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Julia Nunes: Homesick Anthems Spawn An Internet Star

Mar 23, 2012
Originally published on March 24, 2012 10:41 am

Julia Nunes (pronounced "noonz") grew up in New York state, but went to college far away from her hometown friends and family. To keep in touch, she posted videos to YouTube — mostly goofy scenes from her dorm room.

Late at night, when she was shooting these vignettes, she also started recording herself playing ukulele and singing. Sometimes she performed original material, but she mostly stuck to covers of songs by Kanye West, Destiny's Child and others — including the song "Gone." The original artist, Ben Folds, saw the video and asked her to open for him on tour.

"When I got the email saying, 'Open up for Ben Folds this May,' I thought it was spam," Nunes says. "His manager called my mom and said, 'Hey, Julia is ignoring Ben.'"

Last month, Nunes released an album that her fans helped finance through a Kickstarter campaign.

"I was really apprehensive at first; I didn't think fans would understand why all of a sudden I needed money," she says. "I had been making CDs for years without it, so why now? Easy to explain: I was working with friends. I wasn't using the best production or the best equipment. At this point in my career, I felt like I wanted to make the best thing that I possibly could. I made a budget of $18,000 for all 18 songs, 16 days at the studio, no room for breaks. I thought even that was too high for people to understand. I set it at $15,000 — that was a small enough number for people to grasp."

Nunes ended up raising $78,000. That album, Settle Down, is out now.

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Julia Nunes grew up in New York state, but she went to college far away from her hometown friends and family. So, to keep in touch, she posted videos to YouTube - music videos and goofy scenes from her tempest-tossed dorm room.

JULIA NUNES: OK. News time. I am beating Tila Tequila in the most subscribed musicians on YouTube. It's just about my dream come true. OK. I love you guys. Bye.

SIMON: Didn't take long for Julia Nunes to gain a fan following online, including the singer Ben Folds, who asked Julia to open for him on tour. And now, she has her own CD out. It's called "Settle Down," and it was financed by her Internet fans, through the website Kickstarter. Julie Nunes joins us in NPR Studio 4A, along with guitarist and singer Mike Comite. Thanks so much for being with us.

NUNES: Thank you.

MIKE COMITE: Thank you.

SIMON: This has happening pretty quickly for you, hasn't it? Did Ben Folds discover you or what happened?

NUNES: Yeah. He found me doing his song, "Gone." And actually when I got the email saying open up for Ben Folds this May, I thought that they were spam.


SIMON: Yeah, I get that, I get that all the time.

NUNES: So, yeah. He discovered me in a way. But I think a lot of people came to me on their own.

SIMON: First song you're going to play for us is "Stay Awake."

NUNES: "Stay Awake."



SIMON: Julie Nunes, accompanied by Mike Comite, guitar and singing, in the song "Stay Awake." Is there a specific story about this or is this a story of 100 nights?

NUNES: Oh, just so many nights. Everything seems so important at 5 in the morning. And in the cold light of day, it's always a realization that I totally should have gone to sleep. But I never do. I never learn my lesson.

SIMON: Yeah. Tell, if you could, the corporate success side of your story. Because a lot of people have turned to places like Kickstarter to get some projects done. What was that like for you?

NUNES: I was really apprehensive at first. I didn't think that fans would understand why all of the sudden I needed money. Like, I've been making CDs and videos for years without it, so why now? That's easy to explain. I was working with friends and I wasn't using the best production or the best equipment. At this point in my career, I guess, I really wanted to make the best thing that I possibly could. And I made a budget for $18,000 for all 18 songs. We're going to do it in 16 days at the studio - no room for breaks. And I thought that even that was too high for people to grasp.

SIMON: You raised $78,000, right?

NUNES: Yeah.

SIMON: May I ask what'd you do with the rest? I mean, if it's cost $15,000 or $18,000, the way I do the math...


NUNES: I was already in the studio when the Kickstarter money started coming in. And we realized that we could spend more time. So, I definitely gave ourselves room to breathe and make mistakes 'cause the way we had it scheduled before, there was just like no breathing room at all.

SIMON: The next song you have for us here, I'm told, is "Comatose."


SIMON: You guys are great.

COMITE: Thank you.


SIMON: Julia Nunes, accompanied by Mike Comite. Does it get a little more challenging as you become more of a pro at it?

NUNES: No. I think it's gotten easier since I've started to really take it seriously. I've realized that I should be spending the time on myself to, like, work on my voice and drink water, whereas before I was, like, warm-ups? No way.


SIMON: Yeah. But you keep writing? I mean, writing, I mean, writing every - if not every day, every few days?

NUNES: Yes. Yeah. Whenever my mind wanders, it wanders to a songwriting place. I just stop immediately and write it down. I guess that's another way to come easier since I started taking it seriously. Like, before if I thought of a song idea, I'm just, like, nah, I don't remember it, whatever. But now it's something that I really want to make sure that I get together later.

SIMON: This CD has about 18 songs on it, and a lot of them are shorter than three minutes.

NUNES: Yeah, I'm concise. I like to say what I want to say and once it's out, it's done.

SIMON: We'd like to hear one now. "Pizza."



NUNES: I think I'm catering to my own attention span with those songs. I just wanted to, like, sing a 30-second song about pizza. Sometimes I write about, like, deep emotions and all that and sometimes all I got is pizza.

SIMON: Well, a two-minute song about pizza would be excessive.

NUNES: It would.

SIMON: Julia Nunes, along with her guitarist Mike Comite have joined us in NPR Studio 4A. The new CD, "Settle Down." It's out now. Thanks so much to both of you.

NUNES: Thank you.

COMITE: Thanks.

SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.