Julia Biel Interview
Musician Julia Biel released her latest album Black and White, Vol. 1 last year to critical acclaim. Here the vocalist and pianist talks to Charlie Anderson about her current work and upcoming projects.
How did you first get into singing and playing music?
I always loved to sing and got some encouragement early on from my school’s music teacher and I also was lucky to get piano lessons from a young age on a classical tip. But getting from these two starting points to where I am now has been a gradual process of evolution driven by a need to do it and a desire to create music to both reflect and speak to my innermost self and communicate on that level with anyone who wants to go there.
There wasn’t a ready context in which to get involved and immerse myself until I just started doing it for real and hooked up with the musicians who were in my first band: Idris Rahman, Jonny Phillips, Sebastian Rochford, Ben Davis and Tom Herbert. Around that same time I also met Robert Mitchell and spent a formative year working on his music with Barak Schmool and Richard Spaven.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m always working on writing and producing new things, collaborations or things I might eventually put out myself. The past year has given me more time to experiment with ways of working and to put some flesh on the bones of new approaches. There’s never any shortage of things to learn! I’ve learnt a lot about live-streaming, being less precious and being more open to sharing works in progress this past year.
What music have you been listening to recently?
I’ve been enjoying having more time to enjoy and appreciate the many and varied sounds of the contemporary UK music landscape. A lot of ILL CONSIDERED as their new album has been taking shape and getting lots of attention in the studio I share with Idris Rahman, also WU-LU, ALABASTER DEPLUME, EGO ELLA MAY, plus listening to more DANIEL CAESAR, MILES DAVIS, H.E.R., and a whole stack of American bedroom soul vibes courtesy of the teenager at home.
As someone who writes their own music, where do you find your inspiration?
In fact I’ve found that if you go looking for inspiration, you rarely find it. The process is more about allowing songs to come through and allowing the important things that need to be expressed to come to the surface. So in that sense, all the potential new songs are in the subconscious mind.
What process do you go through when you compose a piece?
I try to get out of my own way and allow something to coalesce. Generally I’m not so much composing a piece as writing a song and then producing that song so it’s about balancing all the elements within that – lyrics, melody, harmony, delivery, groove and instrumentation – so that everything is working towards the same end-goal emotionally, and serving the song.
You recently filmed a video in Brighton.
Yes! I was looking for somewhere with a grand piano and a nice acoustic to film a live session based on songs from my most recent album release Black and White, Vol.1 – after loads of dead ends, persistence paid off and my research led me to the Unitarian Church in Brighton. With Lisa Wormsley on the visuals and Emre Ramazanoglu on the audio recording, everything worked out brilliantly. Premiered at this year’s Jazzahead which was fully online, I plan to release it as a live EP later in the year.
What other plans do you have for the future?
To release more albums out of the music I am making now. And maybe this is less a plan than a wish – to get to have more great times touring my music and connecting with people from all over the world. I’m also feeling a growing need to do more to highlight the value of the performing arts in general for our society – not sure what form that will take yet, work-in-progress / watch this space…
Interview by Charlie Anderson.
Photo by Jenna Foxton.