Successful voice actress turned musician Julie Nathanson meets us at Found Coffee in Eagle Rock, CA to chat about her cover of Aimee Mann‘s “Wise Up,” her career in voiceovers, and how the two have some surprising similarities.
So to start off, you’ve recently released your debut single, a cover of Aimee Mann’s “Wise Up.” Congratulations!
Julie Nathanson: Thank you!
I also wanted to ask, what made you choose that song to cover?
Julie: It’s funny, I didn’t really have an idea of what I wanted to do in terms of recording music. It was more along the lines of, ‘I love this song so much, I need to record it.’ The concept of recording it came from a personal place for me, even though I’ve been a singer forever in various different media forms. When the movie Magnolia came out many years ago, I sat through this amazing and lovely movie and I just could not leave my seat. I was just so taken by the film itself, and the song “Wise Up” is featured very prominently and thematically and emotionally in the film. The song has always been a favorite of mine, but I’ve always heard it from a slightly different perspective. You know? I think the original version of the song is pretty well known to be from a position from witnessing someone they care about struggling with addiction and wanting to tell that person to ‘wise up.’ For me, there’s something about hearing myself tell myself to ‘wise up’ at different points of my life.
I think it’s something we all need to do at one point or another.
Julie: Yeah exactly! And that’s kind of why I’ve had a lot of people contact me saying that it’s really amazing that I’m singing this particular song when we’re all really needing to ‘wise up’ on a lot of things happening in our world and especially in our country. But there’s something in the concept of what truly isn’t going to stop until we wise up having to do with our addictions, relationships, emotions, experiences, and behaviors. For me has to do with attachment and relationships that we have towards feelings and people. And I’m really taking a look at that in this song because there’s something about the intersection of acceptance and choosing to let yourself be free of something. It’s completely psychological and exciting to for me. It was definitely a passion project and I felt really lucky that I was granted permission to do it and to have been received well.
And it shows! It’s really awesome to hear when someone else, like you said, interprets a song in a different way whether or not that’s what the original artist intended to do. But it’s cool to hear so many different interpretations of the same song.
Julie: And you make such a great point because I think that’s what makes it so special about a cover song. If it’s just based out of ‘I want to sing this in my voice because I think it’ll sound cool with an interesting arrangement,’ that’s fine, but I find myself listening for a change in perspective. For me, it’s the singer talking to herself through something, like a voice in your head perhaps. I love hearing covers that offer a different emotional point of view, and I think you’re right, that that’s the opportunity of doing cover songs.
Yeah! I mean, there have been a few times where I’ll listen to a cover of a song and I’ll end up loving it a billion times more than the original. And not just because they sound different. So you’re also in the process of releasing another single called “Lullaby.” Would you like to give us a little sneak peak on what we should be expecting?
Julie: That too was not born out of a massive plan to release a lot of music, it was a lullaby that I had written for my child when he was a little baby. I really hadn’t been thinking of doing anything with it really, but my husband felt really strongly about me recording it. He’s also a musician, and he worked on the arrangement and helped with producing it along with some really lovely people. I’m excited about it! It was something that I didn’t expect or imagine that I would be doing. It’s a lullaby for a child, and that’s also a little bit of another layer, like you said, where it doesn’t just have to be for children.
That’s so awesome to hear though! It sounds like it’s been a long time coming, and it’s amazing to hear that your husband is so supportive of sharing your music.
Julie: Yes! He’s such a wonderful musician, and his belief that there was something in the song to be heard was meaningful for me so I trusted him and ran with it. *laughs*
And those are always the best songs, where they’re stemmed from something personal.
So to get into a little bit of your training and background, you’ve done classical music training in the past. Would you say that those experiences have helped shape you and helped you figure out who you want to be as a musician?
Julie: Definitely. I actually grew up in two separate households, one of which was focused on blues and the other was very concentrated on classical and opera. It was really my father who introduced me to the grand opera and the classical way of singing. His belief was if you’re going to get into singing or music at all, you have to start off with a baseline, in this case classical. So my training has always been in classical and in opera and I still love it. In all my warmups, I will go to any voice recording session I have, specifically for video game sessions where I have to be screaming or for cartoon sessions where I have to be a funny blob of goo. I’m always singing all the way there, and I would say a good portion of what I’m singing in my warmup list is classical or a ballad for musical theater, but it ends with an aria from the grand opera and then I walk in the door and start screaming like a soldier. *laughs* So I think the classical training for me at least gives me this foundation from which I can incorporate.
And that’s so cool that you can incorporate those staples into other things for your voice acting work. You would never think that doing classical training and opera would eventually help with screaming like a soldier for a video game. *laughs*
Julie: It’s funny, because I think in order to be able to hit a high note or a sustained run in an aria, you have to come from a place of foundation, breath control, resonance, and safety because I can easily damage my voice screaming just a much as I could damage my voice hitting a high C depending on how I do it. So to me, it’s a warmup that includes the classics that sort of allows me to get my muscles ready and protect myself from the screaming. *laughs* I’m sure all of my singing teachers are just mortified by the fact that I do this kind of voice acting work that requires this much vocally stressful work, but I’ve been ok so far so I must be doing something right. Knock on wood! *laughs*
Luckily we have a real wood table here!
Julie: Yes! Otherwise, it would be my noggin! *laughs*
And which artists and bands have influenced you?
Julie: That’s always such a funny question because I grew up with such an eclectic love for music, I’ve been influenced by certain people, but I’m not quite sure if it translates when you hear my music. But I’ve been influenced by Phoebe Snow and Aretha Franklin and Mose Allison, you know, these are all old-school funk and soul and blues singers that I’ve grown to love over the years. And I’ve been influenced just as much by Kathleen Battle or Audra McDonald, who are both wonderful. But in terms of a more pop or folk or indie sound, I really found myself enjoying a lot of Susanne Vega’s work because she has such a lyrical quality and her storytelling has always been fascinating to me. So in terms of when I was younger listening to something and feeling inspired, I feel her storytelling was influential for me. Right now, I’ve found myself listening to a bunch of Lorde and Billie Eilish. I just saw Broods do some stuff life that absolutely floored me, so now everything I’m listening to is from Broods right now. *laughs* They’re amazing!
They are amazing! What do you hope your audience away from your music?
Julie: Even though it’s a small sample at the moment, I like the idea of the listener taking away that they have the option of how you want to proceed in a relationship that feels addictive or strong or overly attached, at least for “Wise Up.” That they fall into acceptance, that they move into a new iteration of that relationship and who you want to see yourself. I guess we all get to define what wising up really means, but whatever that response is would be fine as long as they have an emotional experience listening to the song.
Cool! And we’ve already started to touch base on you also doing voice acting. What inspired you to start releasing music now while you have this successful career in voice-overs?
Julie: I’m a believer in not simply being one thing, so having a wonderful, lovely, long-standing career as a voice actor, which I feel incredibly lucky to say, shouldn’t preclude me from wanting to do something else whether creative or in any other media. It shouldn’t make me feel like I’m redefining myself because I think we get to add different colors to the palette to which we paint. I was inspired because I had a day where I was singing “Wise Up,” and as I truly listened to the song in my mind I thought, ‘You know what? I’m just gonna throw down a demo of it in my home studio.’ I found myself working on it for like six hours and thought, ‘Well, this is actually not sucking!’ *laughs* I got in contact with my friend Dan Long, he’s a music producer that my husband has worked with before, I sent him the demo and asked, ‘Hey, can we work on this together?’ and he said, ‘Absolutely! Let’s do it!’ Anyway, I don’t want to have any definition to who I am to mean that I can’t add anything else. I love doing voice-overs, I also love singing, I’m also a writer, and I have no intention of ever stopping those things. One doesn’t have to eclipse the other.
Agreed. I feel like it so hard for us in the entertainment industry where we think, ‘Oh I can only be a musician or I can only be an actress.’ And then you have the other end of the coin where you feel like you need to know how to do everything in order to be successful. Which side of the coin, from your experience, do you feel is more realistic to the entertainment industry?
Julie: I think it just has to do with the person’s constitution. I’ve accepted the fact that the freelance world is ok for me. It creates a sense of anxiety for many of us with not knowing what the next thing might be, but as long as I accept that I’m on that journey with the uncertainty that I’ve accepted as a normal part of my life, I don’t mind shifting activities based on passion. I don’t mind trusting that tenacity breathes aptitude. If there’s something I’m interested in learning how to do or a skill that I want to bring forth, I will create a project based on that experience. I think I’ve fallen into the category of I’d rather experience all the things than try to live up to expectations of living up to one category that makes other people comfortable. That’s just not how I want to live.
Yes! Why can’t we all have that mindset? And what had interested you in wanting to pursue voice acting?
Julie: So I had actually gotten my start many years ago on soap operas. I was very curious, as we naturally are, to see what the fans thought of me. This was before anyone told us to not read the comments, so I was like ‘I’m gonna go read the comments!’ *laughs* I read them and someone said, “She’s real pretty and all, but I have to turn off the volume on my television because it’s like Alvin and the Chipmunks have invaded my living room.” And I was like, ‘Huh. Well, first of all, screw you. Second of all, I’m gonna go make money on that! That sounds like a great career! I sound like a cartoon!’ *laughs* I happened to be represented at the same agency where I am today, CESD, and I asked if I could have a meeting with the voiceover department. I let them know I was repped there as an on-camera commercial actor and that I was trained as a singer, and was like, ‘Can you just try me out on this whole voice-over thing?’ They said ok and sent me on my first audition for a promo to Lifetime Television, I booked it, and it paid my rent for a year because it was an on-going gig. I kind of never really looked back after that because I fell in love with it and with how uninhibited I get to be. I love that I’m not being judged for my appearance or having people pigeonhole me into a certain role. With voice acting, I can be a giant creature or a soldier. You don’t have to look at me and say, ‘Oh yeah, she’s a great soldier,’ because I can voice the shit out of that and it’s super fun. *laughs*
And they’ll never know what you look like!
Julie: Yeah! Except now with social media and the internet, we have to be a little bit more put together. It’s really interesting. We used to be a little bit more invisible, now voice actors attend conventions and are all over social media. It makes us a lot more visual than we had been before. I thought I was done with on-camera stuff and now I’m like, ‘Sure! I’ll do the press line for this animated film we just did! Of course!’ *laughs*
That is really interesting how the internet just completely changed the game for voice actors. And you just attended Comic-Con this year correct?
Julie: I did!
It almost feels like the whole fan base concept now is so overblown and crazy now. I can imagine it’s exciting and scary at the same time to be there.
Julie: You know, I genuinely get it though. I don’t know where this comes from, I think maybe because I always loved going to New York as a kid and lived there briefly, but I just love the energy of crowds. I don’t run away from the concept of crowds, I enjoy knowing that all of these people are here because they love something and they have something in common. That makes me excited. So even though it’s intimidating doing events and panels at Comic-Con, like, it can be truly overwhelming, it’s still always really fun. I’ve done some hilarious voice acting panels for games and films there, and it depends on the activity, but I always feel like it’s an opportunity for fans to be able to join together in what they love and be able to interact with us that are fortunate enough to be creating or taking part in whatever project they felt attached to.
At least a lot of people are getting excited about it!
Julie: I would say so! *laughs*
And who are some of your favorite characters that you’ve got a chance to bring to life?
Julie: I play a lot of computer voices for some reason, which I think is really funny because I think of myself as a colorful human person and yet I end up playing these voices of soothing computers. *laughs* I still really like doing that though. I play the computer for Dallas & Robo for YouTube Red with John Cena, Kat Dennings, and Jane Lynch. They’re all awesome and amazing. In Far Cry 5, which is a first-person shooting game that’s out this year by Ubisoft, I play Jess Black, and she’s one of the most traumatized characters I’ve ever played. She was a deep dive for me and it was a little tough to get into, but I really loved playing her and it was wonderfully challenging. I like playing light characters too. I tend to be on the sparklier side of things, like, I play Afina the Glitter Genie on Shimmer and Shine for Nickelodeon. *laughs* So the range is pretty wide. Those are some of my favorites. I played a medic in Starcraft II and she was really funny, I mean, I don’t think she was intended to be funny but she is. *laughs* I like some of the wackier characters for sure.
And how would you say that preparing to be a character via voice is different than being a character in live television?
Julie: It’s actually been a long time since I’ve done on-camera work because I dropped it pretty quickly after I started voiceovers. At the same time I had also gotten hired as a staff writer for a television show, so with those two things in play, I found it a bit difficult to keep up with on-camera work more. I found it to be an easier goodbye than I had expected it to be, and I don’t miss needing to visually match with what I’m trying to do internally. For me, there’s so much more imagination at play being a voice actor because I have to be in a totally blank room, usually padded and very small, *laughs*
That’s reassuring. *laughs*
Julie: Right! The small padded room. *laughs* I have to imagine this great, expansive land through which I now need to run with whatever weapon I have or I have to imagine that I’m in a crowd of other little blobs of goo while screeching and wanting a lollipop. *laughs* Whatever the situation is I have to imagine all of it, and I have to make my voice the only way that I get to contribute to painting a picture. The visual gets created based on what I’ve done or I’m matching a visual that’s there where it’s not my body or face. I love that challenge because there’s room to play. I get to be anything! And in terms of preparation, I’ll say this, “You’re never going to do an on-camera job as an actor where you don’t see a script ahead of time or don’t know the plot or the name of the project.” We voice actors, frequently with video games, go into a session having never seen the script, having no idea what the real name of the project is, and just cold reading and letting that be how we create the character. If we’re lucky we’ll know a little bit beforehand, but there are many many times where I’ve never seen a script before I walk in. It’s also nearly impossible to read an entire script for a video game because they’re so incredibly long, so that’s another difference. In terms of what you get to prepare, you do what you can, but ultimately it’s a little bit of a challenge
An exciting challenge though!
Julie: Yes! I love challenges though. *laughs*
What types of characters do you hope to play in the future?
Julie: I feel like I should answer with some preconceived aspiration, but I get more excited seeing what creator come up with and trying to figure out if I can make that work. I don’t feel like there’s a character that I’m waiting to play because I haven’t gotten to. I do a lot of voice matching, and that keeps me curious as well. I’ll get an audition where my agents will say, ‘Hey, we need you to voice match this person. Here are their lines from this movie.’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t think I can do that,’ but I’ll work on it at home and realize that they heard something I didn’t. So if I stay open and sort of take in whatever my agents and casting directors are hearing in my voice, I can decide from there if that’s something that I want to do. It’s a little more ‘go with the flow’ I think.
Do you see any similarities between doing voice-over recordings and then also recording for music?
Julie: I guess in my truly limited experience with recording music. I’ve recorded for Disney before where I played a character and had done some singing for them so I have done some work in the past. But in terms of my personally released stuff, I guess the difference is the kind of collaboration that you do. Like collaborating with other musicians and letting it have more of an improvised flow allowing each person to contribute what they want to the project. I have a wonderful drummer named Matt Lesser who worked on “Wise Up” with me and based on some of the stuff that he was creating we shifted a little bit on how we wanted it to be seen and heard. Dan Long, the producer of the track, it was his idea to add the double layering to the track, which is something that I hadn’t even thought of. So staying open to the collaboration and being a part of that process is a lot different. As a voice actor, I walk in and it’s kind of my job to give them what they need at that moment and let them see how that fits into their full picture. I think with recording music, especially if it’s something that I’m deciding to do on my own, if it’s my agency to do so then I will be much more a part of that creative process.
What kind of advice would you give to your younger self in regards to the entertainment industry as a whole?
Julie: Maybe I would let myself learn a little bit earlier that it’s ok to be many things. It’s more than ok, it can be exactly what I embrace about being alive. Truly, you know? It took me a little while to decide that that was not only ok but something that I want to embody. I definitely think that’s something that I would impart to my younger self. Although, if that changed the time-space continuum and I didn’t get to be exactly where I am right now then I probably wouldn’t say anything. *laughs* I’ve very happy with how things are right now, I don’t know if I would want to mess with it too much. Wait! I have to knock on wood again! *Heather laughs*
And what one word defines you as an overall performer?
Julie: Hmm. The word ‘authentic’ keeps coming up for me, which is odd as a performer right? I think the other word I would come up with is ‘kind,’ because I really try to approach human connection with kindness. But I do always try to find that ‘authentic’ kind of space whether it’s in singing or performing or writing or even connecting with friends. There’s enough fostering around us, it’s nice to just get to the core of a person and get to know what’s real.
It’s definitely a necessity to have, that human connection and making sure everybody has your best interest in mind.
So apart from more music and more voiceover work, what other exciting things should we be expecting from you?
Julie: I’m working on a writing project that I can’t really discuss right now but is very exciting for me. I am still very much keeping up with that world. Definitely some cool voiceover gigs. And also trying to figure when I want to release “Lullaby.” It’s very different from “Wise Up,” but I’m very excited about it. I’m very active on Twitter, I’m more verbal than visual, *laughs* but I love to interact with people on there and have discussions about kindness, weird words, humor, and voice acting stuff. I’m also on Instagram too, I try to let people know what I’m doing through social media and my website. So I guess as far as being able to talk about things, those are good places to check them out!
About Found Coffee:
Lost in Eagle Rock? Wander into Found Coffee to get your fix of delicious coffees, relaxing specialty teas, and mouth-watering pastries. From hand drips to bourbon vanilla lattes to Moroccan mint green teas, there is a beverage for every type of preference. But the bread winners *hee hee* are the scrumptious baked goods displayed in the case next to the counter. Caramel polenta coffee cakes, ube pilinut pies, vegan/gluten-free muffins and more call to you as you gt ready to pay for your drink, and boy is it hard to say ‘no!’ I opted for the Nutella puff pie with a lavender iced tea, a perfect combination of sweet and savory to sing to the senses.
With plenty of space to settle yourself down at, there is absolutely no excuse not to meet at Found Coffee for a study date or to catch up with an out of town friend. Its own parking lot and non-congested neighborhood parking make it unsurprising that it’s a popular place to be at any time of the day. Their community billboard showcasing local charities, events, services and everything in between prove that anyone who visits the shop is an immediate friend to the lovely people who work there. Discover your new favorite coffee spot at Found Coffee.