Julie Roberts makes history this year as the first artist to release new music on the legendary label, Sun Records, in over 40 years. Located in the heart of Nashville, it is where such icons as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison got their start. With 16 songs in various stages of production, Julie will release her brand new record, titled Good Wine and Bad Decisions, on October 29 and promises that fans will not be disappointed, even hinting at a few once-in-a-lifetime collaborations.
Nashvilel Gab recently spoke with the singer about her new project, how it feels to sign with Sun, her favorite songwriting partner (accomplished tunesmith Chris Stapleton) and what it was like to audition on NBC's hit TV show, The Voice (and much more).
Nashville Gab: How did your CMA Fest go? I noticed you were pretty busy.
Julie Roberts: Oh, it was awesome. I loved it, especially Saturday — which was when I was able to announce my new career move. It’s exciting for me. The whole CMA Fest week is always awesome, but that was what I was looking forward to the most. It was just perfect. I couldn’t have asked for anything different.
NG: You made the big announcement that day that you were signed to Sun Records. How did that come about?
JR: I’m working with my manager Josh Collum, who has worked closely with representing the Sun catalogue. He works a lot with music and film and TV, as well. When I started working with Josh, I knew that I wanted to have a home for my new record that I had started working on. It’s really been Josh and Sun working together on this. He had an idea that they might want to find one artist and release some music on it that they believed in. So, he started talking to them about me, and that’s really how it went. I’m sure there were a lot of behind-the-scenes things that I wasn’t part of, but I was there when they said ‘welcome to the Sun family.’ That’s all that matters to me. [laughs]
NG: What was it like the first time you walked into that legendary studio?
JR: You know what? It was surreal to me. It’s been a few quiet years [for me] being independent. I’ve been trying to figure out how to continue making music and getting it out there as an independent artist. So, walking into a new record label and seeing all the gold records on the wall of Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison, it was all just surreal. I thought I was going to wake up any moment until Saturday when the Vice President from Sun came onstage and had this T-shirt made with the Sun logo, the title of my new record, which is ‘Good Wine and Bad Decision,’ and my name on the shirt that he gave to everybody (that attended my party). That was like ‘OK, this is real to me. I can get super excited.’ And I was. I was just in shock. I walked in, and because it is such a legendary label, for them to know that they believed in me and what I do, it was just [so] exciting. We’re working hard. We’re moving forward.
NG: You mentioned the title of your album is ‘Good Wine and Bad Decisions.’ What’s the story behind that?
JR: It’s a song that I wrote for the record. I just liked the title. I’ve got enough songs probably for two or three albums, honestly. That’s a song that I held onto for a little bit because I loved it. I knew I wanted it to be on this project. I sort of always knew because I liked the title that I wanted it to be the title of the record. We’re gonna have some guest musicians and guest artists on this record. So, we may add one or two people to that song. I just felt it would be a great title for this record.
NG: What’s the song about?
JR: Exactly what it sounds like. [laughs] I don’t want to give too much away because it is so special. It’s pretty much what the title says.
NG: Are you planning to release a new single this summer?
JR: Not this summer but maybe early fall. We’re definitely planning to do a video; we’re just not sure what song, yet. There’s gonna be a lot of team members in this picking and deciding. As an independent artist, over the last few years, it was really just me making the decisions on what to do. Now, I have a team again, and I’m really excited about that team. I want everybody to have their opinion on what should a single and what we should focus on on making the video. I know we are gonna be one. For the album, we had to push the release to October 29. We will have major distribution on this album. You’ll be able to find it in stores.
NG: You are sort of being re-introduced to the public on the new label. How do you decide what songs to include on the new album and what stories you want to tell?
JR: Deciding the songs is actually the fun part. I know exactly what I love to sing about. I know the kind of music I do best and the kind of music I like to play every night. That’s actually an easy part for me. I’m just drawn to lyrics that I can relate to. If I write a song, I can probably relate to them [in some way] or I know someone who’s lived it. It’s the same way with picking songs. I know right away if I’ve lived it or I connect with the lyrics and the music, too. The hardest part is choosing between a lot of great songs. There’s so many great songs out there in Nashville and all over. There’s so many amazing songwriters. That is the hardest part, like saying ‘this song is better than this song, but I connect to both of them. So how do I know which one to pick?’ I’m really enjoying going through the catalogs and seeing what I connect to. I don’t believe there will be a definite theme for this record. There’s just gonna be songs I connect to and songs that I love and songs that I love to want to sing for the rest of my life. I want to make Sun Records proud. So, [I want] songs that will be timeless and will live forever.
NG: Who is your favorite musicians or artist to write with?
JR: I’ve been writing a lot with my producer, Jason Collum. He actually wrote the title track with me. We’ve been writing with a lot of people but as far as writers go, there’s a couple of go-to writers that I love going through their catalogs listening for songs…Jason Matthews, who wrote ‘Breakdown Here,’ and a guy named Chris Stapleton. Chris has had cuts on every record of mine. He’s just amazing. He’s kind of like my go-to guy. I could listen to his catalog for days. I’m writing with a variety of different people but if I’m thinking of writers that I want to ask ‘hey, what do you got?’ Those are the couple of guys that I like. I also like writing with Don Schlitz. I wrote with him on my independent record. He’s a legend himself.
NG: Have you had the chance to write with someone who you’d never written with before? What’s that like?
JR: Yes, I have. I wrote with a guy named Ernie Halter. I’ve written with a guy named Matt Ridenour. I’ve written with Billy Yates, who wrote a few of George Jones’ huge hits [like] ‘I Don’t Need Your Rocking Chair,’ ‘Choices.’ Actually, we’re trying to finish a song that I was writing for this record. I hope that more of those opportunities comes because I want to keep trying write and find the best material for this record.
[Adding:] Everybody’s really different. For example, like Ernie is an artist himself, and I love his style. He’s bluesy and soulful. I just reached out to him and said ‘hey, I’m writing for this new project. Would you like to write?’ Honestly, the first time you write with somebody new, you are really just trying to get to know the other person. [You have] to see if you connect with them. People say this about songwriting: it’s kind of like dating. You have to see if you can open up to the person or vice versa. That’s how first writing sessions go. Ernie, I immediately connected with. Jason and I wrote with him. We finished a song in the first day that we wrote. We connected on so many levels. Every session, though, is very different.
NG: So, you’re going to be giving your fans footage from the studio, right?
JR: My fans are like my family. On Facebook, we write each other back. They probably know what I do with my time with my dogs at home, what I’m doing in my workout…I enjoy getting on there and talking with them. When we signed with Sun, I wanted an avenue where they could pre-order the album and be involved in the journey with me. They’ve been very loyal to me even in my quiet times. As an independent, I’ve released two records ‘Alive’ and ‘Who Needs Mistletoe.’ This is me coming back. I wanted them to see it and be part of it. Sun partnered with Pledge Music, and fans can pre-order the album. When they do, they get an immediate download of a song we have recorded for the record, and they get access to [an exclusive] community where I will be posting footage from the studio and everything outside whether it’s a photo shoot or video shoot to prepare for this release. The only access to the community is if they pre-order the CD. I’m excited about that. I want them to see what this journey is gonna be like for me. We just felt like it was a great way to partner with Pledge and Sun together.
We have a meeting this morning about people we are going to try to get in the studio with us that might have been a Sun artist. There’s a hint. [laughs] It’s gonna be fun. Also for the pre-order, they’ll get the album a week before it’s released.
[Adding:]I definitely know this is all God. When you asked me ‘how did this all come about,’ it’s hard to answer that because I feel like there’s definitely a lot of meetings, of course, but I know God is in control of this. He’s had control of everything in my life, and there’s been some ups and been some downs in the last few years — with the flood and MS. I was really down when I did ‘The Voice.’ I was really sad when Blake didn’t turn around, but I know now that that was the way it was supposed to be. Had he turned around, I wouldn’t have been able to be with Sun. I feel like that’s where God wanted me to be. He knew the whole time, and he knew way more than me. I think that my faith is the most important part of my life. I think remaining faithful and believing in his plan is how this opportunity came about. There’s a lot of people working behind the scenes, but there’s one big person working for me…and it’s him.
You can pre-order Julie's upcoming album, Good Wine and Bad Decisions, (and make a pledge) here.