Julitha Ryan on making her record through intercontinental emails

Julitha Ryan on making her record through intercontinental emails

Words by Augustus Welby

To close out this year’s Darebin Music Feast, Swamplands Bar presents a special edition of its Sirens and Songs series.

On Sunday October 27, Melbourne musicians Julitha Ryan and Mia Schoen will descend on the Thornbury venue to perform works from their respective solo repertoires.

Ryan has been making and performing music in various capacities for more than 30 years. The Melbourne songwriter and multi-instrumentalist launched her solo career in the early years of this decade following the dissolution of the instrumental trio Silver Ray, with whom she released four records between 2001 and 2007.

Ryan’s solo debut, The Lucky Girl, arrived in 2012, but she initially viewed it as a valedictory release. Ryan returned with her second full-length, The Winter Journey, in 2017 as well the instrumental mini-album, Beach, indicating a turnaround in her outlook.

“Even though I might seem outwardly quiet, I always seem to have a few things on the boil,” Ryan says. “I wrote some music with one of my Italian co-musicians, so I’ve been working on that, trying to finish off a recording we started. Also I did an electronica album that came out earlier this year with Hugo Race. That group is called Gemini 4.”

The Winter Journey is a collection of deftly-wrought chamber pop originals that came together in a fairly unconventional manner. Ryan teamed up with Italian producer Giovanni Calella in Milan before returning to Melbourne and calling on engineer Andrew ‘Idge’ Hehir to help her complete the record via email.

“I think it sounds coherent,” says Ryan. “It was a fairly new thing for me to be sitting on emails at midnight living this half life here and my imagination’s in another time zone. There was quite a few months of toing and froing.”

The process was made even more difficult by the fact Calella speaks very little English, while Ryan’s Italian is “non c’è male”.

“It was very intense because he would send me things and here I am, alone in my little house in winter, trying to imagine the best way to describe to him what I think something should sound like,” she says. “Google Translate can only take you so far, so that was quite a process.”

The making of The Winter Journey was sometimes fraught and involved many hours spent beseeching multitrack sessions to download, but Ryan feels immense fondness for the finished product.

“When I look back I think it was an amazing process, really,” she says. “The [Italian] musicians I know very well, I’ve toured with them four times, but Giovanni I didn’t know so well. But he understood. He was right into it straight away and he brought a totally different perspective to it, which I loved.”

Dating back to the late 1980s, Ryan has collaborated with a number of Melbourne stalwarts, such as Hugo Race and Mick Harvey, as well as playing with The Dead Salesmen, Hope Addicts and enjoying acclaim as one third of Silver Ray alongside drummer Brett Poliness and guitarist Cam Butler.

Her live performances tend to centre on her solo repertoire these days, and she continues to hold herself to a high standard.

“The older I get, the more nervous I get. Not nervous in that I’m scared to get on stage; nervous about the quality of my performance. That’s what it comes down to. When I was younger there might’ve been other elements, like it was a good night or there were 250 people. For me now it really comes down to, ‘How good was I?’.

“My preparation for a gig has become more intense, perhaps because my quality control is higher. I don’t mind the effort, but it can be stressful. It’s not going to 150 per cent all the time, but if there’s anything I have control over I’m going to try and beat my last personal best.”

Julitha Ryan performs for Sirens and Songs which goes down as part of Darebin Music Feast on Sunday October 27. DMF itself takes over Melbourne from October 20 – 27. Head to musicfeast.com.au for lineup info and tickets.