utorak, 13. kolovoza 2013.

Julianna Barwick - Nepenthe (2013)

Fenomen. Zborsko-eterično-medicinsko brisanje drame života.


Juliana Barwick makes grand, gracefully sweeping choral music that's so swoonily lovely, it's far too easy to lose sight of the craft that went into making it. Barwick takes small vocal phrases and bits of instrumentation, samples them and loops them impeccably to create a sound that tentatively recalls the impossible lushness of Enya when it's not fanning out into sounds that can be experimental, spare, artful and alluring.
Reflecting influences ranging from to her roots in church, Barwick has assembled a string of lovely, imaginative, hypnotically enveloping albums — the latest of which, Nepenthe, surrounds countless fragments of her voice with subtle snatches of piano, strings and even, in "Pyrrhic," tiny effects that recall . Like its predecessor, 2011's appropriately titled The Magic Place, Nepenthe  isn't just accessibly, prettily head-filling and ethereal. It's downright medicinal, altering the listener's surroundings in ways that make them comfortable, yet still wondrously inviting. - Stephen Thompson

In the morning I listen to the atoms singing. The simple drone, in my ears or brain, composed of incalculable smaller sounds, that isn’t the needling note of tinnitus or the moan of wind in the lift-shaft; just the quiet, efficient buzz of the universe, being. It may be the aural nerve’s equivalent of the lightshow behind my eyes, falling asleep: those concentric galaxies in gold and acid green that ripple out across the burgundy expanse towards the edge of vision, only for another fuzzy halo to be forming at the centre by the time the circle dissolves. These are the things the neurones get up to; the songs and dances they perform, when they’re not updating the news from the outside world, or tuning up for the complex symphony of moving lips and tongue and diaphragm and asking-how-you-slept. 
(Beyond the atoms, I can hear the sound of the city. Its traffic-roar that ebbs and flows, rises and falls, like a caged lion with mangy fur, pacing a concrete floor. The atoms keep singing no matter what: same tone; same volume; same pitch. Doing their thing, like ranks of dimwit angels chanting away in a heaven where nothing changes, and there’s only one song.)
So much of the wordless music I like (scratch that: need) seems to re-create the sounds of the morning: the drones that extend like an infinite plain, a salt-flat or ice-sheet from here to the sky; the growls and squirks and flutters of instruments, pretending to be other than what they are, standing for the flora and fauna that is all matter, too, but that rises and falls back into the endless choral voice of everything, in time. This music feels like a shortcut to the actual sounds the world makes when I’m waiting for the other person in bed to wake up, on the mornings I have no regrets pestering me yet, or arguments to re-play and this time I win. This is Nepenthe; I am in here; everything’s good.
That’s the impressionistic, Careless Talk-style review. To be more literal: Julianna Barwick's The Magic Place was one of the leftfield albums of 2011 and seemed to fit with other serene, utopian statements from female artists prioritizing the voice within a part-electronic, part-acoustic soundscape. (See also: Julia Holter’s Ekstasis; Laurel Halo’s Quarantine; Jenny Hval’s Viscera, and behind them all: Laurie Anderson). Barwick’s follow-up, Nepenthe, was always going to be one of the most anticipated of 2013, even before the news that Jonsi and Alex Sommers invited her to record in Iceland, which makes perfect sense given that in retrospect her music feels like a choral re-interpretation of ( ) by Sigur Ros: there’s the slow rise and fall in the volume of choral voices in the course of each song; the emergence of a delicate piano figure at some point; the sequencing of the album to mimic the pattern of each song; the juxtaposition of solo voices with real and artificial choirs; the phrasing of notes to hint at some gnomic phrase, and in a few cases singing variations on a phrase, like Sappho’s fragments that hint at so much more than they literally says. In the case of 'Crystal Lake', there’s "the way I…feel / the way I…" as the entire lyrical content, and on 'One Half', "I guess I was… asleep at night… whilst waiting for…" overlapping with "come around here" and then a third vocal line that teeters on the brink of language and sound. The latter has the longest lyric to date, but it doesn’t dispel the mystery of her songs. 
The most critical thing you can say about Nepenthe is that it’s not a huge leap forward (from near-perfection? What did you expect?). It sounds like The Magic Place with Sigur Ros guesting, or with overdubs that amount to signifiers of Sigur Ros-ness. On the other hand, it does sound like Valtari with the addition of that something else that so many disappointed listeners seemed to want. 'Look into Your Mind' nudges the voices slightly lower in the mix, as a rumble of low synth parts and drones rises to the foreground, then subsides, allowing the voices back, like a flock of birds scared away by a tractor. At the centre of the album, 'Pyrrhic' is the best thing Barwick has ever written: the choral voices more urgent, the soloist more mournful at the outset, before the violins and an aching cello enter with a melody that writhes and pushes the voices away. Jonsi’s distinct voice enters, offering consolation, but only after the multiple parts have completed several bars in a strange dance, does the chorus take over and the strings harmonize with the voices, expressing some kind of peace: the nepenthe of the album’s title.
This is the exquisite album we were promised, and perhaps an important one. Don’t mistake its simplicity or repetition of motifs from song to song, for a lazy formula. It’s a bold gesture to reject the basic assumption that listeners need dramatic departures to feel like we’re not being conned; to trust the listener that they can find the subtle variations that make each song sincere. To offer the consolation of dissolving into other voices rather than striving to be heard above the rest. Voices that seem to be saying: we're here; everything's good. - Alexander Tudor

With 2009’s stunning Florine EP and 2011’s equally great The Magic Place, ambient musician Julianna Barwick established herself as simply one of the most creative, experimental, and innovative artists working today, a phenomenon that continues on the grand Nepenthe. Nepenthe is an emotional album inspired by a death in Barwick’s family and one that prominently features Icelandic string ensemble Amiina and a teenage chorus. Having previously worked with Sharon Van Etten recording on last year’s great Tramp and having released an album with Helado Negro, Barwick is fully collaborative on Nepenthe. But her stunning, layered, operatic, and atmospheric voice shines through the noise.
Barwick continues right where she left off on The Magic Place with the otherworldly opening track Offing, a typical Barwick track featuring layered, looped, and reverb-laden vocals. Yet it’s with the haunting The Harbinger that Barwick’s penchant for collaboration comes into play. Barwick contains the great ability to mesh Amiina’s strings, a chorus, and her own voice into one coherent manifestation of pure beauty, until minimal, sombre strikes of the piano complement the previously angelic noises of the song. Only two songs in, Nepenthe becomes so immediately cinematic and full of emotion that you can’t help but embrace your budding senses of wonder and hope. These senses continue onto the third track, One Half, whose creeping strings and comparatively decipherable lyrics suggest spring, a time of birth or rebirth from the tragedy of the gloomy winter that so previously dominated Barwick’s sound. “I guess I was asleep at night,” she sings on One Half, as if to say that her entire previous catalogue was the soundtrack to a long, dark dream.
If One Half is waking up from a dream, the synths and droney strings of Look Into Your Own Mind represent one’s first walk of the day into beautifully desolate nature. On Look Into Your Own Mind, Barwick’s voice is lower in the mix, ostensibly dominated by her naturalistic surroundings. Which all leads up to Pyrrhic, a track on which Amiina’s menacing strings ultimately challenge the goal relayed by the album’s title: Nepenthe refers to the drug of forgetfulness as seen in Greek literature, and to forget sorrow is exactly what Barwick wants to do with her bad dream – one that was unfortunately real.
Yet, the darkness of Pyrrhic is Barwick’s temporary inability to forget, the part of the mourning process that’s likely still difficult for Barwick to this day. But even if Forever, the companion piece to Pyrrhic, and its corresponding seemingly infinite loops likely refer to the amount of time that Barwick’s loved one will be gone, at least Forever’s vocal and instrumental loops build in volume and add more elements as the song progresses: Barwick may never truly forget, but she’ll be able to surround herself with other noise on which to concentrate.
Overall, Nepenthe more than builds upon the promise of Barwick’s Pacing EP, released earlier this year. While it may be a tremendously personal album for Barwick, you can get lost in Nepenthe for not only its sheer beauty, but for its ability to evoke visual cues and tell stories with its music. Much like another excellent ambient album released this year, Mountains’ Centralia, Nepenthe is concerned with its relationship vis a vis its creator and its explorations of tone, structure, and timbre. But also like that of Centralia, the relationship between Nepenthe and the music listening public cannot be ignored; its ability to establish a spiritual connection with the most logical naysayers makes it truly transcendent. - 

julianna barwick albums

The Magic Place (2011)

The Magic Place’s first track is called Envelop. Whether that’s a statement of purpose or a highly self-referential crack towards the easiest copy a journalist can write about Julianna Barwick is unknown, but it certainly cuts to the heart of her music.
In what sounds like a choir of ghosts, she constructs songs out of looped clusters of her sighing voice, deep forlorn rumbles, and the occasional tangible instrument which bobs its head just above Barwick’s ocean of sound. This is a very texture-heavy album, one on which songs sound more like deteriorated old photographs than anything with motion (the only thing even slightly resembling a crescendo comes with the penultimate Prizewinning), but it will still stop anyone in their tracks with its remarkable beauty.
The Magic Place is very much an ambient album. The deep waves of frigid, environmental sound Barwick cues up tend to wash over the listener, leaving no room for tangible melody or arc. She divides her voice into a thousand pieces, all singing together in a churchy, choral eruption. There are no empty spaces; instead, the entire album is filled out with her ringing incantations. Songs such as White Flag are almost completely a capella, encompassing a truly stunning midsection where her various voices coalesce into a singular angelic�boon. In a world where so many artists would rather blur their voices behind a comfortable layer of haze, Barwick’s forthrightness is both jarring and immediately refreshing.
There is the occasional identifiable sound – dampened piano clinks, ramshackle drums – but, like the title implies, The Magic Place is a very transporting listen. Juliana has hovelled out her own little sonic space to let her wildest musical ideas flourish. You get the distinct sense that this place was conceived as a spatial area, part of an unseen landscape, diffusing from mystic forests, spellbound cities and primordial mountains. For a brief 40 minutes she introduces you to this place, taking you by the hand to introduce you to its peaceful, immovable grace, and then bids you farewell with the grounding, placid piano of Flown. It’s one of those albums that truly exists in its own plane of existence.
It’s hard to really get a grasp on the scale of The Magic Place, simply because of how modest its components are and how high the record aims. Sometimes it hits the ancient, reverberating sacredness that could score any number of dark fantasies, but occasionally it just sounds like a girl singing with her piano. In that sense it’s a curiously welcoming album, one with no pretence, which demands little more than your opened ears – strange for the elemental experimental bent of the music. Barwick is crafting gorgeously effecting sounds in a way that nobody has quite heard before, far beyond the snickering Enya comparisons or the reductive ties to Brian Eno‘s ambience, this is music for living to. -

The interface between the voice and technology is central to Juliana Barwick's art. A Louisiana-born, Brooklyn-based singer who previously released the album Sanguine and the EP Florine, Barwick makes music whose raw material is almost exclusively her voice. But it's hard to know what she might sound like alone in a room. When she records, Barwick layers and processes and twists her utterances into figures that can alternately be described as familiar, soothing, alien, and tense. She might bring to mind the bright harmonies of Panda Bear or the mystical invocations of Elizabeth Fraser, but her approach is her own.
That's partly because her music feels homemade. We know that she spent a lot of time in church as a kid, so it's tempting to think of her work as a digital update on sacred hymns. The heavy reverb and layering brings to mind cathedrals, light refracted through stained glass, some kind of surrender to or celebration of the eternal. But while Barwick can seem to be reaching for these grand themes and overwhelming statements, there's something in her music that brings it back down to earth. It feels human, imperfect, and intimate, and the line of communication is one-to-one. Despite her music's often epic sweep, it can feel like she is whispering in our ears. So the sense of the sublime, which permeates every note of her material, ultimately works on a humble scale.
We've grown used to following along with artists from their first demo to their first self-released EP to their debut album and then their breakthrough moment courtesy of a company that specializes in caffeinated sugar water. But Barwick works slowly and carefully. She had a little bump with the issue of her debut in 2007, returned with a small-scale EP two years later that received a handful of positive reviews, and has presumably been spending the interim figuring out how to make something even better. The Magic Place, her first album for Asthmatic Kitty, stands above her earlier work in virtually every way. She sings better, the structures are more patient and enveloping, the layering is more precise, and she makes much more effective use of instrumentation. It has the feel of a modest classic of post-millennial ambient music, the kind of record that sounds gorgeous and immersive on first listen and never loses its sparkle, whether playing in the background or filling a room with its swells.
One of the secrets to The Magic Place's enduring appeal, the way it holds up to repeated listens, has to do with that aforementioned imperfection. Though Barwick's essential tool is the loop, she has a way of structuring them so they never seem too locked into the grid. They tumble and unspool and break into the silence like waves, but they are not easily reduced to units of sound dragged from a window onto a timeline. The imperfection gives a feeling of instability to these tracks. So "Keep Up the Good Work" mixes piercing high-pitched voices that a friend compared to the malevolent siren calling distant ships into the rocks and then folds in indecipherable low-pitched murmurs, hints of bass, and a piano line that sounds like a bag of pebbles falling onto the keys. It rolls forward but with an unstable gait, so the shimmering prettiness of the layers never feels too ordered and predictable.
She takes a similar approach on "Cloak", but the effect is less creepy and leans more in the direction of awe, a mini celebration of the idea of ethereality. "Prizewinning" combines her high/low voices in loops that spread like fractals with a marching guitar/drum figure that bores through the center of the track and makes it feel a little like two complementary songs playing at once. It's in these moments, where loops dangle and collide but don't quite line up, that Barwick seems most indebted to the process music of Eno. The way the units of sound in Thursday Afternoon and the reconstituted Pachelbel of Discreet Music develop bears a marked similarity to the easy unpredictability these tracks present.
Is something beautiful and ethereal that feels timeless and transcendent enough? What keeps Barwick from being the "indie rock Enya," which is the phrase that popped into my head when I first heard her music in 2007? It's not an easy question to answer. I want to say that the encroaching creepiness and human blemishes elevate Barwick's music above the soothing Calgon bath of new age, but I'm not quite convinced that's true. I'm also not sure that it matters. Part of it has to do with where we are living now, and how music functions in our lives. Complaints about the one-dimensionality of new age feel less relevant when we have so much music easily at our disposal. The Magic Place is music for a specific constellation of feelings. They are real, many people share them, and this album owns them completely. So while there are few identifiable words here and the titles don't really register, there's a hell of a lot being expressed. We may not need Barwick to go deep into darkness or to write words that mean something, because she has tapped a vein of expression that is rich and powerful and affecting and even useful. And for the time being, the vein seems to be hers alone, though we can visit any time we like. - Mark Richardson

Julianna Barwick - Florine - Cover Art

Florine EP (2009)

Julianna Barwick recently told Pitchfork that she didn't "think" there was any guitar on her new EP. We can sympathize with her hazy recollection of the specifics-- Florine leaves a lingering impression of unreality in its wake. A breadcrumb trail of piano and synthesizer guide us through the misty forest of Barwick's voice, and we come out on the other side wondering if it really happened. The mood is blissful and bewitching; lost, but somehow secure. Using a loop station and pedals to produce cyclical patterns on the fly, Barwick's work can't help but recall Brian Eno's Music for Airports. Even so, Florine feels bracingly intimate and original, in its hieroglyphic way.
The most cunning thing is how the music seems wordless at first, then divulges gentle commands, both real and imagined-- stay, higher, come back, choose. Because of the album's spare substance, these little imperatives take on a divine weight. And divinity is the spark that gets Florine going. Barwick begins with a halogen hymn, "Sunlight, Heaven", and then builds a cathedral in the sky, "Cloudbank". But when "The Highest" dips into tones of serene lament, her sacred equanimity begins to slide. "Choose" chirrups like Enya doing Kate Bush; "Anjos" spills Glassian waterfalls of piano; "Bode" epitomizes the cherubically neurotic flutter of Florine's second half.
Nothing you can say about Florine directly accounts for its elegiac, magnificent aura. Except maybe this: Barwick has remarked that the album was inspired by her memories of playing music without instruments in church, and the course it charts, out of the choir loft and into the more fluctuant realms of leftfield pop and post-minimalism, could represent... gosh, all kinds of narratives: the loss of received values, the fading of religious conviction, the basic human learning curve from clean myth to murky reality. How fitting that the first song after the opening trio of tearjerkers, at the moment when the spiritual seems to lose ground to the postmodern, is called "Choose". This blend of uplifting sounds and postlapsarian concept might account for the music's sorrowing, joyful, dreamlike impression-- it moves in two directions at once, floating upwards to describe a fall. - 

Julianna Barwick

The ambient artist talks about her haunted new album Nepenthe, "American Idol", and being initiated into Sigur Rós' very exclusive "champagne-on-your-butt club."

By Lindsay Zoladz, August 2, 2013

Photos by Shawn Brackbill
Julianna Barwick: "One Half" (via SoundCloud)
Julianna Barwick's cathedral-ready songs have always seemed to exist in the same ghostly realm as Sigur Rós', give or take a few bombastic demons. So when Sigur Rós collaborator Alex Somers emailed Barwick last year, asking if she’d like to come and record with him in Iceland, she was quick to respond. Very quick. “That was the fastest reply I’ve ever written,” Barwick recalls. “I was just like, Yes! Send!” But after the initial excitement of the moment evaporated, she began to have her doubts. Though she’s done collaborative projects with avant-garde percussionist Ikue Mori (for RVNG’s FRKWYS series) and experimental-pop artist Helado Negro (the pair released an album last year under the name OMBRE), Barwick’s gorgeous and inventive solo work has all been a product of intense, prolonged solitude. Recorded alone and comprised mostly of wordless, wispy loops of her own voice, her best album yet, 2011’s The Magic Place, sounded like the internal soundtrack of somebody lost in her own private reverie. The invitation to make a record with Somers posed an interesting challenge: What happens when an artist whose process is so based in privacy suddenly decides to let other people in?
“I’ve never shared that before,” Barwick admits, sipping a wheat beer at a quiet bar she’s recommended in Brooklyn's Greenpoint neighborhood, “I never thought I'd want someone telling me what to do [in the studio].” But as she now recalls, working on her forthcoming album Nepenthe with Somers-- as well as members of Múm and the string quartet Amiina-- pushed her past her own self-imposed limits. Thinking back to a day spent recording live strings at Sundlaugin Studio (aka "the Sigur Rós swimming pool studio"), she still sounds in awe: “I couldn't believe it was really happening. I wasn't in my bedroom. I was with Amiina and Alex in this amazing studio in this country. It was something to behold.”
As ever, Nepenthe, due August 20 via Dead Oceans, still sounds like nobody else-- however accidentally. “It’s not like I’m going, ‘Hm, how can I make weird music that no one else is making?’” she laughs, “There was no master plan.” But the new record does offer a shift in tone. Recorded while she was grieving over a death in the family that she’s still not quite comfortable talking about on the record, there’s a palpable ache to Nepenthe (the title refers to an Ancient Greek medicine thought to chase away sorrow). The ominous “Pyrrhic” and vaporous opener “Offing” feel like some of the darkest music Barwick’s released to date. The Magic Place and her 2009 EP Florine sometimes sounded like music on a radio station broadcast directly from Eden. Nepenthe feels, decidedly, like it was recorded after the Fall.
Pitchfork: Your music is very intimate but also anonymous in some ways.
Julianna Barwick: I do love that about [my records]-- the music I make is pretty interpretive. I would never be like, “This song is called ‘Cancun’ and it’s about Cancun, so think about Cancun while you listen to it.” And the way I’ve always recorded my vocals is all about the idea of just being lost. When I was a kid, I would constantly make songs up, just like [wordless coos], where I would sing to myself and get so lost in it that I would cry. It sounds kinda psycho, I know, but I’ve always loved music-- not planning anything, just feeling it.
I’ve been musical my whole life, but I really did just kind of stumble onto the way I make music now. It’s one of the reasons why, even after years of voice lessons and being in choirs and everything, I didn’t want to do music in college-- I never wanted to be super frustrated that I had to write a piece I didn’t care about that was due on Monday morning.
Pitchfork: Are you a big fan of ambient music?
JB: I get a lot of people being like: “You must be the biggest Eno fan; you must just adore Steve Reich.” And I know who they are, but I honestly don’t really know their music very well. It’s not to say that I don’t like any ambient music. I definitely love some of Aphex Twin’s softer stuff and I’ve always loved [Eno's] Music for Airports. But I’m not an ambient music enthusiast, dare I say it. [laughs] I like all kinds of different music. I love classical music and soundtrack music. I love vocal music. I love pop music. I think people are surprised when I say that I listen to Drake on a pretty regular basis.

Pitchfork: I read that your sister wanted you to try out for “American Idol”.
JB: Yes, she did. When I was making Florine, she would send me the website link and the deadlines and be like, “I’m really serious. You need to go this time. You are almost too old.” You know how sometimes you think your family doesn’t really know you at all? [laughs] It’s just funny she thought that that might be the kickstart to my career: Close it out with a Kelly Clarkson song, win “American Idol”. But I do love to sing like that, with the riffs and everything. I love to sing R&B for karaoke.
Pitchfork: What’s your go-to karaoke song?
JB: [Mariah Carey’s] “Vision of Love”.
Pitchfork: Wow. If you can pull that one off that’s seriously impressive.
JB: Yeah. I can do it pretty well. I can be kind of painfully loud.
Pitchfork: Maybe you should try out for “American Idol”.
JB: I’m way too old now. The dream has died. I’m never going to be an American Idol.
Pitchfork: You’ve mentioned that titling songs is the last thing that happens when you're making records. Are you ever singing actual lyrics when you’re recording, or just wordless sounds?
JB: It’s almost always just sound. On the song “One Half”, you can hear some actual tangible lyrics, but I didn’t write them ahead of time. They just popped into my head. My father has been driving me crazy. This whole time, he’s been like, “When are you going to write a song with words in it?” And with that one I finally was like, “There it is. You can stop pestering me now.” And he was like, “I probably won’t.” [laughs]
Pitchfork: You didn’t collaborate with anyone on the records you made before this one. Was it hard to let people into that process?
JB: I wondered-- even though this was Alex Somers and I can’t wait to work with him-- is this gonna be tough? Because I’ve never had someone looking or listening or advising or saying, “That’s not good.” But Alex and I just had whatever chemistry it took to work.
One day he was like, “I think I want to have Robbie from Múm [Róbert Sturla Reynisson] do some guitar stuff for fun.” And I was thinking, guitar? Like, [makes guitar solo noise]? But he ended up coming in with these crazy pedals he made himself and added all these sounds that you would never know are guitar-- weird whispery sounds and beeps and boops. I was just like: “Oh! I get it.” The whole experience was a total dream come true.
I also got initiated into the “champagne-on-your-butt club” when I opened for [Sigur Rós].
Pitchfork: I'm unfamiliar with this club... [laughs]
JB: At the end of a show, Jónsi was like, “Hey, Julianna, bend over.” I was like, “Huh?” “Bend over! Take off anything you don’t want wet!” I was like, “What?” It’s a tradition for openers or newcomers: He popped [the cork] at my ass. I got my ass champagned.

Julianna Barwick: Interview
“I like not knowing how something’s going to sound until I get into it. I like the mystery.”

It feels almost a shame to type out this interview with Julianna Barwick, because once you hear her voice in spoken conversation, she comes off as remarkably delightful. Perhaps that is surprising for an artist known for serious, precious, celestial pieces of lush vocal loops and wall-of-sound reverb, but the Southern-raised Barwick (she was born in Louisiana but grew up mostly in Missouri), with her slight twang and fleeting flashes of polite drawl, sounds like a refreshingly positive, encouragingly laid-back artist who’s just happy her work is getting attention.
Barwick’s new album, Nepenthe, comes out August 20 on Dead Oceans. As opposed to her 2011 breakout The Magic Place and the majority of her previous work, Barwick abandons her solitary bedroom recording setup for an Icelandic recording studio with producer Alex Somers. For the first time, as well, Barwick enlisted musician friends to guest on the record. She even recruited her mother to sing.
TMT recently spoke with Barwick by phone about these recent developments in her writing and recording processes, and how she’s still taking (and enjoying) her ever-increasing tour schedule, one show at a time.

Nepenthe is getting a lot of attention leading up to its release. What are you doing to prepare for the album dropping?
Having interview days like today […] lots of touring scheduling. [I’m] currently nailing down what will be the live show.
I understand you create the majority of your sounds with a Boss RC-50 loop station. Are you going to be using that equipment live?
I’m going to use that. I’ll be using more samples and possibly keys. And possibly another person. I know it’s here at the last minute, but I think that’s probably going to happen.
Interesting. Are you adding another musician because you simply mechanically need someone else to play or trigger all the various parts in the new songs, or are you making a switch from performing and touring alone?
Well, I love to play alone, I love to tour alone, I like to do lots of things alone. But with the making of Nepenthe, a lot of other people were involved. Consequently, the record has a lot more going on. It’s got girls singing on it, my mom singing on it, Robbie [Róbert Sturla Reynisson] from múm did guitar, the Amiina girls did strings… there’s just a lot more happening on this record because so many other people were involved. The Magic Place I did 100 percent alone.
I just feel like I’m going to need an extra hand on this tour. I’m working that out currently. It looks good.
As a kid I loved finding little spots where I could sing and have my voice echo and be super reverb-y. I just loved that! It was one of my favorite things to do as a little kid, and it totally still is.
Was it at all a struggle, on this new album, letting another producer offer input, since the production of most of your other work has been such a personal endeavor?
It wasn’t, because I had a lot of time to prepare myself for that environment. Alex [Somers] and I were emailing and talking […] he came to visit me in New York a couple times for over a year before I went over [to Iceland]. At that point I was super-ready to try it out. I’m not committed to making my music hermit-style for the rest of my life. I love doing it that way, but here was this opportunity I’d have been be really stupid to pass up.
I’m really glad I did it […] I don’t know if it’s just because Alex is so great or what, but it went really well.

I understand that most of your pieces come out of pure improvisation, looping your voice and other sounds meticulously with the Boss RC-50 until it amasses into a whole. It sounds like an organic way to work.
Yeah, I hadn’t written any of the songs [on Nepenthe] until I got to Iceland. They were all born out of the process of recording on the spot, right then. I don’t think I could make music any other way. It suits me… I like how spontaneous it feels. I’m not someone who can spend days, weeks, months, even years pouring over something, like some people can. I think it would be very difficult for me to make a record that way. I like not knowing how something’s going to sound until I get into it. I like the mystery.
In every video I’ve seen of you playing live, you’re focused solely on one piece of equipment: the Boss RC-50 looper. Do you think you find new levels of creativity by just getting to know one machine really well?
Totally. At this point, I feel that machine is like a part of me. I can and I do use it with my eyes closed. It’s definitely become ingrained. In fact, I used it for a couple years, then got the [Roland SP-404] sampler, and I thought, “I can do most of what I’m doing with all my effects pedals and my RC-50 with [the 404]!” But it was too late; I was already completely tied to the RC-50.
I mean, I do use the 404 for samples, but I’m still using the ol’ trusty RC-50 [for most things]. I’m comfortable with it. I love recording with it and performing with it. It’s definitely my dream machine.
I understand you invited your mother to sing on this new record? Is she a fan of your stuff?
Oh yeah, my parents are my biggest fans. They’re super proud, cute parents. They were both totally into it. My parents helped me every step of the way with [my music]. I feel really, really lucky to have had that. They helped me go to London and Lisbon, when I did that first tour I ever did — if you can call it that, it was just a handful of shows — in late 2007. I had played maybe four or five shows in New York and had a MySpace and that was it. And they were totally supportive of me going there and playing shows by myself. That’s pretty cool to have parents like that. I feel really lucky.
What was her reaction to you asking her to sing on Nepenthe?
She’s just the sweetest lady ever. She was like, “Oh really? That’d be so great”! [Laughs]
I also took her to Iceland last February, so we got to have that experience. I was able to take my dad with me to France and Portugal. I took my sister to Australia. So, to me, this was the perfect opportunity for me to do something special with my mom. I love hearing her voice on the record, it just puts it over the top. As if the record wasn’t already special enough to me, to have my mom’s voice on there, is kinda ridiculous.
So I understand you grew up in Missouri?
Yeah. I was born in Louisiana, which I think everyone knows by now [laughs]. Every time something’s written about me now it’s always “Louisiana-born Julianna Barwick.”
I lived there until I was about five. My whole family’s from Louisiana. Then we moved to Missouri — I was there from like five to 13. That’s where we had the farm… well the land, I should say… it wasn’t really a farm.
That’s interesting. I grew up in the South as well, and I think the culture there can be influential. Were you inspired by any of the choral or gospel sounds you may have heard growing up?
Completely. I went to church like three times a week. I was never in a church choir, but we always sang together as a congregation, a capella, in these super reverberant rooms. I did that up until I was 19 or whatever. I’d be completely lying if I said that didn’t have an effect on the music I’m making now and what I like to listen to. It definitely informed the reasons I make the music I do.
Well, I love to play alone, I love to tour alone, I like to do lots of things alone.

Yeah, I was a church kid growing up too. I think for church kids, if we don’t get anything else out of our time sitting in pews, we at least develop a lasting love of reverb.
Oh yeah. I think it just went from there: my mom sang with a group sometimes […] just to see her sing […] As a kid I loved finding little spots where I could sing and have my voice echo and be super reverb-y. I just loved that! It was one of my favorite things to do as a little kid, and it totally still is.
Maybe growing up in the South kind of gave me a relaxed, easy way of doing things in life, which I still totally have. All this [recognition] is sort of a surprise to me. I love making music, but it was never a strong ambition of mine, like, “This has to get done!” It’s just been pretty natural and easy-breezy.
I feel like I’ve heard more and more about you ever since the release of The Magic Place. How has this growing profile affected your life? Do you still have to keep a day job?
Especially since The Magic Place, which was two years ago, it’s gotten to where I can’t have a day job. There’s just too much stuff going on: too many tours, too many projects. I think I can finally say I’m a musician for real for real. That certainly happened. It’s what I do. I feel incredibly lucky that it’s even [happening]. It’s a total dream come true.
That little Lisbon-London tour I did [back in 2007] was really the kick-start of it. I was totally new to it, I was alone, and experiencing [touring for the first time]. I thought, “If I can make this happen, and this be what I do in life, that will be the best thing that ever happens.”
Do you find touring alone really adventurous or a little scary or both?
Oh, it’s total adventure — total fun. I’ve played a few shows with people and traveled from one city to the next with them, but I’ve done a lot of shows by myself. If you can go to a different country and play a show every day, it feels pretty bad-ass after a while. You feel like you’ve really accomplished something: “Wow, I got from this country to that country to that country all by myself! Yay”! [laughs]
I think about me going [overseas for the 2007 tour]. This is totally pre-label, pre-manager, pre-everything! I guess I had one record — Sanguine — out by then. I think about going over there and not having a tour book and just doing stuff through MySpace […] it just seems surreal that I did that in the first place. But it was just so much fun. I love it, because I’m doing it [sing-song] all the time now. And this tour for the fall is looking pretty heavy-duty.
Have you reached the point where you feel burned-out at all?
Not at all. I’m still a baby when it comes to touring. [I remember hearing] Beach House saying, .”.. we played 400 shows by then, so we really knew what we were doing,” and that was like years ago. I was just like, “Whaaaaat?” I definitely haven’t played that many shows. And a band like Sigur Rós are on tour for a year. Really, that’s insane. I think the most I’ve ever been out on a tour is like three-and-a-half weeks. I still feel nowhere near burned out. This is just the beginning. 

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