Julie Slonecki doesn't need a menu to know what she wants to order at Waffle House. Cup of coffee. Grilled cheese. And hash browns, diced and covered. That's what happens when you've hung out at the same greasy spoon chain since your high school days in Charleston.
For Slonecki, there's just something she likes about the atmosphere of those boxy buildings. "Everybody comes to Waffle House," she says. "You get a smattering of people which is just kind of cool because most places it's like a certain type of clientele." Even when she left for college at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., Waffle House was still reliable, especially since it was basically the only place open late besides Wal-Mart.
While in Virginia, the singer-songwriter started exploring some of the foundations for her third album, Truth/Ideals, which was released on Nov. 17. Longtime fans may be surprised by the direction Slonecki takes on the new record, which incorporates an electronic approach among the acoustic stylings she's better known for. It's due in part to a creative collaboration Slonecki formed this summer with a group of musicians, photographers, and videographers from Washington and Lee. They called themselves JND; it means "just noticeably different," some nerdy term taken from their psychology textbooks. One of her collaborators, who raps under the name Sharp, appears on the track "Temporary." "I just really was putting together a mash-up of my old sound with hints of the new stuff," she says. "There's kind of like a spectrum on my album, those that are all the way very electronica stuff all the way to the just acoustic stuff."
The electronic sounds have served as a different kind of building block for Slonecki. Before, she worked mostly on a guitar or a piano, writing a whole song out in her head. But when songwriting in the electronic format, she'll put down a drum beat and then add whatever melody comes to her head, then maybe put in a bass line — she's layering the different pieces, so the outcome is different.
Truth/Ideals was produced and recorded by Slonecki herself, and it's basically been her sole focus recently. "I'm all wrapped up in my own head and my own music, but I don't even know anything that's coming out recently because the only thing that I've been listening to is Julie Slonecki on repeat for the last month and a half," she says. Because of the miracle that is Dropbox, Slonecki can save files to her phone and play them in the car when she's driving to work or to hang out with friends. "I just use that time to think about my songs. I would say I've actually done most of the mixing in my car, sadly enough."
Despite the new direction on the record, Slonecki has no plans to rework her older songs to fit into this new aesthetic for live shows. In the past, Slonecki would hit the stage alone or, at most, with a drummer, but she's hoping to put together a full band soon. "I'm actually just really sick of playing solo gigs because there's no external stimulation," she says. "It gets kind of old because there's only so much variation you can do with just you and a guitar."
Though she thinks she'll stay on this electronic path for at least a little while, Slonecki hopes Truth/Ideals showcases her versatility. After all, it's not a purely electronic album, and it's not a purely acoustic album either. Instead, it offers an unexpected blend of the two genres.
"I was worried about the album because it's so polarized," she says. "Does this even go together? Are people going to be thrown back by that? But I've come to the conclusion that I don't really think it's a bad thing because I don't really like albums where every song sounds the same anyway. ... I think people will realize, oh, she can do singer-songwriter and acoustic guitar stuff but I can also write a kick-ass electronic song. "