Features April 29, 2024

Julie Koenig From Jazz Standards to Songwriting Authenticity

by Dan England

Julie Koenig grew up wanting to be a jazz singer. She even recorded a jazz album. But as she prepared her second EP, “Intruder,” she found herself stifled by the music. 

It began to bother her that most jazz standards, if not all, deal with love, and only love. It Had To Be You. My One and Only Love. There Will Never Be Another You. Koenig loved how jazz’s improvisation, complex chords and blazing tempos challenged her, but as a songwriter, she wanted—needed—to talk about deeper topics. 

“There were things I wanted to say out loud that I hadn’t expressed,” she said. “I was giving a voice to the stuff in my head. I wanted to talk about something more important than a love song.” 

Koenig, instead, turned to Joni Mitchell, Fiona Apple, Sara Bareilles and Carole King and other stalwarts of songwriting, women she admired for their lyrical prowess as well as their singing, and the result is her new five-song EP available now on her website and on streaming services such as Spotify. 

Koenig explored her own songwriting during the pandemic, when she would motivate herself by entering a challenge of writing a song a day for a month. Koenig, 32,  had gigged for nearly a decade by then as a jazz singer and pianist who also sang popular covers with soul and played at church and taught lessons. She wouldn’t put out many of those songs today, but that time at the piano forged her style. It surprised her, she says today. 

“It just played what I felt,” Koenig said. “As I started writing, it was a lot more rewarding to write something and take ownership of it, rather than trying to emulate these other singers. I felt more like an artist.”

Koenig doesn’t hide the fact that the songs are about her own mental health, and that some may find them a tough listen. It was hard for her, too, to expose herself to a wide audience. 

“I do want people to know that I am OK, guys,” Koenig said and laughed. “I do think we are in an era now where it’s common for songwriters to put it all out there. Some of it is pretty dark, but I think some of the best stuff comes from darker moments.” 

Even “The Architect,” her first single, sounds upbeat, but the lyrics talk about her intrusive thoughts—“here I go again, playing out scenarios in my head”—pushing her to cry outside a Target. She “waits patiently for her good sense to return to me,” and you don’t get the idea that she isn’t fine at the end of the song, even though she pleads with herself, the presumed architect, for it to happen. 

So far she’s pleased by the reaction and the respect she’s gotten for putting herself out there.

“I’ve had a lot tell me the music has been therapeutic for them,” Koenig said. “I’ve voiced things they’ve been feeling or that sort of thing.” 

Writing the EP changed her as an artist as well. She no longer markets herself solely as a jazz singer, and she’s starting to listen to her bandmates who encourage her to playing her originals instead of just the covers. And the covers? Well, she’s rethinking those too, moving away from the lovesick standards she grew up on and moving more toward the songwriters that helped her shape her own music. 

“I’m looking into more songs that fit more with my own originals now,” she said. 

Connect with Julie Koeings at https://www.juliekoenigsings.com, and listen to “Intruder” the EP wherever you get your music.