Julian Koster

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Julian Koster
Julian playing the banjo at ArthurFest 2005 (signature lamb-lamp seen in background)
Background information
Birth name Julian Koster
Born (1972-07-26) July 26, 1972 (age 45)
Genres Psychedelic folk, indie folk, lo-fi
Occupation(s) Musician, songwriter, Storyteller
Instruments musical saw, banjo, bass guitar, accordion, keyboards
Years active 1989–present
Labels Elephant Six
Orange Twin
Associated acts Neutral Milk Hotel
The Music Tapes
Major Organ and the Adding Machine
Olivia Tremor Control
Chocolate USA
of Montreal

Julian Koster (born July 26,[1] 1972[2]) is an American musician and storyteller. A member of the Elephant 6 Collective, he is the leader of The Music Tapes, a member of Neutral Milk Hotel and a former member of Chocolate USA. He is known for his heavy use of the musical saw in recordings, even releasing The Singing Saw at Christmastime, his only solo album released under his own name, in 2008.

Early career: Chocolate USA[edit]

In 1989, Koster formed Miss America with Liza Wakeman, Alan Edwards, Paul Wells and Keith Block. After legal threats from Miss America, they became Chocolate USA. Chocolate USA released two albums on Bar/None before disbanding to follow other projects.

With Neutral Milk Hotel[edit]

Koster joined Jeff Mangum, Scott Spillane and Jeremy Barnes to record the second Neutral Milk Hotel album, In the Aeroplane over the Sea, on which he played bass, banjo and singing saw. The success of the album, however, took its toll on Mangum, and the band went on hiatus shortly after its release. In 2013, the full band, including Koster, reunited for a lengthy worldwide tour extending into 2014.

The Music Tapes and other projects[edit]

After Neutral Milk Hotel, Koster began to concentrate on his own solo project, The Music Tapes, for which he contributed banjo, singing saw, chord organ, and vocals, among other instruments. 1st Imaginary Symphony For Nomad was released in 1999. Koster, together with Brian Dewan, recorded the story album The 2nd Imaginary Symphony For Cloudmaking, which was distributed by Koster on CD but never officially released for 15 years. After this, nothing was released by The Music Tapes until 2008, when Music Tapes for Clouds and Tornadoes arrived, followed by extensive touring (including the Elephant 6 Holiday Surprise Tour) and an unprecedented level of public appearance by the formerly reclusive Koster.

Koster is believed to be a founding member of Major Organ and the Adding Machine, first contributing a cover of What a Wonderful World to the Kindercore compilation Christmas in Stereo, before releasing an album, Major Organ and the Adding Machine in 2001. He also appears in the Major Organ and the Adding Machine film which was shown on the Holiday Surprise tour and is set to be released with an expanded edition of the 2001 album in 2009.[3]

In 2008, Koster released The Singing Saw at Christmastime, a collection of Christmas carols played on the singing saw. This was followed by a caroling tour, on which he played songs from The Singing Saw at Christmastime and selected tracks from Music Tapes for Clouds and Tornadoes for free wherever fans invited him to play.[4] This evolved into an annual caroling tradition, which transformed into the "Lullabies at Bedsides" house tour of 2010–2011 and 2011–2012 which in turn gave way to the long-planned Traveling Imaginary of 2012–2013. After the EP Purim's Shadows in 2011, in 2012, The Music Tapes released their third full-length LP, Mary's Voice.

On 12 October 2016, The Orbiting Human Circus (of the Air) podcast was released, with Koster starring as Julian the Janitor.[5] As a bonus episode of the podcast, the entirety of The 2nd Imaginary Symphony For Cloudmaking was released as a bonus broadcast in the Spring and Summer of 2017.[6]

Personal life[edit]

Koster's father is noted flamenco guitarist, Dennis Koster.[7]

Koster does not identify as straight.[8]

Julian used to sell pretzels in Union Square Park, NYC.[9]


As Julian Koster

With Chocolate USA

With Major Organ and the Adding Machine

With The Music Tapes

With Neutral Milk Hotel

Other Appearances

Artist Album Label Format Date Instruments
Kevin Ayers The Unfairground LO-MAX CD 2007 Singing saw
Black Swan Network The Late Music Camera Obscura CD 1998
Circulatory System Circulatory System Cloud Recordings LP 2001
Elf Power Vainly Clutching at Phantom Limbs Arena Rock Recording Co. CD 1995 Moog synthesizer
Elf Power When the Red King Comes Arena Rock Recording Co./Elephant 6 CD/LP 1997
Elk City Sea Is Fierce Warm Electronic Recordings CD 2001 Singing saw
Fablefactory American Custard CD 1999 Moog synthesizer
The Instruments Billions of Phonographs Orange Twin CD 2002
Of Montreal The Bedside Drama: A Petite Tragedy Kindercore CD 1998
Of Montreal The Gay Parade Bar/None CD 1999 Singing; Jumping on the furnace
The Olivia Tremor Control Music from the Unrealized Film Script, Dusk at Cubist Castle Flydaddy LP 1996
The Olivia Tremor Control Black Foliage: Animation Music Volume One Flydaddy LP 1999
They Might Be Giants Factory Showroom Elektra Records CD 1996 Singing saw
Various Artists Serotonin Ronin Camera Obscura CD 1998 electronics
Nesey Gallons Eyes & Eyes & Eyes Ago Hurrah For Karamazov LP 2009 Singing

External links[edit]


  • Cooper, Kim "Neutral Milk Hotel's in the Aeroplane Over the Sea (33​13)", 2005