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Julianna Barwick
Julianna BarwickPhoto by Zia Anger

Enter a dream world in Julianna Barwick’s new video

The ambient musician crawls to an abandoned building to meet an athlete and a regally-dressed woman in her surreal video for ‘Same’

Julianna Barwick’s music has always been defined by dissonance. Her sound is heavily layered and discordant, laced with reverb and delays that fold in on themselves like a gentle tide, colliding with her vocals to create an ethereal discordance that is both imperfect yet beautiful, right but wrong.

Her debut album, 2011’s The Magic Place, was a ghostly take on choral music with an isolated feel. Nepenthe, a collaborative project with Sigur Ros producer Alex Somers and string quartet Aniina, was more ambitious, taking elements of the former album and refining it to create a more polished, distant sound. 

New album Will is more stripped-down and personal than the collaborative Nephente, made and produced entirely by Barwick herself. Written between New York, North Carolina and Lisbon, the album propels itself forward, suggesting movement and journey. As well as reflecting her environment, it also mirrors her emotions and mental state; tracks like “Big Hollow” convey the loneliness of her New York apartment, while the spacious resonance of “St. Apolonia” echo the Lisbon underpass in which is was recorded. For Barwick, music is a way of expressing the world around her. “It’s a filter for my surroundings,” she says.

The music video for “Same” sees a clearly tormented Barwick crawl on hands and knees into a building where she is greeted by an athlete-performer and a regally clad woman. Watch it below and read an interview with Barwick about the process of making Will – and why she won’t be doing it again.

What can you tell us about Will?

Julianna Barwick: The new album was interesting because I made Nepenthe in Iceland with Alex Somers, and everything else I’d made in Brooklyn on my computer where I was completely alone until mastering. I didn’t even know what mastering was when I made my first record! With Nepenthe, I had Nina (Corcoran) playing strings, Robert (Sturia Reynisson) playing guitar, having the teenage girl sing. When it came to Will, I was like, ‘Oh boy, it’s all on me again. How do I do this again?’ I kind of worked on it here and there.

You recorded the album in a number of locations – New York, North Carolina, Lisbon. Do you think this constant movement translates to your music?

Julianna Barwick: I think so – because all the music is made on the fly wherever I am, it’s a filter for my surroundings. That sounds so corny! It’s always a reflection of my surroundings – it has to be. Whoever I’m around and whatever’s happening. It was kind of funny for me to have Nepenthe come out in August because to me, it’s such a wintery record. I don’t painstakingly labour over making records for months and months.  I can be really quick and influenced by my surroundings and that kind of thing.

“Upstate New York, February: very cold and snowy. I was completely alone, no car, making fires and doing things by myself. It was incredibly isolating; I shan’t be doing that kind of thing to myself again” — Julianna Barwick

Which place influenced you the most?

Julianna Barwick: They’re all completely different. The first thought is upstate New York, February: very cold and snowy. I was completely alone, no car, making fires and doing things by myself. It was incredibly isolating; I shan’t be doing that kind of thing to myself again. I don’t want to be alone for too long, it’s not good for me. Second thought was Asheville, North Carolina in July: sunny. The people at (Asheville-based synthesizer company) Moog are the nicest people in the world. I had friends there to hang out with. Summertime fun, a very different vibe. Of course, the third place is Lisbon, Portugal, which is my favourite city. Lisbon means a lot to me, because my friend Sergio was the first person to ask me to do anything. In 2007, he was like, ‘Wanna come to Lisbon and I’ll set up some shows?’ So I went over there and stayed for like 10 days and we instantly became like brother and sister.

Anyway, my good friends, they’re in a band called Paus. The day before I got there, they’d just done the finishing touches on a studio they were building and they were like, ‘Come by and see the studio. What do you want to do here?’ I was like, ‘I just need a soundproof room with a piano,’ and they said, ‘Right this way!’ I had the space to myself for many, many days to record. After that, I came back to Brooklyn and the three guys that played on the record sent me their stuff and I pieced it all together.

Your sound is often dissonant. What is that you find compelling about that?

Julianna Barwick: I think a long time ago, they were dissonant by accident. It was only on Nepenthe, when I would make stuff up, that Alex would come and listen and say, ‘You’re going to have to do that again – it’s not in a key!’ And I was like, ‘What does that mean?’ and he’d show me. I think there’s a couple of moments on the old record where I thought the synth part sounded super weird because I didn’t know that little secret. But with this record, I remember there were a couple of moments – say, ‘St. Apollonia’, I remember recording in the train underpass I’d sing in, and finally one day, I was like, I’m going to record this and play with it! And of course, it’s almost a hurt-y sounding tone, but I recorded it and that’s what it is. I’m not going to go back there and try make it perfect because I want to keep realness in the moment.

“I thought it’d be romantic or something, to be alone and make my whole record in a week... Never again” – Julianna Barwick 

So there’s beauty within imperfection?

Julianna Barwick: This time around, I wanted to embrace those moments because they were true to the moment. They feel like I felt, so I wanted to keep them and make it imperfectly beautiful.

“Big Hollow” feels very sad. Is this similar to how you were feeling at the time?

Julianna Barwick: Like any human, there were parts of last year that were very sad. I know “Big Hollow” was recorded when I was upstate, during that week of isolation, when I was kind of going bonkers.   

Why did you do it?

Julianna Barwick: It was a choice; it was a dumb choice. I thought it’d be romantic or something, to be alone and make my whole record in a week – that’s what I told myself. Never again. I was like, ‘This was not a good idea, this was not a good idea.’ Like, why do I always do this to myself? I just like people too much. It was kind of the same in Lisbon, I’d be in the studio for 10-12 hours a day, but I had a date with somebody at the end of every night – I can work really hard alone, but I need to have a meal with somebody. Now I know that conversation is totally essential to me!

So emotion plays a big factor in your music?

Julianna Barwick: It’s pure emotion. It’s literally real time, real emotion. I’m not ever composing ahead of time.  The song is always rooted in something I do on the fly.  Even if it’s the piano and I’m sitting down on the piano and messing around, I’m like, ‘oh that’s really pretty’ and I’ll record it. It’s very visceral.