In her early 20s, alternative folksinger Julie Title was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which hindered her ability to work, socialize and sometimes even to get out of bed.
“Getting the diagnosis and trying to heal has taken up pretty much all of my 20s. I feel like I’m stepping into my 30s in a much better place,” said Title, who’s now 29.
Her recovery enabled her to pen the poetic songs on her debut album, Green, which are reminiscent of early Joni Mitchell songs.
The album is the culmination of the different musical genres she’s tried over the past 10 years. It’s also a return to the music she grew up listening to. “I grew up on Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. It was natural for me to go back to a folkie sound,” she said.
Title, a Thornhill, Ont., native, has been singing, performing and writing songs for most of her life, including the time she spent working as a wedding singer to supplement her income. She became a professional musician about 10 years ago, and around the same time, she moved to downtown Toronto.
Before her return to folk music, Title played with a number of different bands. The last project she was involved with was Bad Willow. “We were playing around Toronto and had a bit of radio play,” she said. Title fronted the band and co-wrote the dark, alternative gothic-type songs they played.
She said the lyrics she wrote for Bad Willow are more abstract than the ones on her new album, because she was masking her feelings then. “The songwriting on this record is a lot more plain-spoken and vulnerable and authentic, which is why I feel more connected to it,” she said.
The music on the album falls into the alternative folk genre. While it retains some of the gentleness of its traditional parent, alternative folk has a more energetic and aggressive acoustic sound to it. Title’s vocals are powerful and the only instrumentation on this minimalist album is the guitar she accompanies herself with.
The guitar is an instrument that she’s played on and off since high school. “I wouldn’t describe myself as a guitar virtuoso. I really wanted to get back to playing guitar and get more confident in my guitar abilities. This record is giving me the chance to do that,” she said.
Title’s lyrics are often impressionistic, as they are in “Ghosts,” one of the songs on the album. She described the song as “a meditation on nostalgia, the way we look at the past and how we paint a picture of our lives.” She added that her songs aren’t always about one thing in particular, rather they’re an amalgam of feelings.
Title will be releasing the song “Alice” as a single. She wrote it to honour her grandmother, Alice, a Holocaust survivor who, at 17, became an inmate of Treblinka, a concentration camp northeast of Warsaw. From there, she was sent to Ravensbruck, the largest concentration camp for women in Nazi Germany. Alice’s brother, who was interned in Auschwitz, survived, but her sister and mother perished. Alice’s father had died earlier, in a pogrom in Russia.
Although Title has no memories of her grandmother – she died when Title was two years old – Title has thought about her a lot, about the connection she feels with her and about the concept of inherited trauma. “I can see the violence in my lineage reflected psychologically in myself and other family members,” she said.
Julie Title’s new album, Green, is available on Spotify. She will be performing the songs live at 7 p.m. on Nov. 29 at Baby G (1608 Dundas St. W.) in Toronto. For tickets, visit julietitle-eprelease.eventbrite.com.