Ivan Julian at a 1990 gig with Richard Hell at Club Citta in Kawasaki, Japan. Regarding the
pants, Julian says “Jet lag makes you do weird things—but it’s fun!” Photo by Gin Saton
Listen to Julian's "Sticky" and "A Young Man's Money" from The Naked Flame:
As wide-ranging as his work has been, it wasn’t until recently that Julian released his first solo album, The Naked Flame. And he says he wouldn’t have even done so if it weren’t for the members of an Argentinean band called Capsula insisting upon it while he was mixing their 2009 album, Rising Mountains. Fittingly, Capsula joins Julian on his long-overdue solo debut. The music is raw and cathartic and filled with all sorts of fascinatingly multifaceted guitar parts—from the explosive leads of the title track to the funky minor-7th rhythm work on “The Funky Beat in Siamese” to the country-blues inspired octaves of “You Is Dead.” We talked with Julian about how he got these sounds and, more broadly, how he conceives music in general.
I understand you have the distinction of possibly being one of the only guitarists alive who first played the bassoon.
You also absorbed a bit of theory in high school. Did that shape your approach to the guitar?
It’s more like an analytical thing: I know my scales and my intervals, and I can easily communicate with other musicians. I don’t really think about theory when I play guitar, as you can probably tell from my playing. [Laughs.] To me, it’s more about geometry than anything else—I make triangles, squares, and trapezoids on the fretboard with my fingers and see what happens.
What was it like to make geometric shapes with Richard Hell & the Voidoids as part of the first wave of punk?
It was always interesting [laughs]. Richard Hell got a lot of criticism back in the day for his lack of prowess on bass, but I always defended him. While he wasn’t technically accomplished, he was always coming from a place far from the mundane. He invented these great bass lines that almost sounded illustrated— like cartoon characters—and Bob [Quine] and I would try to fit something around those lines. On the other hand, it could sometimes drive us crazy to work with Richard. Because he wasn’t a “real” bass player, we could spend up to a month rehearsing a song in order for him to get up to speed.
How did you and Quine distribute the guitar responsibilities?
Bob and I agreed we’d never play on the same part of the neck at the same time. I’ve always found that it’s redundant for two guitarists to be playing the same open G chord. One should find something different to play, to make things interesting, and both guitarists needn’t be constantly playing at the same time. Another thing about working with Bob was that he was heavily jazz influenced, and he turned me on to a lot of great music like Albert Ayler records and odd Charlie Parker outtakes—nonstandard stuff that got me to incorporate subtle nuances when soloing and encouraged me to be more adventurous in general.