Montclair’s Juniper Shelley, 15, is finishing her freshman year at Montclair High School, and like most teenagers, she wishes she could be hanging out with friends, going to the movies, and shopping, like before physical distancing and masking up to go out became the norm. Anticipation around one event in particular may have helped Juniper get through the last few months: the release of her self-titled album, JUNIPER, on June 1st.
JUNIPER, the album, offers up 12 unapologetically fresh and fun observational songs about school cafeterias, secret crushes, warnings from adults, and neighborhood kids. The relatable teen topics are mainly penned by Juniper’s dad, Michael Shelley, a WFMU DJ and musician, inspired by discussions with his daughter and watching her friends and neighborhood kids. Juniper’s sincere and genuinely heartfelt vocals make the songs feel like a window into teenage musings and everyday events. The matter-of-fact celebration of the mundane with just-this-side-of-snarky confidence is a joy to listen to no matter your age. The 60’s summer style with a modern edge makes it a great listen for enjoying warmer weather. In addition to the main album website, check out the album on Bandcamp and many other music services.
We asked Juniper to talk about making the album, her influences, and how it was working with her dad.
The songs in JUNIPER have been compared to The Go-Go’s and Lesley Gore, as well as The Beach Boys. On my first listen, some of the songs also had a They Might Be Giants and B52’s sensibility and humor. What are your influences in performing?
It’s really interesting that you bring up a lot of those names, as many of those performers are some of my favorites. Groups that influenced me included The Muffs, The Beach Boys, The Beatles of course, The Zombies, and Fountains of Wayne. As for a more modern perspective, singers like Selena Gomez and Taylor Swift influenced the tone of my voice and the way I wanted to record to sound.
What are your current favorite artists and songs?
There are so many good songs it’s hard to choose! Right now I’ve been listening to When I Was Your Man, by Bruno Mars, Green’s Curry Your Favor, Dancing On My Own, by Callum Scott, Bound 2, by Kanye West, and This Could Be Our Year, by The Zombies on repeat. So it’s a whole hodge-podge of music genres and eras!
You co-wrote two of the songs, “Kids on My Corner” and “Girls Just Want a Boy to Rest Their Head Upon.” Do you plan to write more lyrics and/or music? Do you prefer performing and artistic interpretation?
I would really love to write some more songs in the future. During this record, I had a blast working on my performing skills, and my voice. But I’m hopeful that if we pursue music in the future my musical breadth of knowledge will continue to grow and expand to songwriting.
Your dad, Michael Shelley, co-wrote eight of the twelve songs on the album. What was it like to work with him? If there were disagreements in lyrics and musical style, who had the final say?
It was amazing to work with my dad on this project. He put a huge amount of time and effort into the record, and working on the record and figuring out how to improve together was a very rewarding challenge. We were generally very in sync about stylistic decisions. It was very important to me that the album didn’t feel condescending in any way, so we had a few ground rules about keeping the lyrics present and topical. For example, I wanted the album to seem as though it was from the current day, but I didn’t want any of the songs to be about how technology has ruined the world or anything like that. I wanted to make sure the record stayed in a kid’s perspective, which is sometimes hard when the majority of the writers were adults.
“Poke Your Eye Out,” written by Kim Shattuck and Lisa Marr, is one of my favorite songs on the album. It is so much fun and relatable to parents and teens. Which is your favorite track?
I completely agree. I love that song, and I think it brings a lot of excitement to the album. My favorite song on the track is “Kids On the Corner.” It really checks all the boxes for me. I love the fast-paced vibe and that it tells a story. It is also a lot of fun to sing!
In addition to songs written by some musical heavy hitters, including your dad, you have a lot of musical backup by household names like Steve Goulding of The Mekons, Jay Gonzalez of Drive-By Truckers, and Marshall Crenshaw. Your vocals hold their own and everything comes together smoothly. How did it feel to work and be recorded alongside these musicians?
It was a really amazing opportunity. It’s really crazy to have a vague idea in your head about how you want something to go, and then watch it become a reality as a bunch of really talented people work on it. Everyone was so generous with their time and their skills; it was a beautiful thing to watch.
In addition to music, what do you like to do for fun? What is your go-to hangout or restaurant?
I’ve always been a pretty big reader, and I have a small blog called The Juniper Journals where I interview authors. At school, I’m on the Mock Trial and Model Congress Teams, which are really fun. I also love to hang out with friends, watch movies, or go shopping. My favorite Montclair restaurant is Nori, but I also really like Noches de Columbia!
Will you be performing live or online anywhere? And what’s next?
With Coronavirus, it’s really hard to predict what is going to happen next. We don’t have any performances scheduled right now, but I am hopeful that once it is safe we will schedule something. I’m not sure yet if another album is in our future, but I’m definitely expecting us to start working on some new music soon!