Music Interview

Licorice

by Jett Black

With a cabaret sound and flair, Julian Tulip creates the melancholy mood of Portland Oregon's band, Licorice. Jett Black corners him on the Net to have a wonderful and creative conversation with the man. His debut CD release, Sulk, is reviewed by Dan Century in this issue of Legends Magazine.

Describe your most memorable performance and what was significant to you in that performance.

LicoriceThere have only been a few shows that stand out as being unique for me. It's usually what happens before or after the show that makes it stand out. The people I meet and the places they take me. Showing off their city. As far as the performance itself, I did a series of shows in an old theater in Oregon. There was just a beat up, green, out of tune piano and myself. I had to figure out a way to make it all work. It was a pretty intimate place. Almost too intimate. About 60 people in a small room. I ended up turning off the microphone because I didn't need it. I also remember someone sitting on the piano bench beside me. That's how crowded it was. There was something about that place. It's a good memory. The theatre is gone, and I think it's a rehab clinic now.

Your creativity and diversity seem related to the gear you may have on hand. How have you improvised your diverse recordings into your live performances?

I translate my more eclectic material into a more fluid, beautiful and emotional arrangement, a good example is Deadgirl from Sulk. I speed it up a bit and keep it moving. Keep building up the drama, and maybe making up some new parts if I'm inspired that way. Depends on my mood. I use very little electronic equipment in my performance. No drum machines, unless it's for a spoken word piece or an experiment. I am going to change all of that in the future and make my sets more electronic. It seems that most of the best shows I go to these days are bands using drum machines over a more acoustic sound. I like how it feels, and I want to be part of that scene if I can.

How have your live performances compared to Sulk?

I play most of the material from Sulk. Me and a piano with some string players backing me up. Sometimes I'll use a drummer. If I can find one who's not too complex. Someone who's a quick learner. Someone who's patient. Also, normally I'll change my lyrics during a performance, I won't use all of the lyrics on the record. I go into different areas and add a verse or two.

Or, maybe combine two songs into one. If it feels right. If I have something on my mind. There is also short, improvised piano segues between a lot of the songs. I can't help that. As I obtain more equipment, I am writing material strictly around live performance, heavy dynamics and electronic drone/beats for some spoken word breaks. I've been putting together a pretty interesting show.

What have you been working on since Sulk?

The hardest project of my life by far. A new record that is apart from my voice, almost completely electronic. I was finished with it almost 6 months ago, but for some reason I cant stop working on it. I keep buying more gear, re-recording tracks. I'm changing melodies daily, re-mixing and adding new parts. And then re-mixing it again. Going through hell at best. It's either a brilliant album, or a strong body of shit. I can't tell. It's about 15 tracks, or so. Several spoken word tracks as well as a few new collaborations. I may re-do a track or two from Sulk as well. This record has been consuming all of my spare time, and making me a reclusive asshole. I'm afraid I'm losing my balance in the real world.

Have you selected a working title for your next release?

I am calling it The Umbrella Party, for now. That's the working title. I'm also considered calling it Big Pink, but I don't know.

How will the next release differ from Sulk?

The biggest difference is the music style, this album is heavily electronic, not a heavy record but an electronic record for sure. I have written a few piano/voice songs that I plan on using, to break up the mood and increase the overall depth of it all. I do not want to create an entirely different sound quite yet, I don't think that I am completely capable of doing that yet, but this record does have an obviously different feel than Sulk. More trashy lyrically and more upbeat musically. I am very proud of it. I'm sure it will be one of my most remembered records.

What about Glow? Explain its significance.

Glow was a song I wrote about a friend of mine, named Aristae. He is the most hard step evil-costume drag queen I have ever met in my life. His look floors me every time we go out. His entire character changes from this quiet and intelligent introvert bookworm into this beautifully irresponsible, trash-mouthed, freak magnet. Anyway, the song's about him. Glow is one of my three recorded guitar-heavy songs. Brat punk the way I like to hear it. The significance is the memory and the mood I captured on the track. I was trying out a new studio, a crash session with some musicians I had just met. Glow is an important song to me. A lot of sharp lyrics going really fast over an electronic throb and a three chord guitar movement. The phrase "We Pull Up and the freaks Arrive" you see on a lot of Licorice ads, pictures, stickers, and whatever else is out there, came from that song.

Will you work Glow into the next release?

I doubt it. It wouldn't fit quite right. But you never know. I may re-work its arrangement and put it on the record. I'm considering it. It also may be a single down the line, part of a mini EP I have been conceptualizing. I don't know. Maybe it will just go away.

What has the most impact and influence upon the development of your lyrics?

I have to credit my friends for a lot of the lyrics on my records. They are a big group of outcasts in one way or another. No one is quite normal and all of them are smart. Every time we go out, we end up dealing with some sort of "situation." A fucked up adventure. Those things you probably wouldn't do unless you were completely bored, or completely wasted. It's always sketchy at the time. And we try our luck a little too often, I think. If we're good enough to pull off something new, I pull out my little green notebook and write it all down. It makes for some interesting lyrics, or maybe an idea or two. Keeps me sharp.

You describe your collaborative recordings as perhaps some of the best Licorice recordings. What is it about collaborative recordings that you have found so impressive upon your creativity and what you are able to produce?

With a collaboration I don't have to concentrate on all of the details, it seems easier for me to record with another artist rather than recording alone. It's far less emotional in the good way. If the band or person I am working with understands me, and they put down their parts with respect to how I work, realizing that it's for my record and that they don't need to dominate the track and make it difficult for me, then it turns out beautiful. Although every now and then, it becomes a huge mess. I love putting on someone else's music knowing all I have to do is come up with lyrics and a vocal, maybe some melody parts, or whatever. Scar Tissue recently sent me a disc with about 12 deep, deep tracks and all of it is material I can work with. I'm going to pick one or two tracks from the disc and put some spoken word over them. It should be fun. It is by far some of the best ambient-industrial I have ever heard in my life and as far as I know, it's all unreleased. I prefer collaborating with electronic edged artists who have skills in the mood department. It makes it easier for me to contribute.

16 Volt, and Scar Tissue... Tell us a little more about what attracted you to these two bands and how it all developed.

I met Scar Tissue because of 16Volt. We were all on a tour together, Scar Tissue was opening for 16Volt on one of their cross-country tours and at the time I was doing some aesthetics for 16Volt. I ended up being Scar Tissue's keyboard player pretty early in the tour, which gave me a chance to get close to their music. I was attracted to 16Volt mainly because of Eric Powell. We worked together for a while and developed a good, solid friendship. He is a very talented man, and has provided me with a lot of inspiration over time. Because of this, I wanted to help him out on his tour. So, I dropped everything and went on the road for over a month. I ended up getting into Scar Tissue somewhere along the way. I was attracted to their mix of heavy percussion over fluid industrial. I think what Scar Tissue is doing now is by far some of the best industrial ever produced. And every time I hear something new it's better than the last. I have a lot of respect for both bands. A lot of strength in them, and I am lucky to be able to work with them the way that I do.

Sulk... Art imitating Life? How so?

That's the concept behind Sulk. My life. I enjoy writing story-based lyrics. And unless I really have something to write about my lyrics generally come off as shit. I can work for a week on some fantasized lyric, or I put together a journal lyric in one night. And the journal lyric always sounds better and is easier for me to sing and get the phrasings right. The music on Sulk is for the most part completely real, as far as the moods and lyrics go. The names are not entirely accurate, but that's how it goes in songwriting. I am staying true to this concept on The Umbrella Party, as well as the album after that. I have about 50 books full of stories and I would be sick not to use them for lyrics or at least for inspiration.

Let's talk a little more about the 12 tracks on Sulk. For readers who may know nothing about Licorice, pick and describe a few of the story-telling songs on Sulk.

Ouch.

Juliette Loves Me, the first track on Sulk, was inspired by the first few weeks of a friendship I had a couple years back. We were always excited to hang out with each other in public. We liked the attention we would get. We stood out together. We were completely in love in a different kind of way. We took pride knowing that neither of us were even close to being normal. At the time we were both feeling out of place when we went out alone, but we felt completely accepted when we went out together. I miss that. The song Darker is about the same person, a bit longer into our relationship. We were getting tired of the attention at one point and started developing a bit of an attitude against the world. Romantic. It would take way too long to properly describe my lyrics. It would take an entire page.

What sort of influences have you drawn from Gary Numan, Karen Black, Rasputina and Leonard Cohen?

Gary Numan has been a huge musical influence on me. I am fascinated by his arrangements and the mood he conveys with his lyrics, voice and use of sounds. I never get bored of him. Meeting him is in my top-ten best experiences ever. I have some very precious memories attached to his music.

Karen Black is just a mess. She comes across as one at least. I admire her take on what art *is*, or maybe isn't. I have been falling in and out of love with her for years it seems.

Rasputina has all of my heart because they are a strings group, making some of the best new dark edged neo-classical around these days. I'm into Rasputina's concept. Very good players. I hope to work with them one day.

Leonard Cohen is one of my favorite lyricists. Even his stuff today is brilliant, almost all of it. Like with Numan, I am drawn into the mood of Cohen's songwriting. I like where it takes me. There's something romantic about it. Unique and romantic.

Did formal training influence your musical interests?

I have never had a lesson in my life. Classical music is in my ancestry, all the way back to the glory days of the classical movement. I started as an electronic composer and eventually discovered the piano. It came quite naturally to me, and I still continue to learn and experiment.

How have you developed your talents?

I developed my style by practicing, I practice or write pretty much every day whether it be on a piano or on a drum machine. I want to constantly improve myself. I want to be considered influential one day.

What are some of the more memorable responses you have had to Sulk lately?

I have been getting quite a bit of club rotation which is surprising to me. I never intended for this record to get club play, almost every song on the record gets play now. I don't exactly understand why, but I like it.

Also memorable is the feedback I get from DJ's, both radio and club. They write me a letter, or call me, tell me good stuff about myself and that's always good to hear, especially in the middle of the night, when you're bored as hell, and are thinking about absolutely nothing. I get a call. And it's some DJ in L.A. calling from a club with my music spinning in the background, counting how many people are dancing to my music. I'll remember that for awhile. I have had people write me letters, telling me how some of the songs made them feel. That stuff means a lot to me. Keeps me writing every night.

What types of instrumentation have you been working with lately?

Other than the material on The Umbrella Party, I have been composing a set of piano/voice/string songs. Definitely the best material I have ever written. I am excited about recording another record more like Sulk and I need to find a producer to help me capture the sound I'm after. Originally, I was going to aim for late 1999 as a release date but I doubt if it will happen. It has become more complex than I had originally intended.

I mentioned my current record as being purely electronic. For this I am borrowing gear from friends, or friends of friends. I'm using an old beat down ARP, a Yamaha noise generator, some primal sampler by Alesis, a Yamaha SY-22, all kinds of electronic gear, some of it junk. Not all of it is borrowed, but all of it is broken in one way or another. I am using an A.M. radio for background ambience, a mini sampler from Casio, the one that came out in like 1985, the one with the "hello, hello, hello" sample. Tons of noise, junk basically. I am also experimenting with microphones by using both precision and sub-crap microphones to record sounds and vocals.

What gear do you expect to incorporate into tracks on the next recording?

I plan on using a real piano for once. All of SULK is fake. I want a more immersive string section. More than just cellos. I also want to start incorporating a real sampler into my music. I have been using a tape recorder played in sync with the rest of the music. That's not too efficient, and very limiting. Kind of a joke, actually.

How does creating music help you personally?

Music helps me explain myself. It makes me feel good about not being all that normal. I was destined to be an artist of some sort. Music is the easiest way for me to articulate my feelings, my nostalgic writings.

What is it that drives you to create music at all?

My drive has always been my imagination, I want to be able to translate all of my little stories into music, make it as visual as I can, and yet make it easy to listen to. When I get that perfected, I will feel completely accomplished. I have had the same focus since I was like 15 years old, and I have never been able to properly explain it.

Give us a general feel for what its like for Licorice to be in Portland, Oregon.

Portland is a great city to get stuff done in, not a lot of distraction compared to San Francisco or L.A. I have a lot of privacy, and I can go a little deeper into the songwriting process. I wrote almost all of my new record in San Francisco and I am glad because I would never come up with that kind of material in Portland. I have however, recorded all of it here. All except about two tracks. All of the aesthetic comes from living in Portland. Being alone most of the time and recording. Taking forever to record every part because I have nothing else to do.

How has living in Portland helped or hindered your interests?

As far as hindering my interests, Portland isn't the most exciting place in the world. I don't feel any threat by living here. I have to look for inspiration, and that takes time and effort. I also have so much time I've been going in circles when it comes to recording, redoing everything again, and again. I don't like that. Portland has it's good but it's definitely got a ways to go before it develops any charge. It's sleepy here.

How difficult has it been getting recognition for Licorice?

People seem to respect what I am doing, critics have been good to me so far and many people have been helping me out. It took about 4 months before anyone gave me any notice, but it picked up steadily and I'm getting more and more recognition regularly. The more I push myself the more rewarding it all becomes. I'm still not all that recognized, but everything I have experimented with has been a success so my goals are getting more and more extreme.

What milestones have you marked along the way so far?

The release of Sulk was a huge milestone. The biggest by far. I produced, put out, and am promoting the entire record by myself. My first review was a milestone as well, I finally knew what it felt like to get a review. So far, so good. And I'm always looking out for new opportunities.

What forms of art have had the most influence upon you?

Music and photography, that includes film. Those are my two favorite art forms by far. I'm not much into drawings and paintings anymore. Sometimes I see something that makes me giggle, but not very often.

What concerns you now about Licorice in the musical underground today?

Whether or not I want to remain underground. Or, rather, for how long. A lot of music crawling around the underground scene is, in my opinion, garbage.

Of course, some of it is brilliant. The good bands usually get some sort of break, and the garbage goes away. The submersed scene will only keep me happy for so long. Eventually, I will try my music out on larger audiences, see what they think. I hope to stay underground for awhile longer and then work my way up into the streets for my third record.

How do you detach from distractions and focus on creating music?

It's a process. If I start recording after work, it takes awhile but I eventually get pulled into another world. As soon as something works, I'm off with it. But until something inspires me its usually a drag. I naturally detach myself from distractions, it's plain focus. I've had plenty of roommates, enough for me to learn how to handle distraction, put all the noise out and listen carefully to what your doing. Ear phones also come in handy.

If years ago, you chose not to be a musician, what today do you imagine you might be doing instead?

I would probably be making video games or drawing comics or something twisted like that.

Who do you most admire in the music industry?

It would have to be Gary Numan for having so many albums. All of them I love and he has always been going about it his way, whether he knows it or not. I love him.

What characteristics are you looking for in new music these days?

I'm looking for a mood, something I can visualize, that includes the lyrics. I can tell when something is inspired or not. Pretty much everyone can these days. Of course, I'm listening for something new. But I really don't find anything I like all that often, unless someone else turns me onto it. A lot of new music is so about guitars it makes me ill. Every now and then something guitar comes along that gets my attention, but not often enough I'm afraid. Lately, I have been listening to a lot of electronic music. Electronic music, and girl bands.

What would you like to accomplish through Licorice before the end of this millennium?

I would like to have The Umbrella Party released, as well as have national distribution for Sulk.

Do you have a preference between recording and performing?

For the most part I prefer recording over performing, I always have. I have had some good experiences performing, and met some good people. But still I far prefer to stay in my room and create new music. Even better, go to a professional studio and record the new music. I never feel satisfied after a show. I always feel like something went completely wrong.

What defines your creative 'zone?'

It's all good as long as there are no pictures of Hall and Oates hanging on the wall. I like small, run down studios when it comes to the professional situation. A dark and messed up space that's full of gear. The more run down, the better.

When you need to experiment and create new music, what conditions work best for you?

When it comes to writing new music I prefer my room. I have never written a song in a professional studio. I don't think I've ever written a single note in a professional studio. I need a quiet place to come up with new material. I have a lot of colored lights in my private studio and I am constantly playing with different color combinations to help me get into the proper headspace. The only condition I can not function in is the cold. I cannot function when I'm wrapped up in two jackets and still freezing. Weird.

What advantages do you believe support Licorice?

I write a lot, and I scratch record everything I write and so I have a pretty big body of music ready to go. I'm very proud of it. It can keep me making records for a long time. I also am very patient when it comes to recording and I like to create intricate textures, parts you don't hear the first time you listen. That makes my music somewhat more immersive. Keeps it interesting.

Also, my sound. I am pretty successful at cross-over radio play. My music appeals to more than just the gothic audience. This is something I will continue to explore. I really don't want to get locked into a single genre. Another reason I respect Leonard Cohen, his stuff gets played beside Switchblade Symphony and Elton John. That impresses and inspires me.

How is the American scene advancing your opinion?

The American music scene will always be somewhat progressive, new music is always coming out. The fashionable music gets played into the ground. And then something else comes out and takes it all on, breaks up the playlists and keeps it all interesting. The dark scene has always been strong in America, in one form or another. There is a lot of style in it. It's become a lifestyle here, and music is a big part of it. Maybe even the biggest part.

What is it about it that may be considered progressive?

As long as independent and medium-sized labels keep signing new music (not the same thing over and over but actual new music), the scene will continue to advance and get stronger, and more diverse. Diversity is essential when it comes to any form of lifestyle art. You don't want people getting bored of it all and giving up on the music ...can't let that happen.

How can readers best contact Licorice?

My website is at www.jps.net.licorice.

My mailing address is PO Box 1234 Portland, Oregon 97207-1234.

My email is snobmail@jps.net.