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Julianna Zachariou Arrives on Fourth Release

The singer/songwriter talks new album Hero of Your Heart, a culmination of years of growth and cultivation of her artistry
Credit: Rebecca Palter
Julianna Zachariou

Julianna Zachariou

Credit: Rebecca Palter

Julianna Zachariou got her start in music early. The San Diego singer/songwriter grew up in a musical household, learning to play piano by ear at age five alongside her piano-playing father. She picked up guitar at eight, and by the time she was 11, wrote her own songs. On paper it sounds a little like the makings of an overachiever, but she didn’t have any particular aspirations as a kid—it just came naturally.

“Music has always been the thing I’ve been most drawn to,” she says of her early years in discovering music. “One of the brilliant things I got from that experience was just being around music all the time. I didn’t have dreams of being an artist, necessarily, but I did have the knowing in myself that I could do it.”

A similar spirit of creativity and proficiency can be found on her new album Hero of Your Heart, which features nine songs written, produced and performed by Zachariou. And by “performed,” I mean every instrument, from the layers of synthesizers on “The Bad Guy,” gentle acoustic finger-picked guitar on “20,000 Moths,” and the uptempo drum beats on “Becky.” All of which score some deeply personal reflections on life, identity and examinations into what Zachariou refers to as the “center of myself.”

Hero of Your Heart is the culmination of years of growth and cultivation of her artistry, though it’s actually her fourth release. She recorded her debut, Meanwhile, in 2016 in Nashville while she was attending college there, which was followed by two stripped-down, home-recorded EPs in 2017 and 2021. But when it came time to make this one, she felt more sure of what she wanted and the kind of musical direction she wanted to pursue. It’s not a debut, perhaps, but something more like an arrival.

“I really believe in this record and knew from the top that I really wanted to make something really special, but by the end I thought, ‘I don’t have anything left in me,’” she says. “I gave it absolutely everything I have.”

While Zachariou’s songs are mostly reflections of her own experiences, she often takes poetic license with the narratives. For instance, the album’s leadoff track, “(S)he,” is written from the perspective of someone coming out to her parents for the first time: “Mom, don’t be afraid/The life you hoped I would make/I’m making it/It’s just with a ‘she.’” It’s not a true-to-life recollection of her conversation with her own family, but rather a clever, yet still poignant take, on self-disclosure and accepting one’s own validity independent of the approval of others.

“The whole motivation for that was to create a song that felt almost like a parody of that kind of conversation because it felt so unnecessary,” she says. “And I think that’s where I arrived after a couple years of processing. It’s so unfair that I even have to have that conversation in the first place. So it’s kind of just laughing at it in a way. I wanted it to feel sure of itself and more triumphantly than how I felt previously, which was scared and worried about the future. I waited a while before I wrote something until I was pretty sure about who I am, that I’m good and I’m valid and that I don’t have to explain myself to anybody.”

Zachariou gives a lot of herself, both in terms of her craft and the honesty she pours into her songwriting. The intimacy within her music is genuine, and that’s something she hopes to share with her audience. She’ll do the heavy lifting onstage, but don’t be hesitant to get a little bit closer and help close the gap in front of it.

“I want people to experience joy but also togetherness,” she says. “I’ll be the raw nerve on stage, and they can just kind of sympathize.”

Julianna Zachariou plays at Soda Bar on Tuesday, November 15

By Jeff Terich

Jeff Terich is the music critic behind the blog The Setlist. His writing has been published in Stereogum, Bandcamp Daily, American Songwriter, Fodor's and Vinyl Me Please.

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