This week I was excited to connect with Brett Detar (vocalist) of The Juliana Theory to discuss what went into making their expansive re-imagining of past songs called A Dream Away, out everywhere today. In this interview I asked Brett about the longevity of the band and its legacy, what stood out from the recording process of these songs that made the album, as well as the band’s relationship with their new label Equal Vision Records.
Thank you for your time today and congrats on the upcoming release of your new record, A Dream Away. What stood out most from the recording process of your new album of re-imagined songs from your discography?
Thank you so much. I think to me what stood out first is how a song can resonate with you, as a writer, in such a different way after a lot of time has passed. But what also stood out was something way more personal – and that was just the magic of getting together with someone I have been friends with since high school and stepping back into a recording studio, for the first time in over 15 years, and feeling that magical feeling of creativity and excitement. Josh and I hold so many memories together and have shared so many highs and lows but I didn’t know for sure what it would be like in the studio after so many years apart. It all went better than I could have expected. At the best of times in a recording studio time goes by so quickly that you barely remember what you even did or how you did it and the next thing you know you are listening back to something almost completed and it’s like you didn’t make the music but it made itself. Josh is such an intuitive player and he plays instruments in a way that no one else I know does. He just has a very unique sense of melody in general and his own way that he voices things on a guitar. It was just really great to be in a studio together again making things.
I’ve read previous interviews where you’ve mentioned frustrations with past record labels. Why did you decide to sign with Equal Vision Records and how would you describe your relationship to this new label?
Equal Vision has been really really cool to work with. They’ve been very positive and there has been a level of teamwork between band & management & label that we aren’t used to. Every week we have a great conference call with Dan who runs the label and we talk about our plans and what is happening. They really want to do whatever they can within their power to put the artist’s vision first. Obviously sometimes we don’t have the same exact initial vision for certain things but there is a great sense of unity and teamwork between everyone. The lines of communication are always open and it feels like friends. I love Equal Vision.
This new album features several re-worked versions of some of your past singles. What was the process like for choosing the songs that would make the final selection for this record?
We based the album primarily off of the acoustic tour that we did right before the pandemic. For the tour we chose mostly fan favorite songs but they also needed to translate to an intimate acoustic setting. The record just basically grew out of the tour so for the most part we recorded songs we were playing on the road. “Is Patience Still Waiting” is one that we did for the record only. If I’m not mistaken I think our manager Mark kept asking us to try and record it so we did and fortunately it came together very easily.
How have you and Josh been spending this time without touring due to the pandemic? Any unique stories about your collaborative process for this album?
You know, that’s an interesting question. We’ve both stayed pretty creative during the pandemic. We are definitely missing live music for sure but we’ve really stayed creative. Josh has been busy with his other band PACK that has an EP about to drop. Personally this last year was arguably the most productive of my music career. I had a movie come out in theaters that I did the music for, and my first soundtrack release, right before things shut down. Then not long after that the band went into the studio and we recorded a LOT of stuff…way more than just this re-imagined record. I composed the music for another film that’s coming out next month and then began a movie after that. And saving the best for last, The Juliana Theory has been the busiest we have been in literally over a decade – besides just recording. In our entire 10-year active career before this we released one official music video. In the past few months we’ve already dropped three new music videos as well as a ton of other visual content, and there are more music videos on the way. We also re-released the long out of press Emotion Is Dead on vinyl with some incredible new packaging. We re-launched our online merch store for the first time in forever and had fun doing some limited drops and making things like our own coffee roast; a highlight of the year for me (haha). We’ve definitely tried to use this time that we couldn’t tour to create other things to put into the world and we’ve had a delightful time doing it.
What are you most proud of as you look back on your career with this project?
That’s hard to answer. For me personally, I think what I am most proud of now is that our music still resonates with people all these years later. We started out as a joke side project. Our goal was to play three hometown shows and make a demo tape, and now here we are 20+ years later. That is mind blowing to me. 18 year old Brett would never have imagined this. That’s what I am most proud of…that a group of friends from a small town got together to have some fun and make some songs and that all these years later there is a group of people that care about this band and these songs and that it has meant something in their lives.
Let’s take a deeper dive into A Dream Away: What did you learn about these songs as you went through the process of finding ways to improve the overall compositions of these tracks?
I try to never look back on old music from my career and think about what I would do differently because I think records are snapshots of times and places, so our old albums are meant to be how they are – for good and for bad. That being said, looking at these songs in completely different ways was a great experience. We tried very hard to honor the original intent behind this music…to treat it with love and care but to also not be so precious that we couldn’t drastically change things up if we wanted to. I think there’s only one song that is extremely different from the original but I kinda felt like “what is the sense of re-imagining things if we don’t go all the way on some of it?” In general, I think that a great song can work in many different forms – with different arrangements and instrumentation and sometimes totally different genres. I’m not saying that these are all great songs but that’s the approach we were trying to come at this from. We like to have fun with our music – even just joking around with making a black metal version of “We’re At The Top Of The World” for the intro of the music video. What’s the point if you aren’t having a good time and laughing at yourself?
You reunited The Juliana Theory in 2017 to celebrate 20 years of being a band. What do you think is the legacy for this band as it relates to the songs you’ve released?
To me this band’s legacy is that we are, at the end of the day, truly a working-class band. None of us had rich parents or famous family members. We were from a small town in western Pennsylvania – far from any hotbed music scenes or any branch of the entertainment industry. None of us were ever insanely gifted on our instruments. Sure, some were certainly better than others, everyone is better than me at every instrument…(haha). But we were never the kind of band who was going to blow your mind with our incredible chops. But to this day we put a ton of extra heart and soul into everything we do. We don’t half-ass things. Even something as simple as A Dream Away which was supposed to be a straightforward, stripped down, acoustic album: we just couldn’t let it be basic. We had to try and elevate it with interesting instrument choices and arrangements whether that was strings and woodwinds, or weird vocoder vocals, or mellotrons and glockenspiels, and sound design elements, or whether it was writing a whole new bridge for a 23-year old song that never had one. If The Juliana Theory does something, you might not always like it, but we always do it to the best of our ability. We are all heart. I think that’s the band’s legacy.