Julian Lynch’s Parallel Lines
New Jersey-bred guitarist Julian Lynch is living a double life. Known in the experimental folk world for his psychedelic-influenced DIY recordings, Lynch spends his days teaching in Madison, WI while persuing a Ph.D. in anthropology and ethnomusicology. Though he’s at the center of a rising scene of improvisational indie rockers like Woods and Real Estate—who originally came together as his live band—Lynch rarely tours yet has traveled the world exploring different types of music. Between his teaching, studying and the stray live date, he has also released a steady stream of home-recordings—often recorded at a whisper as to not annoy his neighbor. Shortly before the release of his latest and most accessible recording, Lines, Lynch discussed his person journey from the world of lo-fi recordings to high-brow academia.
Let’s start by talking about your new album Lines. Between your Ph.D. and teaching you are juggling a lot of work. When did you start working on the album?
JL: I started working on it immediately after I finished working on Terra, the last record I put out—that’s usually how I operate. Before an album’s even out I’m working on the next one. So that’s kind of been in the works for a while. I think it’s the longest I’ve ever spent on an album. It’s been a couple years in the making, and it’s been kind of a stop and go process. I was out of the country for a little bit so I didn’t really work on it, and I had to take care of business at school for a while so I wasn’t working on it for long periods of time. But I’m happy that I spaced things out and took my time with it, and revisited things, and I kind of like that process so I may continue working like that in the future.
When did you start your graduate program? Were you already working as a solo artist when you decided to return to school?
JL: I’ve been a grad student for exactly the same amount of time that I’ve been recording under my own name, so since fall 2008. That’s when I first started doing this CD-R thing and just kind of releasing them so that my friends could hear what I was working on initially. Then [the labels] Spelling Bee and Underwater People started putting out records for me in 2009. But yeah I’ve been making music alongside the stuff I’ve been doing here. I started out doing a masters in ethnomusicology, and a master’s in anthropology, and now I’m working on a Ph.D. in the two disciplines, anthropology and ethnomusicology. I’m in classes this semester and I’m teaching this semester too, and I’m studying for my prelim exams probably beginning in April, so I’ve got a busy semester right now. There’s not a whole lot of music making to be expected in the next few months, just some scattered shows in the Midwest. But I probably won’t be getting any recording done until May, which is kind of a shame, but that’s all right.
Most of your recordings have been true solo recordings where you played all the instruments. Can you talk about your recording approach and how this album fits with your recent work?
JL: Thus far all the records have just been me. Which is not a rule or anything like that, I’m open to the possibility of collaborating someday with someone else on a joint record. But at the present, now, it’s all just me recording. And I guess the process is…I’ve kind of designed it as being something that I’d do by myself, for myself, in my free time without really expectations of anyone ever hearing any of it. And that’s sort of the attitude I went in with when I started the CD-R stuff I was doing in 2008. I made records before that, but at that point I’d given up on the idea of doing music full time and it became just sort of a hobby for myself.
Ironically, that’s when people started paying attention. When I moved out here I brought with me a four-track set recorder and that’s what I recorded my CD-R series with and also my first record. I upgraded to an 8-track with it and recorded Mare and part of Terra with that one. Then I got a new 8-track set and recorded the rest of Terra and then this new record Lines. So there’s been sort of a technological continuity since the beginning of recording on cassettes, but then again it’s not a rule or anything like that. Again, I’m open to the possibility of doing other stuff in the future too. I probably will actually because I will be doing some international traveling for my Ph.D. and it’s kind of…carrying around an 8-track is a pretty bulky item so it would be hard for me to justify bringing something like that with me on a plane. I’ll probably figure out some more compact way of recording stuff in the future. But for now I’ll keep using the 8-track.
Tying the two things we’ve talked about thus far together, how have you felt that your studies have affected your solo work? You have a very distinct, psychedelic but lo-fi style that’s carried through your work as you’ve studied world music culture. Do you see certain areas where your studies have influenced your recording approach?
JL: Not directly, actually. People have been surprised to learn that the stuff I do—studying the ethnomusicology stuff—rarely has to do with any musical material. So I’m not actually super hands on with music in my academic life. Any interests I’ve pursued have been on my own time and treated as influences outside of academia. I guess in terms of practical and logistical stuff, my studies have really strongly influenced my music making in terms of the fact that I can approach music making a lot differently from other people.
I think if I were a full time touring act or something like that, there would also be the potential for record advances and to do studio work or something, which doesn’t really interest me anyways because my process now and my schedule is kind of dominated by school. My process is like this: I record when I can, and it’s not like I have a few weeks or a chunk of time when I can go into the studio and finish a record like that. It’s sort of just, “Oh, I happen to have some time this Sunday so I’ll happen to record a little bit then and maybe I’ll return to that track next month or something like that.”
When you do perform the songs live—either around New York, Madison or the other cities you play in—do you still perform solo or do you bring a live band?
JL: I used to perform solo, for kind of awhile actually. This was starting back in 2009. I would either perform solo or I’d perform with other people doing improv sets, and slowly that kind of evolved to me playing with a group of people doing improv sets and then ultimately a group of people doing more structured, song-based sets. And so that’s what I do when I perform in New York now, probably in the last 3 years at least, I’ve just done solo band sets playing songs on the record, but playing them in a heavily adapted way, in a way that fits the stage a bit more and not to sound like the record in terms of expectations. But I do the same in Madison. So I play with a group of musicians that live in New York when I’m back there, and then when I’m here, I know a different set of people, some of them full time musicians here, some of them who have other jobs, and they help me out whenever I’m in the Midwest.