German-born bülow (Megan Bülow) had a semi-nomadic childhood (the eighteen-year-old songstress grew up in five different countries), so two weeks on tour seems like it should be no sweat. I was able to catch her during the NYC leg of the journey, where she opened for Fickle Friends at Bowery Ballroom last week. Before the gig, she gave me the rundown of all the places she’s lived, how she feels the frequent childhood moves influenced her interest in music and her overall style, and (of course) she filled me in on the whether or not Jennifer (of “You & Jennifer” fame) is in fact a real person. (Spoiler alert: she totally is.) Read up on all of that (and more) below, and to get even more familiar, be sure to ch-ch-ch-check her out on Spotify for ALL of the shimmery, ultra-infectious pop vibes!
So I understand you’re pretty used to traveling, maybe not necessarily from a touring perspective, but you grew up moving around quite a bit, right?
Yeah, I’ve lived in a few different places. I grew up in Germany, and then I moved to the UK, and then I moved to Texas, and then I moved to Holland, and now I live in Toronto.
Wow! I’m assuming this was due to your parents’ jobs?
Exactly, my dad’s job required a lot of moving around.
Alright, so tell me about the first time you moved, then. Were you excited about the idea, or did you hate the idea?
I was eight years old, and at the time I think I was really excited; I think my parents told me we were going to get a dog as a compromise, and I was into that idea. But I think I was too young to realize how hard it was, and I think once I got older, like when I was thirteen and we moved to the UK, that was a lot harder. And moving in high school was probably the hardest part. Just having to start over your entire life, you know?
Would you attribute the sort of location instability to your interest in music? I don’t know exactly when you got into music making, but it seems like it would be a good comfort thing, like a constant regardless of where you moved.
Yeah, music was always the one constant in my life when we were moving around. It was something I was always doing, like I was always singing, and I think around the time that we moved to the UK I picked up the guitar. I’d seen Ed Sheeran play live, and I remember being really inspired by his performance, so after that I picked up the guitar and started songwriting. I kept doing it every day, and here I am!
How did the different places you lived influence your music, if at all? Were there regional differences that either consciously or subconsciously got folded into your sound?
I’m sure the different spots had an influence, but I think the biggest influence was just having to start over each time; all the emotions I went through with each move played a big role in the music I was making – the anger, the nervousness, the anxiety, the excitement. All of those things were big influences.
Do you think the frequent moves and being able to tap into those emotions through the lens of a creative outlet like music helped you build a stronger sense of self? I think sometimes the first big move for people is when they go off to college, and that’s a time of really trying to figure out who you are and how that relates to the outside world, but do you think being pushed to do that at an earlier age jump-started that process at all?
I think it’s hard, because having to start over so many times can sometimes interrupt that process of getting to know yourself. Especially in high school, when you’ve made your friends and think you’re finally getting used to things, and then you find out you have to move again. That was very intimidating, and in a way, I think it forced me to grow up a bit faster. So I do think I’ve gotten to know myself a little bit more than maybe some other people my age, but at the same time, I don’t know if I’d have been the same person if I’d been rooted in just one place the whole time. So it’s difficult to say.
Totally. Now, I don’t know if you felt more freedom to sort of write songs about your real life experiences, and real people, because there were a lot of these kind of fleeting stints in different places around the world – maybe you didn’t feel as worried about putting things out there – but like, for example, does Jennifer know who she is?
Jennifer is a real person, yes. Her name isn’t actually Jennifer, it just worked with the rhyme scheme, but yes, she exists. And she for sure knows who she is. [Laughs]
Amazing. And what does your writing process typically look like? Do you have any sort of routine?
I feel like now more than ever I’m writing collaboratively, doing lots of stuff with people and producers in sessions. And so my process always kind of changes, but especially in working with other people, it’s kind of impossible to go about it in any one specific way. What I will say is oftentimes I find that lyrics and melodies come together at the same time for me. Sometimes there’ll be a word that triggers an idea, but oftentimes the ideas are based on my own experiences, or a story that I identify with. Like the new song, “Two Punks In Love”, is a song I wrote about somebody else’s story, but it’s one that I really connected to.
Do you remember the first song you ever wrote?
Yeah, I think it was probably when I was eight years old. I wrote a song about wanting to be sixteen, because I thought that was the coolest age you could be. I wanted to have a car and a boyfriend, all the stereotypical things. I don’t remember exactly how it goes, but that was for sure the subject.
I was going to say you could do a sort of part two to that, like a song about being thirty-six since you’re currently eighteen, but I don’t know that thirty-six has the same widely-recognized appeal as sixteen. Alright, and what can you tell me about your language choice when it comes to writing the lyrics? Because I know you speak more than one, but I’m not sure how many and which. In any case, do you find you have a dominant one when it comes to thinking about song lyrics?
I speak two – English and German. It used to be that everything I did was very German-driven, so I used to think in German, etc. But I think when I moved to the UK, something kind of clicked, and I really sort of shifted to English. I think that’s one of my biggest regrets, is not speaking German at home anymore. Everything became very English. My mom is Canadian, so she always spoke to us in English at home, but it used to be much more German-focused.
Which language do you dream in?
Oh, that’s a good question! I’d say for sure English, but I can’t actually really think of anything verbal in my dreams. I just see images.
I dream in Spanish a lot, which is why I asked. [Laughs]
You do?! So you think of words?
Yeah, like the other night I had a dream that I was really angry, and I just started yelling at someone in Spanish. I speak Spanish as a second language, so it’s not like, an amazing magical power, but I obviously wouldn’t probably yell at someone in Spanish in my day-to-day, so it’s just funny when it happens in my subconscious. But anyway, let’s shift gears and talk about this tour that you’re on now! How long is it?
It’s about two weeks, just until the 13th of October.
That’s a nice stretch of time!
Yeah, I think it’s good for my first tour. Easing into it, you know? And I think it’s going to be a really fun time.
What’ve you been eating on the road so far?
A lot of chicken. I love chicken.
So you’re not on the vegan train?
Oh, no. Hell no! I’m a carnivore for sure. Lots of chicken, steak. I love Thai food, which I think we’re ordering right now.
So aside from getting your daily dose of protein, what does an average day look like for you?
In terms of touring, every day so far has been kind of different. But in general, live show days tend to look kind of similar; we might do some press and things like that, then it’s sound check, eat, etc. And off tour, I actually don’t know what an average day is going to look like when I get back to Toronto, because I haven’t even moved into my new place yet. Move-in day is October 1st, so we’ll have to find out once that happens.
Speaking of Canada, why Canada? Like, apart from your mom, what’s your favorite thing about Canada?
Apart from my mom? [Laughs] Well, I think the creativity there is amazing. I don’t write anywhere better than I do in Toronto. It has such good energy, and everyone I work with there just really gets my vibe.
Amazing. And so after moving into the new spot, what’s your immediate plan?
I think I’m just going to keep writing. I think that’s the main focus right now, is just getting back in the studio. I feel like I’ve had a bit of separation anxiety; I’ve mostly been on the road, which has been amazing and so fun, but all of the magic and the creativity happens in the studio. Really excited to release some new music.