Richard Julian called me evil before we even spoke.
Okay, well, not me. But “Georgie,” the eponymous protagonist in a song on the Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter’s new album, “Girls Need Attention.” ”Oh Georgie, you’re evil,” sings Julian, strumming along with a ukelele, “and one of these days it’s gonna catch up to you.”
Hopefully not before June 30, when Julian hits the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge.
Julian’s latest album boasts inventive, compelling songwriting (with guest turns by Jolie Holland and Wilco’s Nels Cline, among others), as well as unsparing post-relationship catharsis, of which “Georgie” is exemplar. But it is by no means a mopefest. It is by turns witty, biting, reflective and warm. Think Mike Errico, Tom Thumb or Randy Newman (whose “Wedding in Cherokee County” he covers).
His range is impressive, spanning from the pensive “World We Made” to the upbeat pop of “Lost in Your Light” to the bluesy riffs of the title cut to the embittered “Words.” It makes sense, given the varied company he keeps, including stints touring or playing with the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Josh Ritter, Norah Jones, Suzanne Vega.
When I called him on a recent Tuesday evening, I caught him by surprise. He’d forgotten our interview. “I’ve been managing myself these days, and a few things have slipped through,” he apologized. Julian had assembled some friends for a dinner party. “I’ve got a chicken sausage gumbo sitting here,” he said.
Food and drink are as much a part of Julian’s life as his music; he’s working on a web video series (not yet online) that brings musicians and meals together, and he blogs about tequila and other fine spirits at The Brooklyn Lime. Julian is very much a man interested in exploring his appetites, and the place where they intersect is one where he is comfortable. “She looked like a fresh piece of cake,” he sings in the new album’s title track, a line that always makes me laugh.
Julian graciously paused from dinner party prep to give me some attention and Take Five for Safe Digression.
This is a very, as you’ve put it, confessional album. How do you reach that point of comfort with songwriting and performing – or is it really comfort at all?
The only thing uncomfortable about it sometimes, anything you put out there, any piece of art — a painting, a song, a symphomy — is that it is left open to interpretation by everyone. I guess in some cases, the more literal things get, the more strange it can be to hear other people’s interpretations. In some ways, you have a very literal way into something and you realize that all of this stuff is literal, it can still have a life of its own anyway. It breaks down the idewa of what really is literal anyway. If what you’re telling comes from some kind of truth and people interpret it as fiction, then what is it really? What is truth and what is fiction?
The things that inspire you to write a song aren’t necessarily the things that are happening to you every day. When you write really confessionally, they get a sense they know who you really are, and sometimes they don’t because they’re only connecting to this one thing. In a way, it’s an incredibly honest way of putting yourself out there, and in another way, it’s ironically misrepresenting.
Randy Newman thought people could get more of a sense of who he was from his songs, because of the distance he puts between himself and the characters in his songs. He thinks that’s more revealing than the literal and confessional.
You’ve worked with a long, impressive list of musicians. But who’s the unsung hero among those who have inspired you as a songwriter?
Frank Tedesso. He’s very obscure to the public, but he had an influence on me and probably a lot of people who’ve been in touch with his music. I moved to New York when I was 19 and I was wide open for getting my mind blown because I’d grown up in Delaware and grown up listening to FM radio in the car on the way to school. I expanded away from that.
Frank was one of the first guys I ever saw laying out things in a poetic way and personal way and doing it with a lot of potency, in a similar fashion to what we were just talking about, something that’s really close to the bone and doesn’t shy away from being sad or alternatively happy or funny, just existing in all of those places at once.
So, you have a song called “Georgie,” which is my name, even though it’s spelled wrong. But while it’s a bitingly funny song, it’s not very flattering for its namesake. Can you tell me a little bit of the story behind this song?
(laughs) The song tells a story by itself. Most of my songs, that particular one, I remember I was out in the woods in Oregon writing that tune. I was doing a song clinic out there. I was using the tune as an example of how to write.
It’s a song about being in love and having your lover not be treating you right and you keep loving them out of reflex or hope it will get better. You recognize these things and you see them but it doesn’t make it any better for some reason.
By being a musician blogging about tequila, you seem to have struck on a natural pairing. Can you talk a little more about the connection between fine dining and good music? I understand you also have a web TV show that explores this a bit.
The show is called “A Groovable Feast.” I go around with musicians and we eat food and play music. It’s kind of abstract. It’s funny, I think, and it’s very musical. There are some very good musicians on it.
(On the similarity between musicians and restaurateurs) Being a musician is like running an independent business. Most of the restaurants I go around to, I always take a certain kinship there between someone who is a risk taker, someone who’s creative. I think there’s definitely a lineage there.
You’re coming to Boston. Have you been here much before? Any favorite restaurants?
I get up to Boston a lot. There’s a little place I like to go before the gig, it’s in Cambridge. Central Kitchen. They’ve got good tequilas there and good bread. Great mussels.
— — —