SCV catches up with multi-instrumentalist, Ethnomusicologist and Anthropologist Julian Lynch
The first time I heard of multi-instrumentalist, self-producer Julian Lynch was a few years ago when Chicago’s own Reckless Records posted a status on Facebook claiming that they had his 2010 record “Mare” in stock fresh from the vinyl plant. The album cover for “Mare” really intrigued me and I was struck right away by the powerful and exceptional music that Julian had to offer. There is something about the state that the music puts me in that is relentless and forever enlightening. That’s just my opinion anyway. So we at SCV got together with Julian Lynch and discussed his music and our mutual interests in art, culture and film.
The first time I saw you perform was last year at the Neon Marshmallow Festival in Chicago. It was a very special night. I noticed a very special chemistry that you had with your bandmates. Can you talk about your current band and the musicians you have chosen to play with?
Oh cool, I didn’t know you were there.
Cory, I’ve known him for a really long time. Back when I lived in D.C. we went to college together there. We met because we played in the same school’s jazz band, he played drums and I was playing guitar, then I switched to percussion. So we played through that, and we played recreationally a little bit. Then we moved to the Midwest around the same time, him to Chicago and I moved to Madison. When I moved out to Madison, I met Joel. I think originally because he writes for the Onion AV club, he wrote a review for a record or show or something of mine. So we met, and started playing together at some point. And so, the two of us got booked for this show down here in Chicago, so I told Cory about it, invited him to come play with us also. He was trying to play synth with more people since he just bought a Juno. So the three of us did it. I’d say both of those guys I’ve played with a fair amount, of course not as much as I’d like to. I do feel like there is a good musical chemistry between us, I feel comfortable playing with them. It’s easy for me to play with them. They know what I want in a live setting at this point.
Each time I listen to your music I truly enter a sort of subconscious state, a feeling I usually only get from certain films that I watch. Do you ever enter this dreamlike state when you write or perform music?
No no, My own music you mean? No. Definitely not. I stay, I think, maybe even more lucid than normally, you know? When I play live especially, I’m kind of like an anxious live performer; I don’t typically feel super comfortable playing live. So I’m definitely not in some transcendent state. When I record, I guess there’s a lot of anxiety in my recording process as well, I like to capture things to be the way that I want them to be. I’m very deliberate about that.
Where did you record your latest record Terra? In your apartment?
Most of it was in my apartment in Wisconsin, yea. Any parts with a drum kit were recorded at my friend Brody’s house inNew Jersey. Now that I think about it, Terra was recorded at the exact same time I was producing the Family Portrait record, which was also recorded at Brody’s house. So basically he would record something for Family Portrait stuff then I would grab an instrument and go into a room and record for my stuff.
Wow so you produce music as well, do you produce all your own music?
Yup. Yes, I do.
When I was doing some research I read how your working towards your PhD in both ethnomusicology and anthropology? Do you watch anthropology films, if so any inspiration from them?
Ummm I guess, there are some anthropological films involved in the courses, but not a whole lot. My focus isn’t on that but I have been exposed to a good amount of it. I wouldn’t say that’s a big source of inspiration for me, as least not from a conscious point.
I also read that you are writing your thesis on the riots of Colonial India, how did that go?
Yup that’s what I’m working on right now actually. It’s going pretty great, I entered a new phase of the project recently. I’ve collected a lot of data thus far, but the stuff that I’ve been working on right now involves the legal facets of it. There’s a lot of legislation and case law involving music as public disservice which is directly related to the riots. So that’s a huge amount of information that I’m going through right now. It’s kind of astonishing that there is so much time spent in courts of every law for the past several decades revolves and is directly related to music. Also the amount of violence it has created it pretty shocking too.
So these riots started because of people playing music [in India] in public?
Yea I mean that’s how the situations appear, obviously there were other things going on, which is what I’m arguing in a big part of my project. Usually the spark of each disturbance is reportedly Hindu festival processions being led in front of mosques during prayer, usually deliberately. There’s a section for that, there are a few cases of Christian processions doing the same. In Sri Lanka, there are Buddhist processions being held in front of mosques. That’s kind of the archetype. Part of the reason I find it so interesting is the way I see it, and the way a lot of other scholars see it, the so called true nation of India (there was no nation in India to speak of in any real sense culturally, linguistically, or even politically up until a very recent point in modern history). But these riots kind of precede all that, if I were to take a map of the subcontinent and put blue dots everywhere that these riots were happening with the exact same archetypal frame, it totally looks like a national phenomenon, but it’s a national phenomenon that precedes the existence of their nation. There’s this guy at the Department of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin his name is Neil Whitehead. He does work on violence as a social relationship; sort of what I’ve taken from his work is that there is a productive side of violence. Not in a good sense of productive, but productive in the capacity of violent encounters that produce new kinds of social relationships. The way I’m arguing my thesis here is that through these interactions that are violent, but also musical, there is an increasing sense of national cohesion. Or cohesion on a national level between Sectarian groups, who were simply blue dots on a map before all this in local populations.
That’s pretty much the whole focus of this. The whole legal aspect of it exasperated that in a lot of ways, if you pass legislation on a national level, or you know any kind of large level that affects millions and millions of people, for events that are happening on a local level just because of that sort of expanded jurisdiction there are implications and you’re effectively writing in a law the imposition of ethnic identities.
Wow, that’s gonna be a good one. So is this thesis at UW due next year, or…?
No, I’m going to be handing in my chapters hopefully in the coming month. I have a ton of it written already but I just need to polish up a couple of the earlier ones. Yea I’m going to be turning it into my advisor really soon. I think I’ll be continuing that project for my PhD dissertation and doing research in India, and if I can get the funding to do it, inUKsince all the Parliamentary papers are there. It’s been a really interesting project for me, really fascinating. It was really disturbing too to read some of the accounts of violence.
Do you ever write music in your REM sleep that you wake up to and quickly practice or memorize?
I don’t think so, but you never know! I can’t remember what book this was in, I think it was this book that I read in high school called Tunesmith by Jimmy Webb. Jimmy Webb was a songwriter in the 60s and 70s who wrote a whole bunch of pop hits. I’ve recently been remembering bits and pieces of it and I’m pretty sure it was in his book Tunesmith where he said “if you’re having trouble working on a musical idea just think about it a lot and go to sleep, you’ll wake up and it’ll be totally settled.”
I don’t know any times it’s actually happened to me, but I think it’s possible. You can’t be certain though. I don’t know, have you ever had something that you were losing sleep over or whatever or trying to think of what to do with it whether it’s creative or what to do with your life, then you wake up and you a feel a little more resolved or a more clear understanding. I don’t know if there is something mystical about that but I guess it’s possible.
Can you list off all the instruments that you played on your past two records, let’s start off with your record “Mare.”
I’ll just stick to the ones that I used for multiple songs because there are some instruments I used on some that are not worth listing. But for “Mare” there were guitars, I borrowed my friend Brody’s acoustic guitar, used two of my guitars. There’s bass, drums, tubla, shakers and other kinds of auxiliary percussion, keyboards, synthesizer, electric organ, clarinet, this pocket saxophone that I have, a homemade wind instrument that I think I’m going to bust out for my new record I’m making. Then for the other record, “Terra,” is all that stuff plus some new instruments I got, plus this new piano that my girlfriend has inCalifornia. There’s bass clarinet on it, a synthesizer that I got by Kawai kind of like a Roland Juno knockoff from the 80’s, a nice analog polyphonic synth. Also a lot of electronic wind instruments. But on my new record I’m writing I’m going to restrict myself a little, it’s going to revolve around the 12-string guitar, clarinet, saxophone, monophonic synths, tubla, lots of other percussion and fretless bass.
A lot of times when I’ll record stuff if I’m on tour and I’ll be at a friend’s house and record with their instruments so it’s kind of hard to remember all the specific ones I played.
OK so tell me about Amy Ruhl’s film “How Mata Hari Lost Her Head and Found her Body”
I recorded the original soundtrack for the film with inspiration from Salome. Amy’s been working on that film since before I met her since 2008. I know she had issues in the beginning because she had a full time job and then her apartment got broken into and a lot of materials were stolen. So that set her back a lot, but then she got a Kickstarter and got back some money that was lost. She got in touch with me initially to make a music video and I really loved what she did and the feeling was mutual. So we decided to work together on this film and it was definitely her ‘baby’ before I got involved. Some of the things I was thinking about with Mata Hari, biographically her proclivities towards Orientalism and her time spent inIndonesia. Compounded with the fact that Amy was asking me to reference Salome which is the Strauss opera, and how a lot of those German guys were doing things that I thought were related as far as their Germanic understand of what the Orient was and what the woman was. Both of those becoming very problematic, but I wanted to portray that in a somewhat informed way. The fact that gender and ethnicity played such a factor in Mata Hari’s biography and the film. I recorded all the tracks in the Gamelan room in theUniversityofWisconsin. It’s an Indonesian set, if you can picture a whole room of these bells. I recorded a bulk of that there, and the melody lines were mostly for wind instruments. There is also some theremin on that score. So Amy and I would talk a lot about the opera and Mata Hari and came to an understanding of everything in order for me to finish the music. Amy would send me vignettes of the film and I would write the music based off those. That way she could tell me if one section needed a certain tempo, or if another section needed a crescendo, stuff like that. It was a real thrill making this music. It is going to be out on a 7’’ through Soft Abuse, a really great label that I’m so happy to be part of. It’s the only piece of music in the past 4 years that I’ve actually sat down and wrote out in entirety.
When you write music is it simultaneous, as far as writing lyrics and actual music?
No, I treat them as two different things that only come together at the end of the process. The recording process might be simultaneous at times, if I fall in love with the sound of a certain instrument. Then a total separate process is me writing some words down, that maybe some day will fit metrically on top of some music. If not, then it will just sit in my hard drive. So I have lots and lots of that, and probably around 3/4th of that stuff gets tossed right out the window. Sometimes the grammar will get chopped up to make it fit the music. I don’t really consider myself a lyricist; I don’t hate the lyrics I write. They’re usually not discernible. But yes, I do treat them as two separate processes, the lyric writing and the music playing.
Now do you consider yourself a ‘gear head’ as far as toys go for your guitar and other instruments?
Uhhh, yea! Definitely. I’m a gear head on a budget, I guess. But you know if I have any expendable income that’s one of my favorite things to do. Besides buying groceries and paying rent and doing things that normal people do. The three ways that I spend any money that I have are on musical instruments, records, or comic books. I guess pedals are something I don’t buy too often, but I did recently buy a guitar synth pedal. You can hear that on the title track, Terra, it sounds like a synth but it’s actually two guitars. It’s also on the last song called “Back.” It’ll probably be on the new record, but I’ll use it more than likely on the horn sections. That was definitely a cool purchase for me last summer, it’s made by Electro-Harmonix.
Do you have any favorite books or films right now off the top of your head?
Right now? Umm, I just read Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. That was really awesome. I read another book he had written called Bouvard et Pécuchet when I was in college and that became my favorite book. I really liked Madame Bovary as well, I’d recommend that. Those were just some things I brought on tour. I also brought comics, which I enjoy. I brought two collections of this guy, Steve Ditko, these were all Pre-code horror stuff that he did, I’m really into horror comics. There is also some romance in it as well. I also stream movies at home, I watched one called Vampire Circus the other night. That was really good [laughs], I really like the movie The Thin Red Line.
Do you look for inspiration from your bandmates and peers, or is it mostly older generations?
Yea my peers inspire me in the sense that it’s good to be around people who are creating things. If you’re just by yourself all the time, or the people around you really aren’t doing anything, regardless if you like them and what they do. But it’s good to be around my friends who make music a lot, I enjoy that. Being around creative people is very inspiring, and I feel lucky when I’m around that. Both where I come from back inNew Jersey, and definitely in the Midwest here inMadison, evenChicago. I love it here too.
Besides your new album coming out next year do you have any releases in the next six months?
Well I have that 7’’ coming out on Soft Abuse. That’s up for sale. There’s uhh….this isn’t announced yet but I don’t care: my friend is putting out an EP for me that’s already recorded, he’ll put it out whenever he wants to. It’s two more rock-oriented, heavier tracks that I made. I don’t know when that will be out but hopefully in the next six months or so. I’d like for my next full length to come out in Fall 2012.
Anything you’d like to say to those multi-instrumentalist and self-producers out there?
Keep doing it. If you don’t feel confident about the idea of making a career out of it, you don’t have to. I don’t expect people to necessarily find myself or my music inspiring. But there is one thing that would make me wear my heart to find out they were inspired by would be that I didn’t decide to make a career choice out of it. I’m not expecting to make money off of this. All those years in high school when I had “punk rock” anti-sellout anxiety fever, I don’t have to worry about that anymore. I don’t think I’ll ever sell out because I will never rely on music to make my income. If you like making music, you don’t have to try and make it your livelihood. You can make as much music as you want, in your free time, or do something else, do multiple things that make you happy, you can do whatever you want.