SECOND TIME AROUND: Julia Weldon has a new lease on life--and identity.
Weldon, who identifies as trans and gender-nonconforming and goes by they/them--although does accept she/her under certain circumstances--studied philosophy at Vassar (with Anne Hathaway) and was a child and teenaged actor appearing opposite Meryl Streep and Mariska Hargitay. Weldon is still acting, and when we speak they're headed to a reading for a pilot in which they play "a lesbian handyman heartbreaker."
But parallel to lighting up the screen, Weldon has always made music. "I was that kid who walks around on the sidewalk singing made-up songs. I picked up my parent's shitty guitar when I was 12 and taught myself. I started writing songs when I was 15 or 16 and never re ally stopped. And playing different characters definitely informs my songwriting and my performance. There's no way to really disconnect them."
You might know Weldon's face from appearances in Law and Order--or from their acclaimed 2013 album Light Is a Ghost and its standout tracks "Careful in the Dark" and "All the Birds."
With that album and touring, Weldon's star was on the rise, but a career-and-life detour came in the form of "intense heartbreak," and the decision to undergo gender confirmation surgery before completing another album. "I wasn't out about it until the day before the surgery. I remember when I posted on Instagram, it was this huge deal to me to be out about having surgery. I think I just didn't understand what role it played in my public persona, if at all, but then I decided that I did want to be visible and out about this, so I said I identified as gender nonconforming and was having top surgery in a couple of days, and your support means so much to me. People responded so well, and then I had the surgery ...," which did not go so well.
Weldon had imagined they'd be out of commission for a couple of months after the surgery. What they didn't expect was to suffer medical complications--viral encephalitis, which causes swelling of the brain, sometimes permanent brain damage, and even life-threatening complications. Imagine coming out of anesthesia and feeling gravely ill--memory loss, throwing up, seizures. Weldon ended up in the ER, was heavily sedated and transferred to NYU medical center. "They basically said to my partner, 'Julia should wake up in a couple hours.' But I didn't wake up."
It was days before Weldon emerged from a coma and entered the long process of retrieving their brain function. "I was in three doctors' appointments a week for three months: physical therapy, occupational therapy, cognitive remediation." For those first months, gender and art took a backseat to survival. "My brain came back in parts, and then slowly came back to normal."
As an artist, Weldon feels that the near-death experience was a wake-up call and an experience that has left them with "a priceless perspective on how important it is to be happy and healthy and close to people I love. I think it has changed my entire writing process. I think that all of my songs from here on out and from that point forward will have that experience in them."
While waking from a coma is its own unique experience, so is waking with what may seem a newly-confirmed gender identity. After surgery, Weldon thought they would maybe want to start taking testosterone immediately, but as a singer, Weldon's vocal chords would be irreversibly changed, so they decided to halt the transition process. While Weldon identifies as trans and gender non-binary, "being a lesbian or gay woman was a large part of my life," they explain, "and so it's not something that I feel disconnected from. A lot of people who transition have a strong sense of their identity and their preferred gender pronouns, and I just don't have that--at least yet. It took me 10 years to decide to have top surgery and to realize that I definitely wanted to do that. I just don't take changing my pronoun or my name lightly."
Weldon is "still not that comfortable telling everyone to use 'they/them' or whatever it is. Sometimes I pass as a 16-year-old boy, and that's fine too. It's part of the experience that comes with not being either/or."
This ambivalence and fluidity is an asset, creatively. "I just got cast in an indie film in which I play a butch lesbian, which is really funny because I don't identify as butch as much as boyish--but still, I run the gamut, being cast as a lesbian or a young trans male character, or someone in-between."
But the connection to the idea of collective LGBTQ spaces is strong. Weldon recently attended a Curve event for women and is open to using "she/her" as pronouns for female-oriented audiences such as Billboard's "Soul Sisters" podcast. And in this spirit, the first single off Comatose Hope, "Til the Crying Fades," is a tribute to our community, specifically the queer Latinx victims of the Pulse shooting in Orlando. The song's powerful dirge-like intra hypnotizes the listener, and Weldon's tender vocals provide a thread of hope into a soft, slow-tempo dance melody. The accompanying video, directed by Alessandra Lacorazza, portrays diverse queer folk dancing in a club not unlike Pulse, and Weldon also makes a cameo, removing their top on the dance-floor and joyfully revealing their post-surgery chest.
For Comatose Hope, an album that spans pre- and post-surgery states of being, heartbreak and new love, Weldon traveled to England to record with Drew Morgan (producer of Perfume Genius). The result is a work of beautiful textures and diverse moods. Some tracks are pure dream pop, others pop-rock. The effect is dreamy, ruminative, submerged--punctuated by moments of waking up, and Weldon mimics the rhythms of losing consciousness, regaining it, and fighting to be awake and embrace the pain and possibility of renewal.
"That's why I chose this producer--to create this ambient bed of sound that really makes you feel feelings; a well of sound that you can keep dipping your toes in," says Weldon.
The album is as subtle, as nuanced, and as explorative as Weldon is, both as an artist and as a person. With this third album, and with a new lease on life and its processes, Weldon looks to the future with hope and determination. And always, there is the struggle to maintain a space as an LGBTQ artist.
"It was really hard to come out of this crazy experience and make this album. I've come so far but I'm still trying so hard to reach other goals. I want to open for Tegan and Sara, naturally," says Weldon with characteristic pluck and humor.
It's fate perhaps, that when Weldon played at the Everyone Is Gay 5th Annual All-Ages Pride Party in NYC this year, a fragment of the Tegan and Sara dream materialized. "I was playing and I looked out straight ahead of me and Tegan was standing right there. And then she grabbed my arm and was like, 'You were really great.'"
It's been a brutal couple of years during which many of us have wondered whether or not we'll survive. Weldon's corporeal and creative rebirth gives us all hope--as diverse individuals, and as a culture that shares a unique collective consciousness, (juliaweldon.com).
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|Title Annotation:||MUSIC SPECIAL|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2017|
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