Inspired by wandering the globe, Julie Byrne has finally settled in the city of New York, just in time to release her brand new album, Not Even Happiness. As a “beguilingly ode to the fringes of life” Byrne’s delicate-yet-bold sound creates a soothing bond between the listener and herself—pampering your soul with every word whilst simultaneously prompting an inner sadness. With her previous album being crowned “2014’s Great American Album” by the Huffington Post, this up-and-coming superstar has certainly delivered once again.
Hi Julie! We heard your new album was inspired by your travels and the “numerous places you’ve called home in America.” Could you tell us a bit about your travels, and how they inspired you to make music?
At the time in my life that many of the songs come from, having no fixed home placed me at the mercy of my daily experiences and certainly at the generosity of other people. It also saw me to the end of a fantasy I had: that there was a material place I would find, where I’d live beyond the reaches of pain that I’d long felt. Part of choosing to travel came from a desire to be released from the past and to begin again unknown, reflecting the ways I’d felt I had changed. And though I was experiencing growth in travel, it was the immense difficulty I felt trying to stay in one place that forged the realization—the emptiness that had driven me and remained with me, could not be satisfied by any external change. And although it’s not easy to confront, there’s a sense of victory in finally seeing it.
Your last album was released in 2014. What have you been up to in the meanwhile, and how have you evolved as an artist since then?
I was travelling and touring and writing for quite a while before settling in New York City last February. This past summer, I worked in Central Park as a seasonal urban park ranger, which I loved. I found that position to be so full of vibrancy and purpose. In terms of my evolution as an artist and as a woman, I hope that I’m gradually aligning myself with aspirations of the spirit and in doing so, become more intentional in my daily life.
Do you (ever) think about your listeners when you write a song? What’s the most important thing you hope to evoke from them?
I do write with the listener in mind, it’s always my wish to connect deeply and personally with those who hear the songs. There’s no overarching principle in my work but I’d say each song carries its own hope.
Where would be the ideal setting for someone to listen to the new album?
Wherever they’d like!
In the song Natural Blue you sing, “When I first saw you, the sky it was such a natural blue”. Perhaps this is a personal one, but could you tell us a little bit about these lyrics?
When I wrote that song, I had been on tour for 40 days and I had maybe 30 left to go. We didn’t build in any period of rest between shows, so I really felt that I was at the mercy of any given day. I had no grounding and no real privacy, and it was difficult to live like that. We were staying outside of Boulder, CO—my friend’s cousin was going to school out there and she was living in an old mountain house with five friends. A few of them had grown up in that town so had lived there all their lives. It was a world separate from the one that I was used to and also entirely disconnected from the national DIY music community that I’m a part of.
They ended up having a party at the house that night, and the past few months had been a difficult time for everyone ‘cause there’d been a series of landslides in the town before that. It seemed like the first time that people had been able to come together and see each other; it was a very spirited gathering. I didn’t know anyone there except my best friend David—who I was traveling with—and a boy we’d met in Denver, who we always thought was a wild star. We immersed ourselves in that night and hardly got any sleep. Not long after dawn, we had to pack up and get ready to leave on a 10-hour drive to Lawrence, KS. It felt like there was no real break between what we had experienced that night and the day that followed. Natural Blue came from feeling so at the mercy of the experience of touring and somehow breaking through to fully live in those moments of mysterious peace, wherever they may be. You can’t expect more than that, living that life.
We feel like your music (especially tracks like I Live Now As A Singer) is often very cinematic. What would be the ultimate visual to your music?
Thank you! I’ll respond in a poem:
I don’t have a sense of what this visual would be,
It remains a mystery even to me!