When starting out as a new artist, typically the reins are handed over to a record label to develop and create their career and artistic vision. For singer-songwriter Julian Lamadrid, an artist who seeks creative freedom and artistic expression, that would never even enter into his mind.
Lamadrid lives and breathes art in its many forms; he writes his own lyrics, directs his own music videos, and has produced his own songs in the past. His individualism with his art caught the eyes of a record label; at the end of May, he signed with the recently relaunched Arista Records and joins a small group of carefully selected artists.
For Lamadrid it seems as though his every thought, lyric, film shot, and anything else needed to make his art are all rigorously dissected and analyzed to find the hidden theme. For his debut album, Mala Noche, Lamadrid discovered it was all of the bad nights (or mala noche in Spanish) that he wanted to dedicate an album to because, as he says, we all experience bad nights. His debut single, Mess, premieres today on 1883 Magazine. To celebrate the release of Mess, we had a chat with Julian about his origin story, what inspires him, and what Mess is all about.
It’s been a big year for you already; you signed with Arista Records and at the end of May you let everyone know you just finished your debut album. You’re also finishing up your studies at NYU. How does it feel to be achieving so much at only 20 years old?
It almost feels like I’m taking the necessary steps to achieve something that’s been on my mind for a long time. I’m quite happy with the state of things in the way that things are going. But obviously, it’s an ongoing battle. And so like, everything is accomplished so far, just the necessary steps to get to the next thing. Right now I’m proud of things accomplished, but it’s next to nothing compared to the things that I’m dreaming about. So right now, it’s just about acknowledging that it’s a big step. It’s a big step in and I’m taking big steps, but the steps are in a really long journey to continue to strive and push.
Arista Records was relaunched last year and was the home of so many great artists, like Patti Smith, Lou Reed, and Whitney Houston. What does it feel like to be welcomed into a family such as that?
It’s incredible and quite crazy. Ultimately, I don’t want to base my decisions off the history of anything. Right now, the beauty of Arista is that it’s this place where I’m being prioritized; I’m one of 14, as opposed to other labels where they have a lot of artists and there’s barely any time given to the underdog. It’s not [a place] that will help you grow. So being here at Arista, it’s kind of incredible because everyone on the team is so special, everyone’s talking about my project, everyone’s just really pushing and like working 120% with me, rather than just being another one in the pile. We have the opportunity right now to revive something that was established, but we can kind of just shoot into the new Sonic landscape into the new world of music. We can kind of design the world that we want Arista to exist in the future. It’s pretty incredible to be part of something new, as opposed to being part of something that’s already established and has rigid boundaries and ideas. We’re just formulating everything as we go along, so that’s pretty fun.
You were born and raised in Dubai to Mexican parents. Have either of these places influenced you creatively, either in your music or film work?
Yeah, my mother and father are from Mexico! I think Dubai gave me something that I think is important for any artist and it gave me a great platform to rebel against, because I think everything in Dubai is divided into things like luxury and tourism. I kind of rebelled against that at a very young age. I realized that I wanted the exact opposite; I want culture, I want reality, I want authenticity and I want greatness. With Dubai, what was good about it is that it kind of showed me what I didn’t want and what I didn’t want to really surround myself with. Dubai in regards to culture and substance and genuine heartbeat, it’s still really early stages and it’s not developed as much as you know, cities like New York, London, Berlin or Paris. Dubai gave me a taste of what that life could be like.
Mexico is a place I’ve been visiting maybe two or three weeks, every year, every year since I was born. It’s hard to identify with a place that I don’t know because I haven’t really lived there. Being Mexican and born in a muslim country and going to British schools my entire life, the greatest thing that I took from that nationality is just another another box that you’re thrown into. It’s beautiful because I don’t actually associate with any country; when people ask me where I’m from, I can’t actually explain it. I think that’s actually a bit of a superpower because I’m not I’m not cemented in any way.
Your first single Mess is released today. It’s incredibly catchy and you blend a lot of different sounds within the song. Can you tell us about the background story behind the song and production of it?
Mess is a tune I wrote a year and a half ago. I wrote it on the piano and it was just this beautiful moment of venting where I had this song within me for a long time and finally I sat down at the piano and recorded it. I produced about 80% of the demo but then I found the studio in Brooklyn called Shifted Recording and I worked with two producers—a guy called Jake and a guy called Chedda, like the cheese—to help me to take it to the next level. The song itself is about how I am a mess; I’ve definitely haven’t found any of the answers that I have wrestling inside of me. I’m constantly making mistakes and I’m constantly lost. The song is about finding beauty in that and kind of taking control of that and taking charge and saying that, even if I am a mess, I’m going to scream it out on the top of a roof because it’s me and that’s just who I am. It’s an ode to self-love even in moments of doubt and even in moments of frustration with yourself, you kind of have to realize that, you’re all you’ve got and you better love it.
You’ve merged two of your passions–music and acting–by self-directing your music video for Mess.
That’s a bold move to make; typically new artists would give the reins to someone else. Describe the music video and tell us why you decided to direct your own video.
Yeah, the video was something that even during the production [of the song] I had an early idea of this pathetic man stumbling drunk by himself all around New York and just singing a song. It’s a character that I’m familiar with, stumbling around New York City, being drunk by yourself and looking for somebody or looking for something. Eventually I came up with the whole narrative of me being at a party and the character I’m playing, who is me essentially, is clearly an anti hero; I’m not a good guy, I’m just this drunk by smashing the bottom against someone side in the party for no reason, gets beaten up and thrown around. Right at the end of the video he stumbles into the club and you see this guy smile for the first time because he realizes that he is who he is and the only thing he can do is learn to be comfortable with it.
When it came to directing, I kind of realized that at this stage in the inception of my career I’m a baby, essentially, so I’m not going to be able to work with the dream directors because they are off directing films for Lykke Li and Frank Ocean. I thought if I can’t get my dream directors, I might as well take it and express it all myself. It’s the kind of thing where I could work with a director who had 40 years of experience and knows every camera and knows every street to shoot and the video might come out a lot more professional and a lot more glossier, but at the end of the day if I took it upon myself to just pick up a camera and go and shoot, organize, and edit it myself, there’s no way that it won’t come out with a more authentic feel and a story that’s a little bit truer to my heart and my own emotions. I’d rather do it my own way and for it to come out you know, with a little bit more gritty and a little bit less professional than have someone else to enter and have the emotion to be clouded by technique and professionalism.
Would you say having control of your art and pursuing creative freedom is important to you?
I’m an absolute control freak when it comes to my art. I don’t take myself too seriously but when it comes to my art, it’s quite a serious thing for me. When it comes to the execution of it all, it’s really important that I do it. I’m always thinking that I’d rather do something myself and for it to come out just okay then trust someone else with something as dear to me as my own music and my own artistic vision and for them to mess it up because then there is bad blood. At the end of the day no one’s going to be able to articulate how you’re feeling as good as you can yourself, so it means a lot to me to be able to have control and all those areas. Luckily for me the label that I’m with now just says take the money and run and they give me full creative control and it’s quite lovely.
You seem to be quite a storyteller in your songs. Where do you get your inspiration from when writing lyrics?
It really varies from tune to tune. I could be watching a French film from the 60s and all of a sudden the lead actress says a brilliant line and I’ll jot it down in a little book or write it on my notes. A whole song could stem from that one moment. Sometimes I’m just on the subway and a phrase or a rhythm comes to mind doing and the lyrics will just present themselves to me by just looking around the city. I’ll find a brilliant line in the novels I’m reading and I’ll try to integrate that. A lot of the time with the lyrics I feel if I just write as honest and as vulnerable, then the music will come through, then people will understand. A lot of my songs in particular on my upcoming record have lyrics that are quite in the moment, stream-of-conscience; they are less glossy and just how I’m feeling and just straight to the point that I’m trying to get to. I’m trying to get to a place deep down in my subconscious that if I write from there, no matter who you are, no matter what age you are, no matter where you’re from, you’ll be able to, you know, feel that emotion because I think deep down if you go far enough, we’re all the same and will feel the same things, like longing for love and fear of loneliness. My biggest thing is just trying to be honest.
Your first full-length album will be called Mala Noche. Can you explain what the album name means to our readers? Is there a connection between the 80s film of the same name?
Mala Noche means bad night in Spanish. When I was kind of coming up with a concept for the record, which is a conceptual album, the biggest thing that I realized that I’m familiar with is bad nights; the nights when you’re stumbling back home at 3am after not making any connections with anybody and you’re just kind of drunk and alone, and that’s a bad night. I wanted to make a piece of music or release a record that if you’re anyone in general who is in that world, you can just plug into those songs and forget about anything. The film is one of my favorites; it was a great springboard for the album because everything I do is informed by cinema because I’m a huge cinephile and it’d be surprising if there wasn’t a song that wasn’t tied to a certain film. The film is about Mexicans expats in America, coming here and making relationships through love.
What else would you like our readers to know about you & your music?
It means so much to me that people are carrying the turning point. The record probably isn’t going to come out for a couple of months, but the idea of people being excited is great.
I think for a long time, we’ve been given music that’s quite formulaic and quite predictable. I think just the best thing I can kind of say about my music is that it really is one man kind of vision, one man’s view of the world. I really hope that people understand that. The fact that people care is incredible. I would write these songs whether anyone was listening or not; it’s my catharsis and it’s my therapy, my own emotional dance music. The fact that people are actually tuning in, the fact that people are actually caring and helping is surreal. That’s a message to you, too! I’m literally a nobody right now so it means so much to me that you would even want to chat to me. It’s lovely to talk about and try to articulate what I’m trying to achieve. It’s nice to finally actually be able to talk about it out loud instead of hearing it in my shower and just imagining people caring about my music.
Juilan’s track ‘Mess’ is out now, for his latest updates follow him via @julianlamadrid
Interview by Kelsey Barnes @kelseyjbarnes