Released earlier this summer on Cascine, Dreams is a double LP compilation and 20-page gatefold book collecting over five years of collaborations between musicians and New York-based website Stadiums & Shrines. Contributors include Julie Byrne and Eric Littmann, whose soothing, soft-washed interpretation of “Spain” animates today in a motion collage by Nathaniel Whitcomb. The project also reflects friendships. Below, Julie Byrne and S&S founder Dave Sutton share with us a written exchange they had about dreaming in general.
Dave: Rarely can I remember my dreams, but I know the subconscious mind is processing at night. Stress deals with itself in strange ways. I also find value, creatively, in this activity. Do you?
Julie: I’ve felt that to be true too, though I think I’ve found more creative value in my day dreams than any dream that has come to me at night. When I was working at a grocery store in the Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago, I wrote most of the lyrics for my first two cassettes during that time. When my hands were engaged in the work, in stocking shelves or cashing people out at the register or breaking down cardboard boxes, my mind was nearly always elsewhere. I think I’ve spent much of my life retreating to the sanctuary of my own imagination but that has also meant forsaking the depth and merit that could’ve been found in what I was presently experiencing. What influence do you feel your daydreams have had in directing the course of your life, if any?
Dave: With daydreams I tend to fixate on upcoming events, I visualize them, probably to a fault. I space conversations, sometimes I forget what I was doing. Victoria gets frustrated with me. But in between those thoughts, which are grounded more in reality, my mind does wander into abstract and often more useful zones. Similar to your grocery store scene, when I engage in mundane tasks, those rooms for rumination open up, the sanctuary as you said. My words, for a project or just for life in general, usually come together outside of the actual act of writing: taking the train, helping Vic in the garden, bringing our dogs outside — it’s a slow walk as you know. I’ve noticed when you perform, sometimes you’ll close your eyes for long stretches, maybe during a drifting instrumental or after a song ends as if holding onto a particular moment. Where are you then?
Julie: That’s such a thoughtful question and one that I’ve never been asked before. There’s a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke that I love called, “I Am Too Alone in the World Yet Not Alone Enough” and there is a line in that poem that reads like a pledge:
“Let no place in me hold itself closed / for where I am closed, I am false. / I want to stay clear in your sight.”
I’ve played a lot of shows now. Living that way and connecting with people through travel and music, has proven itself to be my truest love, and no matter the frequency, no matter how many times I have played a song, it’s still important to me that it is coming from a place of sincerity specific to that moment. When I close my eyes, I am reaching out.
So, for everyone that does not know, you just became a father. I loved what you wrote when you announced that news to our community — that Bowie is shy like you and strong and beautiful like Vic. You and Vic have been such pillars for all of us and we are all so overjoyed for you. Are there any first thoughts or memories of fatherhood that you’d like to share here?
Dave: Thank you, it is surreal. Eleven days into this I can say our love for her is unlike anything we’ve ever felt, and we are learning by the minute. Matthew Werth from RVNG Intl. said something to me recently that has settled into my mind as a mantra: “let them lead you and teach you.”
Lesson number one was her arrival. We can guide aspects of birth, but more so we ride it, and we don’t know where it is going. I try to understand things through music. When contractions started, Vic floated in her parent’s swimming pool to Julianna Barwick’s The Magic Place. Later that night in the car, she asked for Max Richter’s Sleep. It’s 3am, Vic’s mom is holding her in the backseat. We’re the only car on the road, anxiously gliding in silence with these soft piano cycles. The next night we’re in the hospital, the doctor is blasting classic rock like CCR and The Beatles, and I remember thinking: for the last 24 hours we’ve been trying to control a tone and here it is being set for us. This kid has the aux cord to our human experience.
You’ve always struck me as someone very in tune with energies and surroundings. Is there anywhere you like to go regularly to pause or reset or reconnect? A physical or cerebral space…
Julie: Thanks, I really appreciate that. I still have a great deal to learn about how to reconnect when I feel distraught, I’m learning about it all of the time — how to break through self-isolation. For me, it hasn’t been a place that returns me to myself. Many times, it has been those closest to me, those who understand me deeply, that remind me who I am when I am lost.
I find that in writing too, in my own practice and in the discerning wisdom of visionary writers, like the poetry of Nayyirah Waheed. Her writing contains some of the most powerful guidance I’ve ever encountered, it is the blazing strength in softness. Her use of language is overwhelmingly beautiful because it is a poetry of resistance and of healing. She speaks to racial injustice, her experience immigrating to America, the ways in which toxic masculinity can degrade and suppress the hearts of men who do not push against it, she describes an abiding love, forgiveness and compassion for the self as a constant practice, she speaks to the cleansing properties of tears and of the ocean.
As an artist, it is important that I can sit with myself and rediscover my own creative resilience when I have lost touch with it. As a woman, it is important that I carve out a space where I can restore my faith in the worth of my own passion. But it is equally important that I reach to the work of others to better understand myself in the scope of the society I participate in and refute the idea that the spiritual act of grounding or centering should be a practice that is solely oriented around the self. So maybe we can end this conversation as a reflection on her writings — words to enshrine in the heart:
“she asked ‘you are in love, what does love look like?’ to which i replied
‘like everything i’ve ever lost come back to me.”
“i fell apart so many times
what does that say about me
i live through wars”
“if someone does not want me it is not the end of the world.
but if I do not want me,
the world is nothing but endings.”
“i want to live so densely. lush. and slow.
in the next few years. that a year becomes ten years. and the past becomes only a page in the book of my life.”
“there have been so many times
I have seen a man wanting to weep
beat his heart until it was unconscious.
“I am relieved.
I see the feminine presence
In a man’s eyes.
he is a peace
I do not
simply a lie.
it draws its strength from belief.
what hurts you”
“eyes that commit.
that is what i’m looking for.”
“and if your gift is to make people. feel.
something. do not cover that in apology. do not lie. to accommodate others’ fear of feeling.”
“Fail splendidly. Fail comfortably. Use failure as a redirect. Not a measure of your worth or value. Fail beautifully.”