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Julianna Barwick

Where There's a Will

Jun 29, 2016 Photography by Zia Anger Julianna Barwick
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Working on her new album Will while visiting Lisbon, Portugal, Julianna Barwick would often walk through a train underpass between the recording studio she used and a nearby grocery store she would frequent for its selection of snacks. On one particular outing through the corridor, Barwick pulled out her phone and started wordlessly singing into the device’s recorder app. “I didn’t plan it ahead of time,” recalls Barwick, sitting in her apartment in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood. “It’s just what popped out.” Taking what she had done back to the studio and transferring it onto a computer, Barwick laid down the foundation to her album’s opening track, “St. Apolonia,” named after the Portuguese capital’s oldest railway station.

Throughout her life, Barwick has had a particularly unique reverence for reverberant spaces. Empty parking garages, auditoriums, anything with large, natural acoustics has regularly reeled her in for a bit of curious experimentation. “I went to Hunger College in Manhattan and studied photography. A stairwell there was magnificent,” Barwick laughs. “I’d go in there all the time and sing to myself, and if I’d hear a door open I’d wait till the person left, and I’d sing again.”

Over the course of her short but critically-acclaimed career, the 31-year-old Barwick has facilitated these types of effervescent and unintelligible vocalizations through three albums’ worth of constructed loops, ebbing instrumentation, and ambient reverb. On Will Barwick continues to tap into this feeling of something simultaneously fragile and grand, like stepping on a floor of fracturing ice within a massive cathedral. “Someone emailed me a long time ago and said something about [my music] being ‘sheer volume of emotion,’” says Barwick. “And I just thought, ‘That is a beautiful phrase.’ But that’s what it is. It’s not intentional. It’s not like, ‘I’m going to be weird and cool.’ It’s just a pure love of making beautiful sounds.”

Whereas its 2013 predecessor Nepenthe saw Barwick travel to Reykjavik to record alongside Iceland’s musical consigliere and recurrent Sigur Rós producer Alex Somers, Will saw her revert back to the more isolationist methodology for her early works, developing the record in phases during visits to upstate New York; the Moog Factory in Asheville, NC; and of course, Lisbon. “I wanted to go back to my hermit style of making music,” says Barwick. “Just a ‘me, myself, and I’ kind of thing. But I was moving around a lot, which is good. I’m glad that all those pieces were kind of random but ended up cohesive somehow. At the time it was like, ‘I’m doing a little bit here, and doing a little bit there, and where am I going to finish that?’ I kind of had to put the pressure on myself to go back to that kind of thinking.”

For all that she enjoyed solitude making the record, Barwick ultimately says it was the kindness and hospitality of her friends living in each new locationoffering her the time and space she needed to accomplish her workthat made the whole thing possible. “It’s kind of funny because I’ve been such a solo artist for so long, but I really love connecting with people,” says Barwick. “It’s very, very moving to connect with people who want to help you do your thing. Whenever I wasn’t working on music these people that I’ve made connections with facilitated the experience, even though I was making the music totally solo.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar’s May/June 2016 Issue, which is out now. This is its debut online.]



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