Sometimes it can take years to find your calling. Not for Julie Byrne, whose power of lyrical expression and musical nous seems inborn. Often what comes naturally cannot be driven by speed and time. Julie’s second album, Not Even Happiness, has evolved at its own pace. It spans recollections of bustling roadside diners, the stars over the high desert, the aching weariness of change, the wildflowers of the California coast, and the irresolvable mysteries of love. Her new album vividly archives what would have otherwise been lost to the road, and in doing so, Byrne exhibits her extraordinarily innate musicality.
Some of the songs on Not Even Happiness took years of fine-tuning to reach their fruition. If you asked her why the follow up to 2014’s Rooms With Walls and Windows has taken so long, you’d be greeted with a bewildered expression melted into a smile – as though the strangest question had just been asked. “Writing comes from a natural process of change and growth. It took me up to this point to have the capacity to express my experience of the time in my life that these songs came from.”
Julie Byrne has counted Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Seattle, New Orleans and Northampton, Massachusetts as her transient homes in recent years. For now, she’s settled in New York City, moonlighting as a seasonal urban park ranger in Central Park. Whether witnessing the Pacific Northwest for the first time (‘Melting Grid’), the morning sky in the mountains of Boulder (‘Natural Blue’), or a journey fragrant with rose water; reading Frank O’Hara aloud from the passengers seat during a drive through the Utah desert into the rainforest of Washington State (‘The Sea As It Glides’), Not Even Happiness is Julie’s beguilingly ode to the fringes of life.
“The title of the album comes from a letter I wrote to a friend after a trip to Riis Park’s ‘The People’s Beach’,,,it was the first warm afternoon of the year. I walked alongside the Atlantic as the Earth came alive for the sun. There was a palpable sense of emergence to everything. I felt it in myself too, and remember thinking I would trade that feeling for nothing…not even happiness.”
Julie taught herself guitar, picking it up when her father became ill and could no longer play. She readily admits she can’t read music and doesn’t even listen to it all that much – her own vinyl was the first in her possession. Back to her childhood home in western New York state to record the album with producer Eric Littmann (Phantom Posse), friend Jake Falby contributed strings at a cabin in Holderness, New Hampshire. “Without possessing the right words, I’d describe to Eric and Jake the feeling I wanted a song to evoke, or I would take a shot at singing what was in my head. Though over all, their contributions to the record are entirely their own vision and their own power. I trusted each of them and we chose each other; our songs came from that place.”
Not Even Happiness offers a bigger picture to its predecessor through a wider exploration of instruments and atmospherics, revealing an artist who has grown in confidence over time. This form of self-evolution permeates through the track titles, as the album opens with, ‘Follow My Voice’ and ends with, ‘I Live Now as a Singer’.” “Those two songs are the nearest to my heart, without hesitation. This is an album with a far stronger sense of self, and fidelity to self than the last,” she says.
Her last album was released in January 2014, on Chicago based DIY label Orindal after first existing as two separate cassette releases. Rooms With Walls and Windows went on to become a true modern-day word of mouth success story (it would have to be for an artist who shuns all forms of social media). By the end of the year, it was voted number 7 in Mojo Magazine’s Best Albums, with the Huffington Post calling it, “2014’s Great American Album.” A collection of hushed intimate front porch psych-folk songs, recalling the greats, but strongly emanating the essence of timeliness. Her journey to follow was captured in two summers through Europe, playing the Green Man Festival and End of the Road, as well as lesser-trodden tour paths around Italy.
In the live arena she enchants, leaving rooms and festival crowds mesmerized by her voice and warm presence, where many find a real connection with Byrne’s intimate songs. This feeling is often shared: “The most magical thing about performing these songs is that afterwards, so many of the conversations I have escape all small talk,” tells Julie. “Shows don’t always have this spirit, but when they do, every person has contributed, even unknowingly, to creating a space of responsiveness to each other through vulnerability, through our unified experience and honesty about our sorrow and our emergence.”
Julie Byrne is taking Not Even Happiness on the road throughout 2017.For tour dates and more visit: juliemariebyrne.com/