Music bloggers across the country began going gaga for local multi-instrumentalist and ethnomusicology Ph.D. student Julian Lynch in 2009, when Pitchfork reviewed his album Orange You Glad. Now Lynch, whose music is a swirl of dreamy pop with a touch of psychedelic sugar, is about to release his third full-length album, Terra, while planning an overseas trip to conduct field research for his dissertation.
I spoke with Lynch amid the protests at the Capitol, where he's been picketing with thousands of other students and sending cheeky messages to the masses via Twitter. Studying at UW-Madison has helped Lynch create some beautiful music he probably wouldn't have created anywhere else, so sticking up for UW employees' bargaining rights comes with the territory.
Terra will hit stores April 26, and Lynch's new MP3, "Terra," just debuted on AlteredZones.com.
Your recent tweets have been terrific, especially the one where you faux-quote Gov. Walker saying your newest MP3 made him realize he's being unreasonable. How else have you been protesting?
I've been spending a lot of time at the Capitol. I have a fellowship with a three-year limit, and I have quite a few years to go in my program, so this [budget-repair bill] will definitely affect me. It will affect everyone I work with in both of my departments: ethnomusicology and anthropology.
There seems to be a lot of excitement for Terra here in Madison and beyond. What was it like to make?
I started it in my apartment here in Madison, then finished it up at the house of a friend who has a lot more equipment than I do, in New Jersey. I can make a lot more noise there. For me, Madison has meant making quieter music. When I was living in Washington, D.C., the stuff I made was generally a lot louder, probably because I knew it wouldn't bother the neighbors.
How else has living in Madison shaped the ways you create music?
I think having a student schedule rather than a 9-to-5 job has played a huge role. In D.C., I didn't have a lot of musician friends, but after a few months of living here, I met people who played music. There seems to be more of a community for musicians, or maybe it's just easier to find other musicians here. Either way, there are a ton of people here who I find inspiring in what they do, musically and otherwise.
You're originally from Ridgewood, N.J. What kind of place is that?
It's a suburb that's around 30,000 people: not too big, not too small. It's pretty close to New York City on the commuter train, and the reason everyone seems to move there is because it has a really good public education system, particularly when it comes to music education. I had a lot of musical resources growing up. I learned how to play instruments in school and took up the clarinet in fourth grade, so pretty soon I was part of chamber ensembles and the concert band. I'm glad I had these opportunities.
It's been exciting to watch your music generate lots of buzz on the national level. Did you see the spotlight coming, or was it a surprise?
I never anticipated it. Truthfully, it's probably not that many people creating the buzz, but the Internet has accelerated the process.
Also, I'm in a long-distance relationship, so touring is a pragmatic thing for me: My girlfriend is living in Alabama. Before that, she was in L.A. and before that, in D.C. I'll go almost anywhere and play any kind of venue: any size, any kind of town, you name it. People seem to like that.
I like how you integrate some non-Western sounds into your music. What's your approach to doing this?
Part of that is practical: I've taken lessons on tabla drums, and I own a set, plus it's a lot quieter to play and record them in my apartment than having a drum kit. And I like the sound, so I use those on a lot of recordings. What I study is pretty non-Western, too. My thesis is on great highland bagpiping music in the Indian diaspora community in New Jersey. I've studied lots of contemporary Indian music and a little ancient and traditional Indian music.
Who would you really like to collaborate with?
I'm pretty happy with the situation I have here. I've been working with Joel Shanahan [of Jivas, Chocolate Christ and Butt Funnel], and he's really my dream collaborator for Madison. I'm not always the easiest person to play with because I want whoever's playing with me to make decisions for themselves and have fun playing. Every time I say "Just play whatever" to Joel, he creates something amazing.