Juliana Stratford was born and raised in Sandy, Utah. Her family has lived there all her life, maintaining a space for her to return to after moving across country to play soccer and attend college in Nebraska.
Stratford envied her older brother growing up, who was the only one allowed to take guitar lessons. When she went away for college, and in the absence of classical lessons, she practiced ukulele by watching YouTube videos and says she would, “do it over and over until my roommate was sick of it.”
As a junior in high school, Stratford would take the long way home in her white 1993 Buick Century, seats lined with maroon corduroy, to listen to I Follow Rivers by Lykke Li on repeat. Stratford recounts, “This song plays in Blue is the Warmest Color when they’re dancing and singing along in the backyard for her birthday…it was so gay, and I felt really strongly for it.”
Stratford learned the songs’ chords on the ukulele, accompanying strum patterns, and lyrics. She published the cover of I Follow Rivers her Freshman year of college, which marked the start of her publishing on SoundCloud. She says, “[The platform] was kind of like my diary. I wanted people to know I was gay without saying it, and I didn’t get any drawback if I was singing about a girl. I had so many crushes and couldn’t tell anyone about them; I had to put it somewhere.”
Greene: Your family knew you were creating music, but did you show them your work?
Stratford: I didn’t then. I don’t think they knew how much time I invested in my writing and playing anything other than the piano. My mom was obsessed with me playing the piano. Every Sunday she’d wake me up early and ask me to play before she went to work.
As Stratford continued to experiment with different playing styles, she implemented the technique of plucking, instead of strumming, in her song what I think about when it’s raining. The song was written in 2016, after the monumental presidential election. The lyrics, “I think about the hairy humans and how they’re stuck inside their cage. I think the people in the land in the free, and how they voted for a lunatic to rule over me,” remains on Stratford’s mind today.
Greene: Your lyrics in ‘could have sworn’: “Who was I, who am I, who will I become?”… do you still feel that way?
Stratford: I feel more comfortable in the feeling of the unknown. A lot of things hit me freshman year. I learned, it’s my myself and I. But it’s hard to rely on yourself when you don’t know who you are. You don’t know who you’re going to be and whether you’ll be enough for yourself.
The album art for could have sworn features a younger version of Stratford dressed in a snowsuit, arms extended in a snow angel. The song is bookended with a voicemail from her dad and then her mom. Her dad opens the song; a sweet, “I sure love you,” travels into the opening strums. Her mom’s voice closes the song and Stratford smiles as she reveals, “My mom was usually too shy to leave a voicemail. You can tell she gets frustrated at the end- at the last second it changes.”
When Stratford was in back in Sandy, Utah for Christmas or Thanksgiving break she would play at, and attend, open mics. Because Stratford didn’t live in Sandy full-time and knew less people, the option for anonymity made her more comfortable on stage. Stratford would perform what I think about when it’s raining, could have sworn, and a third song that’s kept secret in her Garage band.
After two years in Nebraska, Stratford was recruited to play for a school in Illinois. Since returning to Utah from Illinois after graduation in June, she’s noticed a change in the music scene. She notes how relaxed she felt at the Velour in Provo or Kilby Court in Salt Lake City, and how intimate the surrounding crowd felt. Nowadays, she notices how the crowds have grown and the charm and nostalgia of the past has inevitably shifted. Even still, she reminisces for the younger people in the crowd saying, “The people at those venues are younger and probably going through similar feelings I felt at that time.”
Her connection to the queer scene in Salt Lake, in contrast, is less present than her connection to the music scene because she left for college before she could experience gay bars. Stratford says, “I experienced the peak of my queerness in Saint Louis, Missouri, which was 20 minutes away from campus.” Before returning to Utah in 2020, she spent two years exploring Saint Louis’s music and queer scene- the two often merging together.
Greene: Now that you are twenty-three, are you interested in your music reaching more people or do you want to keep it close to yourself?
Stratford: I keep it close to myself, but I am a little more open about it. I’d like to perform a little; not to be famous or to make money or collab. That’s just not what it’s about. Soundcloud is cool because it’s hidden: if you find it you find it but how it gets to you is your own journey.