Julianna Barwick creates elegant vocal arrangements that your mother would probably enjoy. These are the songs you heard in your dreams as a child, coming back to haunt your cluttered life (I’m projecting) and clean things up a bit. She stopped by the Porch to talk about her Louisiana upbringing, going to Cali, and of course her angelic voice.
Q: What are you doing?
A: I’m sitting in JFK waiting to go to LA.
Q: So you’re preparing to head out to California. Have you played many shows on the left coast, and if so, what are some of the responses you’ve gotten?
A: I have never been to the west coast, ever. It will be my first time to see all the cities, from LA to Vancouver, and I can’t wait. It’s icing on the cake that i can play some shows out there, too.
Q: Are you familiar with Pocahaunted? They’re a lovely group from CA with comparable musical visions. It seems like you all would regularly go on peyote camp outs together. How true is this?
A: Not familiar at all with Pocahaunted, I’ve heard of them but haven’t heard their music. Sounds neat – I’ll have to check it out.
Q: I went to your show at the Cameo Gallery last week and I was pleasantly surprised when you started your new song ‘You Catcher’ since it has both an acoustic guitar and piano in it. Can we expect more instrumentation in your music in the future, even though your dreamy voice will undoubtedly remain the main focal point?
A: Definitely. I’m pretty sure that the next record will have way more instrumentation- all kinds, all throughout – I’m going to incorporate the layered vocal sound but it won’t be strictly that. I’m looking forward to using my piano, clarinet, guitar, all kinds of things. Also other voices – some friends.
Q: I read that you grew up in a few different places in the South. Can you touch on how your music has been influenced from your time there?
A: I think spending my childhood in Louisiana definitely contributed to my daydreamy, laid-back personality. I remember hazy sunshine, heat, honeysuckle, pine needles, flowers. All kinds of natural beauty. It’s pretty much the antithesis of NYC. I’m sure that that deeply influenced what I like to hear, and how I like to sing.
Q: The fact that your music comes out of the fast-paced rigid mechanical beast of NYC is striking since you seem to juxtapose the city’s general ‘Let’s not let ourselves get carried away on a wave of angelic voices’ attitude. Do you see your leisurely tunes as a conscientious reaction to the bustling, and in what other ways does NYC influence you as an artist/musician?
A: Maybe not a conscientious reaction, but it definitely takes me to another place, plugging all the pedals in and making something pretty. It’s a pretty time-warpy activity that I love to do. Sometimes the tunes do end up a little more bouncey or dance-y – it kind of depends on how I’m feeling or what I’m trying. Everything I make is sort of visceral and spontaneous so if it’s reactionary in any way it’s subconscious.
Q: At what point did you realize that you could make complex and beautiful songs using only your own voice?
A: I’ve always loved the sound of many voices doing different things – that’s the way we sang in church and how I sang in choir and the opera chorus I was in. It’s one of my favorite sounds – I feel like my whole body reacts to it if it’s just right. Tears come to my eyes if I’m singing with a group of people, like in church. It just does something to me. But I guess when I realized I could overdub my voice was probably sometime in high school, with a 4 track. Then I played around with a guitar pedal that had a loop feature and I kind of fell in love. That’s how I made Sanguine.
Q: In a sense I’m sure it is flattering to be likened to Animal Collective and Panda Bear, as you often were upon your first release, but the ‘experimental’ tag seems unfounded when taking into consideration the seemingly immediate appeal of your music due to its universal instrument, the human voice, and your attention to melody. What’s your take on the category of music you normally get lumped into?
A: I think it gets lumped into the experimental genre because it’s different, ‘weird’. I like it when it’s defined as classical – I tend to think that’s more fitting, at least for the slow pretty jams. But then you’ll hear ‘Dancing With Friends’ and that kind of goes out the window. I think the AC/Panda Bear comparisons come from the looping style of the songs, you know, the same thing going over and over again in the background, and the layered vocals that are all over the place. I’m not unhappy with being thrown into the same category – I’ve loved AC for years and Panda Bear is my favorite musician. I also need effects an pedals to achieve the sound I like to make- I’m frustratingly dependent on it, actually. But when everything goes right I really enjoy it.
Q: What is a perfect day in your world?
A: Sleeping in, tons of coffee, hanging out with my boyfriend and friends, bike rides, seeing art, music, delicious meals. 70 degrees and sunny.
Q: Are there any musicians that you would especially love to collaborate with besides Bjork?
A: Panda Bear, Thom Yorke, John Williams, Eric Copeland, Whitney Houston.
Q: Do you have anything else you’d like to add?
A: I’d like to say thanks to all the people who’ve sent so many good vibes and encouragment recently and for everyone to have a good summer.
Credit: Photograph – Julianna Barwick
Song – Daytrotter