A conversation with Julianna Barwick

In the section From the Zine, we feature select interviews and features originally published in our magazine. This conversation with Antoine was first published in our 8th issue, NOSTALGIA. Read the full magazine here


Listening to Julianna Barwick’s music is like immersing yourself into an entire new world. It’s not the type to listen from a distance, distilling and picking apart every melody. Nor is it the type that sends a clear emotional message. Rather than hitting you in one single spot, her music slowly envelops and surrounds you, nurturing, beckoning, and calling for the more tender parts of your being. Using a loop station pedal — the Boss RC-50, to be specific — she layers melodies and harmonies until they achieve this wholesome effect. Her music is meditative, introspective, and powerful. Her latest album Nepenthe received its name from an ancient drug—a “drug of forgetfulness”—in ancient Greek mythology. And yet her music feels anything but forgetful.


 

Tell me about yourself.

I’m happy, easy-going musician that lives in Brooklyn.

When did you start making music?

I’ve always made music, ever since I was a little kid. I always made melodies and songs and little things. I guess I started recording things after high school, and the the more loop-based things in 2005. So that’s really when I started getting more serious about recording stuff.

When did you get your first loop station pedal? Did you always use the Boss RC-50?

The first one that I played around with was my friends and it was a guitar digital delay pedal. And then I bought myself the Boss RC-50 back in 2006 and I’ve had the same one ever since.

Without using genre names, how would you describe your music?

With genres, I would say like somewhere between experimental and classical. Without, I would say very spontaneous, improvisational, and emotional recordings that I later add.

I heard you recorded your last album in Iceland? What brought you there?

Alex Somers asked me to work with him and then we decided that he would produce my next solo record, and we decided to do it in Iceland.

Your work has been compared to Sigur Ros, not necessarily in sound, but in general atmosphere and feeling. How did it feel going on tour with them?

It was the best month of my life. It was wonderful. They are one of my favorite bands and I got to watch them 20 times in a row, it was great.

Favorite moments?

The song, Brennisteinn. It was just wonderful hearing them play music every night. Jonsi has one of my favorite voices of all time. Orri, one of the best drummers I’ve ever seen. They’re just perfect. We did a show in Nashville outside in the woods and it was just totally dreamy.

Our theme for this issue is NOSTALGIA. What does nostalgia mean to you?

Nostalgia, for me, I think means just not even like a memory that you can put your finger on but just sort of a feeling of familiarity. It can be triggered by smell or sound or a dream, a re-occurring dream. Also, for me, it’s emotional attachment to things, particularly from your past that are again triggered by any number of things—smell, sounds, a piece of clothing.

Is there a song of yours that evokes that feeling?

I think that the Harbinger definitely does. I think that’s the one that Alex and I took the most time with. It was just always my favorite one. It’s really just a feeling from that time when I was working with Alex in Iceland and what the weather was like and the things that I was doing in that time period.

That sounds wonderful. What’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever witnessed?

I went to a village in Gayana once and all the kids there were extremely cute. We walked down a path filled with flowers and little insects and things that I had never seen before. And that lead to a beautiful lake that was really, really red. And it was just unreal.

What is one thing people would never expect about you?

I watch a lot of “Keeping up with the Kardashians.”