Joel St. Julien
Composer, Musician, Sound Designer, Studio and Apartment, San Francisco
Can you give us an introduction on who you are and where do you come from?
My name is Joel St. Julien. I'm a composer, musician, songwriter and sound artist from San Francisco. I grew up in Marlboro, MA and was a reluctant music geek. I am still quite reluctant.
I manage an employment program for young people in the City by day. By night I’m a husband, Dad and music maker.
How did you start playing music? What instruments do you play?
When I was 5 or 7 I got a Casio keyboard for Christmas and started writing tunes on that. Then I would borrow my Dad's tape recorder and record myself singing. Formally, I started playing piano in 4th grade and took lessons for the next four years. When Nirvana came on the scene, everyone wanted to play guitar so I started to learn how to play. From there I started writing my own songs. All the while I was in choirs in school, jazz ensemble playing bass, playing in a Dave Matthews Band cover band (!!!), and learning music theory. I have always played in bands. Particularly in college, that's all I did. That was my job / extracurricular activity. I played shows in my band and went to shows. I wanted to be a rock star. Then I got married and moved out to San Francisco, I started a band Ellul with my friend Joel Tarman. We've released three albums, toured regionally and nationally and have sort of been in hiatus since I became a father in 2010. I don't want to be a rock star anymore. I just want to write good music and have libraries of it for my daughter and her kids to have.
I sing, play the acoustic guitar, electric guitar (through many pedals and devices), bass, various keys (piano, melodica, harmonium), tambourine, harmonica, and the monome. I use Ableton Live to compose with all of my instruments and create sampled software instruments from whatever sounds I capture. I also have a banjo, which I am struggling to learn how to play.
Explain which path brought you to composed music?
When I was 22, I graduated from college, broke up with my band, and was working an awful job and really lonely. A friend gave me some cracked software called Fruity Loops (now FL Studio) and I began composing electronic music. From there, my world completely opened up. Not only did I listen to music as notes and rhythm, but as sound and texture. When I moved to San Francisco, I was working at a rewarding yet emotionally draining job for kids with mental illness and I needed an out. I found a year long program where I could study music production in the City at Pyramind. While I was there, I was given absurd amounts of positive feedback on my music and approach to composing so I decided to try this out. That was about 3 years ago. Since then I've had the opportunity to write music for Stanford University, Adobe, Zumpango Films and some Silicon Valley start ups. I'm currently in the last stages of completing a score for a documentary on Urban Farming called Growing Cities. After that I'll start working on an independent feature film.
I play in a band called Ellul. I play in another band called Him Downstairs (with my wife). We will release some music this year. I also have two untitled projects that I hope to release music under after I've finished this film. I post many of my ideas and completed tracks on my Soundcloud page.
Recently, a client told me that they like working with me because I am genreless, meaning that I am not attached to any type of genre while at the same time having a distinct sound. I found that very flattering. I like composing because it stretches me to write different types of music which I think is a great exercise for an artist. Otherwise I think I would write lots of drones all the time. Drones aren't bad, but they're comfortable for me and my biggest fear is being ordinary. Ordinary isn't bad, but I'd rather be authentic, true to myself. I wear many different hats. I can write songs on my guitar and sing, but I also like to experiment on my guitar with pedals. I also like to make beats and dance to them. Yet, I've also had the opportunity to write some music for strings and for bluegrass players. I guess my style of music is expansive and it's a metaphor for my approach to life. I want more spaciousness.
What and who inspires you?
As vague as this may seem, emotion inspires me. One of my strengths and weaknesses is that I really take in the emotions of others very deeply. This can provide a great sense of empathy as well as crippling depression. Both take me to interesting places musically. I tend to make very sad music by default!
My partner is also a writer and writes every day. She tries to create and do something artistic every single day...all while taking care of our two year old daughter. You can't get much more inspiring than that. She makes no excuses. I'm blessed to have such a symbol and practitioner of the creative life sharing the same roof as me.
Lastly, music truly begets more music. I am inspired by artists who make challenging music. By challenging, I don't necessarily mean music that is hard to listen to, though I would include some in that category. I realize that this may sound pretentious but I love music that is from the heart, music that has nothing to prove; it just is what it is.
Do you have musics that you love and could hear for hours?
Oh...so many. I have to refer to what's moving me recently:
The Disintegration Loops by William Basinski
No Drums by Tim Hecker
Wagner's Liebestod sung by Jessye Norman
Zodiac Shit by Flying Lotus
Convergence by Jonny Greenwood
Ndivumbamireiwo by Four Brothers
Let Down by Radiohead
B-Boys Makin with the Freak Freak by Beastie Boys
2/2 by Brian Eno
Midnight Marauders by A Tribe Called Quest
Blowout Comb by Digable Planets
There are too many too mention... I-Roy, Manno Charlemagne, Sigur Ros, Sonic Youth, Deerhoof, Bjork, Dirty Projectors, Stereolab, De La Soul, Jon Brion... anyone who is unafraid to reinvent themselves.
What object, tool, instrument or anything else you absolutely can't work without (except your mac of course :-)) ?
Ha! I could live without my mac! Couldn't live without my voice and guitar though. World could end and I'd be by myself singing songs or making beats with rocks. What's amazing about music is that can utilize any tool. Everything is at your disposal. That is perhaps why electronic music is so inspiring to me. I could record myself hitting a table with a pencil and create an entire piece of music from that piece of source material using tools that all electronic musicians use on a mac. In the end though, my guitar and my voice are indispensable to me.
Describe your work in 3 words?
Paradox, rules, everything.
Describe SF in 3 words
Untapped, Potential, Awaits.
What are your favorite spots in town when you take a day off?
Anywhere with my family, though I love picnics at Dolores Park! And the Academy of Sciences!!
What is your favorite place to eat in San Francisco?
Rhea’s Deli -- Church St. Sandwich
Please, take 3 instant pics of whatever you like:
Thank you so much Joel for letting me enter into your music environment, and for singing me a song!
If you want to know a little bit more about Joel St. Julien, here is his a fun video he made: http://vimeo.com/55967998. And if you want to reach him, here is the link to his About Me Page: http://about.me/joelstjulien.
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