US singer-songwriter Julie Byrne tells EDWIN GILSON about working as a park ranger, the “whirlwind” life of a musician and being inspired by Planet Earth.

FOLK music and travel go hand in hand – Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell are just two masters of the genre to have weaved the open road into their lyrics. Julie Byrne is no different, having started new lives in Illinois, Seattle and New York among other states with her acoustic guitar in tow.

Every journey must come to an end, though, and the most recent chapter of Byrne’s life carries with it a certain poignancy. The songwriter returned to her hometown Buffalo in New York to record her latest and second album, Not Even Happiness, released early this year. Laced with intricate finger-picking and lush, understated melodies, the album radiates serenity. While Byrne is a relaxed personality generally, she says going home to lay down the album’s songs provided an extra sense of comfort and belonging.

“To be able to record these tracks in the house that I was taken to straight after I was born, and to be in the company of family with all that familiarity and love...well, there was no better place for it.” Byrne is currently living in Buffalo and, while her nomadic days are surely not entirely behind her, she has learned that she does not need to hit the highway to find contentment in her life.

She is intelligent and eloquent on the subject of travel and the human pysche. “When it comes down to it, I was looking for an exterior something that had the power to change the way I felt,” she says of her time on the road. “I was in pursuit of that and for a long time it lead me across the country.But I realised that it’s all about cultivating a sense of belonging that isn’t contingent on anything else other than what you have at that moment.”

Byrne would be a great mindfulness tutor. She adds: “That sounds like a cliche but I worked in opposition to that principle for years, so now I’m in a place where that’s what I’m trying to focus on.” Two more interesting bits of information about the singer; last year she worked as a ranger in Central Park, New York, around the same time she undertook a course in environmental science. Of her ranger position, she says: “It was an attempt to gain some kind of grounding in New York through working in some of the only remaining natural areas of the city." And what of environmental science? Did Byrne ever considering a career in the lab?

“It’s only a recent thing,” she says. “When I was growing up I was so terrible at science and maths – all the information I got from school I completely took for granted. I started watching [BBC programme] Planet Earth and found it breath-taking. That’s really where the interest started.”

Byrne’s preoccupation with nature permeates her music, and sometimes in a very visceral way. Take single Natural Blue, for instance, which is just as much of a soothing balm as the name suggests. The song is partly about finding moments of peace on tour, which Byrne admits can be very difficult – even with her nomadic tendencies.

“It can be pretty rigorous and taxing – it exposes your baseline. Nobody ever says ‘I’m going to make a career out of being an independent musician but it’s certainly a fascinating whirlwind. I feel a sincere love for what I’m doing even in the hard moments.” Does she have any survival tips for when it all gets too much? “Well, I cut out caffeine recently. That’s been helpful.”

Byrne only began to play guitar at the age of 17 after being inspired by her father, a “hobbyist” musician who worked as an optical engineer and would perform at weddings on weekends. It took just three months of practise for Byrne to feel she was ready to play her first gig – at a wizard-themed dive bar in Buffalo called Merlin’s. “There was only about 15 people there but it was still pretty terrifying,” says the singer. “I couldn’t believe I was doing it.”

Her gig at St Mary’s Church in Kemp town – a co-headline concert with label mate Nadia Reid – will be significantly better attended. Byrne is building on a performance at this year’s Great Escape festival which was striking in its languid beauty. While music may never have been a conscious “life choice” for Byrne growing up, she now says “in many ways I was made to do this”.

“When I’m performing I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

Julie Byrne
St Mary’s Church, Brighton, Monday, August 28, for more information and tickets visit