Having first come to the fore as the sassy and beguiling front woman for Fur Patrol at the turn of the century, the past decade has seen Julia Deans transition from iconic rock chick to glorious songbird.
Hatched in Wellington in the late ‘90s, Fur Patrol released three albums, two EPs, and the now classic kiwi number one ‘Lydia’ in 2000. The following year brought Deans and the band Best Single, Best Female Vocalist, and Best Songwriter of the Year titles at the New Zealand Music Awards, and platinum sales for their debut album, Pet.
Deans’ first solo album Modern Fables was released to critical acclaim in 2010, earning her a swag of nominations for several coveted musical accolades including the Taite Music Prize, the APRA Silver Scroll (for "A New Dialogue") and Best Female Solo Artist and Best Pop Album at the NZ Music Awards.
In the time between albums, Deans has delved into a long list of other musical projects, drawing inspiration and encouragement from other songwriters. She’s worked with acts like The Adults, SJD, and Neil Finn; performed in an impressive array of art festival shows paying tribute to the likes Jacques Brel, Joni Mitchell, and Billie Holiday; stretched her dramatic chops singing Shakespeare’s soliloquies in Play On, and as Mary Magdalene in the musical Jesus Christ Superstar; and worked with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra twice – first on a show of her own songs with Anika Moa, and then in a tribute to David Bowie.
“These were wonderful opportunities to climb inside the minds of other writers that I think are phenomenal. You learn so much every time, and then you just become really enthusiastic about having a go yourself. And they’ve all really affected my performance.
“The Brel show, in particular, had a real influence on these songs. He had such a bold world view and wasn’t afraid to broach any topic in song, which really inspired me.”
Of course, simply being seven years older has also changed Deans' views, given her greater self-assurance, and confidence in her perspective.
“When I first started out as a teenager, I was singing about these feelings and ideas that I was really only just starting to experience. It’s interesting how, as you get older, the shape of them becomes more defined – more 3D – in the context of all your other experiences.”
Though it has been close to eight years between releases, Deans’ new collection of songs We Light Fire sees her return to the song writing fore enriched with experience and full of purpose. Inspired by world events, friends, and family, the new album examines both what it means to be human, and our spectrum of strength and vulnerability.
There is a true sense of confidence to We Light Fire, an album that grapples with a variety of sociological ideas, illustrated with strong poetic imagery, and bound by a rich sound palette which still lets her distinctive voice come to the fore.
And the critics agree:
Her delivery throughout is breathtaking, and We Light Fire is a masterful showcase of her abilities. She drifts effortlessly between styles and beams with confidence. This is a singer/songwriter at the height of their craft. – ★★★★ 1/2 Sunday Star Times
We Light Fire is a set of songs soaked in self-analysis and pleas for understanding, forgiveness and honesty. Yep, she can sing, and when she soars it’s a spine-tingling thing because it’s all real. – ★★★★ Metro
Julia Deans boasts one of the best falsettos in New Zealand. Her razor-sharp voice is intoxicating from the moment it chimes in. – ★★★★ NZ HERALD