Flashback to an idyllic formative moment: Polar Waves singer-songwriter Julio Duran is home in Chile during a cold snap. The country is in the grip of a polar vortex, but he’s indoors staying warm with his buddies and some booze. His wanderlust to break out of a safe existence is hibernating and he’s in the moment. It’s a short-lived time of serenity before Julio heeds the call of his soul to bravely venture into an unknown future, in an unfamiliar country.
This winter Julio shares his journey with Polar Waves’ debut album, No One Needs Help Anymore, a visceral collection of unguarded emotionality and blood raw rock n’ roll produced by modern rock legend John Keane (R.E.M./Widespread Panic).
“It’s been quite a trip for me since I came to this country about 10 years ago,” the Athens Georgia-based artist says. “I moved across the country, searching, and always being on the run. Along the way, I would meet people and they would seem all set, like they didn’t need any help. But I could feel their dismay and dissatisfaction. This album is a voice for those who don’t want to be followers. It’s their story and my own story. It’s a therapeutic record.”
Julio’s brave journey took him through many lives across many state lines, spanning LA, New Jersey, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, before he found solace in Athens, Georgia. Back in his Chile days, Julio studied music formally, but found music school curriculum stifling. He explored a somewhat lucrative career in marketing management after earning a degree from UCLA, but soon found himself unsatisfied in San Francisco with a normal domestic life and a stable, and financially rewarding career.
Throughout it all, song fragments and lyrical motifs piled up in his head. The soundtrack eventually became too much to ignore—he had amassed 20 songs and he was bursting to share them. He packed up his life, and aimed his car southeast, and ended up in Georgia in March 2015.
The city’s loveable quirkiness welcomed him. Julio soon found work as a freelance court interpreter. Indirectly through his boss he met producer John Keane. Within months Julio was doing open mics, playing to a loyal University of Georgia gang, sports buddies, and musician pals. During this creatively fertile time he called his hotshot guitar friend Ben Rodriguez from Chile to spice up the music, and the two began to work in earnest, recording acoustic demos and sending them to John Keane as sort of an artistic flirtation.
In January, 2016, Ben and Julio, John Keane, along with local drummer Andrew Fialka went into John Keane Studios and rattled the rafters with Julio’s dynamic mix of rock n’ roll, evoking strutting 1970s British rock n’ roll, toothy 1980s hard rock, and the artful textures and sugary hooks of 1990s alt-rock.
No One Needs Help Anymore is an internal and external travelogue of lessons, loss, and redemption. “I like to write about how life can be cruel and unfair, but it’s up to us to make a difference and to take a stand. So I write about my own experiences, self-destructive behavior, addiction and heartbreak.”
The 11-song album is thoughtfully sequenced, opening with a carefree sleazy rock n’ roll number “Philadelphia Downtown Club,” complete with good time Chuck Berry lead guitars, and concluding with the introspective alt-rock ballad (a co-write with his old music comrade Ben) “Adventureland,” replete with winsome acoustic guitars, and tension-and-release crescendos. The album’s emotional arc mirrors pivotal points of Julio’s journey, from that foundational moment of the safe bliss of hometown comforts, to the wisdom gleaned from building a spiritual and physical home life on his own terms.
Between these powerful opening and closing album bookends, standout tracks include the album’s first single “Stoner,” the title track, “That Familiar Pain,” and “Wonder Woman.” The beefy alt-rocker “Stoner” brims with clever metaphorical reflection. “That song is about visiting Chile after I moved to the US. Being home, everything felt so calm and simple, I felt like a stoner being there,” Julio says with a playful laugh. “No One Needs Help Anymore” harnesses the power of loud-soft dynamics of Nirvana and the Pixies for an impactful comment on trying to connect with people out of touch with their feelings.
The anthemic modern rocker “That Familiar Pain” details Julio’s profound quest for a home on his own terms. “That song tells the story of me leaving California and heading to Athens, heartbroken and with absolutely no hope. That’s why I have Athens in my heart,” Julio confides. The tender “Wonder Woman” is a love ballad that draws you in with its poetic sincerity and its trippy beauty (Spoiler alert: there is another gorgeous ballad waiting as a hidden track after “Adventureland”).
Polar Waves have ushered in a new climate for Julio. Currently, he’s embraced this by already writing his sophomore album. Reflecting on his journey he says: “Hearing these songs I wrote on scraps of paper come to life is like magic to me. I’m glad I didn’t settle in life. Every morning when I wash my face, I look in the mirror and smile. I know I’ve been around, but I’m so glad I never stopped pursuing music. I hope to inspire people to never stop and never settle, or at least provide them with honest tunes so they can have a good time”