When you ask fans about Julianna Barwick’s music, they will instantly gush about their deep and unremitting love affair with her lyric-less albums. By using the sounds of the people and places around her and artfully making them into beautiful melodies, she has helped thousands of listeners through restless nights, and long work hours.
In May, she release her much-anticipated new album “Will.” The nine track album is full of other-worldly noises that live in the space between eerie and elegant. They are peaceful to listen to, like a Gregorian Chant made for the modern ear. The songs fill the room but provide no distraction. It is the work of an artist who has mastered her craft and is ready to give a whole new group of fans something beautiful to sleep to.
How did you get your start with experimental music?
Basically it started with MySpace. I started making these kind of loopy type compositions if you can call it that. I had just graduated from school, I was working at a photo studio and I was kind of like finding my way and just making stuff at home and threw it up on MySpace. I got invited to go to Europe and have just been plugging away ever since.
You’ve said that your inspiration came from your travels and inspiration “the space in between.” What does that mean?
Well, I mean instead of being inspired by travel or by people, I was actually in all of these places having completely different experiences and making music within those situations. I’m just a completely reactive maker because I never have anything composed ahead of time, I make where I am. There were a few different places I recorded at last year. The first one was in upstate New York, February, completely alone for a whole week which was, I’ll never do again.
dress courtesy of Black Lodge Vintage
I don’t even know the name of the town. It’s my friends upstate house that I’ve been to a few times and last February I was like “I have a great idea, why don’t you just drop me off there and you guys come back for me the next week and I’ll stay there all by myself and make music and it’ll be awesome.” Instead I was like, I don’t have a car, it’s snowing and I’m lonely. It’s just like learned my lesson with that one. At the end of the week I didn’t really like anything I made up here. I was in a funk, I didn’t respond well to the isolation. Regardless, a lot of it still made it on the record because to ended up just kind of resonating later, which is cool.
What was the next place?
The next stop was at the Mouge Factory in Nashville. That was summer time, friends, fun, July, hot, yay, fun. And then the last stop, before I pieced it all together in Brooklyn, in like October/November was Lisbon, Portugal, which is my favorite city. I have a bunch of great friends there, been there a bunch of times, played a bunch of great shows there and just decided to spend a couple weeks in Lisbon to visit and record. I’m so glad I did because even the first song on the record I recorded under a train underpass at the train station in near the studio I was working. It’s really wonderful to have those kinds of connections within the record. That’s the story of the record. It felt super disjointed to between all these different places and locals and seasons, but by the time I finished it all up it was kind of a cool almost like story of the year. You know?
Do you think like you can really sense those moods throughout the record, the loneliness to super happy to transient feeling or is it more about the place?
Both. Totally both. “Big Hollow” was made up state and it kind of has this cool, melancholy almost kind of icy sound to me. And then something like “Beached” I recorded in Lisbon on an actual piano instead of doing “synthy” stuff and I think that kind of warm lush feeling is more intact there. Totally. Like I said earlier I feel like everything I make is a reaction to the environment I’m in. Yeah so it was really fun and then you know I had my dudes play on it and it was really really really fun.
Something that was really interesting when I was looking through your YouTube comments is that everybody said it was their favorite thing to fall asleep to because your music is so comforting. What do you think about that?
I mean I hear it all. I woke yesterday to an email that literally said “Your music just saved my life. Okay maybe not literally but actually literally. I’ve been going through a really hard time. So thank you.” I had someone tell me this last Thursday in Boston, “Like I hope you don’t take this the wrong way but I couldn’t sleep for months and your music is like the only thing, that beyond drugs and everything, I mean prescriptions and whatever, to chill me out enough to go to sleep and I don’t have any idea how I could ever repay you for that because now I can sleep.” I think that’s amazing, man. I think that’s really really cool because I treasure sleep and I can’t imagine living a life where I simply couldn’t sleep. I hear that a lot, I hear that a lot of people write their best, if they are writers or students doing papers or whatever, they are like “Oh my gosh Julianna Barwick is like my go to writing music.” I think that’s awesome. I think that’s positive stuff, all positive. Calming and life affirming, so yay.
How do you translate your music into a live set? What is the performance aspect like for you?
It’s great. I love to tour. I love to like travel, I love to you know. I love people, I like to talk to new peeps and old peeps and do all that kind of thing and I don’t ever get nervous so I don’t have to deal with that. So its almost a pure joy for me. I mean anything that’s like anywhere near/worth complaining about its really hard to do because being a musician for real for real is very fun at least to me. I’m really thankful everyday that this worked out and this is what I get to do and i enjoy doing it. In cant think of anything negative to say about this experience.
Do you have any like rockstar tendencies, that you have discovered about yourself?
No. Zero. I don’t really have any rituals or anything or demands. I’m pretty easy. My soundtracks are usually average about fifteen minutes. It’s pretty self-contained. I am not a diva. I don’t require much it’s just very easy for me.
Obviously locations are a big part of your work, but you like in New York City. How does New York fit in to everything for you, outside of the album?
I’ve lived there for fifteen years so it’s been a long long time and it’s hard to even remember “pre-New York” at this point. I’ve had like an incredible experience there. I’m still completely involved with New York. I’m considering a move. I don’t really know exactly but even if I go move somewhere it comforts me to know I could always go back if I want to.
So you live in Bushwick right? What do you think about it’s rise in popularity?
I’m all for it. I mean I lived in Greenpoint for like eight years total out of 15 and, maybe longer more like nine or nine to ten years of 15 years was in green point. The first place that I lived in 2002. I moved there and I was like “Where am I there’s nothing here,” And now it’d just filled with stuff. It’s just kind of like awesome. I’m actually, I don’t want to get too deep into the whole gentrification conversation, but to me when I moved into Greenpoint in 2002 there were just vacant blocks of nothing and dirt. And now there’s stuff and I’m for stuff. I’m for stuff.
There’s something to be said for arts in New York. I think it’s harder for artists to live there which is a bummer but that is what it is.
Yeah and that’s kind of the funny thing about the reality of so many people who live in New York is to work work work work work work work their tail off so they can go to some teeny tiny town upstate for the weekend. Isn’t that interesting? I have so many friends in Hudson now too and it’s just insane.
What are you hoping from with this next stage of your music and this album release?
Well, I kind of intentionally made some new sounds on this record cause I played a couple hundred shows at least for around you know the attempted release. I just wanted to change it up a little bit and I just wanted the shows to be a little different and I have some amazing tours and festivals coming up this year. But I have absolutely no clue what’s next, I don’t have any projects on the horizon or you know collaborations or anything for once which that’s kind of like a rare moment when I’m just in like tour mode. I’m excited just to celebrate this record and play a bunch of shows and then find out what happens.
If you could perform and collaborate with anyone this year, who would it be?
Thats like a toss up between John Williams, like if John Williams had me sing on anything I would die happy, or if I did anything with Bjork.
You know I saw a lot of people commenting that you sound like Bjork on social media.
I don’t see it but it could be totally subconscious, I mean she’s my hero.