Julian playing an Ampeg Dan Armstrong guitar at New York City’s famed CBGB club in in 1978.
“That’s the last guitar I ever sold,” he laments. “I miss it. Never sell guitars—ever.” Photo by Tanda

How would you describe your compositional process?

The impetus for my songs often comes from my immediate surroundings. I wrote the music to “Liars Beware” off [the Voidoids’ 1977 classic] Blank Generation when I had just moved to New York and heard about four or five sirens upon exiting the subway—sounds that turned themselves into a guitar riff. Other times, a song will emerge as a reimagining of an older one. When I wrote the title track to The Naked Flame, I set out to make a modern-day version of “Fire” by Jimi Hendrix. My writing process also involves the other musicians I work with—their input can take a song to a place I hadn’t envisioned.

On The Naked Flame you cover Lucinda Williams’ “Broken Butterflies.” How did your arrangement come about?

I was a slave to the song—I gave it what it needed to walk on its own two feet. The song seemed to call for just a tiny bit of guitar and mostly harmonium, on account of its organic sound. I love that instrument. It’s just so human, with its leather bag pumping away like a pair of lungs or some wild sexual thing. By the way, I didn’t actually play the guitar on that track. It’s my friend Nick Tremulis, a player from Chicago who’s got this wonderful, rootsy style. I told him just to pretend to be me, so his playing on the song is an interpretation of what I do—which is often over-the-top and angular. What you hear isn’t in the exact same sequence as he played it, though. This is a rare example of my using a little Pro Tools action to move the guitar parts around a little for a more powerful arrangement.

Julian playing a 1966 Fender Mustang at a 1981 gig with the Outsets, the
band he formed after leaving the Voidoids. Photo by Lisa Lloyd

Let’s talk about some of the guitar work you did play. How did you get that great, vocal-like sound on the title track?

In my living room, I plugged my Strat into a Peavey Bandit and cranked both the amp and a Rat pedal just before the point of breaking up. I mic’d the amp with my favorite mic for electric guitars—an Electro-Voice PL76, which has such a warm, natural sound. I placed the PL76 off-center and got a bit of the room sound in there—the room should always be a part of the amp, in my opinion. To record the parts I used an old Tascam 8-track, which I fed into a 24-track for a raw sound that you don’t get when using digital equipment exclusively. As for the actual playing, I made a conscious effort to avoid the obvious—tired blues lines between the vocal phrases—so I tried to create some unusual nuances there.

Watch the video for the title track from The Naked Flame: