The songs of Julie Byrne are hushed and mysterious. Close-miked within the natural reverb of windowless rooms, utilising fingerpicked nylon-strung guitar and Byrne’s rich sequestered voice, they unfold from bare folk simplicity to abstracted tales of homelife and longing that conjure up a simultaneous feeling of warm-cabin intimacy and a deep interior sadness.
“I was born and raised in Buffalo, New York,” explains Byrne. “My dad worked as a wedding singer. I grew up with the sound of his playing all the time. I just remember the form and the sound of his playing, not the actual focus. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when I was in fourth grade so hasn’t been able to work in a long time. My mum now she’s just kind of cares for him. I think that growing up in a climate like that – Buffalo has winters that are just so unbearable – certain rituals become cultivated when you’re homebound. So, yeah, I think it just kind of creeps in.”
Byrne first started playing music herself in 2007, aged seventeen. “I think of it as like an inheritance,” she says, “because I didn’t start playing until my dad wasn’t able to play anymore. It’s been progressive. A slow road.”
Her debut solo album, Rooms With Walls And Windows, is released on Owen’s Orindal Records today. To accompany the release here is the beautiful video for Prism Song, assembled from original footage shot by Julie’s grandfather, Arthur Byrne between 1956 and 1978.
“The woman who appears in many of the stills is my grandmother Julia who I was named after,” explains Byrne. “She was a wonderful painter. I never had an opportunity to meet her, she passed in 1987, three years before I was born. My father, Michael, my Aunt Pamela and my Uncle Dennis mostly appear during the earlier part of their childhood however, there’s a scene where my father is hang-gliding, which was shot when he was in his early 20s.”
“I don’t have much of a reason for choosing the footage in terms of relevance to the song, I’m just mesmerized by the presence of my grandmother on film and the vision of my father in his youth when he still had full use of his mobility. The inaccuracies of Super 8 film and especially the flaws of the digital conversion of those files are miraculous in slow motion. My grandfather worked for F.N. Burt Company as an engineer. He designed automated machines that put products in boxes, like cosmetics and chocolate. He lived in Western New York all his life except for when he served in Vietnam. I don’t think he really recognized or had the time to consider his creativity outside of industry but there’s this real and incredible artistry to those videos. There are so many, strange, distant, mysterious forms, people with their backs to sun, empty rooms, blank walls or blown out close-ups of these intimate symbols. Again, in part I think the images are so striking because of the quality of the film but there are also scenes that have a very vibrant and intentional symmetry.”
Rooms With Walls And Windows is out now on Orindal Records.