She’s hard to miss. Platinum blonde hair and a presence that pleads for those watching to have fun, to jump around, to get lost in the music just like she does. When you catch Jules Whelpton live on stage or in any of her live music videos, or even just check out any photo of her playing, it’s easy to see this woman loves to play music. There’s little stillness to her; she’s not the token bandmate just keeping the rhythm in the background. She’s active, animated, and full of rock ‘n’ roll energy.
A typical day (before quarantine) in the life of this blonde bassist consists of using the morning to-do errands or investing time in any of her non-musical passions, which include “skateboarding, rollercoasters, camping, hiking, yaks, hawks, zebras, avoiding raccoons, anything purple, and Star Wars!” She starts teaching in the afternoon—up to six hours. From there she’s off to a rehearsal, the studio, or a gig where she’ll be until the wee hours of the morning, only to get up and do it all over again the next day. She’s always on the move and seems determined to make the most of every minute. It makes sense that she would identify most with Jyn Erso from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. “She did not stop until she achieved her goal of sending the blueprints on how to destroy the Death Star. Luke wouldn’t have been a hero if it weren’t for Jyn’s story arc.”
Her passion is irresistible, and it is also evident when she is just talking about music, whether it’s how it’s been part of her life since she was a baby, the bands she performs with and other outlets she has to express her musical musings, or how she believes in and thrives on passing her knowledge, musical and otherwise, to younger players.
Music in the Early Years
Jules was born and raised in North County, and from the time she was a baby music was in her life. “I was listening to the Beatles since I could crawl. As a toddler, I was listening to my parents’ tapes. Stuff like Led Zeppelin, Earth, Wind & Fire, and the Doors. My parents did not play any instruments, but we were all listening and finding ourselves within the music.”
Jules’ childhood wasn’t just about listening to music. It wasn’t long before she took up her first (of what would be many) instruments—the violin at the age of seven. “There was an organized afterschool program called the Carlsbad Strings Education Association. They were recruiting in all of the Carlsbad District’s schools by performing with many of their experienced students. Seeing the older children having fun with their strings, inspired me in second grade to explore the violin. My family also had experience with the instrument, as my dad and uncle had a 100+ year old violin, which I still own today; it’s like a family heirloom. They had not played this instrument in years, but it was my duty, in my mind, to play this piece of Whelpton history.” Some kids who take music lessons, especially when they’re younger, think of it as a form of torture, but that wasn’t true for Jules. “It was never torture in my mind, because beyond my involvement with Carlsbad Strings, they provided me with the courage and interest to join the school’s orchestra and be a part of a team. Being included with a group, as an only child, meant the world to me and ultimately kept me going with lessons and music. Never did I want to be the best; rather I wanted to be good enough to support the team and feel great!”
She went on to say that she learned violin through the Suzuki Method which is a music methodology based on the principles of language acquisition created by Japanese violinist Shinichi Suzuki. This practice also features ideas such as parent responsibility, loving encouragement, and constant repetition to learn music. Jules stands by the philosophy of this method that “music helps a child become a beautiful person through music education.”
It was the beginning of her music education, which is now 22 years strong with no signs of stopping.
Jules attended Valley Middle School in Carlsbad where something happened, which she dubs “life-changing.” She was introduced to the electric bass while a member of the jazz band. She continued playing music when she attended Carlsbad High School. “I played electric bass and electric guitar and learned how to write, play covers, and interact with cooler kids. Most people were supportive of all these endeavors and even jammed with me.” As she made her way through her teen years, she says her parents were nurturing and supportive as she studied, went out with her friends, and became a bedroom musician, playing along to bands like No Doubt and Smashing Pumpkins on her iPod.
But music was not just a hobby for Jules. She explained, “I loved playing in orchestra. I was not interested in sports or athletic teams in school. Being in string ensembles and singing in theatre productions helped me learn about music as a whole. These musical endeavors also had the “team feeling” without having to be athletic. Performing and trying myriad different roles made me want to pursue music professionally. I began my life as a shy kid who found a voice around other music-minded individuals.”
Her calling to music led her to Humboldt State University where she earned her BA in Music Studies with an emphasis in violin and voice. “I participated in vocal ensembles, symphony orchestra, string ensembles, and even had a couple quartets. One of my favorite college performances was when I performed with my roommate of four years on a voice-violin duet. It was special because I had learned how powerful the violin melody could carry on its own, along with the voice. It was truly a great collaboration!” Her college education also expanded her musical abilities. “As a music student in college, you are required to learn four semesters of piano, so I began being required to study certain instruments back then.”
It was while at Humboldt State that she got her first experience with teaching kids who were playing rock. “There were a couple afterschool groups I became involved with, and one was rock based at a local elementary school. After experiencing a semester of helping out this extracurricular rock band program at Arcata Elementary, I had another great friend and mentor, Melanie Kuhnel, approach me about organizing/creating an afterschool program at Samoa Elementary. This school was a K-8 elementary in a low-income area, and Melanie aided us in purchasing five new electric guitar/amp packages for the kids to borrow and use at this school. Being the most guitar-experienced of us, I was in charge of putting together electric guitar “groups,” and I quickly learned how to deal with squirrelly students and loud instruments. We ultimately became co-directors for them, and while that program may or may not exist now, later on in my life, it was definitely useful to reflect on my experience of that period of time.”
Music as a Way of Life
After college, Jules returned to San Diego where she quickly started gigging in bands in San Diego and Los Angeles and became identifiable through social media with her ubiquitous handle #thatblondebassist. “I wish my origin story for the hashtag was more interesting. I just really love creating hashtags! Starting #thatblondebassist was a way for me to be recognized in the community and at shows nationally. There are many other blonde bassists, but not many or any who use it to identify themselves.”
In early 2015, Jules met guitarist/vocalist/all-around badass Roni Lee through Cathryn Beeks at one of the House of Blues shows Beeks formerly curated. Shortly after meeting, Jules joined the Roni Lee Group after a phone call. She recalled, “Roni needed a bassist for a Kim Fowley tribute night, so she called me, and my life has never been the same—in the best way possible! Roni and I have been playing, singing, recording, writing, and creating shenanigans since.”
Since her inclusion in the Roni Lee Group is her most consistent project, it seemed fitting to explore that relationship a bit further. Jules plays in Roni’s band, but there’s more to it than just being the bass player. Roni started her own record label, Play Like a Girl Records, and Jules has helped out with the business. She’s also helped the group administratively with social media, booking shows, and making graphics and websites. Jules is also called on to help with studio work, recording bass tracks, but she’s also done some guitar tech work with Roni. Jules summarized, “She is a huge part of my music life and development, and our relationship stems from more than the stage. I have learned and will keep learning more from her experiences in this industry of today and the past. As a pupil and a best friend, I will always be there for Roni. She is like family at this point.”
Like many San Diego players, Jules keeps busy with other projects as well. She was part of an original group in 2016 known as Daddy Issues that were nominated for Best Rock Album at the San Diego Music Awards and won an LA Music Critics Award for their album Handle It. She left the band, whose name changed to Kick the Princess, in 2017. “While I’m not creating or performing with that group anymore, I owe that experience the world, as it taught me and gave me experience as a female musician trying to work in a very male-dominated field.” After that, she and a former Daddy Issues bandmate formed their current original band, Fairplay. “I also play guitar in a local cover band called the Domkats, and travel to LA for a Smashing Pumpkins tribute band (The Infinite Sadness).”
She has also been part of Cathyrn Beeks’ all-female group Calamity, adding soulful violin or stand-up bass to a handful of songs and appearing in some of the group’s videos. “Unfortunately, I had to leave Calamity because of work and other outside happenings, however I have nothing but love and respect for all of those women.” She called Cathryn another special person in her life whom she admires. She noted that she will always support Cathryn and gave her credit for changing her life by introducing her to Roni Lee.
As part of her musical experiences with her various projects, she’s done recording and touring up and down the West Coast and around the Midwest. “I have found many amazing musicians in different towns all over the place! Some of my favorites include players in the Bay Area, Seattle, Eugene, many Midwest towns, and Las Vegas. I love meeting up with everyone when NAMM time comes around.” Her favorite venue to play is the Rose in Pasadena (“the best sounding venue I’ve played in”), which she compares to the Belly Up in Solana Beach. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t love San Diego. “San Diego ranked No. 2 in the country for Best Cities for People Who Love Live Music (move.org, Sept 2019), and I would agree with that assessment. There are so many places to share our souls and art in this town. Having it be a travel destination makes our audiences different and varied. Also, the community here is very supportive. My life, friends, and relationships have all stemmed from this scene. It is quite awesome.”
Aside from various projects, she also works on her own original music and songs, saying she tries to write new work as much as she can. She likes the freedom that composing and songwriting allows, finding that inspiration can come in obscure and random places. “I’ve even written a chord progression in my slumber!”
As another way to supplement her income, Jules took to teaching music again, drawing on her experience from when she was in college. “[It] could pay some bills and help me buy new gear.” She tackled learning additional instruments to be able to add to her teaching repertoire. “As for work purposes, I learn about trends and how many beginning students there are in specific communities, through services like Takelessons.com and Lessons.com. If you’re an independent contractor, you’d be foolish not to try and capitalize on what students want to learn. If you play violin, chances are you can teach viola, or if you play guitar, chances are you can teach ukulele, bass, etc. Many musicians are multi-instrumentalists by experience and requirement to make a living.” In addition to the instruments mentioned, she can also play and teach cello, double bass, and drums.
In addition to offering private lessons, she puts her music to work teaching two kids’ rock bands and as an instructor for “many instruments that involve strings” at the Youth Arts Academy in Del Mar, where she’s worked since 2014. “Formally, I’ve had over eight bands structured through YAA.” In fact, a previous music experience and person associated with that experience made it seem like the job was meant to be. “It was summer, so I was losing clients left and right. I came across the Youth Arts Academy advertising on Craigslist. As I was driving up for the interview, I noticed a building that I had been to in my young life. My parents had enrolled me in the summer camps at the Boys and Girls Club of San Dieguito. It was a rock band camp, and it introduced me to a whole new world of being a musician. This camp was led and developed by Chris Conner, who ended up conducting my job interview. It was a great reunion. Best job interview ever! Just shows how music can help connect careers and make things happen for an individual when you least expect it.”
Music for the Future
“I have aspirations to front a band, but I might not sing lead. For the genres of music I’m into, jamming, instrumental, you don’t have to necessarily sing to front a band. Look at Santana and Jeff Beck. I do write songs though, so there’s always a ‘maybe’ in life. It would probably have to be an indie rock-type band, where expression is favored the most, and technique isn’t exactly the most important skill,” mused Jules when asked about potentially becoming a lead singer and fronting her own band.
Beyond dreams of what her musical future may hold, she also has ideas to continue her music education and then to share her knowledge. “My ultimate dream is to become a professor of either musicology or music industry. Performing, writing, learning, surviving, creating, inventing, and observing are all important to me and my overall goals, but sharing my knowledge and inspiring generations is what I am truly about.” To achieve this dream, Jules is interested in attending graduate school (currently looking at Cal State Northridge and Berklee College of Music Online) in the next year or so to study the industry as a whole. “I’d love to be involved in making it better for every person or kid who wants to come up the same ladder I am climbing.”
This idea to nurture the next generation in positive ways, whether through music or other disciplines, is extremely important to Jules. “More than ever, it is our job to encourage and inspire a future generation to grow and become members of a community. Not everyone is social but being welcomed and living as communal creatures is important, and I’ve noticed many children of different ages brought up to be excellent little citizens.
Having guidance and the time or space to grow, these kids are becoming well-rounded and socially aware. Billie Eilish is my go-to example of this idea. Her lyrics and artistic abilities are beyond her years and have led her and her brother to be leaders in the music industry. She is 18 years old. Greta Thunberg, who is 17, is another individual who is already shaping the future with her climate studies. Both of these women are doing mature acts globally, musically and non-musically, and I feel that children are actively following their examples and becoming successes at younger ages. There are many other examples of child activists besides these two women. The Parkland kids [students who survived the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida] and Malala Yousafzai are other prime examples.”
When asked if she was aware of a couple local organizations (Lady Brain Presents and Rock Camp for Girls) and how she advocates for women and girls, Jules responded, “I am aware of these wonderful organizations! Girls belong in music. These organizations, as well as the Youth Arts Academy, provide a safe space for people to create. Kids, adults, and anyone need these spaces. Without them, I feel the awareness would be different and much harder for someone trying to make it in the arts. Art is a way for many to feel accepted.” In fact, Jules thinks that if she weren’t a musician who also taught music, she would still be an educator in some type of arts organization. “I’ve always had a heart for developing minds and appreciating humanity in all forms. I think it’s more than a civic duty to pass on information to our offspring, rather a means for survival for our species. I hope we can all pass on and share our experiences to each other. Stories keep history alive, and I want to keep encouraging that whether or not it’s musical.”
Music During the Pandemic
While writing this article, the world was thrown into the grips of the Coronavirus pandemic, which halted some employment, all conferences, festivals, and other social gatherings, including bars and restaurants, among so much else that have affected incomes, morale, productivity, and the list goes on and on. I checked in with Jules about this uncertain time. “The quarantine has been a hard period. To stay sharp, I have been taking up new trades such as graphic design and learning how to create better logos and flyers. I’ve also started a new music-related project, but in the form of a TV show. I won’t say too much, but I’m trying to write a screenplay for a new comedy I’m putting together, based on the local-level live music scene. Always staying busy! And, yes, the support has been really helpful. I’ve gotten back in touch with many friends and have had great online happy hours.”
It’s clear that music, whether playing it, teaching it, or otherwise sharing it, means everything to Jules. She expanded on the truth of it for her. “Music has given me an identity and the means to be respected amongst a group of people. The most humbling reward is looking out into a club or venue and seeing so many friends, family, and new faces enjoying what you are sharing. I am by no means perfect, nor the best, but during those moments, none of it matters. We are all sharing a basic human desire together, which is why performing is such a special art as well.
Good music is addicting. The mixture of rhythm and notes are very internal for human beings. Most of us are bred to feel, and to hear vibrations and frequencies before birth. Culturally, it is fascinating to feel and hear a basic human love like music. Finding the ways to share this love with others is why I have chosen this career path.”
As the title of this profile professes, Jules Whelpton is made of music. She celebrates her upbringing that was filled with it. She lives it every day through playing live, teaching, and honing her craft. And she looks ahead to how she can continue growing her knowledge and perfecting her skills while sharing all that she has learned. Her tremendous drive and deep belief that children are the future, whether within music or beyond it, are admirable traits.
We can’t wait to see what lies ahead for this versatile, exciting, multi-talented musician.