Julie Bennett Hume's musical journey has taken many twists and turns. A folk artist who began writing songs when she was a high school senior, Hume became grounded in bluegrass, Appalachian and Cajun music, sharpening her skills as a singer, bassist and guitarist. We're fortunate to share an interview with Hume about her life's work, her new album, the aptly titled Late Bloomer, and what inspires her.
Please introduce yourself. Describe your music for new listeners.
Hi. I'm Julie Bennett Hume. I live in Lee's Summit, Missouri and am a recently retired German and Philosophy teacher. I now play music, worry about politics and co-host and produce a radio show for KKFI called "River City Chautauqua" in my free time. I started writing and playing music when I was a senior in high school in Manhattan, Kansas and started performing when I was a student at KU. I played with a lot of different bands when I was in my 20's and early 30's starting with bluegrass and Appalachian music and settling into a Cajun band for several years, playing bass and guitar and singing vocals. I also joined several groups that were part of an organization called "The Center for World Music" in the early 1990's. I sang and played in an Afro-Cuban ensemble, a jug band, a blues trio -- a lot of different types of music, and learned so much from the other musicians during that time. Then real life got going. I was working on my M.A. in German in Austria in the summers, teaching full time and got married, had kids, etc.
As a lot of my ensembles broke up and people moved away, I got out of the music scene and did other things. But I couldn't shake the songwriting habit. Around the time I turned 50, I went to see Rickie Lee Jones and found it really inspirational. She did a version of "Sympathy for the Devil" and I was just mesmerized and inspired that she was still on fire several decades into her career. One day a few months later I was at home sick and started going through my journals and found songs everywhere (on the backs of envelopes, napkins, receipts, etc.) and I realized I'd been writing songs all along and if I was interested in playing music again and recording songs, I'd better get going. With my family's support, I kind of snuck back in to the music scene. I think that you hear a lot of different sounds in my music, due to the influence of a lot of different people I've played with. I also owe a great debt to old-time music and old country. Musicians like Leadbelly, Doc Watson, the Carter Family, Kitty Wells, the Delmore Brothers and Jimmie Rodgers have all been big influences.
Talk about 2017’s Late Bloomer. How did this album come about? How long had you been working on those songs?
When I wrote "Late Bloomer", as I said earlier, I was rediscovering music I had written in my teens ("Caliban in the Coal Mines") and twenties ("Pleasure of Your Company") and also finally working up some songs I had worked on through the years ("Lone Star" and "Late Bloomer" come to mind). Then as I got closer to going into the studio, I had a really fruitful period when I started writing songs like crazy.
Describe your songwriting process. Do your songs come easily to you or are you more comfortable interpreting the work of others?
I go through periods where I will write several songs a week and then dry spells where nothing really comes to me. But during the dry spells I get to go back and rewrite old songs. I have to admit that being a teacher has probably made me an overzealous editor. I love to cross things out, and try to come up with that perfect word or phrase or metaphor that's been lacking in the song. The only problem is that once you've recorded a song, you can't go back and change it. I'm always coming up with a better chord or note or word, and I hate that I can't change it anymore. When I was a kid, I would rewrite popular songs where I thought they got some words wrong. I remember listening to "MacArthur Park" and thinking, "Left a cake out in the rain? Stupid metaphor." and so I would rewrite it, which seems hilarious now.
Some songs, however, write themselves. A song I wrote about my dad after his death last fall just came out fully formed and I can't imagine I would ever change a word. As I get older, it seems easier to tap my feelings about something and put it out there, rather than trying so hard to figure out what I "should" be writing about. I don't worry about people not relating to it, because most things I write about -- losing someone, not connecting with someone, losing opportunities, making fun of myself, celebrating aging or grieving the losses that come with it -- are things that I know will resonate somewhere. If a person comes up to me and tells me a song touched them because of a similar experience, then I'm pretty damned pleased with myself.
What music are you currently raving about?
The music that I'm currently excited about is both old and new. I just discovered Nick Drake a few years back and am absolutely loving his music. I really got to know his songs through the tribute CD "Way to Blue: The Songs of Nick Drake" which came out in 2013. Local gal Krystle Warren is on a few tracks as an added bonus! Rickie Lee Jones' "The Devil You Know" amazes me because she picks covers through the years that have been part of my "greatest hits playlist". I'm also pretty excited about The Milk Carton Kids."The Ash and Clay" is an incredible offering of sensational duets. I'm excited to see what some of the gals from one of my favorite groups, The Be Good Tanyas , Frazey Ford and Jolie Holland ,come up with next. Jolie Holland's "Wine Dark Sea" is a great listen. Good lyrics and soulful singing will always reel me in.
I'm also inspired by literature and film. For years, I thought I would write movies or books, because I was obsessed with reading and watching films. However, the song has always come easier. I take a lot of ideas for books or films and turn them into a song, like my song "Lone Star". I definitely have my favorite writers, most of whom can be found in the JCL system:
A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby. A really poignant look at people who have been so battered by life they just can't see a way forward
How the Mind Works by Stephen Pinker or anything by Stephen Pinker, one of my favorite thinkers
Logicomix by Apostalos Doxiadis. Love graphic novels dealing with big ideas!
Bad Monkey by Carl Hiassen. Bizarre, funny characters are his specialty.
My favorite films include a lot of foreign films since I taught German for several decades. Run Lola Run and My Life as a Dog are movies I never get tired of watching. I love all three of the films in Richard Linklater's "Before" trilogy with "Before Sunset" being my favorite (and it has my favorite bookstore in Paris as a central part of the movie). I also recommend The Commitments, the best band movie ever-just a delight, Rushmore - one of the funniest films I've ever seen, and also one of the sweetest, and Cold Mountain which has so much incredible folk music in it , including real shape note hymns. I also love the German film Goodbye Lenin and urge the library to get a copy of it, a wonderful bit of "Ostalgia" (nostalgic look at East Germany).
Thanks for inviting me to be a part of your program. The public library has been a major part of my life since I was a kid. We lived one block away from the library when I was growing up and I basically took up residence there.That may be why I married a librarian!