Julia Steiner wrestles with change amid band departure and Icings gone awry
About 10 years ago, Julia Steiner and a friend decided to Ice another high school friend.
Standard Icing procedure is as follows: A friend (or maybe enemy) approaches you and, out of the blue, brandishes a bottle of Smirnoff Ice. You're told to drink it. You sigh deeply, hang your head briefly, then get down on one knee and chug the sickeningly sweet beverage. You've been Iced.
In this instance, though, the friend refused to drink — a cardinal sin in the world of Icing. “We were like, ‘Dude, you've changed. This is so unlike you. Six months ago you would have been so down,'” Steiner said recently by phone from Chicago, the home base for Steiner's band, Ratboys, which recently released an EP titled GL.
Steiner wrote one of GL's four tracks, “You've Changed,” years ago in response to the Icing incident. “You've changed, and it's so sad/You've changed, and we feel bad,” she sings in dulcet, plain-spoken tones over gorgeous pedal-steel guitar (fans of Pinegrove and Soccer Mommy take note).
“We wrote it kind of as a joke, and it still makes me smile,” she said. “Now that memory will always be tied to a G chord [and] a sunny country riff. It feels good. It's always going to be a point of light in my rearview mirror because the music sounds so nice. It's something I think about whenever we play it. I definitely wouldn't have given that much thought to my friends from high school or that time in my life ... had I not written that song and played it a lot. It gives some weight to the things that have happened, and I like that.”
For Steiner, a song can be a way of preserving memories and staving off unwanted change. “I always get freaked out about change because I feel like it's tied up with loss quite a lot,” she said. “As time goes on you lose friends.”
The title track off GL, which stands for “Good Luck” and follows on the heels of 2017 album GN (i.e. “Good Night”), documents one such instance of loss-producing change. When Steiner wrote “GL,” a former Ratboys bandmate had recently left the group, and the departure left her feeling sad, confused and angry. “You're a big-hearted liar and you know what you are,” Steiner pointedly sings at the close of the song.
“I don't think I'd ever written a song out of the pure emotions and gut instinct reactions to a situation before. I usually write more from a distance,” she said. “That was a time where it was very much an outpouring of grief and feeling.”
And yet, a decade-old song about Icing provided Steiner with an antidote for those feelings. “[‘You've Changed'] does fit as an epilogue to that angry outpouring,” she said. “It's a way to sit back and demonstrate some sort of acceptance, detachment, resignation or peace with the fact that things do change, and it's all gonna be OK.”