Julian and his 1962 Strat with drummer Florent Barbier and bassist Sharron Sulami at a
May 2010 gig at the Trash Bar in New York City. Photo by Ann ‘Arbor

How about amplification and effects?

One of the key ingredients to my sound is the speakers I use—Electro-Voice SROs, which I put in everything, even that Peavey Bandit I’ve got. Generally, I use a silverface Fender Twin live, but in the studio I use only small amps, which are best for recording since they push less air and get more tone than larger amps. I’ve got everything from old Danelectros to Magnatones to a nice blackface Fender Princeton.

I don’t use much in the way of effects, just a Rat distortion and Boss compression and digital delay pedals. I’ve also got an old Maestro Mini-Phase, which I used as an envelope filter on “The Funky Beat in Siamese” from the new record. I should mention that I played a Danelectro baritone guitar on that song, which was fun but tricky—you have to use a whole different approach than if you were just playing guitar or bass.

Julian and Bob Quine recording “Walking on the Water,” from the Voidoids 1977 album,
Blank Generation. Photo by Kate Simon

How would you describe that approach?

On the baritone, it’s best to come up with lines and patterns that fall in the middle of the instrument’s range. If you play in the bottom of the range, you’ll get in the way of the bass guitar, and if you play high on the neck, you might as well be playing a guitar. It’s as if you’re in an orchestra playing a cello, whose range overlaps with the standup bass and the violin.

Speaking of how things blend together on tracks, how did you get into recording and engineering—and do you have a benchmark for that work?

Julian onstage with the Voidoids in 1977.
It all started when I heard the snare drum on the Stones’ “Satisfaction.” The sound was so compelling and tribal, and I became curious about how sounds were made. Later, when I was with the Voidoids, I sort of had Nick Lowe as a mentor. He has a way of bringing unexpected things out of musicians. Nick had us do this pop stuff that if anyone else tried to get us to do we would have just told them to go away. He understood so completely how every instrument works, both alone and in a band, and had a democratic approach to producing, as opposed to someone coming in and saying, “I’m the producer—the rest of you don’t know crap.” I think I’ve adapted a similar approach to engineering and producing. I never say no to what a musician wants, no matter how crazy that thing is, unless I know it’s absolutely not going to work.

What’s an example of an odd request that another producer might reject but that you’d accept?

When I work with Jon Spencer, he might ask for something so compressed that it’s all static-y and fucked-up sounding— sounds that most people try to avoid. Or he might want an odd percussive sound and I’ll help him find it, for example, by banging on the edge of a Wurlitzer with a drumstick.

How would you sum up your overall philosophy when it comes to writing, playing, and producing?

I say no matter what you do, let your spleen show—give it your all.

Ivan Julian’s Gearbox
1962 Fender Stratocaster with 1973 neck, assorted vintage Teiscos, Danelectro electric baritone, Hanson Cigno, Gibson Hummingbird

1970s Fender Twin Reverb, 1960s Fender Princeton, Peavey Bandit, assorted Danelectros and Magnatones

Pro Co Rat, Boss CS-3 Compression Sustainer, Boss DD-3 Digital Delay

Strings, Picks, and Accessories
D’Addario XLs (.010, .011, and .012 sets), D’Addario Phosphor Bronze (.012s for 6- and 12-string guitars), Fender medium picks, Kyser capos