Since its release OMBRE’s debut has been a constant on the Bowlegs’ playlist. The duo, which is the coming together of Asthmatic Kitty artists Julianna Barwick and Helado Negro, have created a record of untrodden ground and soulful discovery. You can hear the two individual artists being drawn into the other’s continual voyage – opening new doors in the process. We caught up with Helado and Julianna to find out more about the OMBRE experience.
Bowlegs: The two of you met on tour back in 2010, how did that develop into making music together?
Helado: Julianna and I met in 2009. I asked her to open for Helado Negro for the last show of a tour. Later in 2010 we were commissioned by Asthmatic Kitty to go on tour together as a way to start a collaborative project between Julianna and I. This began a 2 year long process of getting to know each other within a musical conversation.
Julianna: Exactly. I had just singed on to Asthmatic Kitty to make The Magic Place, and we did this tour together for 10 or 11 days and got to know each other. We started recording right after that.
Bowlegs: When two musicians with very unique styles start collaborating is there lengthy discussion on the direction you are to take? Ways in which you can encompass each other’s sounds and ideas?
Helado: I remember Julianna saying to me initially that she wanted every song on the record to be different. That was one seed planted but the rest was the result of working together by creating different sounds over foundations of ideas at my studio. There wasn’t one singular idea anchoring the whole album just carving things out of nothing and seeing what they were and could be.
Julianna: Right. We had a few skeletons to show each other in the beginning and would try to start blending things. There were days in the studio where the song would hatch at the start and by the end it would be a completely different sounding song – we did everything as we went. It was really easy-going.
Bowlegs: How did the initial recording sessions unwind? Was it immediately obvious it was going to work? Is there an awkwardness or period of adjustment you have to work through before the good stuff starts to appear?
Helado: There was a natural progression we just started making sounds and it was somewhat of an abstract conversation where there would be quiet moments and also dense moments.
Julianna: Some songs came easier than others. Some were done really quickly and others took a really long time – revising and noodling. We just worked together on everything until it sounded done. The process was really easy and fun.
Bowlegs: Tell us about Weight Those Words, it features a real laid-back almost Dub-like vibe via an acoustic guitar and Helado’s soft vocals. It’s another example of how you were both willing to try different genre’s we’d never expect to hear from you as artists?
Helado: I think the approach to that song was just to have it be just a classic sounding song. We wrote the lyrics and ideas in the same day and tracked out. It was fluid.
Julianna: Right, it started out with that back and forth chord progression and we added everything little by little, meaning Roberto’s vocals and lyrics, my vocals, the vibraphone… that’s how every song was made, just starting out with a little something and building on it until it felt right.
Bowlegs: The record may change in instrumentation but the mood remains gentle, unrushed and open to the elements. Do these songs carry meaning, back-stories and reasons even for their existence?
Helado: I think it’s a story all together, just a story about becoming friends.
Julianna: I think the mood of the record reflects both of our personalities, just chill and easy-going and positive. There’s no way this record would have ended up dark, heavy or angry – that’s just not in us. All of the songs were made in those two years, we went back and forth sometimes on the songs, giving them space until they were done. In a way they are kind of all one in that way.
Bowlegs: I read that an inspiration to the sessions was Clu Gulager’s 1969 film A Day With the Boys? Tell us more about that – I’ve never seen it?
Helado: It’s a film I saw on the extra features on David Gordon Greene’s George Washington movie. After I saw that movie it has always been stuck in my mind. Just the starkness and slow moving vibe of the visuals. You should watch it, wouldn’t make sense if I describe it.
Julianna: You should definitely check it out. I’d never seen it before Roberto introduced it to me. It’s sunny and hazy and feels like a memory.
Bowlegs: When you both return to the studio on your own will you be approaching anything differently having shared time and creativity with another person?
Helado: Yes. One of the biggest influences on me for music has been working with other people. You find yourself exposed and seeing how you can create something out of what may not be a typical situation.
Julianna: Right. Working with people shows you that the music can go to completely unexpected places you could never have imagined on your own, and I think that’s definitely something I can take with me now, and apply to work I make in the future.
Bowlegs: I can imagine there were records you both recommended to each other? Can you tell us a few new albums you’ve discovered though this experience?
Julianna: Roberto introduced me to the musical stylings of Martin Sease and that is something I will forever be grateful for.
Bowlegs: Finally what is the plan for OMBRE now? Is there a tour? More music that didn’t make the final cut but may appear at some point?
Helado: More music – at some point!
Julianna: No touring plans right now, maybe sometime soon. And I’m sure we’ll make new music together at some point.