Sometimes opportunity knocks when you’re not expecting it, and sometimes you have to knock on your own.
Julia Othmer was in London unexpectedly in November 2013 when she visited James Lundie, a composer, producer and sound engineer.
“I was on a detour from another trip,” Othmer said, “and I ended up in London. I knocked on his door.”
They had never met, but Othmer, a singer/songwriter, had heard some of Lundie’s music and production work and was “blown away.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
“I really loved his sense of sonic space and how he created atmosphere,” she said. “I was incredibly drawn to it, so I begged him to consider working with me.”
Othmer, a graduate of Park Hill High School, moved to Los Angeles in 2006 to record and release her first full-length album, “Oasis Motel.”
Since then, she married and divorced and toured relentlessly. She wrote lots of songs and recorded some of them but could not get a second album off the ground. Othmer was hoping Lundie, as a producer and sound guru, could be a catalyst. As it turned out, gradually and meticulously, he was that. And much more.
Friday night at the Folly Theater, Othmer will celebrate the release of “Sound,” her second full-length album, a collection of dynamic, heartfelt songs that took more than 2 1/2 years to finish but that represents something both she and Lundie are immensely proud of.
“I love the way that it sounds,” she said. “I love the world that it created for me.”
Othmer persuaded Lundie to visit America and consider undertaking the task of helping her create what was becoming a long-overdue album. In February 2014, he joined her in Los Angeles.
Though they’d connected personally, he wasn’t sure he was ready to start a project of such magnitude. He also wasn’t sure about his faith in her music.
“I had listened to a bit and seen some videos, and I have to say I wasn’t a huge fan of it,” he said. “And I wasn’t looking to do another album with anyone at the time.”
Then, while in Los Angeles, he saw Othmer perform.
“It was amazing,” he said. “I was blown away by her power and energy and presence and stage persona. It completely changed my mind. That was when we really decided to do it. I could see she was incredibly gifted but hadn’t really been captured in a way that was satisfying to me.”
Lundie is a self-taught musician, one who learned guitar enough to play in some bands, make some music and capture some of it on a four-track recorder. He studied sound at a university and got his first break when a friend who worked at the BBC got him a music-writing gig, which led him into composing music for TV and advertising, a job that became less artistically satisfying.
“Julia and I met at the right time,” he said. “I was tired of writing music that did not represent anything I felt strongly about.”
Their work on “Sound” was deliberate and focused, and the goal was unwaivering.
“We wanted to make sure every song was the best we’d ever made and ever written and ever been a part of,” Othmer said.
“Otherwise, there was no other point,” Lundie said. “We wanted to create a sense of size and depth and to avoid stereotypical things we’d heard before.”
They started fresh. Nearly all of the material on “Sound” is new. They also wanted to present lyrical ideas that were open to interpretation and not bound to direct and specific narratives.
“I love storytelling songs,” Othmer said. “But the art that I most gravitate to are the songs that sometimes feel like someone is inside my head, saying exactly what I’ve been thinking. … A certain amount of abstraction or ambiguity in the lyrics allows more people to sit closer to a song’s fire.”
The ferocity of their commitment and the size of their scope would take a toll, at least temporally. Work began in earnest in the spring of 2014. The project wasn’t completed until mid-November, about 32 months later and just weeks before Friday’s album-release show.
“We finished rather close to release date,” Othmer said, “which is less than ideal, but we were going to take all the time that we needed.”
A life together
The results validate the vast amount of time and effort. “Sound” is a self-made record with a big-label sound. It is rich in space and soaring dynamics and rife with layers and textures and melodies and grooves. It also hops and skips among genres and changes moods, but not jarringly, which, Othmer said, was an aspect of Lundie’s work she admired right away.
“As I listened to more and more of his music, what struck me was he didn’t seem to have any limitations to what kind of genres he would experiment with,” she said. “He was willing to explore anything as long as it was interesting to him.”
Othmer and Lundie wrote everything and performed nearly all of the sounds on “Sound.” A few guest musicians are listed in the liner notes, including their pit bull, Mary, who gets a percussion credit.
Yes, their. The couple married this year.
“We got married January 11, in Los Angeles,” Othmer said. “The first day after the first new moon of the new year.”
The Folly performance will showcase the album in its entirety, with a twist. The first half of the show will feature Othmer with a trio of some of Kansas City’s finest musicians: bassist Johnny Hamil; guitarist Tim Braun; and drummer John Floyd Whitaker.
The second half will be the live premiere of “Sound,” featuring Othmer accompanied by the sights and feats of Quixotic, Kansas City’s premier performance-art collective.
“The first half will be a band concert,” Othmer said. “The second half will be theater. There will be lots of moving parts: projection and lights and aerial performers. It will be an extravaganza. Talk about getting out of your comfort zone.”
The Folly show will be Othmer’s last performance for a while. She is planning on touring on “Sound” in the spring and summer, after getting some reaction to the recording and a sense of where it would be best to tour.
She and Lundie will return to England over the holidays to visit his family.
Fittingly, the couple will celebrate their first wedding anniversary in the place where it all started, on a night in November 2013, when there was plenty of light in the sky.
“It was Guy Fawkes Day,” Othmer recalled. “There were fireworks going off everywhere.”
Including those precipitated by a fortuitous knock on a door.
Julia Othmer will celebrate the release of “Sound,” her second full-length album. The performance will include a collaboration with Quixotic Cirque Nouveau. 8 p.m., Folly Theater, 300 W. 12th St. $18-$100. FollyTheater.org