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Published: 2013/03/30
by Mike Greenhaus

Julian Lynch’s Parallel Lines

Speaking of improvisation, what would you say was your gateway into the world of freeform composition. Was it some of the ‘60s psychedelic bands or another avenue?

JL: Jazz, actually, was probably the way I really learned how to play music, in a way that made me feel like I was producing something I was happy with. I played with jazz bands in high school and I kept playing in jazz bands in college too. And that’s where I started to feel comfortable with the idea of improvisation and learn what that really meant because before that I had no clue. I’d been playing clarinet in elementary school and middle school but it wasn’t until I joined a jazz band and was playing guitar primarily in that jazz band that I learned what it meant to improvise. I learned that it was something I shouldn’t be scared of. I guess I integrated that a little into the music I’d been making in high school and college, but less so. I really started to improvise more towards the last year I was in college, and then after I finished doing that and was out in the world working for a little bit. And then I moved here to Wisconsin.

But it’s not like improvisation didn’t play any role in that, too. That’s something I’ve always been interested in, and certainly when I was in college, and toward the end of college, it started to have more of an appeal to me in terms of what I could perform. I started to apply the same strategies of improvisation to work with a sonic palette outside of jazz—or outside of rock.

Given that, as you say, you’ve recorded by yourself, I would imagine that a lot of your material is recorded at home with different levels of layering and tweaking around of sound. How does improvisation affect that approach? Do you just kind of build the songs that way or is it more of a traditionally constructed song that you enhance with various elements of overdubs and improvisation and whatnot in that sense?

JL: Well actually I would say during the process of Orange You Glad? and Mare for sure, and to a lesser extent Terra, and to a lesser extent Lines. I used to really just lay down the base track of drums or whatever and everything else would just get layered on top, completely improvisational. And I had no clue going in what a song would come out sounding like, and I think that’s still the case…I’m trying to think of all the tracks online and see which ones that’s still true of. It’s maybe 40% true of the new record, where it used to be 100% true. I’m doing a lot more deliberate composing these days. Lines is probably the first time I ever went in with stuff written down—maybe with Terra I had some of that going on too—but with Lines definitely, more structured, more deliberate, but there’s still a good amount of improvisation going on. I guess I do lots of multi-tracking of bass and clarinets or something like that and usually the first track I lay down is the most structured and composed or whatever. The second one a little less so, and by the time I lay down a third clarinet track, that’s usually the one with significantly more improvisation, based on kind of what has just been laid down in the prior layers of clarinet. So it still plays a part in what I’m doing, that’s for sure. And I usually don’t have a melody or whatever at the forefront of a song. Usually I don’t have the vocal line worked out beforehand, so a lot of the other elements from the new record are more composed than they used to be.

And why do you think that is in this case? Was it just something you’ve been gravitating towards in your writing process or did you deliberately want to try to create a different approach for this album?

JL: I think there are a few different reasons. One of the reasons is mainly in part because large parts of the record were written during periods of time when I didn’t have access to a machine to record on, because usually a big part of my process is I’ll have this musical idea and then I’ll go on to record it, and then from there, I’ll improvise layers on top of it. Instead, for this record, I was out of the country for a few months and part of the record got recorded when I was outside of Wisconsin and didn’t have access to recording equipment. So I ended up writing down stuff and using that as material. And then also part of it was that Terra was sort of driven by a bizarre extreme where I wanted every track to rely on a very simple musical idea, kind of to the point of exhaustion. I think a lot of people found my last record boring because of that, but it was kind of deliberate. It’s kind of what I wanted with it, whereas with this record I kind of took a different approach, and kind of was more interested in writing parts that were interlocking and worked a little more like clockwork, which took a little more forethought to do. And there was still some room for improvisation and other fun, playful stuff on top of things, but it definitely demanded some planning.

Definitely and I think it’s kind of interesting to record in different ways. I mean as a musician, it’s something that kind of just inspires you to keep tweaking up the different stuff.

JL: Yeah.

You have a long history with the band Real Estate, whose core members grew up in your hometown of Ridgefield, NJ. In a recent interview, Alex Bleeker even mentioned that the band first played together as a unit as your backing band.

JL: The first time I ever played with Bleeker and Martin in a band was back in high school. We had a band called The Enormous Radio and that was me and Bleeker and [Real Estate frontman] Martin Courtney and a guy named Alec Strum played the trumpet and a guy named Dave Hancock played drums. And I played an organ. And that’s the first time when I played with those guys in a band.

But when I was in college, when we were all in college, I had this solo project going for awhile that was strictly a recording project and one year we decided we wanted to tour and make it more of a band. And that’s when any of us first went on a big tour. I had gone on a shorter tour in the UK before that with my friend Gary Caruth, but the first time I ever did like a long US tour within that band with those guys. And [Real Estate guitarist] Matt Mondanile joined us—he played bass, and then at the last minute whatever drummer we had never worked out and at the time Matt was playing in this band called Miami Heat in Massachusetts. And the drummer for that was this guy Etienne, and he was like, “This guy Etienne can play drums,” and we were like, “Ok,” so Etienne joined the band and we went on tour together, only a couple weeks after I’d met Etienne. And I went back down to D.C. where I was living at the time and all those guys ended up going to New York and they started Real Estate, the four of them.

R: In terms of live shows, do you have anything coming up in the New York area or Wisconsin you want to talk about? Like specific performances?

JL: I have a free show with [Matt Mondanile’s other band] Ducktails on April 1st, April Fools’ Day, in Madison at the student union that I’m psyched to play. I’m psyched to play all of them actually. So yeah, lots of shows coming up, but all in the Midwest.

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