musicians of ny

Richard Julian: A Creative Space Built on Music by Anna Azarov


A few weeks ago I met up with Richard Julian, singer songwriter and co-owner of Bar Lunatico, in his apartment up the stairs from the bar. Walking up the spiral staircase, a home emerges. In a little room off the corner of the stairs is Richard's writing room. It hosts a little desk covered in a flurry of items (rare mezcal recently gifted, a gumbo cookbook, papers, and an old photograph of Duke Ellington, amongst other things). Richard usually works sitting on the day bed with his grandfather's 1920s guitar in hand. 

Although he hasn't put out any new albums in the last few years since his son was born, he is constantly writing down ideas in his notebook. At the end of the book, when the pages have been filled, he'll go through and catalog the ideas that hold the most promise on the last page: an index of references for future songs.  When I asked him if there are certain themes that he finds himself being drawn to, he thought for a moment and answered "sex" and "melancholia" ((and then jotted it down in his book because it had a nice ring to it). He expanded saying it's more of a constant pursuit of introspection, an effort to understand the significance of memories, places, and things that seem to never let him go. He is drawn to those unbridled emotions where people are most raw and uninhibited. His songs are carefully crafted portraits of people and places, draped with a coat of wittiness and observation. 

Richard initially moved to NYC from his home state of Delaware in the 80s after a brief stint playing keyboards in the lounges of Las Vegas. He lived in Hells Kitchen for 20 years, and watched the neighborhood transform outside his window.  Richard has long dreamed of owning a music bar, the perfect expression of his love of music and cocktails. After living in New Orleans for a few years with his wife and fellow songstress, Rosita Kess, he moved back to NYC with one stipulation, that they would finally open the bar they always dreamed of. It was not an easy journey, and finding the right location took much searching. In the end they found and built a haven for NYC musicians and patrons alike with a hint of New Orleans spice.

Having Bar Lunatico downstairs is like having a party that you're always invited to.  On the days when Richard is not working, he may come downstairs, take in the atmosphere, and hang with the musicians. And on the days when he needs some downtime, he stay upstairs and listens to the music in the privacy of his home. In any case, music is always in the air on Halsey St. 

When Richard showed me around the apartment, I also had the chance to see his five year old son, Floyd's, room. As a mom myself with a two year old son, it left a deep impression on me. The doors to the closets were covered in Floyd's elaborate animal drawings. Books and toys lined the corners of the bed, which had an animal duvet cover on top. I asked Richard what Floyd's impressions have been growing up with so much music around. Richard laughed and showed me that at the head of Floyd's bed are heating pipes that go directly downstairs to where the stage is at the bar. Every night Floyd falls asleep, listening to the sounds of incredible musicians playing. 'He has never once complained,' Richard said. 

As a mom trying (sometimes desperately) to raise a child that is sweet, kind and curious, I often wonder which experiences in my son's life will hold the most meaning. What will shape his personality and tastes in the future? Getting a glimpse into Floyds room, I couldn't help but feel like this kid is going to grow up to be an incredibly interesting person. In building a music bar for themselves, Floyd's parents have given him a beautiful gift, a creative space of his own. 

Explore Richard Julian’s music:

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Scarlet Sails' Artist Collective in Morningside Heights by annaandthelens

A few months ago, I walked into Olya and Brian's (of the Scarlet Sails) house in Morningside Heights, a beautiful 5 story building, the kind you picture as being representative of old New York: a sweeping staircase leading up flights of stairs, a kitchen located on the 2nd floor, and bathrooms featuring that quintessential black and white New York tile. The story of the building itself was rather unusual, owned by Columbia University, the building was actually leased in the 70s to one of the university clubs (I believe it was a language club), and the woman who originally leased it has held on to the building despite Columbia University's attempts to retake it. Over the years, the building grew into the hub of an artist community, attracting artists, sculptors, musicians and other creatives. Although the house has had a rotating roster of artists, the apartment itself didn't become what it was until Brian moved in over 10 years ago and started carving out the main living room as a creative space, filling it with instruments and music.

Olya Viglione, is the main songwriter of the band, Scarlet Sails, and her husband, Brian Viglione, is the drummer and co-songwriter. It was so interesting to learn about their creative collaboration and witness the different ways they go about approaching new musical ideas. Often, Olya brings the initial lyrical or song idea to Brian who then fleshes out the structure and dynamics of the song. Olya is a Russian-conservatory trained pianist, who, after years of studying the classics, found that she couldn't stay within the confines of classical music, always gravitating to sounds that are very different, following unusual scales and chord patterns. When she talked about songwriting, she expressed thinking of the movements in terms of colors, finding a specific shade of color in the chords to convey the feeling.

Brian is the first drummer I shot in the Creative Spaces series, and I was curious to learn about what the process of songwriting is like for him. Given that drummers play so many instruments at the same time, for me it was impossible to understand where do they start? Brian explained that a lot of it is hearing the sound, visualizing the mood and accessing the dynamics that encapsulate where the song is going to go. Interesting enough, when it came to describing the music, he also spoke about visualizing the song through the framework of colors, each one representing a mood.

When Olya began to play a newly written song, Brian started breaking down the drum composition, allowing the tension in the song to form at first, then bringing in certain rhythmic elements to accent the darkness of the piece. But, he explained, as the lyrics move the song, you don't want the drums to drown out the lyrics, so you find the sounds most complimentary to the vocals, the words, and the rest of the song.

It was interesting to hear about the complimentary nature of their respective creative processes, Brian was very detail oriented, while Olya was more intuitive and explorative. When she writes, it can start anywhere, with either lyrics or melodies or all at once. For Brian, when he hears the start of a song, he visualizes a library of sounds, finding reference points in his mind, and then creates something unique that flows with the song. Despite these divergent approaches, when they were jamming, the music flowed like a river, seamless and fluid.

Explore Scarlet Sails’s music: Website: Scarlet Sails Spotify: Scarlet Sails IG: Scarlet Sails

How the "Creative Spaces of NYC Musicians" series began... by annaandthelens

Almost six months have passed since I started working on the Creative Spaces of NYC Musicians photo series, and now I have come to realize that the project needs a voice and a place where that voice can be heard! This blog is my own space where I can explore the ideas of creativity in a deeper way and highlight some of the wonderful artists of New York City and what inspires them to compose. I think I should start at the beginning - how I came to start working on the series. To say that I had it all planned out would be lying. It has very much been a work in progress, changing its shape and incorporating new ideas as they come. I have always been fascinated by the phenomenon of inspiration and the form it takes. What sparks an idea? Where does this elusive thing come from? How much does the space that we occupy inform our creativity?

I wanted to work with musicians because well...I love music. To me, music is the most visceral art form, it has the capacity to make people feel in such a powerful way, it's effect is undeniable. I have always grown up with musicians in my family, and later went on to marry a musician, so in some ways my life has always had a soundtrack. Given this experience, I have always loved watching new songs be written (even now as I write this my husband is writing a song 3 feet away from me). To hear the spark of an idea, a nugget that sounds like it could become something, develop in front of you, is fascinating.

And the spaces part? That came about because living in New York means that space is a highly prized commodity!  The city can be so overwhelming with its energy, that each one of us struggles to establish a small slice of peace in our home where we can let down our city guard and be ourselves. Because our living quarters are small, NYC is a city where people often go out, rather than meet in their homes. As a result, we don't often get to see each other's private spaces.

This project has changed that for me and I feel incredibly honored for the opportunity to be welcomed into the homes and intimate corners where musicians write and work on their craft. The conversations I end up having and the raw moments that they share with me is a gift I cannot repay. I only hope that through the images in the Creative Spaces series, I can share their talent and their world with others.