Julie Byrne & Eric Littmann
words & interview by tom johnson
photograph by joel brenden
collage by nathaniel whitcomb
For all of its talk of the sky and the land, there was something overwhelmingly oceanic about Julie Byrne’s ‘Not Even Happiness’ LP, the 2017 follow-up to her stunning debut, and GoldFlakePaint’s Album of the Year. Dense but gentle, it unwinds as a tender act of submergence, not just in actuality – ‘Sea As It Glides’ weaves field recordings of breaking waves in to its tender composition – but in other ways too, in the shadows and shapes that can’t really be articulated but linger in the unfocused depths of the work.
Her first new music since that album release, Byrne, alongside Not Even Happiness collaborator and live-counterpart Eric Littmann, today unveils brand new track ‘Spain’, lifted from the forthcoming compilation from our friends over at the Stadiums & Shrines publication, and that sense of watery journeying is pushed to new levels once more, the near five-minute composition, all ambient swathes and delicate lapping at untouched shores, both illusory and ethereal, the shimmering nature of the production underpinning layers of soft vocal undercurrents that fall in and out focus.
Streaming below today, alongside a short interview with S&S’ Dave Sutton, the new track adds further weight to one of 2018’s most ambitious and grand projects:
“A double LP compilation and 20-page gatefold book, (featuring) 18 original sound compositions, handmade collages, and written vignettes — creative exchanges between musicians and New York-based website Stadiums & Shrines — preserved, sequenced, and released in collaboration with Cascine.”
Featuring the likes of Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Yumi Zouma, Emily Reo + Cuddle Formation, Maria Usbeck, Mutual Benefit, and many more, the new compilation is a beautiful and significant achievement, inspired and enriched by the art of slowing down, of searching for significance in the busiest of worlds. “Spain” is indicative of this nature, a stunning moment of escape that was inspired by one of Nathaniel Whitcomb’s many collages, utilised throughout the compilation, and then illuminated further by creative text from Sutton and Matthew Sage:
A city fixed upon a spindle spinning. Walkways rounding the afternoon axis. Waterways teeming like eels at high tide on a tight surface. All points arc forward; skip a shadow, graze a brick, hover above the hands of time. Any sudden pinch or push sets dimensions adrift, perspectives anew, crossing thresholds thru arches in shuffling loops.
“Afternoon to you…” a merchant waves and smiles, stepping from the entrance to the cobblestone, tipping the plane sideways for the passerby’s reply; her shop’s flowers slide and re-align when she readjusts the gyres hang.
The next round, skipping past her shop — past the mirrored arrangements, the swiveling invitations, the expired openings — she suggests a different series of doors, to a different passerby, on a different plane. Greeting new ensembles, old townfolk, interloping trajectories interwoven rotations.
“Afternoon to you…”
The full ‘Dreams’ compilation is released next Friday, in collaboration with Cascine, and is available to pre-order right now as a limited edition double LP, right here. Check out the brand new track from Julie Byrne and Eric Littmann right here, and scroll a little further to read more about the Dreams project, courtesy of David Sutton.
Firstly, what was the most daunting aspect of pulling the compilation together?
Bringing it to physical form. We started Dreams as an open-ended project and years went by before we realized it was a body of work drifting on the internet that we wanted to preserve. The collaborations happened over emails and facebook messages. In hindsight, we could have been doing a few logistical things along the way, had we known this would one day become a compilation. Once we started talking to Cascine about the record, there were many trails to retrace, permissions and proper sound files to retrieve. Cascine’s guidance really expanded the scope and possibility of it all.
And what was the most surprising aspect, now that you’re nearly at the release stage?
Suppose it’s that scope. S&S has always been a low-key thing, an abstract outlet for us outside of our real lives. It’s been a learning experience for me to become comfortable with Dreams leaving the clouds, being able to talk about, share it at Moogfest, stuff like that. Some ambitions existed for the record to manifest, but it’s still surprising, or surreal is the better word, to see the series leap from google docs to an object, and be understood by peers and places I admire.
There’s always been such a strong aesthetic vein to S&S – something which is evident once more on the compilation. How easy is it to stay true to that?
The aesthetic comes naturally, but it’s harder to keep at it in general, to find time, to stay present and observant in this space, also to not be overly true to any single parameter or style. To be open, evolve.
Do you feel like blogs can still dictate success for artists or do you think they fulfil another role now?
Early support from blogs can still help shape narratives and amplify voices, the energy around GoldFlakePaint is proof of that. Different days now, there are more immediate ways to find and share new music, but context remains key. Hopefully, we’ll continue seeing creative and longer format approaches, opportunities to provide context around the sounds and a platform for the artists themselves.
Where do you see the future lying for S&S – is that something you think much about or are you more free-spirited than that?
I used to think about it a lot. Letting go of that was important. S&S can float and fade, around the edges, whether it’s a website or something else. I’d like to see it settle one day, physically, in a field, somewhere you can visit.
How did the collaboration with Julie and Eric come about?
I reached out to Julie about dreaming in 2014, the thread stayed open. We met a year later at Cross Record’s home in Dripping Springs. Here’s a story: it was after SXSW, Portals was involved in this outdoor event there called Chill Phases. I’d been working an intense production job during the festival, the kind of thing that drains the spirit. The idea of seeing Julie play at the end of the week kept me going; I told Tyler Andere that. That night I was stuck on the outskirts of Austin without a ride and convinced a cab to bring me an hour to Dripping Springs. Julie heard about this mission from Tyler and moved her set time back into the night so I’d be able to see it.
Julie moved to New York shortly after and sometimes stayed with my partner Victoria and I. Around that time Eric and I connected, first through blogs, he did a visual mixtape with Flashlight Tag and S&S in 2011, and later in Brooklyn. We did a few shows together, Phantom Posse things, he also helped with sound for some of our showcases. Eric started working with Julie on Not Even Happiness. The dream idea came up again, this time for them to work on it together; then things really took off with the album. Eventually, about two years after the initial email, they sent back “Spain” just after touring there.
Dreams // 15th June 2018
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