Acclaimed bombshell songstress Julia Haltigan came up on the Lower East Side of New York City when it oozed a heady mix of danger, possibility and art. She made meaning of the painful complexities of her parents’ split, her father’s incarceration, and a freewheeling life of parties and a revolving cast of street characters.
Julia emerged from it all a sensitive badass who rides vintage Triumph motorcycles and sings primal rock n’ roll with smoldering expressivity. Her solo music exudes a film noir-esque nostalgia and elegance directly inspired by her childhood. Her latest EP, Hot Tears, is a crystalized version of her gritty and glamorous vision—it’s a masterful collection of sensual heartbreak.
“Growing up, there was this New York attitude where you had to put on a tough face to survive a lot of the harshness,” the New York City-based artist reveals. “For me, the uprooting with my dad going to jail was heartbreaking, but it wasn’t devastating. Heartbreak teaches you to respect what’s not in your power, but devastation is just being so depressed you’re flattened.”
Julia’s signature artistry evokes Brigitte Bardot, Marianne Faithfull, Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry, and Lou Reed. Like these artists, Julia’s creativeness is authentically immersive. In her fashion, her live shows, and her music is a distinct mélange of sophistication and seediness, like pulp novels, B-movies, and the flawed charms of icons such as Dean Martin and Jayne Mansfield.
“I want to create an experience where the listener or the audience member can step into another world. I want things to be transporting and cinematic,” she says.
Julia has garnered critical acclaim, industry accolades, and built a robust profile as a solo artist and a collaborative artist in a variety of guises. She issued two stunning and well-received EPs produced by Phil Palazzolo (The New Pornographers, Neko Case, Nicole Atkins). The success of these two albums earned her a spot performing in the ASCAP Millennium showcase at the Kennedy Center. Julia has performed as a part of the Varvatos Music Series, filling the store over capacity leaving a line around the block, and live on tastemaking radio personality Vin Scelsa's show Idiot's Delight. She’s shared the stage with such venerated names as Judy Collins, Steve Earle, Norah Jones, Montgomery Gentry, Rhett Miller, Nicole Atkins, and Holly Miranda, among others.
Outside of her solo career, Julia has contributed to film and TV musical placements, supported other artists singing backup, and pursued a broad array of collaborative opportunities. A select cross section of highlights have been singing with Justin Townes Earle on the David Letterman Show; teaming up with her buddies Scarlett Johansson, Kendra Morris and Holly Miranda to form The Singles who were produced by TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek; and moonlighting as the slinky Jessica Rabbit inspired jazz crooner ‘Vivian Fairchild’ in the off-Broadway hit “Sleep No More.”
Julia has also garnered attention for her love of vintage motorcycles. Her all female motorcycle gang The Miss-Fires has been profiled in the New York Times, and she’s been featured on Discovery Channel’s hit show Café Racer. Julia straddles a 1970 Triumph Bonneville, and her relationship to bike culture is way deeper than the mythology it conjures.
Growing up, her father was a pot dealer who did two stints in jail. Though the two shared a rare and soulful connection, throughout his absences, Julia found an outlet in riding bikes. Her father and her are tight with Hugh Mackie and his family who own the finest vintage motorcycle shop in NYC called Sixth Street Specials. While her father was away, Hugh and his family taught her how to ride and functioned as a surrogate family. “It felt so empowering and good, especially as a girl, it helped make me a strong person,” she figures. “Now, it’s a part of my life. I love the grease, the gasoline, and feel of the fresh air in my face. It’s like therapy.”
Julia’s unconventional childhood poetically prefigured the mix of sleaze, sentimentality, and playfulness inherent in her work. She grew up attending raucous parties at the infamous Chelsea Hotel and watching steamy jam sessions at the dilapidated 38th Street Music Building. Music and art coursed through her family. Her mom is an artist, her grandmother was in the Andrew Sisters-styled Larken Sisters singing group, and her father dabbled as a multi-instrumentalist.
Julia’s latest EP, Hot Tears, is her strongest collection of songs to date, and the most evocative. It conjures the streetwise literacy of Lou Reed, the ill-fated love of 1960s jazz balladeers, and a dark glamor that recalls the mystique of Batman. Themes of heartache, images of broken bones, car chases, and nostalgia offer intrigue and subtly powerful life metaphors. For this EP, Julia and her band (Steve Williams, Paul Frazier & Teddy Kumpel) opted to self-produce and the results are powerfully dynamic. Listening to the album is like your eyes adjusting to a darkened room—the longer you spend inhabiting its atmosphere the more intricacies of the recording materialize.
Core to her work is a mix of gruff rockers with growling vocals, and moony ballads filled with lush instrumentation and longing. In this set, the standout rocker is the gritty swagger of the T. Rex-like “Money.” The chilling “Burning Bridges & Breaking Hearts” recalls the danger and refinement of a 1960s James Bond ballad. The sleek and smoky “How To Make A Broken Heart” holds a special place in Julia’s heart as it was a co-write with songwriting legend Mike Scott of The Waterboys. For that one, the story goes that around Thanksgiving Mike presented her with handwritten lyrics to a song he had written just for her. Julia then set the lyrics to music, and the two tweaked the tune collaboratively, over a series of writing sessions. Other highlights include the amorous and apocalyptic ballad “Beneath The Mushroom Cloud,” and the EP’s concluding track, “Another Highway.”
“I wrote that track when I was on the road. When you’re out there, there are long stretches where you don’t see anything, it’s vast, and then, suddenly, a city seemingly comes into view. It’s this contrast of chaos and emptiness, and it’s a metaphor for people coming in out and of your life. There is a bitterness there, a slight sense of ‘if you have to go, well then go,’” she reveals.
For Julia, that metaphor holds true with the sharp turns her life took growing up with her parents being apart, and her father’s jail sentences. Throughout it all, though, music has been a constant, it’s been a friend and a healing force. “In those difficult moments, music has gotten me through because it sweeps you away from the negativity and helps you grapple with your emotions,” she says. “Making music has helped me to share that therapeutic feeling with others.”