Interview – Ivan Julian of Richard Hell and the Voidoids

Interview – Ivan Julian of Richard Hell and the Voidoids

Back in the late ’70s the New York City Rock-n-roll scene was blistering with unique new talent that begged to be different. Outside the arm of the corporate music world, and ignoring outside opinion, NYC artists like Blondie, Patti Smith, and Richard Hell and the Voidoid were just some of the leaders of this movement. Happy to create music the way they wanted – raw and sincere – in exchange, the New York Punk scene was born. A movement that would change popular music forever, the aforementioned Richard Hell and the Voidoid were unquestionably pioneers in their own right both sonically and stylistically. Originally featuring a lineup of Richard Hell, Robert Quine, future Ramone Marc Bell, and Ivan Julian, as a band, they stood out. Led by Hell on vocals, there is still no question that guitar work of Julian was a vital ingredient to the Voidoid’s success. 

Julian, a compelling, accomplished musician, would go onto work with a list of artists through the years; including the Isley Brothers, The Clash, Matthew Sweet, Shriekback, among many others. Also spending a good amount of time as a producer, working with the likes of Sean Lennon and The Fleshtones, in 2023 Julian returns with a brand-new solo album entitled Swing Your Lanterns. Recorded on 2” tape at his own SuperGiraffeSound studio in Brooklyn, NY, his latest album is a striking collection of songs that go right for the soul. Excited about his latest work, Ivan Julian recently took some time to talk about his history in music, his new album, plus more. 

Cryptic Rock – You have been involved in music professionally for well over four decades now. Having a passion for music at a young age, you would go on to co-found Richard Hell and the Voidoids, be a part of many other bands, and perform with a long list of legendary artists. Briefly tell us, how would you describe your incredible musical journey to this point?

Ivan Julian – I guess you could say, it’s been a charmed helluva ride. To quote James Brown, “You go through valleys to reach the next mountaintop!

Cryptic Rock – And that is what makes everything exciting, right? The Voidoids are highly regarded as one of the most important bands in Punk history. What was the New York Punk scene like at that period of time?

Ivan Julian – Cacophonous and chaos. New York was a wild place and I fed off of that chaos and transmuted it into guitar riffs. And let me point out; in the beginning there was no “Punk” scene. It was just a group of bands that were fortunate enough to find themselves in a place where they were able to play their own original music.

Richard Hell & the Voidoids – Black Generation / Sire (1977)

Richard Hell & the Voidoids – Destiny Street / Red Star (1982)

Cryptic Rock – Interesting… and from it all blossomed something that changed music history. Beyond the Voidoids you have spread your talents across other bands, recorded with others, and toured with others. How important is it to you to have the ability to be creative in such a broad way like you have through the years?

Ivan Julian – It’s important for me to be creative regardless of what genre I’m working in. Once, I even played in an Irish band; just to learn the essence. It was quite fascinating – 4 chords in different order for five minutes.

Cryptic Rock – Being diverse is essential, not only in music, but in life. You are set to release a new solo album Swing Your Lanterns on February 17th. What was the inspiration behind this new album? 

Ivan Julian – I’m very psyched about this new record! I’m touching on some musical influences that I’ve wanted to be known for some time. We were also able to assemble an amazing group of musicians to help bring it to life. And it was recorded on two-inch tape at my studio, SuperGiraffeSound. Many things inspired it… places I’ve been, people I’ve known and what’s happening now.

Cryptic Rock – Well, it works well because the album is extremely passionate musically and lyrically. Most of all, it feels real. Without getting into semantics too much, it feels like a lot of modern music has lost its soul. Is this album a sort of a wakeup call to people to humanize themselves again?

Ivan Julian – I always try to make records that address the human experience in visceral terms. Depending on where you go, some people are very much awake and alive. For those who are not – take out your EarPods and crank up a speaker!

Ivan Julian – Swing Your Lantern Album (2023)

Cryptic Rock – (Laughs) Exactly! Beyond being a songwriter and performer, you are also a producer. This album was recorded to tape and that analog feel is certainly present. There is a warmth and depth to it. On the recording end of the spectrum, what do you aim for your recordings?

Ivan Julian – I’m lucky enough to be able to record onto two-inch tape where the mics sound best. I have a theory about this. The air is not quantized to ones and zeros the way it is on digital recordings. I noticed this while listening to the overhead drum mics. that were recorded on tape and wondering why they sounded so warm and compelling. I A/B’d the overheads with a digital recording and realized it was the air. The air was not being chopped up/quantized. It’s more noticeable on these microphones because of their distance from the source. I try to get a pure organic sound from all the instruments, even if it’s a synth.     

Cryptic Rock – That is a very interesting theory, and honestly, it makes a lot of sense. You are a very compelling individual looking at your background. You are the son of a Navy officer, so you have a more worldly view than most. Additionally, you are a cancer survivor. All this in mind, what do you think are some of the most important things you have learned from life and the experiences you have been through?

Ivan Julian – Keep your sense of humor! Sometimes it’s hard, but things will usually turn out the way they are going to go down anyway. Yes, you can try to alter the course of events but when you understand the limits of your control you don’t get so ‘bent out of shape.’ Never let anyone else define you. Define yourself.

Matthew Sweet – Girlfriend / Zoo Entertainment (1991)

Ivan Julian – The Naked Flame Album (2009)

Cryptic Rock – Those are very wise words. Last question. On Cryptic Rock we cover a broad range of film, but have strong concentration in Horror and Sci-fi. If you are a fan of Horror and/or Sci-Fi films, what are some of your personal favorites and why?

Ivan Julian – The original Night of the Living Dead from 1968 by George A. Romero. I saw it at a Drive-In theatre when I was a teenager. It was so incredibly scary and no film had been made like that before. It went way beyond Psycho (1960). The scene where the daughter stabs her mother with a trowel still freaks me out. When the movie was over, and as the cars were leaving the Drive-In, I noticed that everyone had the same terrified expression on their face.

Also, The Ring (2002) by Gore Verbinski. I can’t really explain why this film is so frightening to me. Maybe because the antagonist is an inanimate object accompanied by screen static and white noise. There is absolutely no way of communicating or negotiating with it, which makes it even more cruel.

For more on Ivan Julian: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram 

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