After a year and a half of work, Julian Tran has his flagship musical collection Misery on the world. Letting go of his alias Sonic Eater, he is treating listeners to a nuanced journey through emotions. Drawing on his own emotions, he considers the creativity and self-acceptance they forge through the tracks of the album. We sat down with Julian Tran to talk about the album, solo work, connecting with other musicians and much more!
OSR: Was there a moment that made you realise that you wanted to create music?
Tran: There wasn’t any particular moment that made me realise music was something I wanted to make. Instead, it grew inside of me over time, like an old friendship. My parents were quite supportive towards artistic activities and I quickly joined my brother’s band under our father’s wish, when I was about 12. I didn’t ask myself a lot of questions and simply went with it. Slowly but surely, it became something I started to enjoy and it grew into a necessity. In times of crisis, writing music is what pushed me back onto my feet. No matter what happens, I can always rely on it. In that regard, it is the most precious friend I have.
I am unsure whether I would call it my life’s purpose, but when I am writing music and that I am lost in it, the entire world is at peace and there isn’t a mountain I cannot climb. My mind is calm and focused. I think it is not wrong to call that feeling ‘happiness’. However, these moments are, as any artist knows, somewhat rare and therefore, all the more important and terribly addictive.
OSR: You used to play in a band (REV) while at university, what made you decide to branch out on your own?
Tran: I decided to pursue music by myself out of frustration and creative disagreements. What can be troublesome when playing in a band, is the coordination that has to be achieved in order to create. It is also what makes playing together so wonderfully special. I wasn’t satisfied with the speed at which we were progressing and my tastes were slowly developing in a different direction. More than anything, I had a newfound inspiration and it was all I could think about. Nevertheless, playing with other musicians live is a thrill that not many things of life can equal. I am looking forward to a future in which I can play with others again.
OSR: Your first solo music was released under the moniker Sonic Eater, what prompted you to change this and start releasing under your real name?
Tran: When you start writing music and releasing it. It can feel a bit like taking your clothes off in front of everyone. Since I had always played in a band, it seemed natural for me to find a name for my solo project. After 2 years, and during the process of making the Misery album, I understood that if there isn’t a reason important enough for me to use an alias, then why should I use one? There was no more fear or shame, and hiding behind a made-up name seemed unnecessary. Removing the unnecessary is an essential part of any artists process, well of mine at least. Sonic Eater was a lovely fantasy, but it was one that stood on fictive brittle ground. My name, whether I like it or not, stands firmly on everything that I am.
OSR: Your album Misery is a culmination of a year and a half’s works, how does it feel to have finally released it?
Tran: The release was a bit of a strange time and I don’t believe I excel at allowing myself to enjoy these moments. It was a bit of a constant rollercoaster between feeling like a genius and losing faith in myself. Then there are people constantly asking about the results of your work when you capriciously wish they would ask about the work itself. People with advice, people that know better, people that are buzz-obsessed etc. It becomes unsettlingly easy to lose focus of your original intent.
However, this childish rant is nothing compared to the wonderful feedback you can receive. Not compliments, simply heartfelt messages about the feelings your music invoked into someone. The connections that are being made through your work. That is a most wonderfully bizarre thing and something that has become a new drive for me. Understanding the reason why I share my music and the desire to bring out feelings in others, therefore connecting me to them.
While there wasn’t a clear sense of relief, I now have a piece of work that I proudly stand behind. Going back into writing, this has allowed me a new level of creative freedom. That alone is an important milestone for me.
OSR: Is there a backstory or theme to the album?
Tran: There is, Misery.
OSR: How do you feel Misery compares to the music you have previously released?
Tran: It is by far the highest standard of quality I’ve achieved. The most complete work I’ve released yet. Never before have I been this thorough in the process of writing and assembling music. Even the album cover, designed by the absolutely wonderful Somnath Bhatt, is lightyears away from anything that’s appeared on my releases previously. I always look back fondly on my previous work but simply because of my emotional attachment to it. In terms of a public piece of art, they’re incomparable.
OSR: If people could listen to only one track on the album, which would you recommend and why?
Tran: ‘Misery’, it is the origin of the project itself.
OSR: The album features Clara Barry on violin, how did you connect with her?
Tran: Clara Barry ‘Venus Smith’ is an old friend from my brother. I was looking for a violin player to perform the arrangement I had written and she simply took it to a level I couldn’t have conceived. Originally, she was only meant to play for the live performance of ‘Misery’. However, it was an instant match for me and playing with her inspired the rest of our collaboration. We decided to write together and record her for the album. Her work on the first song of the album, ‘Carefree’, is absolutely breath-taking.
OSR: What was the biggest challenge you faced when creating the album?
Tran: Constantly having to push my deadline back. Even though I have been writing music for a while, the learning curve for making the album was quite steep. The project just kept morphing into something else and so did the release date, which was immensely frustrating. Creating the music isn’t a problem in that regard, not because it’s always simple, but because it differs in nature. Making an album that feels coherent and justified in some way, is another matter altogether. Since I wanted everything to be a few steps above my previous work, it also meant having to face situations I hadn’t envisaged. While this can obviously be challenging at times, the experience gained from it is tremendous. The passion for the art grows proportionally with it.
OSR: What else can we expect from you in the coming year?
Tran: I have many projects in mind and I began writing new music long before the album came out. However, at the moment, I am taking some time to explore new sounds and ideas. Playing around in the simplest possible way. This is the creative freedom Misery has given me and I intend to thoroughly explore it. I must say, I’m feeling quite brave.