One Year to Live…
A cancer scare provoked the kind of question from Joanna Branum that most of us ask at one point or another: What if I had one year to live?
In her case, at the time, in 2022, she wasn’t sure if she had a few weeks or five years. But the disease, as it can, forced her to ask herself what she wanted from life.
She still loved her job as a family physician and knew she’d want to spend her last moments with her family. But there was something nagging at her: She wanted to put out a single.
“Steal my Body”
She released the result in late October. “Steal My Body” was inspired by Gram Parsons’ desire to have his ashes scattered in Joshua Tree. National parks don’t allow that, so his friends snuck him in. It’s also about desire, where we go when we are in need and even bonfires in the desert, but Branum recognizes that it’s also a song about love, an interpretation that most of her followers may prefer.
“If people want to just think of it as a love song,” she said, “that’s fine. The point was you can just enjoy it or you can dig deeper.”
The Origins of Violet Wild
Branum’s musical career was another life, in a way, or at least another identity: She calls herself Violet Wild. She’d played guitar since she was 15 and was serious enough about music to consider it as a career. She even released an album, in 1995, before she went to medical school.
“Some friends told me I could do it,” Branum said. “But ultimately I decided that it could crush me.”
She picked the artist name because she liked the color purple and she didn’t want to attach her personal life to her music life. She was a physician and a mother of two children with aging parents. She needed to be responsible. But now her kids are nearly grown, her parents are in memory care and, best of all, her health is good: She doesn’t have to worry about dying anytime soon.
Writing Songs… On Zoom?
She’s even thought about abandoning the stage name, and yet… “I’ve come to enjoy being Violet Wild,” Branum said from her Greeley home.
The single continues a chapter she started when she found herself in an online songwriters’ group during the pandemic.
As a young woman, she didn’t need the raw, honest feedback that putting yourself out there attracts. But being a physician allows her the freedom of being a recording musician again: Her life isn’t wrapped up in it, so criticism doesn’t sting as much. Now that she’s an older Gen X, she likes working out her private life by writing songs, taking a cue (and partly a sound) from 90s artists such as Natalie Merchant, the Indigo Girls and Alanis Morissette, as well as Joni Mitchell.
Blue Demon Horse at the Airport
She collaborated with Austria-based guitarist Joost Scheltes on the single and plans to do it four or five more times. She will release them as singles: It’s easier and makes more sense in today’s streaming world, she said. Her next (unreleased) track is called “Devil Horse” and was inspired by the blue
demon horse at Denver International Airport. She is even considering adding members to her trio and touring, something she would love to do, she said, but she isn’t sure it will happen.
Her music is a stark contrast from the pop covers she plays with her band in coffee houses, but she likes it that way. It’s another way she distinguishes herself from a physician who likes pop music and a stage persona.
“I get a lot of joy from songwriting, even if what I have to write about is hard,” Branum said. “As a cover artists I gravitate to pop music, but that’s not who I want to be as an artist.”