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Julianna Barwick has been singing for as long as she can remember. Thanks to her involvement with choirs in church and school, she developed an affinity for the sound of her voice echoing in large, cavernous spaces. This, along with her long-time love of soundtracks (which she would teach herself on her family’s piano) have led her to create beautiful, ethereal music utilizing layered and looped vocals with minimal instrumentation. Since the release of her first EP in 2007, she has recorded the majority of her output in her home. In 2013, she recorded Nepenthe in Reykjavik with Alex Somers, and her recent LP Will features recordings from upstate New York, Lisbon, and the Moog factory in North Carolina. Julianna was kind enough to talk with us about her experiences, creativity, love of coffee and even tell us a pretty good joke.

Hey Julianna, thanks for Spillin' The Beans. Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

Well I’m a musician, I just started out making bedroom recordings when I was in Brooklyn in 2005-2006. A friend of mine let me borrow a little guitar pedal that looped and I started messing around with that. I fell in love with making music that way and made my first record, put it on MySpace, and that led to playing shows in London and Lisbon and, you know, opening for Dirty Projectors. All this stuff just snowballed from that first trip. It’s just been kind of an easy-going adventure since then. I didn’t really make any plans or set any intentions. I just started making stuff and putting stuff out and here I am!

Julianna Barwick

Julianna Barwick, photo by Shawn Brackbill.

So, that was your first record?

Yeah, my first record Sanguine came out in January 2007, and that’s the record I made with my friend’s guitar pedal. I recorded it on a Fostex cassette four track machine.

Julianna Barwick Sanguine

What led you to make music?

I was always a super musical kid, I loved to make up my own melodies and things like that. I sang all the time. I was in choir in school and sang with my church congregation. So, from a young age I sang a capella with large groups of people, three times a week, in cavernous rooms with tons of reverb. You can imagine that’s where I was informed, and that kind of sound stuck with me forever.

I played clarinet in elementary and middle school, took voice in high school. After that, I was in an opera chorus in Tulsa. I didn’t want to do music in college because I didn’t ever want to dread making music, or having a musical assignment. I didn’t want that to ever be something I didn’t find joy in, because I have always found a lot of joy in music in general. I never wanted it to be a drag, so I did dark room photography in college which is one of my other big loves.

So, I just played around at home and made music for the fun of it. I didn’t think anything was ever going to happen with it, it was just really fun. Especially when the looping thing clicked. I could make music without laboring over composing for hours or days. It’s all very instantaneous and fun!

Julianna Barwick.

Photo by Drew Litowitz.

You just mentioned Tulsa, is that where you grew up?

We moved there when I was 13, so that’s where I went to 8th grade, high school, and a little bit of college before I moved to New York in 2001. I finished up college in New York and lived there for 16 years. I’m in L.A. now, I moved here a couple of years ago.

Do you prefer one to the other?

Um, it’s not really about preference. I mean, I still love New York. That was the longest I’ve lived anywhere. I just really liked L.A. when I would visit, or play shows. I have a lot of friends here, and I’m loving it so far.

You’ve toured quite a bit and released several records so far, Do you have any stories or experiences that stand out to you?

Well, I’ll elaborate on that trip I mentioned where I was asked to play in London and Lisbon from MySpace stuff. I hadn’t ever played a show outside of New York. The Lisbon thing was set up by a MySpace stranger who is now one of my best friends, Sergio Hydalgo, who at the time had a website/program called Ma Fama. I had seen that Panda Bear had done one of these with pieces with Sergio, where he performed for about half an hour, and then talked to Sergio for about half an hour. So, I found Ma Fama on MySpace, and friend requested him hoping that he would listen to my music and like it (laughs) and it actually worked! He listened to it, liked it, and asked me if I’d ever want to come to Lisbon to play shows and hang out. Once I said yes, he put a couple of my MP3s up on his site, and that’s when a person in London got in touch. I went to London to play three shows that were set up by a perfect stranger, so this whole trip ended up being about 3 weeks. The Ma Fama thing I did in Lisbon was put up on Pitchfork, and I ended up filling a slot for someone opening for Dirty Projectors while I was over in London. A lot of these things just had a snowball effect afterwards as far as getting my music out there, so that was a super magical trip, and I think about that a lot.

Then there was recording with Alex Somers in Reykjavik. We made Nepenthe together. We recorded that in 2012, and that was of course absolutely magical and amazing. Reykjavik is incredible. It’s such a cool place. It doesn’t look like anywhere else in the world, the people are awesome, the views are spectacular, and it’s really just an amazing place.

That recording process was awesome. Not just because of Alex and Iceland, but also because I had never worked with anyone on a record before. The whole experience was the antithesis of recording stuff in my bedroom in Brooklyn, you know? So, that was a real eye opening experience.

Julianna performing "The Harbinger" in Iceland.

So, I got to know Jonsi and the Sigur Ros crew while I was in Iceland, and they asked if I would be on the bus and open for them for a month. I did that in September 2013, and that was incredibly fun.

I also was able to play piano for Yoko Ono for two Plastic Ono band shows at the MOMA, as the closing of her one woman show. I had to teach myself the songs by ear and play them with her, which was completely daunting and terrifying. I’ll still sweat just thinking about it, but it somehow worked out.

There have been so many fun and awesome experiences over the years.

Those are definitely good ones.


What would you consider the biggest influences on your music, and how have you seen these evolve over time?

The biggest influences would be the choral a cappella singing I’ve been doing my whole life and soundtracks. Being 6 or 7, I would teach myself to play music that I loved on soundtracks on the piano we had and that I now have at home here. I still know how to play some of these songs that I taught myself from Empire of The Sun, or Somewhere in Time, Some Kind of Wonderful, Yentl or whatever movie I loved, you know?

Similarly your songwriting process?

In the beginning I was using a clunky battery-operated guitar pedal into a Fostex 4 track, and then when I started making Florine I got a computer finally. I went to Garageband workshops at the Apple store in Soho because they were free and I was poor. So, I taught myself how to do that. On Florine, I remember that the same person that lent me the pedal got me my first condenser mic for a birthday, and I figured out how to record piano and get it onto my computer somehow with a PreSonus Firebox interface. I was just following my nose, and doing stuff in the cheapest, self-contained way all along. Everything is still sort of improvised to start with when I sit down to make music. I don’t put pen to paper before I just sit down and jam with myself. Anything I make at this point is me plugging in my vocal loop pedal and messing around, or sitting down at the piano or synth, and seeing if anything comes out of that that sticks and I want to build on.

"Look Into Your Own Mind" live on KEXP.

So, it hasn’t changed that much since it started, but the recording process has progressed. I’ve made everything I’ve recorded since with Garageband and headphones, except for the record I made with Alex, obviously. A few weeks ago, I finally got studio monitors, and I’m teaching myself Ableton. I’m still learning things all the time and trying to get to a place where I can tell people how I record without them chuckling at me.

Both laughing


What do you find yourself listening to these days?

Well, Panda Bear’s kind of how I got started and he’s one of my favorites. I just saw him play here and have been listening to his new record a ton. I love the new Toro y Moi, a new Arthur Russell song just came out... I’ve been listening to my friend Meg’s new record, a new Hand Habits record. That’s pretty much what’s been in constant rotation as far as new stuff.

When can we expect new stuff from you?

I am just now laying the foundation for a new record, so I want to get that out later this year and do some touring next year ‘cause it’s been a minute.

Julianna Barwick

Photo by Leslie Brown.

Ok, it’s coffee time. Do you like that stuff?

I love it. I can’t live without it. I’m never gonna quit it. I’m never gonna take a day off. I’m just not doing that! No one can make me. I can’t function until I have coffee.

What do you look for in a good cup of coffee?

I like it fresh. Really strong. I don’t like to see the bottom of my cup. I’m kind of a triple latte kind of gal myself, but I’ll just take strong ass coffee.

How do you make coffee at home?

You know, I messed around with French presses and pour overs at home over the years, but I just like the automatic drip. Really strong, brewed automatically, doesn’t have to be hand stirred by a cherub or anything like that. It’s not muddy. I don’t like sludgy coffee. Yuck. No sludge.

How do you feel that coffee intersects with your creativity?

I definitely drink coffee when I’m writing. I’m in this oddball camp of creators, I guess, because I’m never drinking wine, or on drugs, or smoking weed when I’m making stuff. I’m not saying that’s not cool, but I’m usually just pretty jazzed up on coffee or caffeine in some form. My M.O. is just like a pot of coffee and then “Go”.

Thanks so much. Lastly, have you heard any good jokes lately?

Hmm, no but here’s one I told recently:

Q: Why did the monkey fall out of the tree?

 A: Because he was dead.

Julianna Barwick - "Nebula"

Check out more of Julianna's music here.

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