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Posts Tagged ‘Jake Falby

Chosen One: Julie Byrne

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For a very long time – and I struggle with this still – I was searching to feel a sense of belonging.”

—Julie Byrne

Words: Mark Carry

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Buffalo-born singer-songwriter Julie Byrne’s latest sophomore full-length ‘Not Even Happiness’ is a deeply moving and captivating voyage, whose sheer depth is unfathomable. The nine divine sonic creations captured here belong to a cosmic stratosphere; gliding majestically among the white doves and glittering stars. To coin Kafka, ‘Not Even Happiness’ is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self. The spiritual, far-reaching qualities of Byrne’s masterful song-craft brings you, as you are, into a world of aching beauty and sublime transcendence. An infinite source of solace.

Follow my voice, I am right here/Beyond this life and beyond all fear” Byrne sings on the opening heartfelt lament ‘Follow My Voice’. The song – and indeed the album as a whole – details the ongoing search to feel a sense of belonging in this world, “beyond all fear”. The letting go. A mystical dimension permeates the ethereal harmonies as Byrne’s delicate voice melds effortlessly with heavenly, atmospheric instrumentation. On a later verse, Byrne sings “I consciously died, I seen dew on a rose”. The immense ballad feels like a gateway to the rest of the album; a tower of song to unlock the burden of pain. The soul of all natural things.

The closing prayer-like lament ‘I Live Now As A Singer’ emits a kind of catharsis like no other, an indefinable force breathes from deep within. It’s the moment the sunlit horizon is finally reached and the synth arrangements that melt with Byrne’s achingly beautiful voice reduces me to tears. The American songwriter’s honesty and openness creates such a profound impact: “And yes I have broke down asking for forgiveness / When I was nowhere close to forgiving myself”. Byrne’s fragile voice “glides in the light of a red moon” that penetrates every pore and crevice, like a river finding its sea.

Travel and nature are etched across the sprawling sonic canvas of ‘Not Even Happiness’. From sense and observation, songs such as ‘Melting Grid’, ‘Natural Blue’ and ‘Sea As It Glides’ maps the myriad of empowering places and natural beauty that lies therein, (from the Pacific Northwest to the glorious skies in Colorado and the sun-bleached waves in Big Sur). But moreover, this batch of songs chronicles the New York singer’s new relationship with the spiritual life: poetic prose painted across otherworldly dimensions and celestial harmonies echo powerfully this truth. On ‘All The Land Glimmered’ Byrne sings “I’ve been searching God within” on the first verse beneath meditative bliss of gentle acoustic guitar.

One of the great hallmarks of ‘Not Even Happiness‘ is the clarity and visionary quality of the song cycles effortlessly captured by this exceptional talent, transcending space and time with each turn of phrase and sonic pulse. The ability to look inward, deep into one’s own mind and express this through the art of music is in many ways the essence of ‘Not Even Happiness’s infinite power and healing force. A crystalline image of serene beauty is depicted on ‘Natural Blue’ that somehow encapsulates the illuminating light and vast magical power of Byrne’s master-work: “Sun split ember, fields that span both ways forever.” ‘Not Even Happiness’ is an infinite treasure.

‘Not Even Happiness’ is out now on Basin Rock (order HERE).

For all upcoming Julie Byrne EU tour dates (including Whelan’s Dublin on 30th August) please click HERE.

http://juliemariebyrne.com/

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Interview with Julie Byrne.

Congratulations Julie on the latest album ‘Not Even Happiness’; it’s a really captivating and deeply moving album. Musically, there are added layers like string arrangements and ethereal soundscapes that work so well on top of your voice and guitar. I’d love for you to recount your memories of seeing these songs – which I presume began as bare demos – gradually bloom into what they finally became (on the final recordings)?

Julie Byrne: First of all, thank you so much for the kind words and I’m glad that you feel that way about the songs. My main collaborator Eric Littmann and I began recording songs like ‘Morning Dove’ and ‘Natural Blue’ in an apartment that we were living at, in Bushwick Brooklyn but ultimately it felt that this wasn’t the right environment and we ended up scrapping everything that we had done [laughs]. In the meantime we made this plan to move to Buffalo temporarily and return to the house of my childhood – the house I was brought up in after I was born – and we decided that this would be a better environment to move through that process of recording and building a record. So, the bare structure of all of the songs (except ‘I Live Now As A Singer’), it just came from me working independently and then once the songs were finished, they were given to Eric and he’s very much responsible for a lot of the flourishes and the atmospheric elements and also the style of production is all him.

You mentioned ‘I Live Now As A Singer’ and even just the song-title itself, there is a profound feeling emanating throughout and it feels like there is a resolution and a beautiful end to the album; lyrically but also musically with the atmospheric synthesizer and your voice?

JB: That melody came to me and I started singing it as I had it stuck in my head for a long time and Eric helped me put that to music and that was the beginning of that song. And Jake Falby, our friend who plays violin, he came in and helped us construct the bridge that he played on and that was really a mutual effort between the three of us. Then in terms of the lyrical content of that song, I think that how much of the album encapsulates a phase of my life that was very much about looking toward exterior change to resolve whatever heartache I was feeling and doing that chronically year after year after year and still finding no respite. So this song I think maybe marks a transition into a new way of thinking or a new way to address a lot of the pain that I’ve been carrying for so long which is where many of the other songs came from.

Another quality that translates to the listener is this inward feeling or inner peace and a song like ‘Sleepwalker’ depicts that quest to find inner peace; I love how there is so much honesty and it’s so bare, in the best way possible.

JB: For a very long time – and I struggle with this still – I was searching to feel a sense of belonging; everything else but my own experience like my own baseline and so this album has ended up being a process of coming to realize that in order to cultivate a stronger sense of security I needed to really start building that without imagining that it could be given to me through a change of place, a change of work, a change of relationship that it would take so much more than all of those things to actually feel a sense of belonging in my own skin, so that’s where we’re left at the end of the record.

One of my favourites is ‘Sea As It Glides’ there is a particularly healing quality that radiates throughout. The beautiful imagery and poetic lyrics you use – together with the music – feels just like that; sea as it glides and a cosmic feel (like from the early 70’s), there is a certain magic.

JB: That song was really enjoyable to work with because it wasn’t carrying any kind of really significant emotional message, that song is almost like a photograph, this was written on the west coast of the United States in Northern California so it was really trying to encapsulate the feeling of just being in the sun and being at the mercy of the sea; I love that feeling of swimming in the ocean and recognizing its power – it’s no longer abstracted – you’re standing in the crest of a wave, your feet are still on the sand and you’re being tossed around, so that’s where that comes from.

In other ways of looking at the album, it closely resembles a photobook essay where there’s obviously a journey and particularly with references to various place names and places you have traveled and the many beautiful images; the songs allow you to be transported in the same way as a photographic exhibition or photobook.

JB: I would hope it could be that way because I mean those usually end up maybe being my favourite kinds of stories; the ones that bring you, as you are, into their world so if you feel that it does that I take that as a high compliment.

There is a lot of elements of travel and the different places you have been to, I wonder did you find yourself writing the actual songs while you were on tour or moving a lot?

JB: Yes, actually a lot of the songs were written while on tour. ‘Natural Blue’, when I started writing that, I was sitting in the front seat of my friend’s car and we were on a very long drive from Denver to Arcosanti, Arizona. And yeah, you know I mean that’s like a ten-hour drive so a lot of time passed [laughs] and I actually had the space to stretch out and play my guitar while we were on our way there so that’s where that song began. ‘Morning Dove’ was the first time that I went on tour in the UK, I was playing the instrumental part of that constantly. But yeah, a lot of them were written in travel and it’s nice to be able to do that when the inspiration is there because it feels that the spirit of these places are actually being somehow expressed through the melody in a way that it seems it couldn’t happen after the fact. And so it’s a different experience writing while you’re immersed in this place that is inspiring the song itself rather than thinking about it in retrospect, after returning home. That was a really good question, I don’t think that I was asked that before.

I was interested to read that for one of your songs – I believe it’s ‘All The Land Glimmered Beneath’? – is inspired by Frank O’ Hara’s poetry?

JB: Yes, I’m a huge fan of Frank O’ Hara. I can’t remember but I don’t think it’s for the new album. On the first album, there’s a song called ‘Emeralds’; that’s based on a poem that he wrote called ‘Animals’, so basically putting ‘Animals’ to music but I don’t think ‘All The Land Glimmered Beneath’ but I do have a terrible memory, even when it comes to my own work [laughs] because I’ve actually forgotten how to play that song; it’s the only one on the album I don’t play live because I don’t remember how [laughs]. But I love Frank O’ Hara and actually sometimes if someone asks me to sign their record, I’ll write his epitaph on their record because I always thought it was so beautiful, it’s “Be free and live as variously as possible” and I think those are words to live by.

After revisiting the album quite a bit, it was also bringing me back to Walt Whitman and his ‘Leaves Of Grass’ book of poetry.

JB: Yes, yes. ‘Leaves Of Grass’ was fused to my experience of the tour that ‘Sea As It Glides’ came from and it’s my friend David’s favourite poem. So for that song, there are elements of that poem that are woven into ‘Sea As It Glides’ and that’s kind of an homage to Walt Whitman and also to my friend David who I spent four months touring with in 2014 and was the first person that I ever entered the Redwood forest with or ever saw Big Sur.

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On a more general note of touring, as you’re travelling now and touring the new album do you find yourself surprised and inspired by new places that you may encounter?

JB: Yes, I’m sure that it will happen. A lot has changed in my working relationship with music from the first album that I released to this album and so it feels like for the past six months that I’ve been touring on this album I’ve been clamouring to meet my new responsibilities that have gone along with working in a new capacity in music. It has required a lot of energy and a lot of mistakes and very valuable lessons and I’m hoping that I’ve gotten to a point where I’m familiar enough with this new way of working in music where I can become less burdened by that stress and just more immersed in the experiences that I’m able to have through touring so that’s my aspiration for this five-week tour that we’re heading out on; the return to that original spirit of mystery and magic and wonder instead of being concerned with accounting and tour managing [laughs] and all of these other things that take you out of that experience.

The opening song ‘Follow My Voice’ is like that perfect first chapter and even those first words that are sung; it really serves like a gateway into the rest of the album. Did this song serve like a door opening for you in terms of creating more songs because it has that feeling that it allowed other songs to start flowing in?

JB: That’s an interesting precedent to write a phrase is that you feel like it’s a point of entrance. I always felt a fondness for that song and then also ‘I Live Now As A Singer’, maybe it is because those two songs in particular, it feels that they have archived a new relationship with the spiritual life and a new curiosity after feeling dis-empowered and heartbroken by daily life for long enough that I’d gotten to a point where I was very interested in studying and pursuing knowledge about what else there was aside from all of these outward and external experiences. So I feel that those two songs in particular embody that sincere aspiration to change and to become more loving and more secure even though it’s a very gradual and difficult process and one which I claim no authority but I look at those two songs more as prayers than as music.

Nature and there’s obviously such beautiful imagery and lyrics to so much of the world and the universe, I wonder did you have a love for nature from a very young age?

JB: Yes, I mean I had the good fortune to grow up in a very green and simple and quiet place, my parents live in the country, maybe like forty minutes from Buffalo, New York, which is a post-industrial place. There is a creek running through my backyard and I’m a lonely child so I feel like a lot of what engaged my attention was my relationship to the natural world and observing wildlife and all of these things from a very young age and just cultivating an early fascination which I think just became comfort. There would be times when I was living in New York, I would be walking down the street and I would feel almost psychically assaulted and just so out-of-place and it took me a while to realize, oh that’s because there’s no trees on this street at all, there is no green space to be seen and just how jarring that feels. I mean I think it’s that relationship to the natural world, it is something that is in all of our biology but it was what I had grown up with and it wasn’t until recently that I realized how much an effect it has on my well-being and mental health to be able to commune with nature in that way and how starved I feel without it.

I was interested to read that you were self-taught on the guitar and going back to the ‘Rooms with Walls and Windows’ album and feeling that you are there in the room as you are playing the guitar and singing. How early in your life would you have began writing your own songs and playing the guitar?

JB: Well I always loved to sing and it was never something that I did in any formal venue like I was never in choir or anything like that. I’ve never been formally trained in music theory either so I had a close friend who took acoustic guitar lessons – it was a new elective they were offering at our high school – and so it began with her, she taught me a couple of chords and then I was finally able to accompany myself singing and it went on from there. But pursuing finger style guitar is something that’s very much rooted in my father’s influence, which is his style of playing and because I was self-taught I had developed all of these strange bad habits like I only pick with three fingers which is a bit limiting but I’ve gone too far without learning to have to pick properly [laughs] that I’m on that path now. And the guitar that I play is the one that I inherited from my father so his influence actively lives through that instrument so it’s really such a joy to play that particular guitar and to be able to travel with it and it’s without a doubt my most prized possession.

When you’re so busy touring and everything else, has there been particular music or sources of inspiration that you’ve been inspired by in the last while?

JB: I played a festival in Arizona called Form Arcosanti and I was either introduced to or I had the opportunity to see musicians that I’d been following for a while and that was a very inspiring place with very prolific people. Someone that I had the opportunity to finally see was the composer and cellist – and based in New York City – named Kelsey Lu, her performance was just unbelievable and breathtaking. Other than that I think the things that have actually been the source of inspiration in terms of I guess just reviving because that’s the really important thing when you’re living such a rigorous lifestyle and travel and having moments that give that energy back that has been expended on getting from place to place and performing, so those moments of inspiration have really just been found in hiking: we’ve been integrating a lot of hikes into our tours and we’ve been making them much more of a priority than we ever did in the past. And that’s been a very meaningful change I think in our lifestyle on tour.

‘Not Even Happiness’ is out now on Basin Rock (order HERE).

For all upcoming Julie Byrne EU tour dates (including Whelan’s Dublin on 30th August) please click HERE.

http://juliemariebyrne.com/

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August 15, 2017 at 1:53 pm