For over 35 years, guitarist Ivan Julian has been a seminal figure on the New York punk movement, first as a member of Richard Hell and the Voidoids and the sorely underrated Outsets (not to mention The Lovelies) and later as a record producer, working out of the Lower East Side studio he shares with fellow axeman Matt Verta-Ray of Speedball Baby and Heavy Trash fame called NY HED, where they have worked with such legendary figures as Andre Williams, Kid Congo Powers, James Chance and the Contortions, The Mighty Hannibal and Ronnie Spector to name just a few. For a time he also served as a gun for hire, working alongside the likes of The Clash, Matthew Sweet, Afrika Bambaataa and Shriekback on some of their most acclaimed works.
Earlier this year, Julian released his long-overdue solo debut, The Naked Flame, on the small 00:02:59 label. It is nothing short of a beautiful blast of throwback Bowery punk that stands tall with his very best performances on such classic LPs as The Voidoids' Blank Generation, Matthew Sweet's Girlfriend and The Clash's Sandinista! The IRT was incredibly lucky to have Ivan take a moment from his busy schedule running NY HED and promoting the new record to talk with us about a whole host of topics, particularly some very fond memories of his late friend and fellow Voidoid Robert Quine, who unfortunately committed suicide via heroin overdose on May 31, 1994, following the loss of his wife.
With so many great stories to tell from his years in one of American music's most important movements, it is indeed an honor to have the input of this essential figure in New York rock grace the virtual pages of IRT. The Naked Flame is available on Amazon and at better record stores in the NYC area.
IRT: Why the long wait to record an album under your own name?
Ivan Julian: I never really thought of it that way. I have always been making music; it's what I do. This record 'came about' because the band I recorded with, 'Capsula' did such an amazing job of playing the songs on the demo I sent them that I really had to do it. The songs have always been there.
IRT: Re: the song "You Is Dead", one of the great highlights of The Naked Flame and your tribute to longtime friend and bandmate Robert Quine...where were you when you first heard about Robert Quine's passing?
Ivan: Richard [Hell] called me at home. I sat down and played the piano as I do when I get this kind of news. One never gets used to it.
IRT: Did you stay in touch with Quine through the years? Did you guys ever get together to jam or record?
Ivan: Bob and I were close until the very end. He told me he was going to do this (off himself), because of the pain he was feeling over the loss of his wife. My response was, "Please don't Bob!" He was never one who could tolerate much discomfort and this was all too much for him. Richard and I even discussed ways to help him, as did his other friends but his friends couldn't be there all the time. For anyone who's been through something like this; it's hard to judge someone's actions when they hurt so much. However, you do feel a small tinge of anger because it is ultimately a selfish act. You wanna say, "Hey man, we have to deal with all this shit, too. Why can't you?" And now, "You is Dead". Neither of us were the jamming type. We would get together and trade riffs, listen to records or check out new/old effects pedals and see what kind of sick sounds we could get out of them. It was always major fun!
IRT: What is your favorite memory of Robert Quine?
Ivan: We knew each other for such a long time so there were many but I have to say one sticks out... In Darby, England on the Clash tour, when he slowly took his guitar off and full throttle smashed this guy upside the head that was gobbing on him. Completely out of character and completely Brilliant! There were also the times when together we would go out to the Mudd Club or Danceteria and they wouldn't want to let him in because they thought he was a cop. The person at the door would say to Bob, "You look like his truant officer." Oh, if they only knew...
IRT: What inspired you to cover the Nuns? Did you ever play with them on a bill back in the day?
Ivan: This was a 7" I have owned since it came out in '79. I always thought it was an amazing record, the production, the song, stark minimalism, everything. When I was recording the album it came to me that I had to record 'The Beat'. It worked out and fits as a nice stride. Since The Nuns were together I have come to know Alejandro but I never saw them play because I was out of town a lot then.
IRT: What about Lucinda Williams? What is your favorite attribute of hers as a songwriter and prompted you to cover her song "Broken Butterflies"?
Ivan: Her honesty. She convinces you that what she is singing is real and has or will happen. She scares me and I like that in a writer... not in a lover. And as usual as with any good songwriter, her phrasing... the cadence.
IRT: How did you feel working on The Naked Flame in the middle of the night affected its turnout?
Ivan: Though it made me more of a Zombie in the daytime, I believe overall it was a healthy thing. Why? Because it had to be disciplined. I had a finite amount of time to work between dusk and dawn so I could run back to my cave before the sun got too high in the sky. There I could recharge to be able do it again the next night. Also, there were no distractions, nowhere else I had to be and nothing else to take care of... only the record. I could listen to what was being channeled, not just what I was playing. I wouldn't recommend the nocturnal thing for everyone but I couldn't have gotten it finished any other way.
IRT: How did you come about putting together the band you hired for The Naked Flame?
Ivan: They kinda hired me in a way. A band named 'Capsula' from Bilbao, Spain came to my studio and wanted me to mix their record,'Rising Mountains'. I immediately liked their songs and their approach to the mixture of rhythm and noise. While we were working they suggested that I make a solo record and do a tour in Spain. I was a bit reluctant because I had just done the Osaka Popstar tour and I was looking forward to producing bands in my studio. Nonetheless, after they went back to Spain I sent them demos of some songs which they re-recorded and sent back to me. I thought, "Wow this is exciting; They get it." So began the process of me sending them songs via the web and them sending me back amazing basic tracks, (guitar, bass and drums) for me to complete. The final basics used for the record were sent via the post and everything was done on 24 track tape.
IRT: Has there ever been talk of reissuing The Outsets catalog? Where does that music stand with you today? How about the Lovelies? Has there been any talk of resurrecting Mad Orphan?
Ivan: Some of it was available online for a while but no one has approached me about re-releasing it. I haven't listened to a lot of those recordings in a while so I don't know... I can't resurrect those bands because so many of those people that were involved are gone now, especially Danny Hirsch.
IRT: Tell me about the first time you ever heard hip-hop music.
Ivan: It was the same as today when I hear any kind of new, exciting music that comes at you outta nowhere. The first time I heard Run DMC's "It's Like That" it blew my mind. Then came Public Enemy and they raised the bar to new level that no one has reached since. Especially with It Takes a Nation of Millions... and Fear of a Black Planet which is an ultimate masterpiece. A volcanic cauldron of everything; The Last Poets, stripped down James Brown, early Stones, you name it. Like a galloping horse it doesn't let you jump off once it starts. I think the Shocklee brothers, Chuck D. and Flavor Flav (who played a lot of the instruments on the record) are all geniuses and I seldom use that word.
IRT: What was your favorite club to play in in New York City during the 70s and 80s and if you could please share a favorite story from that venue?
Ivan: CBGB's had the best sound and the best sound system for the room. Probably because of all the wood in there and the way the place was shaped. There are too many stories from CB's to fit here. Mainly because you were there almost every night. It was the 'local' and the great thing about it was that you could see other bands in the scene play on any given night of the week, Tuesday- Talking Heads, Wednesday- The Ramones, Thursday- Blondie. Much like Robert Altman's Nashville, music was everywhere.
One night comes to mind when Sylvia Reed (before she married Lou) and I went to see Bo Diddley at Max's Kansas City. We went to the bar and when I looked up, there was Bo Diddley in the flesh standing right next to me. Now I'm not big collector of autographs but come on, it's Bo Diddley. I didn't have any paper and I thought he deserved more than a napkin so I pulled a fiver out of my pocket and got a pen from the bartender. When I asked him to sign the bill he said and I quote, "Give me your woman and I'll sign it." I said, "I can't really give her to you Mr. Diddley, because I didn't buy her." This went back and forth for a while and eventually he reluctantly signed it. He was hilarious!
IRT: How did you get involved with working on Sandinista! with The Clash? What do you believe is the most lasting affect of that album which continues to make it such an influential touchstone for so many young artists? Also, were you at Bond's for their residency?
Ivan:I knew Topper from my days in London before I moved to New York and The Clash had the The Voidoids open for them on the Give 'em Enough Rope tour. It was Mick that turned me on to Reggae, I mean real Reggae and Dub. Not the watered down stuff that we were getting in America but Raw Sounding 7" singles by bands like Elizabeth Archer and the Equators. Mick and Joe were really into Dub as it shows on Sandinista. Initially I just stopped by Electric Lady to say hello. It wasn't long before I had Joe's Tele in hand banging out the chords to "The Call Up". I believe the lasting affect of this record is a right of passage. If you love music and you listen to what has come before, every once you come across a record and say to yourself stop, what's this? Sandanista! is one of those records.
No, we didn't play the Bond's thing. It was difficult to cut through the red tape of all the booking agents clamoring for a spot. Later when Joe found out about it he was really pissed because the idea was to have their friends play while they were there.
IRT: Please tell me a good story about your time with Matthew Sweet. Looking back, the lineup for the Girlfriend album was filled with such great players: yourself, Quine, Richard Lloyd, Lloyd Cole, Fred Maher...what was it like in the studio with such a prolific lineup?
Ivan: Lloyd and I were the tag team on the road but in the studio him Quine and I were never there all at once. It's as if Matthew could only deal with one crazy person at a time.
IRT: What is your favorite memory of making the movie Blank Generation? Ivan: I can sum it up in two words: Carole Bouquet. I can still remember her standing in CBGB's during the shoot. Pure pulchritude in the mist of rotting wood and graffiti... Lovely. Bob and I were a bit annoyed about having to be in the movie because we were in the middle of recording and considered it a distraction. Her being there made it not so bad. It's a good thing that Richard persuaded us to do it because it's the only real footage of the original Voidoids on stage.
IRT: Now that is available on DVD, how do you feel it holds up in 2011? Ivan: It holds up as much as it did then which isn't much. The director, Ulli Lommel re-wrote the script to cast himself as Carole's love interest. As a movie it makes very little sense. Instead of saying action when the camera started rolling it seems as if Ulli said tension because that's all we feel from the people on the screen.
IRT: Are you still in touch with Richard Hell? Has there been talk about doing any kind of deluxe edition of Blank Generation the album?
Ivan: Yes Richard and I are still in touch. There already have been several of what you could call deluxe versions of Blank.
IRT: Have you guys ever talked about working together again? Ivan: Richard has no interest in making music, he's more into his writing.
IRT: Are you in touch with Marky Ramone? Have you tried his sauce yet? Did he ever cook for you guys back in the Voidoid days?
Ivan: We did a tour together a couple of years ago supporting an album we did called Osaka Popstar with Jerry Only from The Misfits and Dez from Black Flag, both of which were supreme gentlemen, real spot-on guys. Re the sauce: None of us were ever brave enough to try Marky's Sauce back in the Voidoid days and anyway the furthest thing from his mind then was cooking...
IRT: Are you shocked to learn he has his own jarred sauce out? I hear its actually quite good! Ivan: I'm not shocked. Marky has always loved fine food and he loves selling things.
IRT: What is your favorite aspect of running your own studio? At the end of the day, what to you prefer: analog or digital?
Ivan: I have always been in love with the whole recording process and how at each stage of development right up to mastering new possibilities present themselves and the song evolves into what it can be. There is nothing like TAPE, period. Especially for drums which are usually the loudest things in the mix. I usually record everything to tape and then dump it to pro tools to mix because it's so much faster. Even then, I use outboard compressors, spring reverbs etc. I build tube compressors called 'The Lumpstar'. I find it relaxing.
IRT: When you first settled in NYC in 1977, what was your first adventure in the city?
Ivan: The Voidoids audition a month after I got here~ in the course of three hours there was vomiting, vodka, nodding out, two six foot girls getting into a cat fight with hair and fishnet stockings going everywhere, more nodding out... Welcome to New York City!
IRT: How do you feel about how much the neighborhood is changing around N.Y. HED? Has it made operating out of that section difficult for you guys? What are your thoughts about the closures of such established venues as Max Fish and the Mars Bar in recent months?
Ivan: This is a rumor; Max Fish is still open but you're right about it being difficult. We had to move the studio four doors down Ludlow St. back in the fall. This came in the middle of the Fleshtones sessions for The Brooklyn Project. We're now under The Pink Pony restaurant. The developers seem hellbent on changing the L.E.S. landscape into a myriad of glass and aluminum structures. Maybe they have some prophetic vision that when 'the big one' hits it will make it easier to sweep it all away and rebuild. If they have their way soon the L.E.S. will resemble some mid-western suburb which is what many of us moved here to get away from. Oh Well.. I'm just a rhyme sayer..
IRT: What are some upcoming albums we could look forward to that were recorded out of NY HED? Do you have a particular favorite album that came out of your studio? What would it be and why?
Ivan: I'm very excited about a band I produced called Hunx and his Punx from San Francisco. Their record, 'Too Young to be In Love' is out now and I'm very pleased with the results. Listen and you'll see what I mean. There's also the band Sediment Club that has an Lp that will be coming out soon. They sound like a mixture of The Voidoids meets The Bush Tetras meets The Contortions. Amazing stuff!
IRT: Do you have a favorite current spot to see music or hang out at in the LES?
Ivan: Jessie Malin's place, The Bowery Electric, it's not too big, not too small and as long as Tim is behind the board it will be a perfect sounding room as well.
"The Naked Flame" video:
"Blank Generation" live from the film Blank Generation: