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Julien Baker Gets Vulnerable In 'Little Oblivions'


Julien Baker has been asking herself this question for a few years now.

JULIEN BAKER: What are all the things that make me Julien Baker, the person? Is it because I'm sober and queer and Christian and a musician and all these things?

SIMON: She released her first album online six years ago when she was just 19. And it earned her a record deal, rave reviews, tours and fans who came to cherish her for singing so frankly and beautifully of her queerness, her faith and her sobriety. But she experienced a relapse a couple of years ago and decided to go off the road in 2019.

BAKER: When I wasn't seeing myself in front of an audience night after night after night and city after city, it was easier for me to create music that made me feel fulfilled and made me feel heard and understood.

SIMON: That's what she explores in her new album, "Little Oblivions."


BAKER: (Singing) That way I can ruin everything. When I do, you don't get to act surprised.

SIMON: It takes up some of Julien Baker's most personal struggles, including substance abuse.

BAKER: I felt, honestly, so scared to start talking about this record when we announced it because, you know, I wrote these songs as a process of healing for myself. And I left in the very explicit references to drug and alcohol abuse because I felt it would be dishonest not to.


BAKER: (Singing) I wish that I drank because of you and not only because of me.

It's painful to talk about and embarrassing. And it makes me feel disappointed in myself and to others. But if I can't talk about sobriety when I've just experienced the worst of what substance abuse can do to my life, then I'm kind of setting this impossible standard up for people that listen to my music. And I don't want to do that.


BAKER: (Singing) It's the mercy I can't take.

I found myself not wanting to accept forgiveness because I was at a place in my life where I felt like I didn't even have the capability to be there for anyone or to love anyone well.


BAKER: (Singing) 'Cause I don't need a savior. I need you to take me home. I don't need your help. I need you to leave me alone.

I've been thinking a lot about why I felt moved to disclose so many things that are humiliating and negative about my personality. And I don't think it's solely in a confessional way. I think it's more I wanted to admit my failures to be better understood as a complex person that I hadn't previously allowed myself to be.

SIMON: And now she says she hopes to soon know what it will be like to step back onstage as a more complex person and complete artist. Julien Baker - her new album, "Little Oblivions."


BAKER: (Singing) Faith healer, come put your hands on me. A snake oil dealer - I'll believe you if you make me feel something. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.