MUSIC

Singer JUJ Talks Her New EP, Brazilian and LA Culture, and Touring

The young musician moved out of the house at 17 to start her career, echoing the move her Brazilian mother made to the United States at age 18.

The story of JUJ's career might be best set to "Eye of the Tiger," perhaps because she's from Philadelphia.

The scrappy, youthful singer just released her debut EP, JUJ It's You. After working with producers like Julian Nixon (Dr. Dre, Kendrick Lamar, A$AP Rocky), the singer sat down with Popdust to discuss the project's creative process and where she plans to go from here.

So what have you been doing lately? On tour?

I'm pressing for a tour right now, yes. Also, I'll be writing in London and New York for the next two months. And I'm going into rehearsals with my band for a North American tour in the fall and a European tour in the winter. I also have a song coming out in two weeks. So we're building up a promo of that.

Is that song part of your new EP?

It's "Mood" with Vic Mensa.

So he's putting his own flow over the track?

Yeah, so he's taking verse two. He's from Chicago, where I used to live. He moved out of his home at the same age as I did: 17.

You were born and raised in Philly, correct? Do you see any parallels between Philly and Chicago?

Yeah. The people are super tough in both places. Thick-skinned. More so than on the west coast. I feel like the work ethic out there, too, is stronger than here in LA.

That's ironic, considering LA is all about "making it."

Well, I think people are better off in LA if they come from somewhere else. People here become friends with somebody who is doing big things, and that makes them feel like they're doing big things: doing well by association. I have a lot of friends who have come to LA and then leave for New York, because they want to be surrounded by people who are hustling.

What does "JUJ" mean?

I was originally named Julia. My mom is Brazilian, and we went back there for a bit when I was young. "JUJ" is what they used to call me, and it stuck! Growing up in school, going to the doctors, I always introduced myself as "JUJ."

Apart from the abbreviation, does it have a specific meaning?

No, it's just what stuck. Also, I'm not really a "Julia." [laughs] Also, it fits into "jujitsu," the Brazilian martial art that I practice.

So I listened to the track "Hollywood." It's funny, because in the last few interviews I've done for Popdust, LA has been an important subject. So why do you think it fascinates people so much?

I felt like with a lot of songs written about LA or Hollywood paint it as a glamorous land of opportunity. But I knew that no one city was going to make it happen for me. When I first moved here, I was working full time as a nanny, and I was auditioning, performing my music, and finally met my first producer. Then I got Lyme disease. I spent a lot of time at a hospital in Beverly Hills and got very depressed. And then they told me the best option was for me to go back home. I felt like it would have [proven] all the [haters] right. Everyone has a time where something happens in the city that makes them feel like they don't belong. They don't write about that, because it makes them look weak, but I felt like there was something strong about being vulnerable about how I felt. The song "Hollywood" starts with doubts, and over the course of the song those doubts are turned into affirmations.

So it sounds like Lyme Disease had as much a disillusioning effect on you as the city!

It was more [about] all the people back home having told me I wasn't going to succeed. I was this little girl sick by herself in the big city. It was the whole circumstance.

How early did you start playing music?

I've been playing music my entire life. [laughs] I know that's super cliche, but it's true.

Were your parents musical?

Neither of my parents can sing to save their lives, but my mom, she moved from Brazil to America when she was 18 not knowing anybody. She wanted to move to New York and be a dancer, but she didn't have the means to make it; she just had to survive. That's in part what inspired me: do what she couldn't. And she met my dad while working at Chili's. She was a waitress, and he was a bartender.

That's oddly romantic.

[laughs]. Yeah. So, my mom was always playing Brazilian music around the house, while both of us were learning how to speak English. That's why I don't know how to speak Portuguese.

So she was more of an assimilationist?

Essentially, yeah. She also played a lot of English-language music around the house. Oh, also I should mention I've been doing musical theater since I was very young! I was aping the music to "Annie" before I could talk.

What's your favorite musical?

"Les Miserable." To be Eponine in "Les Miserable!"

How did you get into music, then?

Well, I'm very religious, and when I was young I asked my parents if I could join a choir. We found a Presbyterian choir (neither my family or I am Presbyterian).

So your parents were religious?

No, I found it by myself. I used to make my parents drop me off at churches by myself.

That's the complete opposite of what usually occurs.

I know! The friends of mine who were raised religious, now they're kind of disillusioned with it. When I first moved to LA, the first thing I did was join a church, for that sense of community.

So that led to the music, singing in choirs?

Then I joined the school choir. After that, I became obsessed with singing. I entered myself into competitions and all that. I got my first job was I was 12, with The Music Man at the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia. I was getting paid to do shows, eight shows a week.

Fast forward, then, to LA. How did that work? Did you have a plan?

After the Walnut Theater, I started looking for other theater jobs. Then I performed at the Apollo Theater and won the "Child Stars of Tomorrow" competition. Then after that, I was doing a lot of cabarets in New York, taking the Megabus from Philly. And then I got involved in a short film that made me fall in love with TV and film. So I figured I'd move to LA. But how to convince my parents?

It turned out, though, not to be a problem: My mom's parents had let her go to move to America. So I knew she'd be supportive. So I moved out, got a voice coach, and started doing open mics. One night, a producer attended an open mic and asked to set up a session. I had never done a real session with a producer. I ended up helping out a singer-songwriter with her song, and the songwriter for the session's manager liked my voice and got my info, etc, etc. Eventually, I signed with my current manager, Nathan, and we started really doing writing sessions, honing the craft. And then for the first EP, I didn't just want to write relationship songs. It would have been too predictable for a 17-year-old to come out with that. Instead, I wrote about my journey.

Who's your main producer now?

Sean Cook. He produced the first EP, and now we're working on singles together. He became one of the top two best friends of my entire life. We're like sisters. Well, not sisters, because he's a boy…It's just so easy to create with him because of the bond we have.

In the press material I read before this interview, phrases like "progressive outlook" and "be the change you want to see" jumped out. Are those themes you see reflected in the EP?

Yeah! Especially the "change" idea. We can complain all we want about what's going on in the world, but nothing's gonna change unless we are the change. Living in LA, there's a ton of people that complain, but let's do something about it! For instance, the song "Black Mirror" is about getting off our phones and experiencing the world around us.

The track I liked the most was "Barricade."

That's my favorite one, too! Everyone on my team, when we were putting the music out, they did not like it, and I was like, "Damn, that's my favorite one!"

I think it's cool because there are so many different textures and dynamics. There's a glitchy dub-step thing combined with a gospel vibe, for instance.

Yes!! That's like my thing! When I started the EP, I wanted to incorporate the gospel choir sound.

Can you give me some insight into how that track came together?

So with "Barricade," I wanted to write about obstacles, overcoming them in an empowering way.

And the music itself? There are so many different elements. It sounds like quite a labor.

Yeah! It kind of took a village. Sean, the producer, made a beat; we wrote to that beat, then he added a few different production elements and the guitar. And then after my vocals were recorded, a good friend of ours, Taylor, played keys. And that choir is real. I took a bunch of musician friends from around LA. They're the background vocals.

Is the EP paving the way for a full-length album?

We're pushing the EP hard, and I'm in the process of writing a lot of singles to follow it.

And is there a tour in the works?

Um, yes. Right now we're in rehearsals, but we're looking to do some support tours as an opener, around August and September.

Last question: Do kids still try and fix the crack in the Liberty Bell as a high school prank?

I mean, we've thought about it, but none of us have gotten away with it. That'd be badass.

Culture Feature

The 9 Best JRPGs of the PS4 Era

The modern boom of JRPGs

Square Enix

They don't make JRPGs like they used to, but maybe that's a good thing.

While classic JRPGs thrived during the PlayStation 1 era and saw major innovations during the PlayStation 2 era, the PlayStation 3 era marked a major fall from grace for the genre. Save for a few major titles like Dark Souls and Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, fresh JRPG releases had grown increasingly scarce, and even the more major titles like Final Fantasy XIII were plagued by mixed reviews.

But with the PlayStation 4, JRPGs have seen a return to prominence. Sure, there may not be as many individual releases of bizarre, unheard of IPs like there were during the PS1 era, but PS4 era JRPGs have more than made up for quantity with quality. These are the best-of-the-best:

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FILM & TV

Songs That Capture the Spirit Of New York: Iconic Movie Moments

We list off a few of film's most iconic moments in the Big Apple, and the songs that accompanied them.

While it isn't the first art form to bind itself to music, cinema has arguably achieved the closest symbiosis therein. Because while musical scores for, say, Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker" or Wagner's "Ring Cycle" are routinely listened to independent of dramatization, very few subway playlist includes selections from "Jurassic Park 2."

The exception is the movie soundtrack consisting, mainly, of songs which exist entirely on their own. But such is the power of the movie medium that, while Tears For Fear's "Head Over Heels" may have once transported you back to hopeless crushes over elementary school lunches, it now instantly calls to mind a famous montage from cult movie Donnie Darko. The song becomes the image, and vice versa.

New York is one of the most musical cities in the world, and a prodigious producer of images, be they cinematic, photographic, or painted. When you shut your eyes and imagine archetypical New York music, a deafening multitude of genres meets the ears: Hip-hop, salsa, jazz, punk-rock...Russian techno. As a result, pairing the feel of the city with a song has long provided filmmakers with a dazzling array of creative options. But it takes a discerning eye and ear to make of his/her selections more than mere sonic wallpaper; a canny filmmaker instead harnesses a given song to a scene for a specific intent, giving it something approaching agency.

"Fight the Power," by Public Enemy

Film: Do The Right Thing (1989, Spike Lee)

This list isn't hierarchical, but the honor of opening it still goes to Spike Lee; since nearly all his narrative films are set in New York (and of those, the majority are set in Brooklyn), he could be seen as THE filmmaker for the five boroughs. Never one for understatement, Lee opened his breakthrough film to the tune of arguably the most declamatory political statement in hip-hop history. (The intro is also a study in the late-80s/early-90s sartorial and dance fad nostalgia for people of a certain age).

"Jumpin' Jack Flash," by The Rolling Stones

Film: Mean Streets (1973, Martin Scorsese)

Martin Scorsese could easily merit his own article on the delicate art of melding popular music with movies. But while several entries in his vast oeuvre bear mentioning in that context, I'll focus on just one: Mean Streets, set in Little Italy. The contrasting nature of Mean Streets' soundtrack (consisting of both Italian operatic arias and American popular music) serves as an aural metaphor for the chasm that divides Harvey Keitel's tradition-bound, dutiful gangster, and the force of rebellion and chaos that is Robert De Niro's Johnny. An example of the latter half of that dichotomy is an early scene where Johnny enters a club all lit up in lurid, hellish red with a woman on each arm. Keitel, nursing a drink at the opposite end of the bar, watches with rueful envy as the trio swagger towards him in slow motion to "Jumpin' Jack Flash." (Scorsese and The Rolling Stones would go on to enjoy what is probably the most hand-in-glove relationship between any director and band in the history of cinema; just one of the group's songs, "Gimme Shelter" has been used at least three times by the director).

"Daddy Never Understood," by Folk Implosion

"Oh My God," by Tribe Called Quest

Film: Kids (1993, Larry Clark)

Speaking of piquant combinations of contrasting genres, Kids, a mid-90s controversy hive, combined noise-punk, indie-rock and golden age hip-hop, all of which are relevant to the world the movie's subjects move through: a New York of feral adolescents from various walks of life. Director Larry Clark's brutal, unblinking visual sensibility is neatly matched by his wincing musical choices. The opening scene, in which Telly, the film's teenage "protagonist," seduces and deflowers an even younger girl, is linked to the subsequent introductory credits by "Daddy Never Understood," a lacerating, churning punk track by Folk Implosion (led by Dinosaur Jr.'s Lou Barlow). Later, Tribe Called Quest's ebullient "Oh My God" is heard while Telly and Casper strut through Washington Square Park in search of weed and fellowship (the latter is consecrated by a brutal beat down of a hapless adult dumb enough to poke the hornet's nest).

"Stephanie Says," by The Velvet Underground

"Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard," Paul Simon

Film: The Royal Tenenbaums (2000, Wes Anderson)


Journeying far, far away from the spontaneous naturalism of Larry Clark's Kids, we arrive at Wes Anderson's third movie, which more-or-less confirmed him in the public eye as a purveyor of all things hyper-orchestrated and impeccably manicured. Whatever you may think of his aesthetic, Anderson has a beautiful way with a song. The wistful melancholy of a classic New York rooftop scene late in the film between Luke Wilson and Gene Hackman, for example, is hitched perfectly to Velvet Underground's "Stephanie Says," and the exhilaration of a day shared by the elder Tenenbaum and his two grandsons matches perfectly to Paul Simon's "Me and Julio Down by the School Yard."

"Fairytale of New York," The Pogues

"Flamenco Sketches," Miles Davis

Film: Basquiat (1997, Julian Schnabel)


A song about being lonely, drunk, homesick and heartsick in New York on Christmas, written by a troubled Irish genius (Shane Macgowen), is an unexpected, but apt, choice to emotionally underscore the story of a troubled, doomed American genius, painter Jean-Michel Basquiat. It's one of several ways that director Schnabel—himself a wildly successful painter prior to becoming a filmmaker—uses music to elegize his subject. The soundtrack also features "Flamenco Sketches," the last track on Kind of Blue, by Miles Davis (a hero of Basquiat's, if the film is to be believed). The slow ballad functions, in fact, as one of the movie's reoccurring motifs, conveying the sublimity of solitude, so essential to the creation of art - and something that was increasingly denied Basquiat the more famous he became. New York, that beautiful succubus, drained the young artist dry and left him dead at 27.