The music of Julianna Barwick transcends the expression of emotion evoked purely from language. The Brooklyn based, Louisiana born artist creates a lush and magically hypnotizing universe of sound by looping her voice into a layered and emotionally compelling world of melody. Following 2011's breakout The Magic Place, Barwick traveled to Iceland to work with Sigur Rós collaborator Alex Somers to record her most current LP Nepenthe.
Recently released in the UK, Nepenthe is a dazzling and emotionally beautiful piece of work. In our interview, Barwick explains the meaning of Nepenthe along with what Diplo thinks of her music.
J.L. Sirisuk: How are you today?
Julianna Barwick: I'm really good. Getting ready to go on the first leg of the fall tour. The NYC show Tuesday was so much fun and I'm looking forward to playing more shows.
Sirisuk: When did you start making music?
Barwick: I've always made up little melodies as long as i can remember, but started actually recording things after high school.
Sirisuk: How did you develop your sound and did growing up in Louisiana and Missouri impact it at all?
Barwick: At around 20, I started recording things into a 4 track, using an electric guitar and voice and piano. The looping started around 2005, making Sanguine my first record. I had a really great childhood in those places, we had some land I would wander around on a lot and sing to myself - it was beautiful and really great for the imagination. I would say those places impacted what I do, for sure.
Sirisuk: What were some of your earlier influences?
Barwick: Choir or group singing. I did that a lot growing up. My mom was always singing and has a beautiful voice. I was in love with Whitney Houston my entire childhood (and still). When I was in high school I was obsessed with Bjork and Tori Amos.
Sirisuk: You recorded your recent album in Iceland. What took you there?
Barwick:Alex Somers asked if i would like to do a project together, I said yes, and we both decided he would be the producer on my next record.
Sirisuk: In what ways did being in such a different setting shape the sound of this record?
Barwick: In every way; the environs there are so different than my Brooklyn neighborhood - the landscape there is famously stunning. That was a big influence on me at the time. Also being away from my usual way of life, my neighborhood and all of my friends and habits definitely led to some isolation and introspection, which definitely is heard on the record, I think.
Sirisuk: Can you tell me a bit about the title "Nepenthe"?
Barwick: I found the word online and just thought it was so pretty - it has many definitions, but the one I found was 'a potion used by the ancients to erase feelings of sorrow or pain,' and I just thought that was such a beautiful idea. It's not meant to be literal, like the album is a nepenthe, so to speak - but I definitely see the cathartic process of making a record like this and in the way it was made as a kind of nepenthe.
Sirisuk: Having previously worked in a more solitary manner, how did it feel to collaborate with other musicians? Can you tell me about that process?
Barwick: Working with Alex was totally new for me, we literally worked through every moment of the record together. Having the Amiina ladies play on the record, and the girls sing on the record, and having Robbi play guitar on i t- that was all brand new for me. It was very special because for the most part, they listened and played what they felt - we didn't tell them what to play, so it had a very communal vibe in that way.
Sirisuk: Do you think you'll make the next record a collaborative effort as well?
Barwick: I have absolutely no idea what's next! It could be another bedroom recording, we will see.
Sirisuk: I heard you're bringing a choir on tour. Are you excited about performing live with others?
Barwick: In a few cities a local choir will perform with us. I just had my NYC debut show and had 6 people onstage with me and it was amazing! We were all very happy and there was a lot of love in the air. I may be hooked on playing with people now.
Sirisuk: What's the most amusing description you've heard of your music?
Barwick: I think Diplo took the cake on that one years ago when he said my music 'sounds like care bears making love.' I may have to agree.
Nepenthe is now out in the UK on Dead Oceans. For more information on Barwick, please visit: http://www.juliannabarwick.com/