interview: julianna barwick
I love the sound of cars going over those sewer things on the street, that's a very New York sound.
Julianna Barwick is a bit of an enigma. Everyone, including her, struggles to define her sound. Diplo said on his Twitter that her music sounded like "Care Bears making love" and she's been compared to everyone from Brian Eno to Enya. She's a one-woman show, who layers vocals and instruments to create her own choral arrangements that could best be described as... pastoral-folk-new-age-medieval-dream-pop? We caught up with the Brooklyn based singer to chat about her latest album The Magic Place, her forthcoming Australian tour and how it all got started.
Sophie Bosch: Where are you at the moment? Are you on tour?
Julianna Barwick: Not at the moment, I'm in Brooklyn.
You grew up in Louisiana and Missouri though, how do you feel that influenced your music before you moved to New York?
I didn't grow up in a really busy place, it was a pretty small town so I had a lot of time to just be a kid and run around. I was just using my imagination and being the dreamy kid that I was, so I think that definitely had an influence on me as a person and definitely on my music.
Your music sounds pretty choral, did you belong to choirs when you were younger?
I was in choirs pretty much my whole life. I remember being in school choirs in elementary school as a kid and then all the way through high school and even after that. After high school I was in an opera chorus, it was really cool that I was also doing it in a church. We all sang a capella. I was there three times a week, and it's been like that my entire life.
Is singing always what you wanted to do?
No, I just did it because I loved it, and I still do it because I love it. Growing up I wanted to teach art to kids in elementary school and then I got into photography. I got a degree in photography and I really loved that and I worked for photographers right up until the point where I went on tour for the first time with the music that I'm making now. After I went on that first tour in 2007, I was sold and I thought if I could do this for real, I would be so happy, so I pursued music more at that point.
What's it like to be involved in the Brooklyn music scene at the moment? Do all the artists kind of support each other or can it be quite competitive?
I'm not competitive at all; I know some people are. I feel camaraderie with the people making music in Brooklyn but I'm kind of a loner also, musically speaking, because I'm not playing in a band or anything. I'm kind of doing my own thing and I'm not really associated with anyone in particular. One of the greatest things about living in New York though is just being surrounded by people who are doing what they want to do, and making their stuff. It's very inspirational.
Are there any artists in particular that you feel have influenced your music?
Not really. I know that seems like a funny answer but I don't think of anything when I'm making what I make. I don't think it currently sounds like anything I really listen to... Of course you find inspiration and I have tons of artists I like, but musically I don't really feel like I have any one person where I hear myself in their music. Sorry, it's sort of a rude answer, I'm not trying to sound like a snob!
If you could create a soundtrack for a film, what kind of film would you want to do?
I would love to do that! A Sofia Coppola movie or a Michel Gondry movie would be phenomenal.
Your songs don't have any lyrics. When you're making a song, where do the different sounds that you're singing come from?
I just plug everything in and start trying out stuff, so it's pretty much stream of consciousness or subconsciousness... I don't plan it ahead of time and I just start singing and that's where the different sounds come from. If I'm elated about something the song will probably reflect that. If I've had a crummy day it'll reflect that. They're just sounds of my subconscious and emotion I guess you could say.
What aspects of your life inspire and influence your music most then?
The happenings in the lives of the people that I have relationships with. That's what's most important to me so that's what I think about most. I think about what people I'm close to are going through and if things are happening between me and other people.
Tell me a bit about where the title of your album The Magic Place came from.
When we lived in Missouri we lived on a little plot of land, we had sheep and it was about 16 acres and there was this tree on the property. It was the most magical place ever for a little kid because it was almost like a little house, the way that it was, the way that it grew. It just grew up and down and around and you had to kind of crawl underneath to get into it, and there was all these big rooms that you could lay in and the sun would stream in all Alice in Wonderland style. It was just an incredibly dreamy place to be as a kid and our family ended up calling it 'The Magic Place' so that's where that comes from.
I've heard a few interesting descriptions of your music, like how Diplo said your music sounded like "Care Bears making love," does that offend you?
It doesn't offend me at all. I know Diplo Tweeted that. I think it's awesome. That's one of the best descriptions I've ever heard, actually.
How would you describe your sound?
I'm really, really bad at this. You'd think that by now I'd have some sort of stock standard answer, yet every time I don't know. I would just say that it's dreamy; it's mostly vocal layers, transportive, dream pop? Maybe.
Your music layers a lot of different vocal and instrumental sounds, are there any non-musical sounds you love?
I love the sound of snow crunching under foot and wind through trees. I love the sound of cars going over those sewer things on the street, that's a very New York sound... I like the sound of things that are really far away, like hearing music or hearing voices from really far away, or ocean waves from really far away is an interesting sound.
Do you ever find it difficult or lonely making all your music on your own or do you like having the time by yourself to do it?
I love it, everything from recording to performing to touring. I love doing things on my own, it just works for me. Having said that, I would definitely be open to collaborations but I'm most comfortable just having a quiet space and not feeling put on the spot or judged by anyone watching and just being able to let loose with whatever I want to create. That's best for me creatively.
What would be your ultimate space to perform in?
I wanted to play at the Bowery Ballroom for years, so getting to play there in New York City was a real thrill... I'm super excited about this Australia trip, I'd love to go to Spain, where I've never been before. I've had the opportunity to play at a couple of really beautiful churches this year and those were really special shows... It felt a lot more in tune with what I was doing because it's sort of a reverent place, not like a small rock club. What I do works a lot better in a place like that.
It will be your first time coming to Australia for the Sydney Festival, what bands do you think you'll catch?
I'm not totally of the Sydney Festival line-up but I know the Sugar Mountain festival line up. I'd like to see John Maus and Shabazz Palaces. The Prince Rama girls are friends of mine... I met them in Istanbul this year so I'm excited to see them. And PJ Harvey, oh my gosh! I keep missing her by an inch, we played a festival and she was there the first night but we didn't get there until the second day. I would love to see her.
What would be your ultimate rider?
Five different kinds of cheeses from the area, some delicious ros