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The sounds of Ervil

In a detail from the promotional art for the podcast "Deliver Us From Ervil," a pair of manacled hands are shown clutching a copy of The Book Of Mormon.
In a detail from the promotional art for the podcast “Deliver Us From Ervil,” a pair of manacled hands are shown clutching a copy of The Book Of Mormon.

Madison’s Julian Lynch scores a harrowing podcast.

Starting up an episode of the new podcast Deliver Us From Ervil, listeners will hear a mournful swell of clarinet, set against drily plucked acoustic guitar, rustling percussion, and vocals that drift eerily in and out. This is new music from Madison-based multi-instrumentalist Julian Lynch, setting the mood for a journalistic deep dive into the world of a breakoff sect of Mormons in the desert of Chihuaha, Mexico, that devolved into brutal rivalry and murder over the course of the 1970s and ’80s. Ervil LeBaron, who metastasizes into a combination cult leader and crime lord as the story unfolds, supplies the podcast with its clever title. The third episode came out this week. 

Lynch says he made roughly an hour’s worth of music for the podcast, which is created by the British podcasting company Novel, distributed by iHeartRadio, and hosted by Salt Lake City-based journalist Jesse Hyde. Lynch collaborated previously with one of the producers, David Waters, on an earlier podcast called Witnessed: Borderlands. Both shows are stories of crime and corruption that take place on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, and both call for something of a southwest-noir element in their music. Lynch renders that through elements that will be familiar to people who’ve listened to his solo records, like 2011’s Terra or 2019’s Rat’s Spit: Lush but patiently unfolding themes, warm guitar sounds, wind instruments that supply as much varied sonic coloration as they do melody, a production approach that includes some playful little warps without getting chintzy. 

The Ervil soundtrack, though, is a great deal darker than anything he’s put out before, evoking the harshness of the desert setting and a steadily mounting sense of mortal dread. 

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“Trying to draw some sort of connection between music and landscape was something that seemed important to David and [was] also [important] to me,” Lynch says. 

As with most of his solo records, Lynch played and recorded almost everything himself. At the suggestion of the producers at Novel, he also added in some wordless vocal elements from his Madison-based friend Ashley Knobeloch, with recording assistance from Jonathan Lang. It’s a process that at once plays into the tendencies of Lynch’s solo albums and challenges him to approach things a bit differently.

“A lot of it was figuring out, just with an electric guitar and a couple pedals, what sounds can I really stretch out and not do a lot with [and] have something that’s really very sparse, like a desert landscape,” Lynch says. “And what can I do in terms of mode, for example, like musical mode, that adds to that feeling of sparseness, but also creates a sort of unsettling feeling.” 

Long before he got into scoring podcasts, Lynch created music for the 2011 short film How Mata Hari Lost Her Head And Found Her Body. He says the music he’s created for scoring purposes is among his favorite work he’s ever done, and he’d like to do more of it, in addition to making an instrumental solo record. 

“Scoring has been really nice for me because I kind of like having an excuse to do stuff musically in a really minimal way, in a way that I think sometimes wouldn’t translate for a record or live show or something like that,” Lynch says. “When it’s underneath other kinds of media, it works in a different sort of way. That’s the music that  appeals to me personally, a lot of times, really minimal stuff. So it’s kind of a fun game or challenge to be like, ‘OK, well I want to work with 10 fundamental kinds of sounds and not doing anything that’s too musically busy, not do anything that will capture anyone’s immediate attention, but will sit underneath this stuff and provide a mood.'”

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