The incredible rise of a would-be musician

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Life is treating Julia Darling well. Twenty-two and new to the United States, she is just beginning to find her niche. Raised in a country town in New Zealand, the up-and-coming recording star only recently began to pursue music.

"Both my brother and my father play guitar, and so we grew up with music being a hobby of the family's. I started quite late," said Darling in a recent phone interview. "About four years ago, I started writing songs and teaching myself how to play guitar. I was in school at the time, studying ballet and modern dance, and I was hating it, so I thought I'd start writing songs. I had no money, so I became a street musician and began playing on the sidewalks for coins."

Luckily, six months into her street-corner gig, a record exec saw Darling and put her on the path to becoming a full-fledged recording artist. "That led to a manager and recording demo tapes, and proper live shows with a plugged-in guitar," she said.

Darling relocated to New York with her brother and electric guitarist, Jon, to finish her debut album, Figure 8, on the small but esteemed Wind-Up label.

Figure 8 is a crisp and polished effort, reminiscent of Kate Bush and Radiohead. Often compared to Tori Amos, Darling shuns that comparison, pointing out that her influences are actually alt-folk writers and vocalists such as Townes Van Zandt, Leonard Cohen and Rufus Wainwright. She includes the Beatles in that list, although she only heard The White Album for the first time, recently. "I really liked it," she said, "but I'm trying not to absorb too much."

Figure 8 is unique, due in part to Darling's lyrical ability. The singer-songwriter weaves emotion into song, but her words could easily stand alone as poetry. And while some of the tracks on Figure 8 deal with the twists and turns of life, many address Darling's relationship with God. The album's first single, "Bulletproof Belief," openly questions the extent of God's reach.

Darling utilizes an eclectic variety of instruments, including bagpipes, cello, sitar, bandura and didjeridoo, smoothly blended with guitar and piano. While Figure 8 is definitely a radio-ready studio recording, it avoids the syrupy sweetness associated with overproduction. Sometimes simple and spartan and sometimes layered and intense, the instrumentation always showcases Darling's pure, clear vocals.

Where her voice will take her, Julia Darling isn't quite sure. She wants to continue on her musical path, and her second album is already in the works. She says she'd like to explore the instrumental side of her music, perhaps scoring films in the future.


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