How Julie Byrne’s Astral Folk Music Took Flight

“I’m not trying to be crazy, I promise!” Julie Byrne She joked as she carefully arranged colorful tiles and pieces of clay on the dining table in her minimally furnished Queens apartment. In a milk-chocolate tank top, cargo pants, and tight-fitting knit slippers, the cozy and stylish singer-songwriter spotted a jagged white tile with the phrase “let go” scrawled on it in a black sharpie.

“There was a third one that said ‘future,’ and I gave it to a friend,” Byrne said, adding that these messages were part of her first record in six years, the titled collection of heated ambient folk. I explained that it helps tell the story. “bigger wings” schedule for friday.

The 32-year-old Byrne didn’t necessarily plan for a long hiatus after his breakthrough in 2017. “I’m not even happy” This elegant and emotionally sharp album earned her critical acclaim. But her closing track on that album, “I Live Now as a Singer,” was a manifestation of sorts. After touring for two years, she moved from New York to Los Angeles in late 2018, beginning her first career as a working musician. It was an uneasy transition.

“It was a period of tremendous immersion in my own doubts,” Byrne said. “It took me a long time to learn to make good use of my time.”

Byrne grew up in Buffalo, New York, where he spent time climbing grain mills and exploring the city’s abandoned Central Terminal. She picked up the guitar at the age of 17 and taught herself the instrument of her father, who was a finger stylist and stopped playing when she was diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis. . “My guitar playing comes from her family heritage,” she said.

After graduating from high school, Byrne spent the next few years drifting across the United States. “Her mother used to travel a lot at that age, and I loved the story of her mother at that age,” Byrne said. “I had been almost nowhere and wanted to experience more. There was a lot of romance in that dream.” He released several cassettes of folk songs, which were later compiled into his 2014 debut, Rooms With Walls and Windows.

Three years later, Byrne’s dedication to non-stop touring brought her music to a wider audience with ‘Not Even Happiness’. However, this success created some stress in her process. “There is mysticism in creativity, but sometimes I fell into the idea that I wanted the process to be mystical,” she explains with a bright smile. Before getting lost in thought again. “When I was younger, I was more about spontaneous writing than perseverance and day after day effort.”

In the winter of 2020, Byrne had just moved from California to Chicago to live closer to his longtime creative collaborator Eric Littman. After meeting at South by Southwest in 2014, Littman moved there performance The piece, which featured Byrne playing in the bed of a dried-up creek, quickly struck a creative chord between the two and became romantically involved for about a year.Littman became Byrne’s go-to musical partner while also making his own bedroom pop with the moniker. Steve Sobbs and leading Phantom Possea New York-based collective featuring artists such as iLoveMakonnen, Vagabon and Emily Yacina, who also produced solo music.

After their first attempt at recording “Not Even Happiness” in Brooklyn, but struggling to find calm in the chaos, Littman and Byrne moved into her childhood home in Buffalo for four months. . Both were eager to recapture that immersive creative energy with The Greater Wings. Littman worked as a cancer researcher by day, but at night and on weekends he would tinker with Byrne on drafts of songs that turned into tracks like this: “Summer Glass” The synth-driven standout that shimmers on the new album ends with the line, “I want to be healthy enough to take risks again.”

By early 2021, Byrne and Littman were steadily working on the song, traveling across the country to record harp and string arrangements. However, in June of that year, Littmann died suddenly at the age of 31. Byrne refused to discuss the circumstances of his death, which remains a deep and precarious loss.

“He was a really great guy. He had a lot of faith in what we and I tried to do together. It never wavered,” Byrne said. “It wasn’t his vision or his technical skills or even his artistry that made this collaboration so rich and idiosyncratic, but his love and compassion.” As Byrne returned to New York to be closer to his support system. , work on “The Greater Wings” was suspended for his seven months. Her current apartment is right next door to the one she and Littman shared when they made “Not Even Happiness.”

At the time of Littman’s death, the bulk of the album had been planned, with at least four songs nearing completion. When it came time to resume recording, Byrne sought outside help. Her Ghostly, the experimental electronic record label that signed Byrne after her, linked her with producer Alex Summers, known for his work with Sigur Ros and Julianna Berwick.

“Julie and I have been friends for many years and Eric was a big part of my community,” Summers recalled by phone. A friend at the label messaged him, “Julie doesn’t want to back down.”

After a few informal hangouts at Summers’ Los Angeles home, Byrne and her collaborators reunited in January 2022 at a cozy studio in New York’s Catskill Mountains. “It was a really tense experience,” Summers said. “Every day, at least one person cried.”

But as Byrne sings in the serene “Portrait of a Sunny Day,” “Love affirms the pain of life.” So while the album came to a close with a sense of loss, Byrne emphasized that “a lot of it comes not from death or grief, but from life, our shared life.” She added that “a deep and wild romance of friendship is at the heart of this record.”

It’s a sentiment articulated in the title track Byrne completed after Littman’s death. Over contemplative guitar melodies and sacred atmospheres, Byrne engages in continuous artistic evolution, sketching scenes from the past he shared with Littman. “I hope, like so many others, I don’t come here without seeing anything new.”

“With this statement comes a sense of responsibility to embody this statement in action, not just words,” Byrne said. “Perhaps the very act of completing a song is one of many beginnings for him in that endeavor.”

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