For nearly a decade, American songwriter Julie Byrne has moved through the world as a characteristically private artist largely outside the public eye. Raised in western New York State, now living in New York City, she has counted many places as home since committing her life to her work. In the folk lineage of the wanderer, Byrne’s poetic, evocative songcraft pulls imagery from the road and takes its shape from the evolving impressions of friendship, love, and loss. She taught herself guitar after picking it up when her father became ill and could no longer play the instrument himself. She has stocked shelves in supermarkets and moonlit as a seasonal urban park ranger in Manhattan. As a performer, she carries an aura of warmth and vulnerability, an innate musicality connected to the natural world; there is real gravity in her ability to make that a shared feeling. And just as gracefully, she can recede from view; it’s been six years since her acclaimed breakthrough, Not Even Happiness. In 2023, Byrne emerges from a deeply trying and generative period with the most powerful, lustrous, and life-affirming music of her career, The Greater Wings.
Byrne shared her first full-length album in 2014 on the Chicago-based label Orindal. Rooms With Walls and Windows, a collection of intimate front porch psych-folk songs initially released over two separate cassettes, became a true modern-day word-of-mouth DIY success story. It was voted number 7 in MOJO Magazine’s best albums of the year, with the Huffington Post calling it “2014’s Great American Album.” She toured the album internationally, playing a handful of festivals and a host of underground house shows across America, and as her profile rose, she also found her artistic community. Writing for her next album spread across various seasons and locations, a travelogue culminating with sessions in her childhood home with producer and creative partner Eric Littmann and later in a cabin in New Hampshire where Jake Falby added string parts. Released in 2017 on Basin Rock and Ba Da Bing Records, Not Even Happiness saw widespread acclaim, named Best New Music by Pitchfork, with universal acclaim across the board, including The New York Times, NME, and The Guardian. By year’s end, the record was a staple on best-of lists; Byrne had played an NPR Tiny Desk and began a run of world tours that continued for several years.
She will confess the success of Not Even Happiness was unexpected, but its hushed closing track, “I Live Now As A Singer,” did forecast an intention. She knew the open space — occupied by Littmann’s signature palette of synth tones, Falby’s strings, and Byrne’s robust, drifting voice — presented something new and thrilling, something they’d develop as a live band and what would later be understood as the catalyst for material to come. The Greater Wings builds on this revelatory space at every turn. Recording started with the late Littmann and finished in the Catskills of New York with producer Alex Somers (Sigur Rós, Julianna Barwick). Navigating themes of grief, intimacy, and transformation, Byrne widens her signature fingerpicked guitar sound with lush synth tones, piano, harp, and strings, rising forever changed. The record arrives in the summer of 2023 on Ghostly International.