Interview: Julianna Barwick and Helado Negro

August 16, 2012

After meeting on tour in 2010, Julianna Barwick and Helado Negro began a collaboration called OMBRE, merging her swaying voice and his gentle Ecuadorean growl over zero-stress instrumentation—sometimes just an acoustic guitar, sometimes cloud-parting drone. Given their respective solo chops, the results are unsurprisingly terrific. After finishing the OMBRE album, out next week via Asthmatic Kitty, Negro toured South America while Barwick recorded her next solo LP in Iceland. We met over fancy pizza near their homes in Brooklyn to talk tour delicacies, collaborating with friends and favorite smells. The pair will throw a release party tonight at Sycamore in Brooklyn.

Stream: OMBRE, "Cara Falsa"

For both of you, vocals seem important, and on this record you take turns driving the songs with your singing. What do you like about each other’s voices? LANGE: Ohh, Julianna’s voice… So beautiful. Man, that’s like the hardest thing to talk about for me. I can’t really talk about what makes me gravitate towards people. I always meet people and become friends with them, and then that’s how we start working together. I really have to get to know people. It’s always taken a lot of time. So with Julianna, hearing her music, I was like I love the sound of this, but I didn’t really know her. And then we got to know each other on the tour. That was a big part of it. BARWICK: We got to know each other and our music at the same time on tour. So we did this tour together in April 2010, and he was doing his Epstein stuff and his Helado Negro stuff and I was doing my stuff every night so we just got to know each other’s music that way. And we sang together on tour too.

How are your friendship and collaboration related? LANGE: Music for me is really personal, and no matter how much people paint it with the whole idea of career in mind, of longevity and wanting to do this forever—I can’t make some shit I’m not going to like. And I’m not going to make some shit with someone that I don’t like. When you boil it down, you don’t know how long your shit’s going to last, and you don’t know how long you’re going to be doing this. So I would rather have good memories doing something interesting and fun. Because fuck it, man. BARWICK: I haven’t done a lot of collaborating. I know that Roberto has done a lot more than I have. I have been kind of a lone music maker. It’s not something that I was looking to do, but when Asthmatic Kitty set this up as a record, I had already toured with Roberto and we had so much fun together, so I said of course I want to make a record with Roberto, because he’s awesome. LANGE: You’ve got to just be open. You don’t have to get to know someone for eighteen years before you get to work with them. Sometimes you meet people and they have the ability to create that openness so you feel encouraged, confident and comfortable without having this long process. So within the process of us doing this project for two years, it wasn’t like we were just talking—we were making music. BARWICK: But we did a lot of hanging out and talking. We would just get together and jam. LANGE: We did jam. Shit was like jam sessions.

How did you know you could work together? BARWICK: Roberto made me laugh a lot on the tour. I don’t know if I should give any specifics… LANGE: There was one show where I got really drunk, and I remember you yelled at me—not in a bad way—but there was no one there and I was annoyed that nobody was there to see us. I usually don’t get like that. It was this place in Chicago. BARWICK: Empty Bottle, and it was empty. LANGE: Everybody was at the bar, which is all the way down, and I was like, Dude, at least just have a drink with me here. I can’t remember what I said, but I think it was pretty awful and Julianna knows. BARWICK: I was the mom on tour. One morning I woke up to Roberto playing this ukulele and singing to wake me up at that crazy house in Grand Rapids. I always slept on tour with my night guard and earplugs in. So Roberto came in and I was like ugh, and he was like, You’re my favorite person. Because I looked so insane. Do you remember that? LANGE: That was funny. One day in the van we were having this long conversation, and all of a sudden Julianna was like, Lets play this game: What do you like better? The first one was like, Do you like the smell of coffee or do you like the smell of peonies? BARWICK: For like ten minutes Robert was thinking about it. LANGE: And I was like, Well, I guess I like the smell of panties. BARWICK: I was driving. I was like what are you talking about. And you were like, Yo, didn’t you just asked me what I liked better, the smell of coffee or panties? And I was like peonies! Peonies! And you were like, What the hell are peonies?

How was the food on the South American tour? LANGE: I don't know if you've ever had Ecuadorian ceviche. Most people only know one kind of ceviche, and Ecuadorian ceviche is a whole other thing. It's the best kind you'll ever have. BARWICK: Why is it different? LANGE: Cause they don't cook it with lime, you know what I mean? It's not done like that. And that's really dangerous too, because you may not get out all the pathogens and shit. You can get sick from that. So what they do—they boil it. Boil all the fish, and depending on what your cooking, it's a whole different broth. It's all cold. It's fucking crazy. My brain wanted to crawl out of my ear and take a bath in that shit. BARWICK: I went to Ecuador with my dad once. LANGE: Really? That's awesome. BARWICK: When I was 13. One of my dad's best friends is a missionary down there. They had this housekeeper who would slice plantains thin, roll that up and bake it. And it was unstoppable. Heaven. So damn good. LANGE: The other shit is pan de yucca, like yucca bread. It's got cheese in it. It's big and fluffy and it's just like melted cheese up inside of it. That's like a really good little snack. BARWICK: Any cheese and bread combination. I can't stay away from. LANGE: I could name foods all day. There's a lot of good shit. I didn't drink which is kinda crazy, because I was sick the entire tour, which sucked. I was trying not to get even more sick.

Have you ever been sick on tour? BARWICK: I've never been sick on tour, but one time…the first week in Iceland, remember that? I had the world’s worst sinus infection. It was totally gnarly. I had to go to the doctor over there. It's like the worst to get sick when you aren't near home, trying to do stuff.

Why did you decide to record there? BARWICK: Alex Somers got in touch with me January 2011. We just talked about it all year and then we scheduled two sessions and decided to do the record together. I made all my other records by myself. This was the first time anyone was around. A match made in heaven. It was basically in Alex's house, but then we spent two days at the Sigur Ros studio, the swimming pool studio. Have you seen that online or anything? It's called Sundlaugin. It's where Sigur Rós make their records and stuff. We had two sessions there. One was for strings, and I had some teenage girl sing on the record too. It was awesome.

Interview: Julianna Barwick and Helado Negro