Feature

Chart-topping singer and producer Julia Church chats birthday celebrations, ditching Durban for London, and her favourite collaborations

On the 5th of November, England was forced into their second national lockdown, this time a slightly more strict, month-long sentence.

Sitting pretty in London, telling me all about how she managed, just in time, to celebrate her birthday the previous day by escaping on a gorgeous countryside getaway is singer, songwriter, and producer Julia Church.

I take the opportunity to sing her happy birthday, tell her that I could never look as fresh as she does after a good day of birthdaying, and ask what her secret is. “Well for my birthday I asked for new makeup, so I think I’ve just had a glow up,” she says with a wink and a pout, “that, and a hearty breakfast, like a good fry-up.”

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The Durban-hailing songstress has a knack for timing things perfectly, having returned to South Africa only days before the world went into lockdown in March. “I was quite lucky that just before lockdown I came back to South Africa to play a couple of shows. And just after I landed, my shows got cancelled and my flight back got cancelled, so luckily I got “stuck” in South Africa with the family for two and a half months, doing a lot of writing,” she confesses.

While much of her catalogue — and certainly the songs that initially placed her on the musical map with upward of 50 million streams — are collaborations with some of South Africa’s most celebrated musicians and producers, lockdown allowed her to really flex her muscles as a solo songwriter and producer.

Church relives one of her favourite on-stage collaborations, “I sang at Printworks in London, which is like 4000 people, but it was just such an amazing electric environment to perform in, and I sang a couple of songs with Goldfish,” she recalls excitedly as she continues to elaborate, “I feel like I put on a different hat and become someone completely different when I perform the dance stuff but it’s so weird, like escapism where I can just be someone else completely for a few songs.”

At the age of 18, Church ditched the sunny shores of Durban and moved to London in pursuit of her lifelong dream: studying at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. “Oh my God, I was fucking terrified,” she exclaims, “I didn’t know anyone, there were no South Africans, I had no family in Liverpool, it was just this dream that I’d always had to go to this university.”

I ask about her decision to study production specifically, and after we have a long and necessary discussion about how it’s time to normalize referring to female producers simply as producers, she starts, “I love the idea of being able to do everything myself and not have to rely on other people, I mean I love collaborating and I just think it’s so important and so essential to the process of making music, but I just wanted my stamp on every part of [the music-making process]”.

The move, she confesses, was the best decision she’s ever made, not only for her career, but to see the world and expand her horizons further than her sheltered upbringing. A couple of months into her new London life, Church released her first solo single, “Square 1”, and subsequently sold out her first show in London.

“It was such an amazing feeling having an actual Julia Church song, because I was used to having ‘featuring Julia Church’ — to have something that was 100% mine, something that I’d 100% written was incredible,” she admits proudly. Her face lights up with a child-like smile when confesses, “It’s really funny, when I got to the song at the very end of the set, I forgot all the words to the single that everyone was there to celebrate and my manager had to shout the lyrics from the crowd. Thank God!”

At the age of 23, two EPs and a slew of chart-topping singles later, Church has already done the musical most, and she has no intention of slowing down. I ask about her most recent collaboration with SAMA-award winning singer and producer Sun El Musician on single, “Garden”, because, almost exactly a year ago, Church said in an interview that he was her favourite musician.

“I actually forgot about that interview and I forgot that I’d said that,” she laughs in disbelief, “I just absolutely love his work and I think it’s like proper healing music and it’s for the soul. I cried the first time I heard it because I was like ‘this is ridiculous’ like literally my favourite artist in the world wants to work with me and I’m still so excited about it.”

The look on Church’ face tells me she’s practicing a great deal of self-restraint resisting the urge to tell me about her upcoming summer singles, but what she does divulge are the names of two of her upcoming collaborations — Dave Scott (The Kiffness) and Goldfish — and all I’m left thinking as we say our goodbyes is: summer jols can’t come soon enough.