£20.99 – 1xLP, Limited Edition Clear Vinyl (plus DL Code)
“I wanted to shock people,” says Julien Chang. “I wanted to make something in secret, with no expectations, something that would challenge an image of me that people had become familiar with”.
With his stunning debut album, Jules, Chang has accomplished all that and more. Entirely self-recorded and self-produced, the collection showcases the nineteen-year-old Baltimore native’s remarkable vision and breathtaking instrumental chops. The arrangements twist and turn, toying with expectations and revelling in the freedom and discovery of youth. At the same time, Chang’s subtle, restrained vocal delivery suggests a deep thoughtfulness, one that belies his youth as he grapples with love and friendship, growth and change, memory and regret. The result is an album that boldly defies categorisation, a trippy sonic collage that dares you to keep up as it tips its cap to everything from Stevie Wonder and The Beatles to Tame Impala and Robert Glasper.
Chang, who currently attends university, grew up studying classical and jazz performance at the Baltimore School for the Arts. While he enjoyed creating beats for local hip hop artists on the side, most of his classmates and teachers knew him only as a trombone player, and a reserved one at that. Few in his life had any idea that he’d actually been teaching himself to play a whole arsenal of instruments at home, and even fewer were aware that he’d assembled an entire studio in his basement with money he’d saved up working at a local grocery store.
“I didn’t want to lessen the impact of what I was making by talking about it or sharing anything while it was in progress,” says Chang. “I wanted to tap into the power that comes from releasing something nobody sees coming.” In fact, Chang didn’t even make much of a fuss when he initially self-released the collection last year, posting it online and producing a small run of CDs. However, the record gently spread across the Baltimore music community – and eventually found its way to London, catching the attention of Transgressive Records who
flew out to meet Julien in New York City and offered him a record deal shortly after.
Chang was 17 at the time he began work on Jules, and the collection reflects all the evolution and exploration that comes with life on the cusp of adulthood.
“The summer before my senior year was a really formative time for me,” he explains. “I got exposed to a ton of revelatory music, all sorts of stuff like Pink Floyd and Tchaikovsky and 70’s Afro-funk and Gregorian chants. At the same time, I finally started doing the kinds of things you’d expect a 17-year-old kid to do.”
That combination of carefree personal growth and eye-opening artistic exposure fueled a prolific period for Chang, who would often begin writing tunes by improvising on whatever instrument happened to be most handy.
With no one looking over his shoulder, he gave himself permission to take big artistic risks without fear of failure. That reliance on spontaneity and gut instinct would guide Chang throughout the project, and it infuses the record with a freewheeling energy from the outset.
“I called the album Jules because it’s a nickname that no one ever actually calls me,” Chang explains. “Nicknames can give you something to grab onto, a sense of familiarity with someone, but in this case it’s actually a false familiarity. Just like people thought they knew who I was but had no idea what I was creating in that basement all summer, you might think you know me well from listening to this record, but the truth is that there’s a lot more going on below the surface.”
It’s yet another sleight of hand from a consummate showman, one who’s only just begun to truly reveal himself.