think of. And there’s also this before-we-have-children kind of thing. We’re trying to do all this stuff as quickly as we can and have as much fun as we can in this way before we start having kids. The fun won’t stop when the kids come, but it will be a lot different.
JA: We’ve both experienced the drudgery [of everyday life]. You come home and you’re drained and all you want to do is sit in front of the TV and do practically nothing. And it’s like: Why? It’s because you’re spiritually broken. You’re so bored. So we try to always push ourselves. What excites you this day, this week? What did you do that was new?
SA: We’ve found that the toughest thing in day to day life is we have all this comfort. We’re really lucky to have these lives that we have, but a thing a lot of us miss is getting as much excitement as you can, finding different ways to do that in the time that is available. Touring, playing music, meeting people, and playing with other bands, for me, that’s the funnest thing that I could be doing, especially in the summer when we can stay at parks on tour.
CP: You went the DIY route with the Blacksmith’s Daughters and now you’ve done it again with Julyda. If you had the choice to have a label do it all for you, would you still want to DIY? Is there some special kind of pride or satisfaction in doing it yourself?
SA: Distribution is always nice to have with a label. The music we can handle. Reaching more people is always the hardest part.
JA: We’ve mentioned to one another multiple times, like, “Wow. Isn’t this amazing? We get to 100 percent complete and create something ourselves.” Not many people get to do that. They need to bring in other people because there’s a skill they don’t have or you can’t do it by yourself. It’s really amazing we get the chance to do that.
SA: At this point, we pretty much know how to do everything. There are always things we can improve on, but as far as releasing a set of songs and everything that goes into that, we can be a self-contained unit, which takes away a lot of the risk. If we had to pay somebody else $1,000 or $2,000 to do stuff, it wouldn’t be as sustainable.
CP: How did your Blacksmith’s Daughters band mates react to the news of Julyda?
SA: We always wanted to do music full-time and play more shows. There was a little bit of frustration that we didn’t get to do that as much with the Blacksmith’s Daughters. What they said – and not everybody said the same thing – they wanted to know that we’re going to keep doing it. We’re definitely going to keep playing with them, but we’re realizing they’re more of a two-to-three-shows-per-year band than a 20-shows-per-year band.
With: Red Eye Ruby
Where: The Warming House
When: 8 p.m. Sat. June 9
Tickets: $10; more info here