By Loren Auda Poin; photo by Peter Benck on March 22, 2013
Julian Lynch has a head full of music. The proof is his swimmingly beautiful records, of which his latest, Lines, is the fourth. You can hear the notes caravan dreamily out of his head, swarming and grouping themselves into clouds, like cells or organisms possessing a basic, motile intelligence.
“Sometimes doing the music feels like completing a Rubik’s Cube to me,” says Lynch on the internal processes that breed his songs. It’s an apt analogy, although the songs sound more like a Rubik’s Cube solving itself: brightly colored squares sliding and rotating, planes and facets shifting and then pausing to dwell on a brief, jazzy thought.
Lines is a faster, more ornate diversion from Lynch’s previous recordings. His first two records, 2009’s Orange You Glad and 2010’s Mare, were constructed using “little games in my head that I was playing as I wrote the songs. The new record doesn’t share those structural restrictions, and the games I play with myself on this one are different.” Lynch calls Terra, his previous release from 2011, a “minimal pop” record—an approach that has been replaced steadily by more and more ambitious dynamics that seem to better and better reflect life’s circular flow through chaos and serenity.
Lynch’s musical journey began, officially, at age 10. Jealous of his older brother’s role as bassoonist in the school orchestra, he sprang for a musical path as well, shrewdly selecting the clarinet because he saw his brother “carrying that huge bassoon to school every day.”
Soon, music provided more for Lynch than just good times and brotherly love; it became a way to engage the world around him. “I think, for a lot of kids that get into the weird music that I was into in high school—being somehow socially alienated or just being a weird kid into punk rock—music immediately takes on something more than just the records you’re listening to, or notes on a page.” In high school, he was bitten by the band bug—a contagion in his hometown in New Jersey, and one that affected all of his friends, including those that now comprise the bands Real Estate, Ducktails and Family Portrait (among many others) and the masterminds of Underwater Peoples, the youthful, eclectic, on-point label they developed together.
“It’s been amazing working with those guys. At some point in college, they began talking about wanting to do a music label. Their first release was a CD-R of mine that was never distributed, actually! Then their first few releases just started selling out very quickly. Every time I came back home from Wisconsin, they seemed more established, and more and more people were going to the shows.” Underwater Peoples has been a comfortable home for Lynch, a place of friendship and, when necessary, easygoing professionalism.
Those pivotal experiences have sustained his drive until the present day, propelling him like a lit fuse on a rocket. He is currently working full-time to pursue a PhD in anthropology and ethnomusicology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, but Lynch balks at his music being too strongly associated with his professional interests, or vice versa.
“My academic research is really on cultural uses of music, not on the music itself. I think people sometimes use it as a cue to write about my music using exoticising language, or take it as a marker of cultural appropriation, but that’s not my intention at all,” says Lynch.
The intersections of his two passions are incidental, diverging branches of the same tree. For example, while in Madison, Lynch jumped at a rare opportunity to take tabla lessons at the university. But he’s used them more out of respect for his neighbors’ eardrums than for the Indian religious music he studies, and his guitar phrasing seems more to reflect Frank Zappa than Ravi Shankar. “I’ll say that a lot of the things that got me interested in ethnomusicology were in many ways the same things that made me feel more comfortable in making my own music, or inspired me to make my own music.”
Lynch’s recordings evoke the mysterious and uncertain revelations one glimpses while regarding the various turnings of the Earth. However, the exotic feel of these tunes is not because they come from the East, or India, but because they come from the strange inner recesses of the mind, a place where few of us delve as deeply as we could.
It’s not the tabla or tinkling bells or glockenspiels that imbue Lynch’s songs with their vigor and presence—it’s their interweaving and elevating impulses, the magic of tones joining together and becoming something more. Indeed, the intoxicating swirl of music has certainly taken up residence in Lynch’s head, but only because it first took root years ago in his heart. F
3 ALBUMS THAT INSPIRED JULIAN LYNCH TO MAKE MUSIC
Four Organs/Phase Patterns
I first heard this when I was around 18. Reich made me more curious about limiting the sonic palette I was working with, and building songs around the introduction of simple musical phrases and their eventual contortion and elaboration.
I wish my records sounded like this! Listening to this band has taught me, at the very least, that I don’t need to write intelligible or syntactical lyrics in order to have singing be an important melodic component in my music.
Daimajin (film score)
I only started seriously listening to music by Akira Ifukube recently, but I’ve really fallen in love with his work. Listening to Ifukube’s music has definitely strengthened my desire to score films.