Last week, New York-based artist Julian Lamadrid released his single and video for “Mess.” A “celebration of a person’s instability,” “Mess” sees him embracing his flaws in a way that feels tender and emotional – and perhaps just a bit reckless. It comes as his label debut at Arista Records, to which he announced his signing earlier this year. Lamadrid draws from new wave, bedroom pop, hip hop, 80s synth, and British rock to create songs that bring you into his world and express everything running through his mind.
Below, Substream spoke with Julian Lamadrid to learn ten things that you need to know about him and the new single “Mess.”
1. Julian Lamadrid was born in Dubai to a family of Mexican expats. Dubai, he says, offered “absolutely nothing” in terms of music, culture, and genuine artistry – at least for the rock and roll and electronic music he was interested in. Lamadrid was exposed to music through his father, who played progressive rock like Pink Floyd, The Who, Genesis, and Yes. As he got older, he rebelled from the luxury and tourism central to Dubai, and “found an oasis in the internet,” falling in love with periods like the late 70s in England and bands and artists like Joy Division, New Order, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed. As he sought out the opposite of what Dubai stood for, these men were his idols, fueling his interest in music.
2. He started a punk rock band, The Younglings, when he was 15. Frustrated by the strict Muslim culture in Dubai, “my inner little angsty teenager wanted to grab the microphone and scream into it as loud as I can.” Along with a few friends, he wrote “simple, teenage angst, pop-punk love songs.” The band eventually dissolved, but Lamadrid was enthralled by the catharsis of writing music; he started writing softer songs and soon his love of pop “kind of seeped in.”
3. Three years ago, Julian Lamadrid moved to New York City. His favorite part of living in New York? “It’s literally the antithesis of everything Dubai stands for” – in New York, “every road and every street corner, every venue that you’re at, has some sort of history.” He loves the “unspoken energy and constant chaotic vibration” in the city and finds that to be at peace in New York, “you have to be constantly moving…. It insists that you’re working and you’re going at a hundred and twenty percent, and I think that’s a good mindset, especially right now.”
4. He originally moved to New York to go to film school at NYU. Lamadrid calls himself “an absolute cinephile”; when he was growing up, film, like music, provided a distraction and escape from his surroundings. From a young age, he fell in love with cinema, watching famous movies from Casablanca and The Godfather to classic French new wave and Italian neorealism, learning about different directors, styles, and periods in film.
5. However, he actually doesn’t believe in studying any art form. Art, he believes, is “something that can’t be taught”; the basis of art school, then, is to “learn the rules in order to break them.” But he knew that when it came time for university, he wanted to study something he was interested in. Music is “something that you just have to go and pick up a drum and pick up a guitar and just start strumming it out of that same burning desire to just make something” – but learning the technical side of filmmaking is quite valuable. “For film, you have to be at once an intellectual and a person who’s deeply in tune with their own emotions, because there’s just so much to run…. With music, I think you can get away with just having that emotion and that connection to a more animalistic side of yourself.”
6. He’s good at managing his time – so good, in fact, he graduated from film school in only three years. He found film school to be “quite simple to kind of breeze by” (“if anyone tells you otherwise, they’re probably just not putting in the work, but it is quite simple if you just do the work that’s given to you and you do it effectively and efficiently,” he says). Taking summer classes and January terms, combined with some credits from high school, allowed him to finish early. Getting a film degree wasn’t his ultimate reason for coming to New York, and he knew from the start that “this isn’t my main storyline… my main storyline is my music.” An education in film has given him a good background for music because it allows him to “make music from a cinematic perspective rather than just sonically, you’re thinking about the images that the sounds are creating, which is quite special.”
7. “Mess,” his new single, is “a celebration of a person’s instability.” It’s about someone who realizes they’re not in the best headspace but “they don’t care because at least that is them, and that’s who they are.” In the video, Lamadrid plays the antagonist: a drunk kid who smashes a bottle against a guy’s head “for doing absolutely nothing, for kind of speaking to his girlfriend a little bit aggressively,” and promptly gets beaten up. The “Mess” video sees him stumbling around New York, feeling all sort of emotions; at the end, he stumbles into a club, dances a little bit, and finally smiles. Stumbling drunk around New York, feeling alone and empty, is an emotion he admits to being “quite accustomed to.”
8. The video for “Mess” is self-directed. He’s self-directed his past videos (“Marimba,” “Stay,” “Untouched,” “No Trouble”), though those were mostly done on a DIY level with friends, using a GoPro or their dad’s camera, shooting whatever came to mind. Now that he’s signed to Arista Records, he has “a lot more toys to play with.” The label asked which directors he wanted to work with; he figured that he wouldn’t be able to work with his “dream” directors just yet, and so the most logical thing would be to execute his vision himself: “If I have a vision in my head… no one’s going to execute it as poignantly or as authentic as I would do it, as my own expression would be.”
9. “Mess” is the first single from Julian Lamadrid’s debut album, Mala Noche – Spanish for “bad night” – and it comes from a very personal, vulnerable place. Last year, he was ready to move on from singles and EPs and put every dollar he’d ever made into making a full-length conceptual record. Mala Noche is a concept record with a narrative throughout: it’s about the nights “where you’ve been out till 3 AM, you haven’t had any decent human connections, and you just kept on drinking to make other people interesting, and eventually you just end up drunk and alone on the L train next to some homeless man, covered in vomit”, and it’s the record you wish you could put on and just forget about the world and feel at peace.
10. The songs on Mala Noche are “quite sporadic in terms of genre.” Lamadrid references something said by Matty Healy from The 1975: “he said basically, like, ‘we produce music in the same way that we consume it,’ – genre is clearly dissolving in front of [our] eyes right now with streaming and the ability to bounce around from different artists seamlessly, there’s no real such thing as ‘oh this is rock, this is hip hop’ – and so the record kind of plays in to that.” He produced most of the record himself and has been working at [Shifted], a studio in Brooklyn, where he’s messed around with sounds and explore different ideas. Lamadrid teamed up with “two really great producers” to give Mala Noche its edge and “give it its moments where you don’t expect it to go in terms of the actual music”; the resulting record pushes the boundaries of what defines pop music.