Like more than a few indie musicians who blossomed in the 1990s, Juliana Nash is sometimes perplexed by what’s become of the music industry in the digital era, but she’s not about to let that stop her.
“My identity is changing,” she says. “I feel like I have a lot to say as a woman in her later life, and I want to talk about it.”
In this spirit, she recently released Pennies in Time, an album that reckons with subjects like empty nest syndrome, loss, and time passing in general.
Produced in Woodstock by Kevin Salem, the album has a sparse, edgy rock feel, reminiscent of classic Aimee Mann. Juliana actually hung out a bit with Aimee back in their Boston days, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Born and raised in Manhattan, Juliana went to the High School of Performing Arts in the late 70s when it was still up in Harlem. The subway didn’t exactly have a friendly reputation in those days.
“My friends and I all met in the last two cars so we could ride uptown together,” Nash recalls. “Honestly, if I was late, I just wouldn’t go to school. There was no way I was getting on that C train by myself.”
The high school didn’t seem like a big deal, then Fame came out her senior year and the world went nuts.
“People would drive by blasting the soundtrack and think we would all start dancing on cars,” she remembers. “We were smoking pot and staring at them like, get lost, this is our lunch hour.”
Going to the “Fame school” set Juliana up for studying voice at the Boston Conservatory. It was around this time that she met Greg Porter, Jay Bellerose, and Thomas Juliano, and the band Talking to Animals was formed.
Talking to Animals had a serious Boston following. Beloved by highly-influential station WBCN, the band released their first album to critical acclaim.
“We were a family,” Nash says. “We were in it to be successful so we could stay together and keep making music.”
As sometimes happens, despite their success in Boston, the album didn’t quite catch fire nationally, and Talking to Animals ultimately disbanded.
By the time Nash returned to NYC, she had changed, and so had the city. Her friend Andy McDowell approached her with a business proposition because she knew a lot of musicians and also how to run a bar. They went to check out this little old storefront in a rough-and-tumble section of still-unfashionable Williamsburg.
“There was a numbers racket in there,” Nash says. “The neighbor upstairs didn’t realize it was a front. She went downstairs and ordered a grilled cheese. They left the plastic on the American cheese, grilled it, and gave it to her. She was, like, I guess this isn’t a real business.”
But Nash and McDowell saw the potential. When McDowell wondered what to call it, Nash pointed to the old sign that was already painted on the building: “Pete’s Candy Store.”
Nash’s whole family helped paint the place, and her Uncle Neil did the duct work. She called every musician she knew to play there, people like Will Oldham, Beth Orton, and Sufjan Stevens. The rest, as they say, is history.
“I don’t know if it was luck, timing, or what, but in six months we were in Vanity Fair and The New York Times. We paid off all our debts in one year.”
Pete’s Candy Store became emblematic of the new Brooklyn hipsterdom that would soon be exported up the Hudson and beyond, a remarkably outsized influence for a neighborhood bar with a tiny performance space.
Juliana loved the place and thrived there, but its night owl schedule stopped making sense once she became a mother, and she eventually sold her share of the business.
Adjusting to a new schedule, Nash teamed up with Julia Jordan at a workshop and wrote the music and co-wrote the lyrics to a musical called Murder Ballad. Lightning struck yet again. After a successful off-Broadway run, the show was translated into several languages. Murder Ballad has continued to find new audiences around the world and is popular in Asia at this moment.
Let’s say that Juliana’s propensity for being in the right place at the right time is also what led her to buy her house in Uptown Kingston in 2019, where the latest phase of her artistic life is well underway.
“I love the community, I love meeting musicians my age who have similar experiences,” she says, “and I love that it’s walkable!”
In addition to continuing to work on her own projects, Juliana has also found a new love: teaching at Rock Academy in Woodstock.
“I teach voice every Monday and Tuesday,” she says. “Last summer I did a songwriting camp with Simi Stone. The school is great because we let the kids be themselves. There are formulas for songs, obviously, but a song can be anything. The things that came out of them were so magical…”
One of the things she stresses to her students is the need to write every day.
“Journal every day, even if you don’t want to. If you force yourself to write something, anything, you’re gonna start the process. If there’s just one good line, I can usually get a whole song from it.”
Sound advice from someone who knows a bit about songwriting. With Juliana Nash on the scene, it’s reassuring to know that the next generation is getting ready to shine and show us what they’ve got.
For more information, see: https://www.juliananash.com.