It wouldn’t be that big of an exaggeration to call Julian Lamadrid one of a kind. After all, there aren’t many 21-year-old pop stars who will cite David Bowie, electro protopunk pioneer Alan Vega, and Kanye West’s Yeezus in the same breath. And yet, he does so effortlessly and enthusiastically while discussing his Mala Noche project. When talking with Julian, it’s impossible to not get caught up in his excitement for music, because when he speaks about it, it’s not just merely appreciation. His voracious appetite is coupled with his boundless curiosity. He has clearly thought about the music he loves while delving into all the when, how, and whys behind it.
This isn’t to say that Julian – born in Dubai to Mexican ex-pats — will be holding a TED talk anytime soon. He has a mind of a scholar but the heart of a punk. He is the type that would want to memorize all the rules so he’d know how better to break them. While many self-aggrandizing artists lay claim to the title “genius,” Julian – in both conversation and on the deftly crafted music of Mala Noche — appears to be the real deal. On his project, he reflects on his life with an awareness beyond his years, all while crafting a multi-layered art that expertly covers the complex emotions of a lonely night gone wrong.
That’s because Mala Noche, as he explains while speaking with HollywoodLife, could be called “a concept album on the DL.” He also told how his time at NYU’s film school influenced his songwriting, why his next album might be a throwback to his teenage punk days, and why he’s so excited for “the roaring twenties.”
HollywoodLife: Your Mala Noche project has been described as a full-length conceptual record with an overall narrative. It’s about a night where “you’ve been out til 3:00 AM, you haven’t had any decent human connections, and you just kept on drinking, and eventually, you just end up drunk and alone on the L train next to some homeless man covered in vomit.” That is a distinctively Brooklyn experience. I take it you’ve experienced those kinds of 3ams?
Julian: I was trying to write a record that was honest, and about something that I knew I couldn’t write about love cause I’d never been in love, and I couldn’t write about heartbreak cause you know, I’ve never had my heartbroken. I just reflected on myself and what I’ve actually been through and what experiences I can ride upon. And I realized that those bad nights, that those moments where it’s just of like of being drunk and in complete solitude where the only real probable moments that I could draw from. I was like, “Oh yeah, this is my experience. This is how I’m living my life. This is like a very accurate scene.”
I don’t have any real friends or connections here, so I might as well just go and like get to know myself. And I did that through exploring New York in the night. Through a lack of connection with other people, I became closer to myself.
You were born in Dubai to a Mexican family. Have you lived anywhere else?
Only in Dubai, I lived there for 18 years, and then I came straight to New York.
So, would you say there is a lot of New York in Mala Noche?
It really is. It’s an homage to New York, an ode to the city, an ode to Brooklyn because everything that I learned in Dubai up until that point was kind of dissolved before my eyes in the first month that I was living in New York.
I was studying at NYU. I came here to study acting. Then I wound up despising the acting school, so I went and studied film. I hated the film school as well, but I’ve got through it. The only real thing that I enjoyed then was making music because that was something that was completely separate from education. It was just like, this is my ticket. This’ll be my job. This will be my future, this will be my life if I can just get good at this one thing.
It’s highly unusual for an early album to have such a prevalent narrative. It’s usually a collection of songs, perhaps their first handful of singles, so for you to arrive and say, ‘Here’s a story,’ is really wild.
I wanted that right off the bat because, at some point, I realized I’m not an Instagram boy. I’m not good at social media. I’m looking at all these different people who are very versatile with the way that they’re publishing their music. Whereas I’m realizing like — what’s my strength if all of my idols are guys like Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and all that?. And those are the people that I look up to. What would they do in the modern like environment of releasing music? And I think it would always be records.
I’ve had countless people telling me, ‘it would really be advantageous if you split this into an EP,’ or you do singles, and you’re releasing more singles over year. Sure, it might work better in the streaming era. But for me, the whole philosophy was if I’m going to make this — if this is going to be my last shout into the world of like, “Hey look, listen, I did something” — I want it to be an album. I want it to be something cohesive. That kind of sonically cohesive and sonically conceptual that summarizes my first 20 years of life. It’s an album that I can always go back to, and I can put this record on for me personally and just say, “Oh, that’s what I was going through.”
This year, you visited Los Angeles for the first time. A lot of musicians relocate out west to be closer to the industry out there. Are you headed out to California, or is your particular musical voice anchored to a place like New York?
There’s been this massive exodus of all these musicians moving to LA, and it’s because, you know, at first there was that rent is cheap, but then slowly you kind of realize that no, it’s just the songwriters or the producers are there, the industry is there. But, when so many people in the same industry, in the same field or in the same place, they get saturated. And I think we’re experiencing that right now. New York has been in a lull a little bit in terms of its musicianship in the past three or four years. But right now, because of all these people moving away, new York’s become punk again. And like, there are so many incredible artists coming out right now from the city.
New York, for me, is fine right now. If anything, I would move to Europe. I see myself completely in my early twenties walking around like Paris with a cigarette and just like making electronic music or something like that.
Did your time in the NYU film school influence your songwriting? I read that when you were writing “Mess,” you had the image of yourself beaten up and bloodied, and that’s what we see in its music video. Do you need to have a visual element in your head to complete a song?
If NYU informed my songwriting, it did by giving me what Dubai, in general, gave me: a platform to rebel against. It’s important for an artist to have that. If you don’t have something that you’re constantly in contention with, then the art that you produce or just be too clean.
What school gave me was this platform to rebel against this thing. For the second question of the images in film, a lot of people talk about synesthesia and when you see colors when you’re producing a particular sound. For me, it’s almost impossible to play a sequence of chords or a melody and not, at some point at somewhere in my mind, kind of come up with an image or come up with a scene. And so, I’ll be writing just a melody, and all of a sudden, I’ll get the image of a dad helping his son finish his math homework or something like that.
That might come from the fact that I might have watched too many movies growing up. But I’ve always been like that. But, it’s almost like they’re not mutually exclusive, the image and the sound.
With talk of rebelling, is it time to get your old punk rock band, The Younglings, back together?
The Younglings. This is so funny because that’s exactly pretty much what I’m doing really. With the few shows I’ve played, I realized that the moments that get people the most excited are when I’m kind of just losing my sh-t — when I just revert to a complete animal, and I’m spitting and I’m shouting.
It’s funny cause at an early age, I kind of realized that “you know, I’ll do this pop thing and I’ll make some pop music.” I love pop music, I love beautiful melodies. And major chords, but then once I make a name for myself there, I’ll go, and I’ll give them rock. I’ll give them the punk. I’ll remind people what music should sound like when it’s somebody frustrated, when it’s somebody that’s on edge and, and not just like, you know, pseudo “I’m damaged, and I need to scream” or like whatever it is like that.
It’s really cathartic to write music that you can use your mind to. And for that reason, like this next record that I’m working on right now, under with a major label is my first experience writing with somebody actually telling me, you know, ‘lean more into this.’ Or ‘maybe that’s a little bit too weird.’ But this next record, it’s really just me entertaining the rebel within me.
Mala Noche was this very formal, mature summary of where my life was. I was very reflectory where I’m kind of looking back and try to write just what I’ve learned. This [next] record is now just complete meditation on all my frustrations and modern life. It’s me looking at politics, looking at the environment, looking in the way my generation responds to their own emotions, looking towards social media, and looking towards, looking at all of these things that people are losing their minds about.
I’m trying to remind people to be stoic, and a lot of the record is that it’s me being like either if I’m doing pop it’s like mindless and very like “exaggerated” pop. And if I not giving that, I’m giving you like my rock.
Now, I see that rappers want guitars, rappers want punk. The best hip hop coming out right now is punk. Cause it’s kids who have so much emotion pent up inside, but they don’t have the tools to put it out there. I’m thinking what would a club-like a song by The Clash sound like with 808’s and synth pads? Like the sound palette of Yeezus mixed with the band Suicide. Like something Alan Vega would do with like the sound palette of Yeezus or something like that to me is really interesting. Or like Daft Punk meets Joy Division, you know? So that’s kind of the sound that I’m leaning into.
So, that’s what we can expect from you in 2020?
I was born in 1998, so I was never able to say I lived in the nineties. Then it’s 2000, and you can’t really be like, “Oh, I lived in ‘the two thousands’” or “the zeros.” Like f-ck that. That doesn’t make any sense. Then it was the tens, and that’s like, that sounds so lame. So, this will really be the first time that it’s ‘the twenties.’ If you look a hundred years ago, in [the 1920s], it was Salvador Dali and [F. Scott] Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein and Picasso and [Ernest] Hemingway getting drunk in a bar or somewhere in Paris. It was the roaring twenties, you know?
So, I want to live my own version of that. I’m 21 now, I’m going into a new decade.
The seeds are there to have a career that will flourish. I’ve always had immense faith in the universe. So, everything that’s happened until now has happened because I’ve worked for, so I have no doubt that things will keep growing. But for me, it’s just really my dream is just to retain this. I’m trying to remember the reason that I made my first record. I just really hope that I remember that the reason that I first my first record was a desperate plea of self-exploration and that I needed to just put my truth somewhere. That was why I made this album.
And that always has to be the voice that outweighs everything else. It always just has to be, ‘what do I want to say’ and ‘how am I going to say it?’ How is it going to come out? That’s authentic. That’s true. So, I just want to keep on making music and keep on making art
I’m at a point in my life where it’s the first time that I’ve kind of broken the chains of education, and now, I really want to explore what life has in store. Just be drunk enough, not actually intoxicated, but just be intoxicated with life.
Mala Noche is out now.