Julia Weldon Explores The Pain Of Being Misidentified In “When You Die”
Being misidentified is common for people who don’t identify as cisgender or straight, but that doesn’t mean it doesn't hurt. Having to navigate your own understanding of your identity when the world cannot, or will not, is tough, and usually results in a lot of suppressed anger. And that anger has to come out; that frustration becomes too much to ignore. It's this release that musician Julia Weldon shows in their latest music video, “When You Die,” off of their album Comatose Hope.
Weldon wrote the song about their struggle to come to terms with losing their father to Parkinson’s Disease, but while Weldon's experience is specific to them, the song and its accompanying visual are fiercely relatable in a more universal context. Weldon shows the unmitigated rage that comes from bottling up your emotions, and how they spill over the top when things get to be too much—they describe the process as “an emotional violence stirred up by suffocating circumstance”—which, we’ve definitely all experienced in one excruciating way or another.
But this isn’t to say that there isn’t any good that comes out of uncontrollable rage—there’s a catharsis that comes from, well, smashing shit, which is exactly what Weldon does in the video. Filmmakers Jessie Katz and Lindsey Goodman directed the project, and provocatively document what happens when you let go, and allow yourself to be angry.
Read our Q&A with Weldon and watch the powerful video, below. And if you're in New York, stop by their show tonight, October 12, at C'mon Everybody.
The video shows the effect of having to hide your identity from the rest of the world. Could you explain a little, in your own words, what that feels like and how it can push you over the edge over time?
The song comes from a really different place, but the directors and I also kind of synced up on this idea of hiding this side of yourself day after day.
I actually feel like I related to [that idea] a lot in that I've started doing more acting recently. I grew up as a child actor and then tried to come back to the industry and was really deeply misgendered, and so that was really painful, because [directors] were like, “Grow your hair out,” and, “Look a certain way.” And it was during a time—literally 15 years ago—when gender nonconformity and nonbinary people were less represented; they weren't represented at all in fact, I think. So I think in some ways—especially because the directors wanted me to have a more feminine gender in the beginning, which I was really resistant to, but it worked really, really well—that kind of helped me work through some of my feelings about coming back to the acting industry in a more empowered way.
I think that me coming out as gender-nonconforming, recently, was really pivotal to me having breakthroughs in my career, and so it's this really fun… In my video for "Til the Crying Fades," I take my shirt off and throw it around my head, so it was kind of cool that this is a progression of embracing that identity. But I think that the directors really related to this feeling of being women in their industries and how they can just feel shut down constantly.
I've always been able to be a little bit more myself in my songs, and I've never hidden who I was, but I think that we can all relate to that feeling of unleashing this anger. And the song was written about my father, so, in some ways, it was really cathartic to have the gender feelings there, but also that feeling of hiding how angry and upset I am that he has this disease and it will never go away. So there's a lot of different layers of unmasking and exposing how you really feel about something, I think, and not hiding anymore. I hope it's relatable because I think we all have things like that.
I feel like people who have been misunderstood with any aspect of their identity could relate to that feeling.
Yeah. Again, it's kind of weird because it's a loose connection, but with my father, it's one of those [feelings] that I can't express in so many ways, and it felt really cathartic to be able to write a song about this inexpressible boundary between my pain and expression, so it's kind of related.
I was also wondering about your decision to focus on hair and makeup at the beginning of the video, because it’s so tied to gender. What was your experience with these things, and why did you choose to touch on them in the video?
It was really interesting actually, because at the end of the day, we were all tired and [the directors] were like, "Julia we need you to do your hair this way.” And I was like, “What? No, I'm not doing that.” It was actually really hard for me to agree to do a more feminine hairstyle, and I'm really glad I did in the end. It wasn't like they were pushing me to—it was uncomfortable for me, but we were all doing it for the benefit of the video.
So the makeup was [another] thing. I'm glad you asked about it, because it was something I pushed myself to do because I realized it was important for the message of the video for the reason that I do feel uncomfortable with it. That's why it's important that this character that I'm playing is like stripping themselves down to be like, "No this is who I really am."
I feel like Jessie and Lindsey—I think, as women in their field—have a lot of feelings about not being heard and not being able to be creative in the ways they want to and being limited. So I knew that that was really important to them, and I am glad I pushed myself, because we talked a lot about how my branding as an artist is very genderqueer and queer right now and it kind of always have been. I haven't been one to really hide who I am that much, but I think it was important to them to be like, "Yeah, but so many people feel this way, and we need show that." I wanted people who are my fans to relate in that gender transformation kind of way.
The directors that you worked with for the video pushed you to focus the video on your gender identity. How does the video still speak to what the song is actually about?
The way I like to work with directors is to give them the album and be like, "What song inspired you?" And this song really hit them because of where they are in their lives and how they feel on the day-to-day, and I was really interested in exploring the concept. I think it's better to be less literal sometimes, and I think this is a perfect example of a song that, again, we wanted everyone to feel connected to.
But I will say that, in terms of my dad, I think that the video really does express that feeling of [being] bottled up and [needing] to get it out. I wrote the song all in one shot, kind of sat down late one night and it all poured out of me, and it’s definitely one of the songs that comes out of a very pure and real place of needing to express how sad and angry I am. I think a lot of my songs are about expressing things that are too big to express, and this is definitely that kind of thing. As much as it's about gender, it's about me being stripped down and embracing that, and how empowering it can be to be like, "I'm fucking angry, and there's nowhere to put it.” When crazy things in life happen, you sometimes just need to find a different way to express it.
There’s this one line in the song that repeats itself: "Your peace will come." I was wondering if there's an “after” that you felt, a calm that comes as a result of refusing to hide parts of your identity or things that people don't understand about you?
The whole video is this catharsis, and moving toward this catharsis. In the song, it was more about my dad and how it was more a message to him that he would get relief one day from what he's dealing with. And I think the same can be said for someone who can embrace their anger and their identity, that their peace will come in that. It kind of sounds a little cliche, but I think that the message still holds true to people who let themselves be honest about who they are, that maybe during that, and through that catharsis, people [find] relief. In terms of sexuality, I always like to tell younger fans of mine, the most important thing is that you're safe and you don't want to be outed by anyone, but it is liberating to embrace who you actually are. Yeah, that line can be about that.
I think that if cliche things are true and they feel true to you then they're not cliched anymore.
I like that.
If it's true to you, then it's true. Corny things are true sometimes.
We can't help it. We can't hide the truth.