Including the time Glasslands let him perform with a Christmas tree.
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For somebody who’s never actually lived in Brooklyn, Julian Lynch sure has a lot of history here. Although he came of age in suburban New Jersey, the indie artist—whose new LP for Underwater Peoples, Rat’s Spit, weaves textured guitar and synth arrangements into a contemplation of anxiety and dislocation—has been spending time in the borough since he was a kid. Lynch grew up visiting his grandma in Williamsburg, the same neighborhood where he would eventually cut his teeth playing shows at venues along Kent Avenue on the waterfront, all of which have since shuttered. In this installment of Smells Like New York, Lynch talks to us about the friends he made in the Brooklyn of yore and why Glasslands Gallery and the venues around it will always hold a special place in his heart.
As told to Matt Wallock
Julian Lynch: I grew up in Bergen County, New Jersey, in a town called Ridgewood. When I was in high school, I don’t think me or my friends knew of anyone doing DIY-style shows there. The only things we were aware of were 21-and-up clubs in Manhattan that didn’t want [bands like the ones we were playing in at the time]. Even though I grew up not that far from it, it was quite a few years before playing shows in Brooklyn became a regular thing for me.
The first spot that comes to mind is Glasslands. It was a place where everybody booking shows was always so welcoming to me, even though there was very little promise of my music drawing that many people to the door. I did a lot of shows there with a backing band. For a while, my friends Evan Brody, Ian Drennan, Kelly Ebbels, and Sam Franklin were all playing with me, and maybe someone else. But there also times when I did, like, solo clarinet shows there.
Glasslands had this really beautiful decor involving fake clouds and stuff. That was really cool, and it always made concert photography look really good; any time I saw photographs of bands playing there, I knew where it was. There was also a balcony area with some tables where you could go and chill out and have a drink. But otherwise it was an intimate downstairs area, which always felt like it was just the right size.
I moved to Wisconsin in 2008, so I made annual trips back to the New York area to visit my family over the holidays. When I was back there it became a holiday tradition to play shows in the city, often at Glasslands. It wasn’t even a tour stop for me usually. It was a weird, second hometown show.
The last time I played there, a friend of mine, Charles, was selling Christmas trees in Brooklyn—this was maybe December 28th or 29th, so he had some leftover trees. Nobody was going to buy them at that point, so he let me take one and turn it into a stage prop. Glasslands was cool with me doing that, even though it was probably a nuisance for them. It was the type of place that would let you put a Christmas tree on stage.
I think my memory tends to blend all of my experiences from any of those venues on that block together. Across the street from the old Kent Avenue venues [is] the old Domino Sugar [Refinery]. That’s on the river side of Kent. And then on the side with the buildings, at the corner was Death by Audio. Next down was Glasslands, and then 285 Kent. 285 Kent was the bigger venue. Maybe it wasn’t that big, but in my mind it was huge, and Glasslands was like its younger sibling or something. I feel like both of them had bathroom situations that in retrospect [were] probably uncomfortable for everyone. But at the time, it didn’t seem like a burden at all. I have happy memories from a New Year’s show at 285 Kent, and seeing shows at Death by Audio.
I’m forgetting now whether Glasslands closed first or 285 Kent. I would imagine that it became less and less affordable to be doing DIY shows in that neighborhood. And my understanding is that VICE Media bought a large part of that block. But I probably met a decent amount of the people that I know now that are artists and musicians in Brooklyn around that time.
I just did a show at Elsewhere with Air Waves. Nicole [Schneit] has been kind of a staple in that scene since [then], so it’s awesome to see what she’s doing. Some of the people that I mentioned who played with me in that backing band were in this band called Big Troubles. They’re from my hometown, and it was always nice seeing them in those venues.
It’s cool to see a lot of people that I became familiar with through those venues now having moved on not only to new and exciting music, but in some cases, projects with other media—or just doing rad things in their lives. Sarah Kinlaw is a person who directed a video for me way back in the day, and before that she played music. She still plays music, but now she does choreography. Evan Brody, who I mentioned, was someone that played in the band with me—and nowadays, he has a rad solo project and a whole multi-media vision associated with it. It’s pretty awesome. Whenever I run into people from those days, they’re usually doing interesting things.