Last April, Sleepy Hollow host Keith Brand announced that he would be retiring from his Sunday morning post of 27 years to spend time working on other creative outlets. Now just about one year later, the “eclectic, quiet sounds of Sleepy Hollow” have a new voice to carry the show into its next several decades.
Julian Booker took over the mic at the end of February and has already shown a great ability to curate interesting and surprising playlists that fit the Sleepy Hollow mood while exploring new directions and introducing new artists to the rotation. We thought it would be a good idea to get to know the newest addition to the XPN DJ line-up so we sent a few questions Julian’s way. Check out his thoughts on the heritage of Sleepy Hollow, avoiding preconceptions and what he does in his time off below while listening to some of the songs he played on his first few Sleepy Hollow broadcasts.
The Key: How did you get started DJing?
Julian Booker: I got my first radio show towards the end of college. I had worked for my father (who has been in radio for over forty years) at Delmarva Broadcasting Company in Wilmington, DE throughout high school. Later he asked me if I would help develop their HD-affiliate Graffiti Radio, whom I’ve worked with ever since. I started DJing live around the same time and was the house DJ at The Blockley until it closed last December.
TK: How did you spend your Sunday mornings before becoming the host of Sleepy Hollow?
JB: In addition to my new position at XPN, I work as a live sound engineer, so I spent a lot of Sunday mornings sleeping after late nights at shows. My schedule is kind of inverting now, so far I enjoy actually seeing the sunrise.
TK: What drew you to the eclectic Sleepy Hollow format?
JB: I’ve always loved a wide spectrum of music – I grew up listening to everything from The Spinners to Steely Dan to Carole King and music that was popular on the radio at the time – things like Semisonic or New Radicals. So when I began to get older, that eclecticism really started to grow. I try to find elements that I like in everything that I hear – I think it helps to become a more well-rounded listener.
TK: Sleepy Hollow has a long history and strong following – how will you balance the audience’s expectations while making the show your own?
JB: I’m quickly learning just how devoted Sleepy Hollow’s listenership is – to quote Bruce Warren, “the stakes are high.” But ultimately that’s what is most exciting about it. I think that anyone who does this kind of work wants to have an attentive audience, even if that means that they will be more willing to voice their dissent. I listen to Chuck Elliot on Saturdays and keep in mind how Keith Brand approached the show when developing my playlists. But I also have my own experiences and approach to how a Sunday morning could sound, so I’ve been trying to incorporate things that are a little more personal to me.
You’ll still hear staple artists like Joni Mitchell and Nick Drake (whom I love), but there’s also going to be selections from Alela Diane and Bill Callahan, maybe a little more emphasis on ’50s & ’60s jazz and international musicians (I played Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan this week, for example) – some things that you may not have heard on the program before. The tone, however, I think is the most important part of the show, and so long as I can keep folks who have loved the show for a long time satisfied while bringing in some new listeners who maybe were unaware or uninterested before, I’ll feel as though it is a success.
TK: Are there any songs or artists that immediately jumped into your mind for including on your debut Sleepy Hollow playlist when you found out that you would be the new host?
JB: The first song I thought of was the first song that I played, “Stolen Moments” by Oliver Nelson. I also (as I mentioned earlier) was immediately drawn to Nick Drake, so for that first show I dug up Jose Gonzalez & The Books’ version of Drake’s “Cello Song.” Phosphorescent and Ali Farka Toure (whom I’ve played along with his longtime collaborator Toumani Diabate and his son, Vieux) were immediate selections as well.
TK: What non-Sleepy Hollow bands do you also listen to?
JB: One preconception that I’m trying to avoid is the idea that there are Sleepy Hollow artists and non-Sleepy Hollow artists. While, I agree, there are plenty of musicians who would never fit on the show, I think there are more that have at least one or two cuts that do make sense – like “Gravity Rides Everything” by Modest Mouse, which I played recently. With that being said, I love ’60s and ’70s funk and soul, and I’m probably not going to find myself putting Parliament or The Meters on Sleepy Hollow. But I also like plenty of music that’s heavier, or noisier, or stranger than Sleepy Hollow allows. I recently saw Stephen Malkmus, everything that he has done with both Pavement and The Jicks is very dear to me, as are other more rock-focused bands like Deerhunter or Television. I also love Phish. But I played them on the show last week….
TK: You’re also in a local band called Bird Watcher. Who else is involved in that project and how did it begin?
JB: I started recording songs for Bird Watcher last year with my friend, Jesse Soifer, with whom I recently began a sound production company. He was Production Manager at The Blockley and currently works as front-of-house engineer for the band Conspirator. I hadn’t played in public very much since my former projects, Long Walk Home and Look Out Houston, had ended, so I had a number of songs with which I needed something to do. It’s been mostly the two of us and Mark Rybaltowski (who is about to release a new album under the name Monday Appreciation Society) on the recordings, but our friends Dan Wisniewski (of The Quelle Source and Monday Appreciation Society), Andrew Ciampa and Ben Rosen (of The Chairman Dances), Adam Murabito, and Ashley Cubbler have all been involved as well.
TK: Which musicians do you look towards for inspiration when writing Bird Watcher material?
JB: Well, plenty of them are referenced in the songs! I’ve played as a duo both with Ashley, and Kevin Ryan (of The Quelle Source) on Monday nights at Bridgid’s in Fairmount for years. It’s easy to play country songs in that setting, so I think getting to know so many Willie Nelson, Neil Young, and early My Morning Jacket songs sub-consciously seeped into the writing. Our latest release, “Okeh 03651” is definitely more guitar-focused than say, “The Great West,” which you guys posted in January. I mentioned Television earlier, it’s a little more like that.
TK: Are there any Bird Watcher releases coming out soon that we should keep an eye out for?
JB: We’ve put out four free singles on-line thus far, and that’s going to be it until we finish an album’s worth of material. We’ll look to have that out in some physical form by the end of the summer.
TK: What non-music related activities do you enjoy?
JB: It’s almost baseball season, which is very important to me. In fact, I’m going to my parents’ house this weekend so I can watch the Dodgers/D-Backs game being played in Australia (it’s airing on MLB Network, which I don’t have). I’m anxious to see how the Phillies do this year, and my partner, Holly, and I will probably go to a lot of games (and some minor league contests, as well). We try to travel as much as possible, and I love to eat and go bowling. Most everything else revolves around music!
Julian Booker can be heard as the new host of Sleepy Hollow every Sunday morning from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. on 88.5 XPN and online at xpn.org.
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