INTERVIEW: prior panic "finicky things"

 prior panic's debut lp  "finicky things"

prior panic's debut lp "finicky things"

prior panic started as a solo project in mid 2016 by lead vocalist and cellist Julia Fulbright. Their debut album, “finicky things,” was released on March 30, 2018. The band consists of Fulbright, guitarist and background vocalist Otto Klammer, and drummer Zachary Ellsworth. 

Fulbright has played the cello for over ten years now and is classically trained.

“It's been super interesting to me watching the way my playing has shifted over the years,” says Fulbright. “I'm classically trained as an acoustic cellist, was super involved in a few local orchestras in middle and high school, and when I was 16 I did a Berklee summer strings program where I learned how to play in different styles (bluegrass, jazz, some really cool international stuff as well) + a ton of new playing techniques. I also learned how to play cello and sing simultaneously! I started to teach myself a lot of covers the year following and went to a 5-week Berklee program the next summer before my senior year of high school. I started writing my own music and playing some shows in Dallas, TX (my hometown) before I moved up here for school. Once I started college I got a 5-string electric cello, and it took me awhile to really fall in love with it (very different to play from acoustic cello) but by the time I started writing songs with it, it clicked and now I play it significantly more often than my acoustic. That said, I actually took it out for the first time a couple of weeks ago and recorded a cello track for a new Palehound song, so I'm really excited about that!”

Fulbright played solo with their cello from October 2016-March 2017 before they put together a full band. The lineup has changed since the first show, along with former Boston band Dent. After taking some time off from Boston and music for mental health reasons, a consistent theme in prior panic’s debut album finicky things, Fulbright stayed with family in Texas over the summer of 2017. When September rolled around they booked a few full band shows and started writing/practicing with original drummer Francesca Impastato (she/her/hers) and current guitarist Otto Klammer (they/them/theirs).

“I met Franny when I was at Berklee working on a session for one of Otto's production projects,” explains Fulbright. “Otto recorded, mixed, and engineered a soundalike for Angel Olsen's Shut Up Kiss Me. I was the vocalist and Francesca played drums, and when I was looking for a drummer to work with she reached out. Otto's been one of my closest friends since my first year at Berklee (from which I'm currently on leave, not sure if I'm a dropout yet!!!).”

Klammer played bass in Dump Him and Dazey and the Scouts, who are some of Fulbright’s friends in Boston, but this is Klammer’s first time playing guitar in a project.

“We gigged a lot locally during the fall and winter and in October and November we recorded and released our first full-band single, No Need to Rush. In January, Franny left to tour with her band Macseal and immediately after joined Oso Oso on their tour with Tiny Moving Parts as their touring drummer! So Zachary Ellsworth (they/them/theirs) took over, and they've been absolutely killing it. They learned all of the parts super quickly and wrote some of their own. Zack is also a Berklee student who I mostly knew as a friend of a friend, but they reached out when I posted looking for a new drummer and it was a great match immediately. Zack recorded the album with us and we've had a steady lineup (finally) for about 4 months now!”

Fulbright refers to prior panic’s music as “gay cello rock.”

“In terms of ‘gay cello rock,’ it kind of started off as a meme-y but straightforward self descriptor. I think the instrumentation of prior panic is a big component of what sets us apart on a local level, and I'm a queer millennial that can't stop describing myself and everything in my life as gay, so gay cello rock feels accurate and silly and right in a lot of ways. To me, being forward with my queerness is really important! I didn't have a lot of queer representation growing up in Texas on a personal or artistic level, and I had absolutely no trans people in my life. There was no real grasp on the concept of nonbinary gender identities for me before I moved to Boston, but even having access to that language and a queer/trans community I think saved me in a lot regards. Being able to come out as both gay and trans made it possible for me to be comfortable in my body and my art. Maybe if I saw that it was okay to be “This Way” growing up in any of the media I consumed that I would have had an easier time in middle and high school (and even early college). Sometimes I just feel like screaming I'M GAY from the top of a mountain and in a lot of ways my music seems like a pretty good outlet for that energy. My gender and sexuality play into my music the same way they're a part of every other aspect of my life, I think. Only a few of the songs on 'finicky things' technically touch on my same/similar gender attraction (or romance in general) and one song ("shape + space") explicitly explores transness, but almost every track is a reflection of mental health obstacles I've encountered and had to manage over the past two years.”

Fulbright says creating this album was a really fun and new process. The record is comprised of eight songs they wrote over the course of the last 18 months, so there is “a lot of range in content and musical growth over the course of different tracks.”

“It actually was initially a kind of spooky ambient electronic project, but it quickly developed into an outlet for songs I started writing on my electric cello,” says Fulbright. “Part of the challenge of preparing to record the album (at least for me) was making sure all of the songs were up to par with each other in terms of quality, It was challenging and a lot of work for a single weekend, but it paid off really well. It was a super collaborative effort, which is a really cool development after spending so much time making music by myself.”

prior panic’s lyrics read like intimate poetry, from “a twin size bed comes with its set of charms/let's smoke for two/through an entanglement of legs and arms/i can't see you,” from float to “i never knew the weight of seeing myself sink to rock bottom/i hold that weight like i'm cradling a newborn child” from still here.

Fulbright’s wildly powerful voice is smooth as the instruments accents their hard-hitting words. One of the standout tracks on the album, farewell ADL’s, refers to the routine activities that people tend do every day without needing assistance such as eating, bathing and dressing. Fulbright belts out “my sugar rush, i'll ride your high throughout the night/i'm restless, searching for something to compromise...i'm naked standing in the storm/trying to prove i can create my own warmth.” This track holds the weight of Fulbright’s exploration into mental health, the center of the powerful storm of finicky things. This is where listeners find an oasis, a landing strip to breathe and feel connected to someone who understands.

“Last year specifically was fairly traumatic in a lot regards, and the majority of the tracks on the album were written during and shortly after the worst of things,” says Fulbright. “It's kind of emotional and difficult sometimes to revisit those feelings, but finally sharing this album with the world feels amazing. Being queer and mentally ill is hard as fuck but the two go hand in hand so often. I think being open about being gay and being trans and (in my specific case) struggling with bipolar 2 and generalized anxiety disorder can help create community and support systems for people feeling isolated by these components of their identity. I think in that way all of my music is inherently queer; it chronicles the arc (and recovery from) a queer person's really awful and frankly life-threatening major depressive episode, and I think my gender and sexuality feels play a lot into my mental health (in both negative and positive ways!). Talking about is hard. But opening up the door for those discussions feels so crucial to me in the process of trying to normalize gender diversity, sga, and stigmas in regard to mental health, specifically mood and personality disorders. I see a lot of discourse in my leftist communities about identity politics and I see a lot of negativity toward them in some regards. I think narrowing politics by harping specifically on identity (without any real substance) is pretty useless, but I also feel that developing an awareness of identity in society and the way it plays into literally EVERYTHING (politics, poverty, personal dynamics, truly anything) is crucial in building systems that support oppressed people. Going super off track here, but what I'm getting at is that it's important to me that readers and listeners feel heard and represented in media. You're not alone in whatever you're going through, and if you can find that through music, that's amazing. If those messages are accessible especially to younger audiences I think it can contribute to really positive conversations. If I can make anyone feel more at home in their body and brain, that's reason enough to keep doing what we're doing as prior panic. There's a lot of great development for visibility of marginalized artists in Boston that gives me a lot of hope (there's still a LOT of work that needs to be done), and being a part of that feels very rewarding. I don't represent everyone in the conversation, but I hope our music can provide a sense of relatability and comfort for folks with identities that may intersect with my own.”